Category Archives: Ecommerce

SEO Tweaks for Big Impact

Search Engine Optimization can be a complicated and time-consuming endeavor. However, there are some small practices that can be implemented that don’t take too much time and that can really help your website gain a competitive edge in its web rankings. This is a list of ten such things compiled for your pleasure.

1. SEO Basics

Implementing the basics of SEO are among the easiest of tasks, and will yield the greatest results for your website.

The Title Tag is probably the most important part of a website for search engine optimization. It is the first thing the crawler will look at to determine your site’s subject matter. Your title tag should include some keywords, but not so many that your site be flagged for keyword stuffing. The order of words in your title tag is also important, and the closer important keywords are to the beginning of the title tag, the better it is for your rankings (I recommend a natural sounding flow to your title text). Although it varies by SERP, Google usually displays the first 65 to 75 characters of your title. This however, should not be a deterrent to use additional words or characters. Characters will be counted for web rankings even if they are not visible on the SERP. If it is your goal to optimized for localized search, than it is important to include localized keywords in the title area. You may also want to consider including branding for your overall site somewhere within the title space with some sort of separator, such as a hyphen. Make sure that all of your title tags are unique to their individual pages.

The Meta Description is also very important. It less important for rankings than it is for improving clickthrough rate, as it is usually the text that the user will read on the search page to decide whether they should click or not. In some cases the search engine will choose to display text from the page and not the text of the meta description. In this case, you should treat this as an indicator to rewrite your meta description text. It is worth noting that search engines usually only display the first 160 characters of the meta description, so it is important to keep your main message within that character count. The inclusion of more characters will likely be displayed truncated, displayed with ellipses. Although the keywords in meta descriptions don’t really effect search rankings, it is advised that the meta description differ for each page, so that the search engines don’t confuse the page for a duplicate.

Heading Tags are a very important factor for SEO. Search engines put an emphasis on the contents of these tags for determining what the site is about. It is important to note that the heading tags function hierarchically and should adhere to the correct structure. An H1 tag should always be included on a page, and an H2 tag should be used to break your writing down into further subsections. It is not necessary to overuse these subheading tags. They should only be used if it makes sense within your writing structure.

Using a Static URL Structure for your webpage or Permalink Format for your blog is advisable as a good SEO practice (although Googlebot can crawl dynamic URLs quite fine contrary to popular belief). Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team and a go-to resource on SEO for Google, has mentioned that the use of keywords in your URL can effect search rankings (albeit only slightly). I recommend your URL be representative of your page title, maybe with some unimportant words like “and” or “the” omitted to shorten the URL, and separated by hyphens (this page: “/ten-seo-tweaks”). Where this practice really shines through though and where it will have the greatest impact is on your page’s click-through rate. The reason for this is that people dislike long, meaningless URLs and they are more likely to click on a shorter one.

Although it isn’t necessary to have an XML Sitemap, it is still a good idea and will improve the crawl rate and indexation of your website. It becomes more important for large websites, or websites that are updated frequently for this reason. The sitemap should be validated and connected to your Google Webmaster Tools account.

2. Image Optimization

Since search engines can’t see or understand what is depicted in a picture, it is necessary that your provide search engines with details about images. Make sure to include a description of the image in the alt attribute within the img tag. You can also provide context to an image by using a descriptive filename. I recommend that you optimize the file size of your image to load at a decent speed, as this will help for SEO.

3. Webmaster Tools

Using Google Webmaster tools is a must for a website. It gives you great insight and control over the indexing of your website. You can check errors, perform geotargetting, remove an indexed page, reviewing inbound links, and many more functions that are very valuable for SEO. The Google Webmaster Central Blog has a very informative video entitled Using Webmaster Tools like an SEO that I recommend you check out for more information. In addition to Google Webmaster Tools, I recommend you also use Bing Webmaster Tools. It has a great interface that was designed with SEO in mind.

4. Google+

The advent of Google+ and the +1 button has sent shockwaves through the SEO world. For sometime now, social signals have been effecting search ranking, but not in the way that Google+ does. Webpages that have been +1’d by people in your circles will usually appear at the top of the search engine results page above other organic results, making a Google+ essential to your SEO strategies.

5. Social Networks

Sharing on social network other than Google+ can effect your search ranking a little bit (not nearly as much as with Google+ of course), and social signals will likely become more and more important to the future of search. Even if it doesn’t impact your search rankings, it is still recommended because it will only add to traffic and conversions for your website.

