Simon Quinn


…how most online merchants screw up

It’s common for online merchants to think that by simply listing hundreds or even thousands of products on their e-commerce website, search engine traffic and sales will start rolling in.  It turns out that is far from reality.

The cold hard fact is that a poorly built ecommerce site will make less money than a well built one.  As it will have less visitors via google, tiny conversion rates and low average orders values.

Compare this to a properly built website that is optimized and kept in top shape.
It will generate more visitors, higher conversion rates and larger average order values.  Resulting in much greater revenues.

In this document I’ll show you the pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Tracking Data and KPIs…

…what is it and how it will make (or break) your business

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the life line of your business.  Merchants need to discover all their relevant KPIs and track them on a monthly basis.

The minimum amount of KPIs that require tracking (and I’ll show you why) are…

  • The number of visitors.
  • The percent who convert into sales.
  • The average order value.

Multiply these three figures and you’ve got your monthly gross revenue.

(V) Visitors x (CR) Conversion Rate x (AOV) Average Order Value = (R) Revenue

Small changes can make or break a business

A website selling shoes is on the brink of closing down.  They currently have KPI’s like this :

  • Visitors : 2000
  • Conversion : 2%
  • Average order value : €50
  • Revenue per year : €24,000

But … they tweak their site and increase conversion rate increase by 0.5%.  This tiny change brings their their yearly revenue increases to €30,000.  Their business is saved… barely.

They continue tweaking to increase their KPI’s.  Here’s what they look like now :

  • 4000 visitors a month
  • conversion rate is 3%
  • an average order value of €75

So their revenue is now €108,000 per year.  That’s a massive difference.

Remember… “ If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

So how do we increase KPI’s and make tonnes of money?

There are two ways to go about it.  Either get everything right from the beginning.  Or get the foundation right.  Then work on tweaking the site month on money.

The main areas too look at are :

  • Buyer Anxiety Reducers
  • Product pages
  • Home page
  • Shopping Cart
  • SEO & Marketing

Lets start by looking at the Buyer Anxiety Reducers.

Buyer Anxiety…

…how dealing with it will absolutely result in more sales

Buyer anxiety is what stops a buyer from becoming a customer.  Dealing with buyer anxiety is 99% based around building trust in the buyer’s eyes.  Putting them at ease with buying from you.  If the buyer anxiety is not dealt with, website visitors will not convert to customers.

The most common buyer anxieties are :

  • Is this a real store?  How do I know this isn’t a fake / scam?
  • Is this site secure (privacy, credit card information)?
  • Is the store good, do they provide reliable quality customer service?
  • Is the product they sell of good quality?
  • Is this really the best price?
  • Will the item arrive on time?
  • Can I track my order?
  • What if I need help from a sales person?
  • What if I get the wrong color, size or items, or it never even arrives?

As you can see these anxiety issues are fears and fears are generally the unknown.  

The job of the online merchant or the website developer is to answer all of these anxiety issues.  In doing so it removes the fears and instills trust in it’s place.

We do this by sending ‘trust signals’ to the visitors.  

Trust signals will help us convert ‘anxious buyers’ into ‘happy loyal customers’.

Building trust is massively important… but luckily there are many ways to do it.

Trust Signals

A typical new visitor to your website will determine whether to stay or leave within the first 15 seconds. Since the web got infinite alternatives to your site, it’s crucial that you immediately instill a sense of trust immediately.

First impressions

An aesthetically pleasing site will show the visitor that you’re serious and didn’t just hack something together in the dark hours of the night.

A well-designed site (not to confuse with over-designed) shows that you’ve spent time and money on it, instilling trust.

New visitors will feel familiar with your site much faster if it’s easy to use.

A well-structured site tapping into the most common web conventions goes a long way in making your visitors feel familiar with (and thus in control of) your site.

Show A Pulse

It’s important to show new visitors that the content they’re seeing isn’t on some old abandoned site left for the eternal Internet archive.

Display some recently updated content (with a date) to show that your site is up to date. Having a blog or an embedded Twitter feed are great ways to show your site and people behind it are still active.

Humanize Your Website

People don’t trust a website – they trust the people / brand behind the website. That’s why you should use real images of you and your team. This way people can see that a real person is behind your site, and not some robot. It humanizes your website.

You can take this a step further by using videos to present you, your team, or your products.

