Welcome to Josh Baker's Practical Advice for Optimizing Your Internet Marketing blog. Here you will find internet marketing optimization and online strategy articles full of tips, tricks, discussions, and thoughts to help you take your marketing and business to the next level of success.

Archive for eCommerce

Unfortunately most ecommerce websites that I come across, a very high percentage of them are not effectively reaching their maximum level of potential performance capability, especially true of their online catalogs’ category pages. The goal of the category page is to quite simply help the potential buyer get to the right product page for the right product ultimately and hopefully ending in a sale.

What complicates the situation (although not really as complicated as one would think, and often used as an excuse, or unaware of by others) is that visitors arrive at various different stages in the buying process. This being so, the category page needs to provide the ability for the visitor at any stage of the buying process to narrow down their selections in order to easily get to the product pages of the products that fulfill their reason for being on your ecommerce website in the first place. As a refresher, here are the stages of the consumer buying process:

  1. Problem recognition or need awareness – the buyer needs to replace a broken TV, they really want a new cell phone, they want to look more stylish, etc. This can be self-recognized or realized through external sources such as peer pressure, or even marketing materials.
  2. Information search to help buyer determine possible available alternatives – examples of search include comparison shopping, internet research, word of mouth, and even the buyers own memory.
  3. Evaluation of available purchase options – deciding which features the buyer wants, etc., if you are not satisfied with the choices that you find, you end up back in the Information Search step again).
  4. Purchase decision – this is where the buyer chooses the alternative they want to buy (the actual product, the make, model, the store, etc.).
  5. Purchase – the actual purchase itself.
  6. Post purchase behavior – the evaluation of the purchase such as satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

Not all visitors will arrive to your site at the same stage in the buying process. Universally, not all visitors will go through all of the stages, and not all visitors will be at the same point inside each stage of the process, some may be just entering a specific stage, while others may be near exiting a specific stage.

Many category pages fail to help the potential buyer actually get to the right product, but rather leave it up to them to figure out what that right product is and how to get to it, on their own nonetheless. This is often ineffectively done by overcrowding category pages with individual products (or predominately featuring them on the pages most important real estate) instead of providing the functionality for the visitor to further narrow down their selections. An effective category page’s primary purpose in most ecommerce instances should not be to sell a product on that page, but to provide the “tools” to help the user further navigate to the right product or products with as much ease as possible and therefore with as little friction as possible on the way.

For example, if I am looking for a TV, and I am on your TV category page, I most likely do not want to see all of the 250 TV’s that you carry. Help me navigate to just the plasma’s, or just the LCD’s, or all TV’s by size, or all TV’s within my budget. Better yet, how about providing a “what type of TV is best for you” wizard option on the category page for those who haven’t made a decision between the various types or features or benefits and for those who aren’t as knowledgeable. They could use the help in narrowing down the available selections.

You can further break-it-down on the subcategory pages that the category page may link to – if I choose plasma TV’s on your category page, then your subcategory page needs to further give me the options to navigate the available options or features by size, by price, by resolution, by brand, again maybe a wizard to help the visitor in further choosing the right plasma TV for their purpose. Keeping all of this in mind allows for those in different buying stages to use the category pages effectively.

If you were in the canned good aisle in the supermarket and there was no rhyme or reason with the setup, the chicken noodle soup next to the canned carrots, and the canned chili next to the canned pears, and the canned tomato paste next to the canned sting beans, not to mention the sizes of the same brand and item not next to each other, how effective would you be in finding the item that you need and in the right size, you would probably get frustrated and leave to go to the supermarket down the street that presents the items in an manner that increases your usability of the canned good aisle. With the web, the user can hit the back button to the search engine and go elsewhere in seconds.

When your category pages are constructed properly and do the job they are intended to do, it’s almost effortless for the buyer to end up with the right solutions or products within seconds – increasing the chances that they will make a purchase from you rather than leaving in frustration or not finding the product they want or need. With ineffective category pages even though you may carry the right product for them, they may never actually find it in the time they have allotted to spend frustrated on your site before going elsewhere.

