Published on September 28th, 2009 by Mitchell Harper
With the holiday season just 2 months away, let’s look at 8 tips to help prepare you for more customers and more sales. If you have any tips you’d like to add please feel free to leave a comment.
Make your order cutoff deadlines clear. During the holiday season customers want to know that their order will arrive before Christmas, so make sure you clearly state your order date deadlines in your online store.
Order more stock for popular items. You’ll generally sell more products over the holiday season so make sure you have sufficient stock on hand, especially for your popular products. Christmas is one time you can’t afford to delay shipping on orders due to low inventory.
Get your top sellers on the home page. Make sure your top selling products stand out on your home page and use incentives such as “buy [popular product] and get [less popular/cheap product] free” to move the less popular items that you sell and to offer better value to shoppers.
Try a holiday-themed store design. Get your online store into the holiday spirit by switching to a holiday-themed store design and/or adding a holiday element as part of your logo, such as Christmas lights or mistletoe.
Make your newsletter signup box prominent. Keep the sales going after the holidays by putting a strong focus on your newsletter signup box and asking shoppers to sign up. Give them a great reason such as discount coupons or useful information and you’ll grow your email list quickly.
Group products by recipient. For example, group products into categories such as “Boys 0-5″, “Boys 6-10″, “Boys 11-15″, etc to make it easy for shoppers to find gifts for their loved ones. Remember that a good percentage of online shoppers start out not knowing exactly what they want to buy so the easier you can make it for them, the more you’ll sell.
Create a “Holiday Specials” category. Find about 20-30 products which you can sell at cost price and add them to a new category called “Holiday Specials”. You can then use Google AdWords to advertise these discounted prices and use the loss leaders to entice shoppers to buy other gifts from your online store.
Keep customers in the loop. Customers love to track the status of their order online so make sure you assign UPS/USPS/FedEx tracking numbers to your orders from your store’s control panel. You’ll get fewer (if any) order inquiries and your customers will put their trust in you for shipping on time as promised.
Published on September 19th, 2009 by Mitchell Harper
If you don’t offer free shipping from your online store then you’re missing out on a substantial amount of revenue. While you might initially think that offering free shipping will erode most or even all of the profit in the order, I can tell you that it wont — if you use a simple strategy.
Using free shipping as a motivator for customers to buy from you can help increase your average order value by up to 30% in just a few short months. You simply need to work out your average order value and average shipping cost, and then offer free shipping on your average order value + 10%, or whichever amount covers your average shipping cost and provides enough of a profit to slightly increase your average order value.
If you repeat this process every 3-4 weeks, your average order value will increase by 30% or more in just a few months. The basic idea here is that a certain percentage of your customers will be willing to spend more with you on each transaction in order to “trigger” the free shipping option you setup. This creates a win-win situation: your customers get free shipping and you increase your average order value resulting in a better bottom line for your business.
Published on September 17th, 2009 by Mitchell Harper
Over the last few weeks we’ve been busy planning and building the BigCommerce recurring affiliate program, and today I’m proud to announce that it’s live.
The BigCommerce affiliate program is an incredibly easy way for website owners and online marketers to earn money. When you refer someone to BigCommerce you get a generous monthly trailing commission — up to $34 per month for the lifetime of the customer.
You earn an ongoing 25% of the monthly subscription rate for each referral
Simply refer the customer to our website and we’ll do the rest
We use a 120 day tracking cookie to make sure you never miss a sale
There’s no cap on your earnings – our top affiliates make thousands per month
Affiliates are paid every 30 days via PayPal
What Will I Earn As A BigCommerce Affiliate?
