Optimizing Your E-Commerce Site: Three Levers for Success

In the current economic climate, online retailers are looking for ways to improve sales. Last year’s holiday season was weak for many businesses, and the economy doesn’t look like it’s getting any better all that quickly. So it’s a good idea for marketers to start testing and making changes now to ensure that they will be in prime condition for this year’s rapidly approaching peak selling period.

Use direct marketing’s three traditional levers — audience, offer, and creative — as a guide for testing and assessing your Web site. Here’s a checklist to help you take a fresh look at your marketing.


Reexamine your market’s demographic traits, psychographic characteristics, and behavioral actions to ensure you reach the largest and best audience for your offering. Determine whether you have overlooked any sizable secondary markets for your products. Ideally, demographics, psychographics, and behavioral traits should all be able to be applied to your media buy and creative. Some things to consider are:

  • Do the secondary audiences require a different marketing approach?
  • Do your landing pages address your audience based on where they come from?
  • Is your targeting and messaging consistent throughout the consumer experience?
  • Will expanding your social media participation reinforce your traditional efforts?
  • Can social bookmarking and forward-to-a-friend functionality expand your reach?


Assess your offer in terms of the traditional 4Ps: product, pricing, placing, and promotion. Together they offer a variety of levers to test and/or adjust:

  • Product. Consider how the actual product is presented to the customer:
    • Is your product in tune with these value-conscious times? If not, can you change the product or its positioning to make it more timely?
    • Does the customer get anything in addition to the product, such as guarantees, ongoing support, or community? Can these features become products on their own?
    • Are there products that you can cross-sell or up-sell, like traveler’s insurance? Consider where in the purchase process you should add these offers. Can they be promoted on the invoice, package, or follow-up e-mails?
    • Can you dynamically adjust your site based on feedback from social media sites? For example, if a product is getting a lot of positive buzz, can you promote it to prospects from those sites?
  • Pricing. Think about how the product or service is priced:
    • For your product array, will small units or larger bundles attract more buyers in this market?
    • Is the pricing consistent across channels? If not, can this be used to add a sense of urgency, such as “One day only” or “Only five units left”?
    • Have you considered adding layaway and installment payment options?
  • Place. Assess how customers use your site during the purchase process. Consider where the prospect is in the buying process and what type of information is needed to get the customer to complete a purchase:
    • Where does the prospect engage with the company and/or promotion? Remember, activity may take place away from your site.
    • Are the purchasing channels the same as the ongoing communications channels?
  • Promotion. Can you modify your promotion to encourage customers to buy sooner or more frequently?
    • Test using different offers, such as “Buy one, get one half price.”
    • Add a premium, such as an accessory.
    • Offer a coupon with a discount for a future purchase. For example, “Buy now and get 20% off your next purchase.”


Include the following five marketing factors: present benefits rather than product features, include a call to action, consider media and format, have multiple response channels, and incorporate your branding. Among the areas to try are:

  • Test copy to determine which wording maximizes results.
  • Consider the order of the information presented as well as the amount of information. What works best for converting your visitors into buyers in the current environment?
  • Test photographs and related copy.
  • Don’t overlook the importance of your buttons, including their copy, color, and location.
  • Consider your use of color.

Test and Measure

When assessing online retailing pages, test what works best for your site. At a minimum, use A/B testing. A multivariate approach is better because you can test multiple variables simultaneously as well as whether there are interactions between the variables. Mark Wachen, Autonomy Optimost managing director, points out that iterative testing will yield improved results. Based on his experience, marketers should be able to achieve double-digit percentage improvements. Of course, results will vary based on product and pricing, as well as how much testing has been done to date.

As a marketer, measure your results to determine your success. Here are some major factors to monitor:

  • Visitors. Have you increased the number of people engaged with your offering? Look at your traffic source. Has it changed? Are more visitors taking actions that lead to purchase? Remember, in the current market prospects are taking longer to make purchase decisions.
  • Sales. Are sales increasing, or at least staying flat? Examine revenue detail in terms of which products and lines are doing well and which ones aren’t. How do current sales compare to last year’s and the prior period’s? Look at total dollars, average price, and average order size. Also, consider the number of units sold and the average number of units per order.
  • Costs. Consider product costs and margins, plus marketing expenses.

While the current economy makes marketing more challenging than usual, there are still ways to improve your results. Sometimes it helps to step away from the day-to-day marketing process and try to see your Web site as your prospects do. Now is the perfect time to get your Web site tuned up for the upcoming holiday season.

Join us for a one-day Online Marketing Summit in a city near you from May 5, 2009, to July 1, 2009. Choose from one of 16 events designed to help interactive marketers do their jobs more effectively. All sessions are new this year and cover such topics as social media, e-mail marketing, search, and integrated marketing.

Heidi is off today. This column was originally published June 29, 2009 on ClickZ.

Meet Heidi at linkSES Chicago, December 7-9, 2009 at the Hilton Chicago.

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