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How to increase the effectiveness of e-tail and transactional websites

How to increase the effectiveness of e-tail and transactional websites

By Rob Smith, Digital Director at Blueleaf.

Ecommerce is growing up, and with the overall growth rate of ecommerce set to slow down in the next few years (in comparison to it's meteoric rise) , it's important that etailers are honing their offering to be as efficient as possible for their visitors.

This article will look into a few areas where small improvements can make big differences to conversion rates.

First things first: testing

There is no such thing as a golden rule for etailing that you shouldn't test before you implement it permanently. Many people have learnt this lesson the hard way. Your site is different to every single other site with its unique makeup of products, style, customers and communication. This site DNA if you like, means that what works for other sites, may not work for you.

The solution to this is testing. Run a split test on a new product page or checkout process. Make sure your change makes a significant positive difference before you make it more permanent. Remember that sometimes making one changes affects another part of the website and so overall could lower conversion. Be careful, methodical and patient.

All that being said, lets get to the juicy possibilities.


The best place to start when optimising your ecommerce website. From the moment that a user presses that hollowed checkout button, the process needs to be as fast, efficient and error free as possible. The last part of the site is really a chore, something that needs to get done, but the enjoyment of shopping is now over. Imagine waiting in line for ages at a store's till and then your card failing and so on.

With that in mind, here are the checkout tips:

Allow guests to checkout

Do not force users to register to purchase. We have so many accounts with so many different websites and providers: bank accounts, retail websites, PIN numbers, and energy suppliers – the list goes on. Making someone create yet another account slows down the process. This is especially important if you are likely to be a rare purchase for people – they don't want to use so much time ordering when they don't do it very often.

Handle errors gracefully

Things do go wrong in the checkout process. It's inevitable that a card may decline, or someone accidentally types the wrong card number. What's important is how you handle that situation.

An error message of 'Error code H51 – Invalid input' is pretty awful. What am I, as the user, supposed to do now? Make sure your messages are helpful and easy to follow. An example could be 'Please check your email address as it doesn't look correct'. Of course a well-designed form can help prevent errors occurring as well, such as using drop down menus for dates.

Don't oversell or distract

When someone is checking out, it's tempting to add last minute offers or clutter up the page with other links to products – don't do it! Remember the checkout process needs to be as fast as possible, and distracting links or trying to sell people more products is more likely to lead to abandonment then to more sales. Effective cross and up selling can be done before the checkout stages (at basket or product page stage).

Best practice very often suggests enclosing the checkout, which is a step further where you remove all navigational elements that would allow people to break out of the checkout process (i.e. all main navigation) so that distractions are minimal.

Product pages

Another area where great gains can be achieved is on product pages. A good product page really can drive conversion by giving visitors the right information they are looking for quickly, enhancing their experience.

Obvious call to action

Something very simple, but do not underestimate it. The 'add to cart' / 'add to basket' button is the key to a good product page. It needs to be obvious, inviting and above the fold.

As soon as they are ready to add a product to the basket, they should be able to do so quickly with little fuss.

Delivery information

Make sure it's clear when they can get their product, and how much it costs. There's no use in a customer adding a product to their basket, and when coming to check out, is informed the item is out of stock. Or they need it in 7 days, and you can only provide it in 10.

The better the information, the more comfortable and involved in the purchase the customer will feel.

Item descriptions

Please make item descriptions well written and inviting. You may have the best product in the world, the best checkout and delivery, but if you don't get the customer excited about the product, they won't buy.

Inviting, well written copy, good, in depth information on the product details and its benefits will only make someone want to buy the product more. Add to that excellent imagery and your items will do a much better job of selling themselves.

Don't be lazy with your product information.


It's all about testing new approaches. Best practice, like some of the tips above, can certainly help guide the process, but your site is just that, your site. Test every change you make to make sure it has the positive impact you need for the site.

One of the easiest tools to use to carry out this testing is Google Website Optimizer – a free tool from Google, to perform both split testing and multi variate testing (testing many different changes at once). If you're an etailer who isn't testing, now is never a better time to start.

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