We pay an ongoing 25% of the monthly subscription rate for each referral as shown below:
$149.95 BigCommerce subscription is purchased – you earn $37/month
$79.95 BigCommerce subscription is purchased – you earn $20/month
$39.95 BigCommerce subscription is purchased – you earn $10/month
$24.95 BigCommerce subscription is purchased – you earn $6/month
If you’re a BigCommerce client then we’ve automatically created an affiliate account for you so you can start earning right away. Just login to your store’s control panel and at the bottom of the main page you’ll see a button which will take you straight to our affiliate program where you can grab banner images, web pages, text links and email campaigns to start promoting BigCommerce to your friends, colleagues, subscribers and customers.
P.S. Over the coming week we’ll also be rolling out our upfront bounty affiliate program and our certified reseller program. Keep an eye on our blog as we’ll post more information closer to the launch date.
Published on September 15th, 2009 by Mitchell Harper
WebmasterWorld.com is an excellent community forum which provides webmasters and online retailers with a great place to discuss their businesses, online marketing, search engine optimization and more.
As I was browsing their forums earlier today I came across a great post titled Top 100 Ecommerce Tips. I read through all 100+ of the tips listed and decided to pick and choose the best tips from that post and merge them with some of my own that I’ve come up with during my last 10 years of selling online.
Here’s the list of 74 tips I think are the most important when it comes to selling online. If you implement just 10 or 20 of these tips I’ve got no doubt you can increase your conversion rate by at least a few orders a week:
Never leave unanswered emails for more than 48 hours, or your customer is gone.
Let the customer see the shipping charge without registering! Preferably on the basket or a easy-to-find ‘shipping charges’ page.
Make sure your forms use common names for fields so that they’re recognized by toolbars that have an autofill function.
If you’ve got a country drop-down box, list the countries in alphabetical order.
Don’t just accept payment through PayPal. Many people have had bad experiences with PayPal and prefer to use alternative, simpler payment methods.
Make your site incredibly easy to buy from – no registration if possible, live chat, 800 # – make it friendly and easy to buy from.
Take a picture of your office and add it to your contact us page with your company phone number on it.
Don’t bury your products in several pages of clickthroughs, implement a working search mechanism so the user can get to what they seek in two clicks, three maximum.
Insure there are redundant methods of getting around and no point on your site is more than two clicks away from anywhere.
Keep your initial products pages light and clean, with links to product details if they actually want to read.
Build your site for the end user, not the search engines. This means leave off all the search engine-filled text on the initial products pages.
Give the user a sense of who you are. The web is a cold, anonymous place. Anything you can do to bring a sense of personality and assurance to your website will help.
If you use a site search, make sure it works better than expected. It should search more than product names. Make sure it can find products by SKU, model number and even misspellings if possible.
Be sure to include links to your privacy, shipping, returns & exchange policies right out where the customer can easily find them.
Keep the customer informed about the status of their order before they ask.
Use the same visual theme for every action required of the customer.
Make product options clear and comprehensive.
Answer every possible question on the product detail page.
Make sure your site search can also search by size and color. If I’m considering a green skirt or blue towels, make it easy to find other items that would match.
If you only ship to USA (or wherever) say that right off and several times.
Goes without saying that spelling must be perfect. On slow days, have employees proof read old pages.
If you’re new to ecommerce NEVER mention that. Invitation to scammers to hit you.
Get a real 800# (or 888), not a 866 or such.
Get the most web un-savvy person you know to test your site.
Customize product descriptions. Eschew text provided by suppliers which everyone else uses.
Listen to customers, invite their comments and criticism and act on what you learn.
Answer emails in 8 hours max (certainly not 48).
Give street address but never “we’re in Puppyland Center, between Tony’s Pizza and the Shoe repair shop”.
Show good sharp graphics. Learn to use basic photo editing software.
Remove all non essential navigation elements from the checkout process. Have a single page checkout if possible.
Calling your customer to thank them and confirm their order instills immediate trust.
Customers haven’t got time to read explanations about how you would like them to format the date. Make it easy and obvious.
If the customer has entered some incorrect information, let them know this without them having to type in all their details again.
