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Article Published by Women’s Wear Daily

Companies know they need to regularly examine the wide range of distinct areas that form the larger e-commerce experience — from considerations like search engine optimization to how easily customers can make purchases — if they want to maintain relevance in the market and grow. Without taking a critical eye to e-commerce operations and seeking out strategies and tools for improvement, online merchants risk driving away users — or even worse, not attracting them in the first place.

Some of the most important aspects of e-commerce are search engine optimization, user experience, micro-analytics and digital merchandising. Consider the following advice for three easy fixes as you review the e-commerce functions of your organization and seek out areas to improve.

Micro-analytics and Digital Merchandising

While SEO and site performance are commonly recognized, if not necessarily acted upon, by businesses, micro-analytics are less widely understood. That’s partially because it’s such a new strategy. Micro-analytics offers a number of advantages on the leading edge of e-commerce, such as enabling micro-segmentation. This powerful, focused targeting and gathering of information about small demographic groups and individuals leads to more effective merchandising, connecting shoppers with relevant products in a way that can be emulated at broader levels.

Despite the newness of this strategy in e-commerce, it’s easy to see the roots of micro-analytics and digital merchandising in something as mundane as a visit to the supermarket. There’s a reason ketchup and mayonnaise are stocked next to each other, for example, and there are plenty of other considerations that make for optimum positioning in a physical space.

While spatial limitations don’t exist in the same context online, that type of strategy definitely has an important place in e-commerce sites. Analytics can tell merchants where customers look on each page, and provide valuable information about which products sell most frequently with others. Eventually, the standard for e-commerce will be fully customized pages for individual shoppers based on their preferences — an approach that takes full advantage of micro-analytics and digital merchandising. Such an approach will significantly reduce the time necessary to complete a purchase and tap into customers’ love of quick and convenient interactions.

While the ultimate result of this trend is still in the future, businesses can start harnessing the power of analytics and merchandising today to provide a more individualized and effective shopping experience.

Performance Tuning

There’s a well-known finding from Amazon showing that a delay of just 100 milliseconds costs 1 percent of total sales. For any company, that’s a major — and almost completely avoidable — negative, one that stops a business from reaching its potential. For a major retailer like Wal-Mart or Target, that 1 percent loss means tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars lost in a single day for no reason except a slow-loading web site.

There are innumerable situations across the world of business where speed is a major factor for success. In stock trading, the first organization to respond to an order is the one that gets paid. Similar circumstances and examples exist in realms ranging from supply chain and shipping to food service.

In terms of e-commerce, customers place a high degree of value on product pages and payment processes that quickly load. But too many companies don’t realize the importance of speedy transactions, which are vital to a positive user experience. That’s despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

The speed with which a company can present its web site is just as important as the design and layout of the page and the accessibility of product information. Load times also have a substantial impact on SEO. A slow page encourages visitors to leave, harming SEO metrics by increasing bounce rate and reducing time spent on page. Customers are used to fast load times and multitasking on their computers and devices, so a page that loads slowly will send them packing quickly.

That trend is exacerbated by the widespread use of mobile devices. With performance specs worse than those of full-sized computers and less reliable data connections to boot, mobile needs to be a consideration during site development. If businesses can’t prioritize mobile to the necessary extent and provide a top-notch experience, they’re better off creating a basic mobile site than trying to push the issue with mediocre results.

Search Engine Optimization

Maintaining relevance may be the largest challenge in terms of search engine optimization. Because Google wants relevancy to matter most in search results seen by its users, the company regularly changes aspects of its search algorithm in ways that don’t pay much consideration to current SEO strategies and tactics. Google makes a number of determinations that are based on evidence, like load times and readability, but the company also makes some arbitrary choices and cloaks the entire process in secrecy.

With a focus on the holistic user experience instead of specific elements of use and a proprietary, closely guarded method for making these changes, SEO is simultaneously well understood on a general level and harder to contend with when it comes to specifics. That’s especially true around the time of an update from Google, particularly a major one. Paired with the competition businesses face in the marketplace, SEO can seem like an especially difficult challenge when it comes time to move past generalities and make distinct decisions. While this realization can drive companies to consider options like search engine marketing — paying for clicks — over the long-term, the reality is that regular optimization is a more cost-effective and worthwhile approach, as long as the right long-term strategy is used.

It’s vital that SEO is considered early and often, and placed on the same level as other important e-commerce considerations. It’s an all-too-common error to leave strategy and implementation by the wayside when developing or revamping an e-commerce site.

SEO success can often hinge on the approach taken by a business and the experts it works with. Trial-and-error efforts are frequently seen but are far less preferable than situations where businesses, or their advisors, know how to use available SEO platforms and tools to craft meaningful strategy. To make SEO spending efficient, there needs to be a level of understanding much higher than throwing basic strategies at the wall and seeing what sticks.

With these three tune-ups successfully under your belt, it should be possible to realize a measurable benefit in your online performance. Your customers will thank you for staying on your site longer and coming back for more.

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ObjectWave is a full-service provider of digital commerce solutions. He can be reached at samc@objectwave.com.