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Guest comment: Make your website searchable inside and out

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by Steve Davis

As an established high street name, your customers need to be in a position where they can easily find your name at the top of search results. For this reason, you need to have an effective search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy in place. Here are some tips to stay ahead of the game:

Brainstorm your brand’s keywords: This is the first thing your team needs to do during SEO, but don’t fall into the trap of considering “brand” terms first. Instead, try to get inside the mind of your average customer – generally speaking the terms and phrases they use are unbranded long-tail terms. These are what shoppers will be typing into search boxes, so should take precedence during the branding process.

Optimise technical aspects of your site: This can easily improve its crawlability, which is usually achieved through page tags, site maps, internal linking, coding practices, media usage and URL structure. In doing this however, bear in mind that search engines do not index all the pages they crawl, and do not crawl all the pages they know about. XML and deep HTML sitemaps provide the best chances to get as many valuable pages indexed as possible.

Take full advantage of Universal Search: This is one of the biggest online marketing tools at your disposal today. In layman’s terms, universal search is a search strategy that goes beyond simple text and produces everything from tagged videos to maps and shopping results. This could be a particularly powerful tool in, for example, the apparel sector, where images and video are often a deciding factor in whether or not a customer purchases.

Keep your search terms fresh and relevant: Search engines determine relevance through propriety algorithms, which as a matter of course are regularly updated without warning or notice. This can happen several times a day, so in the face of these changes, ongoing SEO activity is essential to maintain the success of any campaign.

You can do this by controlling the flow of duplicate content and unimportant pages, which in turn help search engines make fewer incorrect serving decisions. Make sure pages such as privacy policy, shopping cart and login don’t slip through the net, to ensure that these don’t appear in place of a better page.

Make yourself easy to use

So far this article has discussed how to get customers on to your website – now how to convert those visits into sales, and loyal sales at that.

An eye catching website is mandatory, however past research has shown that many online retailers are failing to fulfil their true potential because they are neglecting a whole host of ‘added responsibilities’. Think about it. The online shopping experience revolves around the idea of convenience: efficient customer care, a secure transaction process and, of course, the delivery of the goods or services.

If online retailers shirk on any of these ‘responsibilities’, they are likely to lose the opportunity for repeat business, and, consequentially, market share. 28 per cent of respondents, when asked about what would most likely deter them from returning for repeat business, cited the ‘late delivery’ of their order as the deciding factor; an even higher proportion (33%) revealed that expensive and lengthy returns procedures were likely to burst their online shopping bubble.

Put simply, if you want to profit from the countless options that online shoppers have at their fingertips, you must ensure that your website offers a quick, gratifying and painless visit. Here are three tips for achieving that goal.

No to ‘no results’: Firstly, review your search terms on a daily basis, and never allow a customer to receive a ‘no results available’ message. If you don’t have what they’re looking for in stock, allow for redirects to similar products with a ‘suggestion’ facility.

Being a home from home: Secondly, if you trade in a lot of cross-border traffic, avoid appearing to be too ‘international’ at purchase point, by automatically offering customers the option to pay in the official currency of the country you’re dealing in. Shoppers do not want to have to trawl through scores of payment options during a routine shop.

Timing promotions wisely: Thirdly, encourage impulse purchase by stocking up on your urgent messaging, for instance (“Today only! Hurry, last chance!”) If you stress the fact that a fantastic offer is only available for a limited period of time, then the customer is much more likely to succumb to pressure and rack up an additional purchase. Run your sales for a shorter period of time (three as opposed to five) and longer in terms of hours – all day instead of for five hours, enabling more consumers to take advantage; one-day sales have a far better chance of ‘hitting’ all customer groups than five hour sales. Sales need to be clearly advertised to customers, both before and during the sale itself, enabling that sense of urgency to be maintained.

The bottom line is, multichannel retailers need to keep up the approach they already have, but work smarter, not harder. It is surprising just how many missed sales opportunities can come as a result of a badly designed website or inefficient search engine optimisation, and with a few simple tweaks, online success inevitably follows.

Steve Davis is president of GSI Commerce International

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