Pay good money for a proper interactive graphic designer (not a coder, web ‘developer’, or print designer doing a bit of moonlighting). If your web site looks professional, people will trust it and buy stuff.
Add your 800# to every step of the checkout process with something to the tune of “questions or problems completing your order, call 800#).
Have a “best sellers” or “most popular” listing. The boost from this has been noticeable.
If your site ranks best in your niche, and If you sell something that is sold on many other websites (something drop shipped for you, for example), very slightly change the name — Tarenta to Tarento, Classica to Classico, for example. This helps deter people price shopping for the ‘product name’ elsewhere and in the shopping engines.
List your prices for every item clearly and upfront. There’s no space for a ‘price on application’ model online, none at all.
When using thumbnails to link to larger images give your customers larger images.
If your target audience is concentrated in one country, host your website on a server located in that country.
Keep the 3 P’s above the fold on a product page. Product name, Price and Purchase link should all be visible without having to scroll.
Know your visitors – if significantly more people are first-time-buyers, don’t hit them with a login screen with a small link to register to the site – reverse the process.
Never tell the visitor to “Hit your ‘back’ button to correct”. I haven’t found a valid reason to do this yet – any issue should be able to be handled within the system.
Have a “Help” link very prominently displayed so they have somewhere to go if there is an issue.
It is better to deny a suspected fraudlent order in post processing, rather than have the computer automatically deny honest customers due to AVS or CVV issues.
Ship fast. Preferably the same day and you are sure to get emails from appreciative customers.
Use a proper SSL certificate, not a shared SSL certificate which prompts the user with an alert before checkout.
If using paid advertising, don’t send them to your home page; send them to the relevant product page (or custom landing page) that is tied to the keyword you advertised.
If you sell software, allow immediate access to the full version and allow unlimited upgrades.
Have a list of “recommended products” and “other customers also bought” with each item.
Have a newsletter sign up and send out newsletters regularly with discounts and special offers.
If the product ships via a carrier, send an email to the customer with the tracking number with a link to the carrier to check status.
Use an XML Sitemap generator to create a sitemap to get a “big picture” of your site. Submit it to Google and they’ll help you find dead pages, etc.
On category pages don’t just list product names, but include some unique content about the category for indexing by the search engines.
If you sell the same object in different colours, offer them pictures of each colour.
Use a larger font (14+) for titles and product names to make them stand out and possibly increase conversions.
Sign up for Hackersafe, verising and your related trade associations and display their logos to improve credibility.
Have a person answer the phone, not a recording.
If you cannot exceed the expectations created by your site then rewrite your copy. Underpromise and over-deliver.
Hang in there with the difficult customers – they become the most loyal when treated correctly and given the time they deserve.
Know when a customer needs to be given to your competition.
Make the font on your product copy readable. 12pt at least. No funky fonts.
Make sure your buy button pops off the page and is big enough to be seen and clicked on.
Make sure the title tag on each product page is unique and reflects what is on the page. Make sure you have the product name first in the title tag, not your company name.
Offer a strong refund/return guarantee.
Add a 360 degree product view before the rest of the pack.
Play with the wording of your add-to-cart buttons. “Add to cart” is a nice non-threatening way to encourage adding items as some feel “order” or “buy” is too much of a commitment.
Be careful making a coupon field too prominent in checkout, especially in markets that are based on commodity goods such as electronics. Seeing the field may convince a shopper that was ready to purchase to exit and spend more time hunting for coupons. Consider relabeling as promotion code or something less descriptive (unless you are linking to a promo page with coupon codes to encourage larger sales).
Mine referral data of orders for search engine keyword queries encoded in the urls and further optimize for these terms for organic search or consider adding to your PPC campaigns.
If you’re going to ask customers to sign up for your newsletter during checkout, do it AFTER the payment is processed.
Amid all the costly free shipping gimmicks, 365 day guarantees, free return pickups and insanely low prices… don’t forget to actually turn a profit.
If everyone else is competing on price, compete on service, product range or faster shipping options.
