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Common E-commerce Mistakes To Avoid: Part 1

E-retail own goals that gift victory to your rivals

There are lots of common mistakes that I still often see made on a frequent basis when I review e-commerce sites. Sure, you're unlikely to see these on John Lewis and M&S, but some are made irrespective of the size of the project.

Having seen many of these mistakes being made so often and particularly when so little work is required to rectify or prevent them, I have created this list of some of the common e-commerce mistakes to avoid:

Getting the basics of product marketing wrong

Surprisingly, one of the most common mistakes that companies of all sizes have made and will continue to make comes down to viewing the build of a website as a technical exercise only. In fact nothing could be farther from the truth. An e-commerce website has to position your brand well:

1. Clear proposition essential. It's been said before, but your site is your shop window – it has to promote your brand, services and value propositions

2. Making products appealing. Surveys show again and again that product copy and image matter, so work it. The flat page is your sales person – it has to sell the benefits of your products/ services and how they might fit their needs. Your site must include prominent calls to action to encourage a sale, add ons etc

3. Clear customer journeys needed.  If a customer wants to see ‘red widgets’ a personal shopper will take them directly to them. Make sure your on-site search provides as good an experience. Check how efficient it is in Google Analytics.

4. Making sure service is the best it can be. Your site is your customer service representative. That means working on web self service options like FAQs, How Tos , additional product information, alternative contact channels. When a human response is needed you need to make sure it's timely and effective.

Not Considering Marketing Aspects in Advance of Go-live

Attracting visitors, both through onsite and offsite marketing is a key consideration for any Ecommerce website. Online marketing techniques involve not only SEO, but PPC, social media, e-mail marketing and then some!

Planning for these in advance is important as it is often easier to spec these out in advance. Some areas often overlooked include:

5. Not working on key landing pages. You should know the categories and products that are most important by volume and those with the biggest drop-offs. Working on these can often increase conversion rates, so ensure that your CMS allows you to build or tailor your landing pages easily and that you have control over SEO elements such as meta tags and URL structure.

6. No e-commerce tracking in place. I’m often amazed (this tends to only occur in the Small to Medium sized Enterprise sector) how many e-commerce sites go live with no e-commerce tracking in place. E-commerce tracking is not the same as standard analytics tracking in Google Analytics. Insist on it from your supplier - it is important to understand the actual sales going through your ‘till’

7. Poor quality system generated e-mails. Will you have control over the layout and structure of auto-generated transactional e-mails? For example order confirmation and dispatch e-mails. These can be the first impression, you need to reassure and show customers they made a good choice.

8. Consider having a number of e-mail templates designed before go-live. Transactional emails are only one variety, you should have E-newsletters, abandoned basket emails and regular promo emails. These need consideration too.

9. Not integrating social media. Consider spec’ing out exactly how you want your social media plug-ins integrated. Do you want to use something like Add This, or to specify the channels your brand and customers most frequently use (which often achieves higher engagement). This is particularly important if you want advanced forms of integration

Not getting SEO expertise during site build and planning

All too often e-commerce websites are planned, project managed and built with SEO and marketing aspects only being considered at the last-minute or on occasion after go-live. However not planning for and considering SEO at an early stage in the build could result in minor SEO issues at best or really detrimental impact on site visibility at worst.

In both cases, additional budget may have to be assigned to ‘fix’ the issues, but if SEO impact is considered during the planning and development stage you can ensure that issues don’t arise.

Some of the common things to ensure that your web development agency plan for are:

10. URL re-mapping. If you have an existing site and are building a new one the URL structures are almost certainly going to change. Ensure that URL re-mapping using 301 re-directs on your highest traffic URLs are in place before you make the switch from old to new

11. Faceted search. If faceted search will be being used on your site (this allows users to search in the way that they want using filters) be aware that quite often this results in multiple URLs leading to just one product. So if using faceted search ensure that either destination URLs are on a static URL or that your site supports the usage of canonical meta tagging

12. URL Structure is an important factor in retail SEO. Ensure that you are aware of how URL structure will be handled and ensure that where possible these are keyword centric and minimise the usage of query parameters.

13. Management of page meta tagging. Ensure your CMS supports this, some don't make it so easy to change page titles or meta descriptions on category pages for example.

14. Custom 404 error pages in place. Default 404s often use embarrassing developer language. Tailor them to fit your brand.

15. Administrative access to all analytics packages & webmaster tools accounts. If your agency has access you won't get the visibility you need. Create a document with all the logins.

Many of the above e-commerce mistakes are relatively minor, however when bundled together, they can have a huge impact on online sales and website conversions. The above are by no means exclusive, and I will cover more ‘frequently observed e-commerce mistakes’ in a future post.

Image credit: AFP. Some of you with a long memory will remember this is England's Paul Robinson failing to save Croatia's opening goal during the Euro 2008 qualifying match.

By Jill Robb

Jill Robb is the Smart Insights Expert commentator advising on more effective Ecommerce approaches. Jill is the Digital Marketing Director of Origin Digital, a Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Agency based in Belfast and Dublin. Jill is also an Associate Lecturer at University of Ulster on Digital Marketing and Communications. With a vast array of experience in retail, both online and offline, Jill’s approach to online marketing is both refreshingly energetic and commercially astute. Jill is a regular speaker on topics such as search engine marketing and ecommerce and a contributor to business magazines both in the UK and Ireland. Connect with Jill on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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