Now, I am not saying that you want the user to have to click through 10 pages to get where they need to be, but what I am saying is that you need to provide functionality for those at whatever stage they may be in. Those who know exactly what brand and model number may use your site search. Those who know they have $1,000 to spend on a plasma TV will take another route, and those who know they want a TV but don’t know what type or features available and don’t have a budget in mind just yet will take another route. Depending on where they are in the buying process will determine how much direction they will need (and want) and how much narrowing down they are willing to participate in to get to the right product. 

Let’s look at how Best Buy effectively uses their category pages:

Scenario: I want to purchase a new laptop, I am somewhere between the Information search and the evaluation stage (I know a fair amount about laptops, but not sure what new options are out there that I may want or need).

By selecting the Computer category on the home page I am brought to the computer category page thus allowing me to see all of the categories related to computers. I need a laptop so I recognize the picture of a laptop with the word “laptops” right below the picture, and proceed to click on it. Here is the computer category page:



I arrive at the laptop page and instantly see the headline that asks me “Which laptop is right for you” with images and links to the various subcategory pages of USES for laptops such as Entertainment, Gaming, Small Business, etc. I actually want one to use for movies, music, etc., so I click on the Entertainment link and am presented with a product listing page. Here is the laptop computer category page:


The product listing page lists all the products that fall under the Laptop>Entertainment Categories. But wait, on the left hand side (see the red box I added) I can also sort the products by Brand, Customer Reviews, Price, and so on, allowing me to further narrow down my selections based on more of my criteria (either known beforehand or as I uncover it during my visit). Here is the laptop product listing page:

Just a few clicks and mere seconds after arriving at the Best Buy website, I was able to get a more or less customized list of laptop computers for entertainment usage, by Dell, within my budget. Here is the Dell laptop product listing page matching my criteria:


I didn’t have to frustratingly search through Best Buy’s entire laptop inventory and read each of the product descriptions to determine which laptops were right for me. Their website easily guided me to the right products based on my stage of the buying process and based on the criteria I felt was important to narrow down their product selection by.

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The Other Cost of Cart Abandonment

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How much is your existing ecommerce cart costing you in cart abandonment?  Notice that I didn’t ask you how much revenue you’re potentially losing from those cart abandons.

Take a look at this scenario:

  • Each week 1,000 visitors to your online store place an item or items into your ecommerce cart.
  • You know that from your research each visitor that adds an item to your shopping cart costs you $12 to acquire.
  • You also know from your analytics that your cart abandon rate is 90% (or conversely a 10% conversion rate)

So in this scenario, 900 visitors out of the 1,000 (90%) visitors each week that place an item into your online shopping cart bail and do not purchase, but you have paid for their acquisition anyways. At the $12 per visitor that puts an item into your cart acquisition cost, it’s costing you $10,800 per week ($561,600 per year) for just those visitors that bail out of your cart. How is that so? Continue reading to follow my logic.

So you do some what-if scenarios and believe that with optimization you can get down to an 88% cart abandon rate from your existing 90% abandonment rate (or conversely a 12% conversion rate).

You decide to optimize your shopping cart, and your cart abandonment rate decreases to 87% (better than your prediction of the improved 88% abandonment rate- woohoo!).  Now each week your cart is costing you now only $10,400 per week or $542,880 per year – that’s $18,720 less per year, PLUS the additional revenue of those 1,560 paid sales from your cart optimization efforts.

Ok, so you know just as well as I do that that either way you’re still paying the $12 per visitor that puts an item into your cart. So your actual costs haven’t gone down at all, BUT…

 Why does this matter and how do you really use this information?  

Although your numbers may vary – from the dollar cost of each acquisition that you pay, to the number of visitors that put items into your cart, to your cart abandonment rate. This is purely an exercise in reasoning or a cause for optimization or software upgrading, in other words, an additional metric to prove the value of taking action.

What if your current shopping cart is limiting you to what you can test (or maybe for some reason you can’t perform testing on it) because it’s a third-party application that you have no control over, a legacy cart system that additional programming looks to be costly in time and resources, or some other preventive reason that does not allow you to optimize your cart in the ways that you know you need to in order to increase desired performance.

What if you work for an organization that doesn’t fully believe in the power of testing and optimization? Or, maybe you work for an organization where they are tightening the budget in the current economy and are not interested in investing in optimization.

Your current cart, its current conversion ability and its abandonment rate could be in many ways costing you more in acquisition costs (not including the opportunity costs) than it would cost to fix the problem.