Try changing your store design once a month, and everything else being equal, one will generally outperform the others by a significant amount.
Add a personalized “thank you” message to your email invoices. Include your name, email, phone number and a photo.
Do you have any tips you’d add to the list? Leave a comment below – I’d love to know what they are!
Published on September 13th, 2009 by Mitchell Harper
All online marketing budgets should include a significant budget for Google AdWords. If you understand how to create effective ads that attract the right audience and a high click-thru rate, you can easily generate a 100% or more return on investment for every dollar you spend. In this video I’ll share with you a formula you can use to create highly effective Google AdWords ads.
Don’t let the simplicity of the formula fool you, however. The formula has been proven by thousands of successful online marketers and works extremely well in the B2C space, so if you sell products such as t-shirts, makeup or computers primarily to non-business users from your online store then you should be able to use this formula to generate a great ROI from Google AdWords.
In the video I mention that you don’t need an SEM (Search Engine Marketing) company charging you thousands of dollars a month to create or man your Google AdWords campaigns. You can do it yourself, especially if you’re just starting out. It’s not hard, and once you learn the basics you’ll have everything you need to get started. The key is to ALWAYS monitor your ads and split test no more than two different versions of your ad at once.
You can then take the best performing ad, tweak it and test those tweaks. This way you can slowly but surely increase your conversion rate over the period of a few short months. It’s worked for us countless times and I know it will work for you, so give it a try.
This video is the third of many which we’ll be publishing on our new YouTube guru channel, BigCommerceDotCom. Check it out and make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss future videos.
Published on September 8th, 2009 by Mitchell Harper
When it comes to selling your products online the first thing you need is the ability to accept and process payments via credit card. There are two ways to go about getting started – you can either apply for your own merchant account through a bank or use an online payment provider such as PayPal or Google Checkout.
If you’re looking to get started quickly then PayPal or Google Checkout might be the best option, however they typically attract a higher transaction fee (around 3-5%) than using your own merchant account.
If you’re a little more patient or expect to process a large amount of orders through your online store then having your own merchant account is the best solution. You’ll pay a low transaction fee of around 1-2% per order and you’ll get paid directly into your bank account. We provide merchant accounts which allow you to accept credit cards online for a low rate of 2.10% + $17/month. You’ll get an all-in-one solution which integrates with BigCommerce in 3 clicks. It will also allow you to process payments for phone orders, so it’s definintely worth considering if you’re in the market for a merchant account.
In the video above I go into more detail about each option and give you some other points to consider so you can decide if a merchant account is the right choice for you, or if you might be better off using a third party payment option like PayPal or Google Checkout.
This video is the second of many which we’ll be publishing on our new YouTube guru channel, BigCommerceDotCom. Check it out and make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss future videos.
Published on September 6th, 2009 by Mitchell Harper
Return on Investment (or ROI for short) is a tool you can use to measure the success of your marketing campaigns. As an online retailer, it’s critical you know which campaigns are performing so you don’t fall prey to the old saying “50% of advertising works and 50% doesn’t. I’m just not sure which half is which.”
In the video above I discuss return on investment. I’ll teach you what it is, why it matters and how – in combination with your sales cycle – you can track your ROI for every marketing campaign you run. This will lead to more profitable marketing campaigns for your business, whether it’s Google AdWords, email marketing, postcards or TV ads.
If you’re actively involved in tracking marketing campaigns then you may already understand the concepts presented in this video. If not, it’s a good grounding for basic marketing theory which you can put in to practice – and which we’ve used to runs successful marketing campaigns both online and off, with conversion rates of up to 27% and an ROI of over 1,200%.
This video is the first of many which we’ll be publishing on our new YouTube guru channel, BigCommerceDotCom. Check it out and make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss future videos.
Published on September 1st, 2009 by Mitchell Harper
What is Google Webmaster Tools?