Display Trust Seals

Trust seals are images, icons or logos from brands and companies that they recognize and trust. The vote of confidence that people have for these companies trickles down to the website that uses their logos. Examples of these include trust seals from Mastercard, Visa, Verisign and the Better Business Bureau. These are especially important when it comes to asking for credit card or payment details from interested buyers.  We also want to use an SSL Certificate to encrypt and secure data and display your SSL Security Seal.

Google trusted stores

Be a Person, Not a Stock Photo

While proof of security badges were the top indicator of trust in the Baymard survey (a leading expert in ecommerce), it just barely edged out another indicator of trust: clearly displayed contact information. Part of the fear of online fraud comes from the fact that you can pretend to be anyone on the Internet; if you’re operating your business anonymously, it sends up a red flag that you might not be who you say you are. Fostering trust involves making a personal connection, so don’t hide your contact information or use bland stock photos of strangers to represent your team. Put your face and name onto your website, have a clearly displayed contact info page, and answer emails personally instead of using an auto-reply.

Have a unique selling point

Why should someone buy from you and not your competitor?  Make sure your customer knows why.

Create a Detailed About Us Page

A good about page is a great way to quickly instill trust in new visitors curious about your site. staff photographs, company history and business philosophy reminds visitors that they are not dealing with a purely automated process. There are real people who select inventory, who had passionate dream that led them to create their business and who can help them if their product fails to meet their customer’s expectations.

Provide an Awesome Return Policy

Nothing builds trust better than an awesome return policy. Zappos is the king of awesome return policies. They introduced the “Free Shipping & Free 365 Day Returns” guarantee early on in their rise to internet stardom.

Having a return policy like Zappos says to potential customers: “We believe in our service so confidently, that we know you’ll love doing business with us.” By giving your customers no reason to say no to your service, how can you not make that first sale.


An online shopper is making a sacrifice.  They can’t physically see, touch or smell your product.  A well-placed guarantee can overcome the fear that your shopper has regarding the purchase.

You can test making your guarantee big, bold and highly visible on your website to see if it has an effect on sales.


Most internet users find testimonials helpful; especially if they tell visitors what we were able to do to help solve a problem and how success was measured.

Mention impressive figures about your company

  • Mention total number of orders shipped.
  • Mention total hours of customer service.
  • Mention total number of products in your inventory.
  • Mention the total number of customers served.
  • Include “Trusted Since XXXX”.
  • If you’re a verified seller of a brand include this fact.
  • If you take paypal or other authority payment providers do mention it.
  • Finally using a solid domain name instinctively adds some extra trust.

Make It Speedy

Slow loading sites tend to come across as less serious, degrading the trust relationship.

It doesn’t really matter why your site is slow, 47% of all web visitors expect your site to load in 2 seconds or less. You can, however, cheat by speeding up the perceived load time.

Utilize Social Proof

Social proof – showing that other people use and trust your site – is a very important factor in establishing trust, as it’s deeply rooted in human beings to look at how others behave and then mimic it.

Social proof can be as simple as having a Facebook fans / Twitter followers / RSS subscribers counter or user comments on your site.

Adding links to your social media accounts lets visitors check and see what other people are saying on your facebook and twitter accounts.  Just make sure if you link to your social media account that you have them very regularly updated, or else it could do more harm than good.

Have a Story to Tell

I would like to add that it helps if your business has a story to tell.. something interesting that users can relate to.

Have Authoritative Content – Be a thought leader

I would add having a authoritative content. When content looks like you really know what you are talking about (even if you don’t) it seems more trustworthy.

Communication options

Details such as a physical address and a telephone number puts people at ease. It gives the impression that the company is there to provide help and support for whatever concerns the consumer may have. Whether or not the consumer decides to use these communication avenues is not important. What matters is that it makes the company appear more credible in the eyes of consumers.

Talking to a live representative

Hiring customer representatives to answer phone calls or chat inquiries is not easy but it helps. Some people want to talk to another person and hear what they have to say regarding their concerns. Offering such services makes the company appear more personable.  One brilliant way to accomplish this is with live chat.  Another way is by having an international free phone number.

Company policies

Publish a copy of the company’s business rules or standards. This gives the impression that there is a structure within the company and that the company abides by its rules.