This dollar amount, the cost of cart abandonment, is the cost of leaving your cart as is – the true cost of abandonment of your online shopping cart to you.



Like clockwork as you do every Monday morning at 10am (after you third cup of coffee and a morning snack) you log into your analytics account to view how much organic traffic is being driven in to your eCommerce website. You’re extremely excited when you see that the number of visits from organic search is growing steadily from last week’s numbers, and the week before, and even the week before that.  Your hard work optimizing your pages for the SERPs is starting to see results and your boss is going to be thrilled.

But wait, although organic traffic is climbing up, up, and away, week over week, you cross-reference your sales data again and notice that you aren’t getting any more orders with all this new organic traffic that you have been receiving. How can this be? What could be going on?


Investigation Scenario Tip #1: What keywords are they arriving on?

It’s really important to make sure that you are driving the right search engine traffic to your website. Extract from your analytics account what keywords are driving this newly acquired search engine traffic that you are receiving. To oversimplify, if you’re selling toothpaste and your recent boost of traffic is from searches on arts and crafts paste, you’re driving more traffic, but it’s not the right traffic. 


Investigation Scenario Tip #2: What pages are they landing on?

If you notice that many of the keywords that are sending organic traffic in to your site are in fact relevant to what you are selling, then you must dig deeper into your analytics and see what pages visitors are landing on when they are searching on those keywords or phrases. Let’s use the toothpaste example again; you sell toothpaste and your visitors are searching on Google with the end goal of purchasing toothpaste.  You notice that they are landing on the page about how toothpaste is manufactured. A closer look and you notice that the bounce rate is high and reviewing your page there is no obvious way to know that you actually are selling toothpaste on that page.

In this situation you are getting the visitors that you want to sell to (those searching for a product that you do indeed sell), and they are searching for keywords and phrases that are relevant to your business – but you are not giving the visitor what they are looking for or a clear way to get to what they are looking for when they land on your page.


In Closing

If either of these two scenarios is happening to you then you will need to work on the optimization of your pages from both an SEO perspective of getting the right traffic, and getting the right traffic to the right pages and from a conversion perspective of keeping them in the continuity of continuing on for what they came in to potential purchase with the least amount of effort and friction.

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The continue shopping button on your eCommerce website is an incredibly important feature and its use is many times over looked or under appreciated. Linked from properly it can contribute to increased sales or at a minimum reduce online friction for your customers, or on the other end of the spectrum it can drive your visitors away to your competitor’s website. How so? Imagine this real life scenario:

You are at your favorite brick and mortar store, you navigate the aisles looking for the first item on your list to purchase, you see it in all its glory on the shelf, you smile and reach out to pick it up and place it in your shopping cart-ah that was easy. But now you’re ready to find the next item on your list so you decide to continue shopping…but wait, POOF, suddenly you immediately placed at the entrance of the store again. You now have to navigate through the entire store again to find your next item. You find it, this time you’re not smiling, you place it in your cart, and you’re ready to get your next item. Again, POOF, you’re back at the entrance of the store.


How long would you be willing to go through this scenario – would you quit after the first time you were sent back to the entrance of the store? Would you rethink visiting the store next time you have to go? Would you purchase the item that you have already have in your shopping cart but no way even attempt to get the other items you need?

This scenario happens over and over again when you link your continue shopping button to your home page.  The user adds the first item to their shopping cart, they are presented with a continue shopping button, they decide to look around more, but where you link this button to can decide how their experience will fair.

Link from the continue shopping button properly and truthfully the user may never consciously even notice (however, their actions will display that they subconsciously do), but link from it incorrectly and you could hurt the chance for an increased order size, lose the order totally, or even possibly lose the customer.

So where can you link to from it? You can link back to the page they were on when they chose the item they added to the cart. You could give them a few choices of where they want to go such as the page they were previously on (the product page); the category listings page, and here even the home page. Some sites even use an AJAX pop-up letting the customer know that the item is in their shopping cart – in this scenario the customer doesn’t even have to leave the product page they are on. Using this presentation style you could still even present the customer with multiple options to choose where they want to go next.

Now you know why where you link to from your continue shopping button can mean so much to your eCommerce websites performance and to your wallet.

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