6. Google Authorship Markup

You can use rel=”author” on your website or blog to display your picture and author information next to a page in the SERP. The picture is linked to your Google+ profile. It can be used to add authority to your name and even improve click through rate (it helps your page stand out in the SERP). Cyrus Shepard recently wrote about he was able to further optimize his author picture to increase web traffic.

7. Social Meta Data

The use of Social Meta Data is will not have a direct effect on SEO, but will help with distribution amongst social networks which in turn effects SEO. Social signals have become increasingly important to search engine rankings. When your link is shared on a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn, social meta data will dictate the thumbnail, title, and description that will be displayed. If these aren’t set, they display poorly by default and fewer people will click on the link or reshare it. This is probably the most difficult to implement of the SEO tweaks that I am mentioning, and I apologize if it is confusing.

To Be Used With Facebook / Opengraph

First, modify the attributes of your <html> tag to look like <html xmlns:og=”” xmlns:fb=”” xmlns:og=””>

Then, add the following to following to the <head> section of your webpage:

<meta property=”og:site_name” content=”Name of Website or Blog, Not the Page Name” />

Can be “article” or “website” depending on type of page.
<meta property=”og:type” content=”article” />

<meta property=”og:locale” content=”en_US” />
<meta property=”og:title” content=”Title For Your Webpage (Similar to Title Tag)” />
<meta property=”og:description” content=”Description Text for Webpage (Similar to Meta Description Tag Contents)” />

Image should be representative of the page in reference. It will appear as the thumbnail image when posted to Facebook and some other social networks.
<meta property=”og:image” content=”” />

To Be Used With Twitter Cards

Add the following to following to the <head> section of your webpage:

<meta name=”twitter:card” content=”summary”>
<meta name=”twitter:site” content=”@twitter_handle“>
<meta name=”twitter:creator” content=”@twitter_handle“>

Should be the Canonical URL of the Webpage
url” content=”“>

<meta name=”twitter:title” content=”Title For Your Webpage (Similar to Title Tag, Maxium 70 Characters)“>
<meta name=”twitter:description” content=”Description Text for Webpage (Similar to Meta Description Tag Contents, should be less than 200 characters)“>

Image should be representative of the page in reference. Must be at least 60px by 60px. Images greater than 120px by 120px will be resized and cropped in a square aspect ratio.
<meta name=”twitter:image” content=”“>

Make sure to check your implementation of these tags with Google’s Rich Snippet Testing Tool.

8. Keyword Research

Keyword research can be a long and tedious process to complete in full, but doing just a little bit can go a long way. I recommend optimized for 2 or 3 keywords, but it isn’t necessary to go crazy with them. Whatever you write should be natural sounding, maintaing an organic flow.

Also keep in mind that it is likely that you will be competing with other high profile websites for search ranking for certain keywords (this is bad for you). You may want to try and optimize for long tail keyword or keywords that are less competitive at first. There are several free tools at your disposal that can help you with your keyword research:

Note: Many of these tools are meant for PPC campaigns, but can also be used for SEO purposes.

9. Consistant Linking

Linking is factor which Google and other search engines use to rank your website. I won’t get into linking really, but would like to stress that it is important how that the link to your website be consistent across the internet. You can link to your website in your social networking profiles, email signatures, and beyond. Choose whether you would like to include the “www” or “/” at the end and be consistant everywhere you put this address. I also think it is worth mentioning that you should not spam the web with your website’s link.

10. Analytics

Employing the use of an analytics package like the free Google Analytics can be very helpful. You can use it to easily see what is working and what isn’t working. Use it to test and improve your SEO practices.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask them in the blog comment bellow. I would be happy to answer.

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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Ecommerce, SEO - Search Engine Optimisation


Tips on Creating a Better Online Shopping Experience

There are smart marketing methods out there like real-time web personalization that will help create a better online experience for your customers through this joyful yet stressful time of year.

Personalize the web experience for a first time visitor:
It may seem difficult to know what a first time visitor is interested as there isn’t any clickstream behavior to track yet, but there are some things you can do here. In real-time, you can identify what site they came from (referring site), what their search terms were, you can start to understand their likely interests.

Tip 1: You can simply serve new visitors a Welcome Message on your website – and this message can be used as an email acquisition tool.

Gardener’s Supply Company saw a 3x increase in revenue and a 6x boost in leads after launching a welcome message on their website, targeted at visitors who came from Pinterest. The message included a discount and email address capture to help increase engagement and drive conversions.