Google Webmaster Tools is a free set of simple tools from Google which allow you to see how your website appears to Google and which pages are indexed. You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to see top search queries used to find your website and any crawl errors encountered by Google’s spider (such as 404 – page not found errors).
To get started you first need to add your site to Google Webmaster Tools and verify you’re in fact the webmaster of your site. This article in Google’s knowledge base explains the process. Basically you can either add a special <meta> tag to the <head> section of your website or you can upload a uniquely named file to your website (such as google-v8j43g3s23s.html) which Google will make sure exists, thus proving your ownership of the domain.
Submitting an XML Sitemap
Once you’ve done that you’ll have access to Google’s webmaster tools. Initially you’ll want to submit an XML sitemap, which tells Google about the different pages on your website. If some pages on your website can’t be found by Google’s spider (a spider is a computer which tries to read and index all of the web pages on your site), then it will use the sitemap you submit to determine the structure of your website and crawl all of the pages you listed in the sitemap. You can generate an XML sitemap for your website here if you don’t already have one.
Setting the Preferred Domain
One of the most important considerations when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is setting the preferred domain to use on your site. Generally most websites can be accessed with or without the “www.” at the front of the URL, such as www.yoursite.com and yoursite.com. Generally all links to other pages on your site and external links (i.e. links from other websites) should all use just the one domain format, i.e. all with the “www.” or without.
By setting the preferred domain in Google Webmaster Tools you can improve your search rankings and make sure all pages for your sites display in search results with a similar URL format. Here’s Google’s explanation on setting the preferred domain:
The preferred domain is the one that you would like used to index your site’s pages. If you specify your preferred domain as http://www.example.com and we find a link to your site that is formatted as http://example.com , we’ll treat that link as if it was http://www.example.com . In addition, we’ll take your preference into account when displaying URLs in our search results. It may take some time for changes to be reflected in our index.
You should also setup a 301 redirect in the .htaccess file of your web server’s root folder, as per WebConfs.com‘s short tutorial reposted here:
Create a .htaccess file with the below code, it will ensure that all requests coming in to domain.com will get redirected to www.domain.com
The .htaccess file needs to be placed in the root directory of your old website (i.e the same directory where your index file is placed)
Please REPLACE domain.com and www.newdomain.com with your actual domain name.
Note* This .htaccess method of redirection works ONLY on Linux servers having the Apache Mod-Rewrite moduled enabled.
Generating a Robots.txt File
A robots.txt file allows you to tell Google’s spider which pages on your website it should and should not crawl and index. Why might you want some pages not to appear in Google’s index? As a general rule of thumb, any page which doesn’t contain useful, publicly accessible content (such as your WordPress wp-admin folder or terms of service policy) should be listed in your robots.txt file to not be crawled by Google.
The robots.txt file should be uploaded to your website’s root folder and can be generated from within Google Webmaster Tools under the Crawler Access option of the Site Configuration menu. Here’s a screenshot:
Creating a robots.txt file is quite an advanced technique, so you should learn more about it before creating yours. This Wikipedia page is a great place to start.
Top Search Queries and Backlinks
Finally, under the Your Site on the Web section you can see the top search queries people are using to find your website and a list of websites which link back to your site. The number of sites that link back to yours (also called backlinks) is a determining factor in how you rank in the search results, so the more (relevant) sites linking back to yours, the better.
Here’s a screenshot:
In this example you can see we have 2,619 websites linking to our home page (the forward slash means no page in particular is being linked to, so in this example there are 2,616 external websites linking to www.example.com) and 177 websites linking to www.example.com/index.html.
Google Webmaster Tools gives you a great insight into how Google sees your website in the context of search engine optimization and website ranking. To wrap up, here’s a good video about Google Webmaster Tools from Google’s chief of search engineering, Matt Cutts:
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The Bigcommerce blog brings you company news and feature updates from the world's leading e-commerce platform, along with proven tips, tricks and strategies to help you sell more.