eCommerce – Getting the Focus Right

For retail businesses in 2020, a fully functioning eCommerce website is massively important. In fact, if you live in the UK and rely on UK purchases, then your eCommerce website should consume a good portion of your trading hours, because this really is where the growth is… especially via mobile devices (tablets and smartphones).

So… let me pose a scenario for you.

A traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailer hears all the advice about getting a shiny new eCommerce website. The website is built by a reputable eCommerce web company, the branding is right, the website rivals top retailers’ websites for functionality and looks great. Some products have been uploaded to the website, but six months after launch there still aren’t many sales. The traditional retailer then states that ‘the Internet thing doesn’t work’ and leaves the website to mothball.

I’ve seen this scenario many times and sometimes it’s nothing to do with the work which has been put in by the retailer (which is sometimes substantial) and everything to do with psychology, intent of the website users and focus of the website work being misplaced.

Get the Right Focus

I’ve always been an advocate of creating specifications for websites before they even get near a designer, especially with retail websites. An eCommerce website is a selling channel, so everything in the site should be focussed towards providing the maximum return for all the hard work (and money) which goes into it. Therefore, from the outset it’s important to think what the focus of the website should be, what the categories should be for products and most of all, how can the website replace the traditional experience of physically being in a bricks and mortar store.

eCommerce websites have a huge disadvantage when it comes to persuading people to part with cash compared to shopping in a traditional high street store, but this can be overcome with careful strategy and techniques to improve user experience. Visitors to the website can’t touch, feel, smell (an important one in many sectors!) or interact with the products they are interested in, which is why it’s vitally important to make the most of technology to replace some of the experience available in a traditional store.

Getting into The Mind of Your Website Visitor

Many big eCommerce retailers (I’m talking about companies like John Lewis, M&S, Tesco etc.) spend large amount of time and money mining data gleaned from their customers via loyalty schemes, direct marketing, surveys and even data gathered from social media, blogs, forums… in fact customer data from any source is useful when planning out the focus of a website. These methods are combined with eye tracking, ‘heatmaps’ and video tracking of website usage to develop the very best landing pages and routes through the eCommerce website when going through a purchase.

Unless you have the marketing and research budget of the big boys, you’re unlikely to be able to use most of these methods to glean any useful data, what you do have (if you’re also a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailer) is direct access to your new websites’ likely users, which is great. In-store customers therefore become not only your revenue source, they also become your best resource to develop your website.

Direct user data and feedback is in fact so important, that many web design companies use crowd-source testing to simulate real website users when launching a large or strategically important website, to make sure that real people can logically progress through the buying process on all devices without any critical blocks.

Utilising Analytics to Give Insight

Google Analytics is a fantastic tool for tracking how many visits your website gets, but can also be used to get insight into what your website users may be thinking, the problems they encounter and give you direction to improve on the functionality and layout of your website’s pages.

Take a look at the Analytics Goal Flow report – this shows you (once you have set up your eCommerce tracking and goals correctly) the critical path through the buying process and pinpoint any areas for improvement. Combined with exit page analysis you can see which pages are failing and in most cases combined with heatmaps (these can be set up via Google Data Studio, or third party apps like and behaviour flow reports it’s possible to pinpoint which features on the page aren’t working or need improvement to increase flow through the website towards that all important basket page.

Getting the Content Right

One thing I see time and again with small retailers is that there is a real mental block when it comes to understanding what website users need to prompt them to clicks on that all important ‘add to basket’ button. Many times, I see products uploaded with little or no product descriptions, product titles which aren’t focussed on what real users would search for and images which are far too small, low quality and in the wrong context to work effectively.

Website content works on three different levels – firstly Google bots scan plain text in the website to determine what each page in the website is about. Well structured, unique and lengthy text is therefore required to rank pages, but it doesn’t stop there! Product titles should also be structured to give the best chance of ranking in Google, so if you sell by brand, make sure the brand name, product name and product type appear as this gives a good (and 100% relevant to that product ) mix of keyphrases in the product title, one of the main tags Google will look at in the on-page content.

Once people have managed to find your pages, they are unlikely to buy products unless the product that they are interested in has a well written description and images which show that product off in its best light. If you really want to win in 2020 and beyond, then consider writing your own product descriptions, this will give you the edge with Google.

Use well structured, normal English sentence structure and if you really have to use tables and bulleted lists, use these as an addendum, not as a replacement for the content you wish Google to read.

Finally, remember that Google especially uses many different factors to rank pages, a good portion of which are focussed on the power of external link signals. Your website content again should be informative and ‘link worthy’ to promote natural linking, so think of your eCommerce website as a web resource as well as a selling tool.

David Fairhurst

Head of eCommerce

Intelligent Retail

David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London