Delivery – Shipping Charges – Shipping Times – Exchange & Returns – FAQ – Payment – Privacy – Cookies – Contact – Our Location –

Delivery Information

Let the customer know exactly how delivery works.  How long it will take.  If there is a tracking option and how to use it.

Product Descriptions

The worst thing you can possibly do with ecommerce product pages is to copy and paste the stock description from the manufacturer.

You have to have original product descriptions.  Meaning written by you, or someone that works for you.  It’s okay to have about 25% of the content on your product page copied from the manufacturer.  For example a spec list.

The reason being out of all the sites that copy the same content google will only display one of them in the search results.

Meaning if you and your five biggest competitors all use the same copied description only one of you will be show in google results.

Well written descriptions convert higher and make more money.

The best eCommerce descriptions create an impression at once. They communicate value, get people excited, and make them switch from browsing mode to paying customers instantly.

Although it’s not fair to give all the credit for conversions to product descriptions, but they do play a key role (after the images).

All your customers answers must be answered in the description copy.

Pretend someone googled a product name and they arrive at the product page.  Does that page answer all their questions? Will they definitely want buy the product?

What if your site already uses copied descriptions?

Not a problem.  Rewrite them and google will start to index them in about 2-3 weeks.   If you have dozens to rewrite aim to do 5 good rewrites per day.

What does a well written product description look like?

Writing good product descriptions is something that can’t be explained in single page of text.  However I’ll give you a brief into.

Firstly you’ll want to write compelling copy, that’s enticing and friendly.  Secondly you’ll want to make sure the layout of the copy is good.

The way I’ve found works best is this :

  • A brief introductory sentence
  • Followed by three bullet points
  • Then a larger block of text describing the product

(with the buy button towards the top of the page, next to the price).

Any of the product descriptions on the Innocent Smoothie website have great product descriptions.

Choosing your bullet points

It could be argued that the most important features of my landing pages aren’t the buy buttons or the high-resolution product images, it’s the bullet points I use above the main glut of product copy.

  • Bullet one : Go for easy to swallow product features such as ‘handmade from sustainably sourced bamboo’ or ‘stores up to 100,000 songs’. Avoid things like ‘contains 64GB of memory’.
  • Bullet two : Mention any variations that are available. For example, ‘comes in red, yellow or blue’. If your product has no variations, settle for another product feature (but not the same one you used in your first bullet point, obviously).
  • For your third bullet point, mention bundled items such as ‘includes two controllers’ or ‘free paint brush included’. Don’t mention items that aren’t included in your bullet points. It’s a turn off for buyers and can be mentioned in the product copy itself.

Last but not least… META descriptions!

META descriptions are invisible when people actually browse your website, but they’re still really important. Lots of people copy and paste the same META description across many pages – some people don’t bother writing one at all.

Using proper META descriptions is vital on your product pages because you can include a call to action in them as well as some information about the product you’re offering, or the general service.

Tweaking the product description

Where possible you should update and tweak copy over time. If you notice a product page gets a lot of traffic but few conversions there may be an opportunity for you to re-work the copy, with a view to increasing conversion rates.

It’s even possible to split test the product descriptions.  Which mean’s writing two versions of the product description and seeing which one converts better over time.  Then using only the version which sells more.

You can split test (aka A/B test) almost everything.  But we’ll get into that later.

The best articles I’ve found on how to write awesome product descriptions…

There is a lot more to writing product descriptions that convert than this.  When you have time and are going to start writing I’d highly recommend reading over these two articles.

Product Reviews / Ratings

Seeking out online reviews has become such standard part of the buying process for people these days that every online retailer needs to be thinking about them.

In fact:

  • 70% of customers consult reviews or ratings before making a final purchase. (PeopleClaim)
  • 63% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews.
  • As many as 79% of consumers trust product reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

In other words, reviews have real value for consumers and people now depend on them.  But, they also have some big benefits for retailers.

Encouraging customer reviews

I don’t know about you, but personally I read customer reviews before I buy anything online.  And it seems that I’m not alone.

  • 67% of consumers read 6 reviews or less before they feel they can trust a business enough to make a purchase. (MarketingProfs)

But what happens if you don’t have many reviews?  Well you need to find a way to encourage customers to write them.  Here are a few ways to do that…

Email customers post-purchase

Asking for a review via email is a good idea.  But the timing is a key issue here.

Give customers enough time to have start using it and form an opinion.  But still when the purchase is fresh in the customer’s mind.

This is a tactic worked for M&S recently increasing customer feedback by more than 400%.

Offer incentives for leaving reviews

Incentives offered could be loyalty points or a chance to enter a prize draw.

The SEO benefits of reviews

Improving conversions and improving customer experience should be the main purpose of user reviews, but let’s not forget the considerable SEO benefits.

These include:

  • Fresh, unique content for search engines
  • Improve rankings for ‘product name’ + review
  • Increased CTR on results pages

Bad reviews are valuable too…

All reviews are valuable, and a mix of positive and negative reviews helps to improve consumer trust in the opinions they read.

Indeed, recent stats from Reevoo suggest that the presence of bad reviews actually improves conversions by 67%.

  • On average, 75 percent of reviews posted on review websites are positive, and 71 percent of consumers agreed that reviews make them more comfortable that they are purchasing the right product or service.

Product Filtering

more on this later


Delivery Information

  • Nothing is more irritating to a customer than selecting a product, making a purchase and reaching the checkout section only to discover the addition of unexpectedly high delivery charges and hidden taxes.
  • Posting the total cost on the product page eliminates the surprise of a high shipping cost and also lets the customer factor in the total cost before adding the product to the cart.

A Clear Returns Policy

The first part of a good returns policy is to try to prevent the return. People return their products when they’re disappointed so write clear and accurate product descriptions.

However having a well structured and easy to find returns policy can actually help your customer make the decision to purchase because they feel confident they can get a refund or exchange easily if there’s an issue.

  • make your policy easy to find
  • write in easy to understand language, no legal or internal policy jargon
  • don’t include hidden return costs, be explicit and clear about costs (if there are any)
  • be clear about whether the return is for cash, exchange or credit

Stock Notifications

Back in stock notifications

You can’t sell products which are out of stock.  However you can tell the customer when it comes back into stock and sell it to them then.

On product pages that are out of stock the visitor can enter their email address.  The system will automatically send them a notification email once that product comes back into stock.  This will help increase conversions.  It’s even possible to track on the system “did that customer buy that out of stock item they were interested in or not” and if not send them a follow up email with a discount code for that item.

Stock figures

One of the buyer anxiety point that some customers have is over stock availability.  If they buy the product and like it, will they be able to get it again.  Will the item be in stock tomorrow, etc.  Having a rough indicator of stock quantity on a site is a way to reduce this buyer anxiety point.

Live Chat Widget

According to an Econsultancy report, Live chat has the highest satisfaction levels for any customer service channel, with 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone.

Often times people have questions that may not have been answered in the product description or in the customer reviews. If you force them to guess, or leave them wondering, they are going to leave and find the answer to their question elsewhere.

Product Videos

  • Visuals work much better than text when it comes to conveying a message. Many eCommerce sites are using videos in different ways to improve customer understanding
  • of their products as well as make their content more engaging and intimate., aVWO customer, A/B tested videos on the sales page which resulted in increased conversions by 46%.
  • Videos also help the customers to gain a more intimate understanding of product look as well as functionality.
  • If you decide to have videos on your website, you may also look at having transcripts for the
  • videos. These not only ensure that viewers with hearing disability can access your video content, it also improves the SEO for that video.

Breadcrumb Navigation

  • Use breadcrumb navigation to let users know where they are.
  • Breadcrumb navigation helps the user to understand the product hierarchy as well as navigate to other areas of interest. They are also known to reduce bounce rates.

Add to Wish List

This option is particularly helpful in case of indecisive customers who are evaluating your product. Also, while browsing, some customers may stumble upon a product which they like but are not yet ready to buy. This option gives them the flexibility to ‘bookmark’ the product to which they can return later.

Cost Savings

Many times, if a product has been discounted, the product page shows the original price along with the discounted price. This is a smart trick used by marketers to cash in on the loss aversion tendency of people.

Show both the percentage saving as well as the actual saving made on the product. Different customers are induced by different messages.

Cross-selling & Upselling

  • As a business owner, you want the user to purchase add-ons, related products and accessories of the products they buy. One way to achieve this is to provide good options for upselling and cross-selling on the product pages.
  • Good suggestions for similar and related products not only improve the browsing experience but also aid in product exploration.


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