Personalize the web experience for a returning visitor:
This one is easier. Anonymous visitors can be identified as a return visitor. The instant they visit your site, in real time, you can recognize this “Anonymous visitor ABC”.  Last time they were here they clicked on “XYZ”, so let’s present them personalized language, content, and offers focused on “XYZ” right away. You are now dramatically improving your chances of having this visitor make it past the 20-second danger zone, because right off the bat you are showing them what they want.

Tip 2: Serve them a Welcome Back message – this can include a variety of messages based of their past behavior: You left items in your cart, you looked at these specific items, you never left your email address for offers and promotions etc.

Tip 3: You notice that an anonymous visitor is returning to view a specific item. They have never added it the shopping cart, but it is obvious there is high interest. Upon their return visit, you can swap out the content and language to be focused on that specific item, as well as similar and complementary items to assist in increasing the purchase order. You can even offer them a personalized coupon for this specific item, as well as discounts on related items.

Help guide your visitors:
With lengthy shopping lists, last-minute shopping runs, and returns & exchanges – you can help create a better customer experience by making your site a customer service representative. There several ways to do this and it will be impactful if it’s done right.

Tip 4: Target your visitors based off of geolocation. Help guide them with a banner or popover with the nearest store location. You can also promote new store openings, sales and store events.

Tip 5: Tailor messages to visitors based off of the time spent on your website. If they are on your site with no action, you can ask them is they need assistance, ask them for their email, live chat, or offer them an incentive to purchase.

Create Urgency!
Creating a sense of urgency with discounts or free shipping messages can drive sales with already engaged visitors.

Tip 6: Whether a visitor has returned to your website several times to view a product or if they have items in their shopping cart, you can help move them through the sales process quickly by offering a deep discount or free shipping message while they are engaged on your website. This tactic will increase shopping cart conversions and decrease abandonment.

Decrease your bounce rate:
Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to your site that visit one page on your website and then leave. According to Google, the average for most sites is between 40% and 60%. The lower your bounce rate is, the longer your potential customer will be on your site making the decision to buy.

Tip 7: Are they bouncing without a purchase? Offer them a coupon or discount right away – an incentive for them to stick around.

Tip 8: Do they have items in their shopping cart? Show them those items within a message to remind them of these items! These two tips can be used together as a double whammy to get them to convert.

MIT Technology Review reduced their bounce rate by 10x on their website when they added real-time dynamic, personalized content to their site to help engage visitors, keep them on their website, and prevent bounces.

Don’t let your customers have a mediocre shopping experience this holiday season. Help them find what they are looking for, when they are looking for it, and guide them through the buying process. While you have been planning your Q4 since this summer, it’s not too late to add real-time behavior-based web personalization into your holiday marketing mix

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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Ecommerce


Starting an Ecommerce Business – Basic Steps

Thinking about launching an ecommerce business but didn’t quite know where to start? We thought we’d break it down for you. Here are eight basic things you need to have in place before you can open your virtual doors for business.

1. Ecommerce-Capable Hosting Plan
At Applied Innovations, you can host an ecommerce site on a plan as basic as our VS 1 Shared Hosting account for less than £25 per month. Ecommerce sites tend to be particularly resource-intensive, so you simply need to know that your hosting plan is compatible. You will pay a little bit more than a basic site, but most shopping cart applications simply won’t work on a basic £5 or £10 hosting plan. See more about shopping carts below.

2. A Website
Think of your website as the storefront that defines your product offering and invites your customers in. The site needs to be easy to find, to communicate trustworthiness, and to provide the fundamental framework for selling your product. A good ecommerce site offers visitors a story, and engages customers to interact with the site on different levels. You want to create a personality for your brand, and communicate your unique selling proposition or USP. Ideally, you want to establish your site as a “subject matter expert” or SME in the field related to your product, whether it’s shoes or organic spices or online training. You need to develop unique, keyword-rich descriptive content that is optimized for search engines. Be sure to integrate good Meta data (Title Tags, Meta Description, Meta Keywords and Alt tags) on all pages. And make sure you have an XML site map installed.

3. An Ecommerce Shopping Cart
There are a couple of ways to approach shopping carts. You can add a shopping cart module to a basic website, or you can actually build your site on an integrated ecommerce platform like AspDotNetStorefront, BV Commerce or nopCommerce, which means you can skip Step 2 on this list. Other ecommerce applications supported by Applied Innovations include StoreFront, OSCommerce, Zen Cart and many others. Or you might want to start with a free open source application like Joomla or WordPress, and then find a shopping cart module add-on.

4. SSL Certificate
SSL – short for Secure Socket Layer – is the security protocol that is used broadly across the Internet to ensure secure transactions between web servers and browsers. An SSL certificate allows a website to conduct credit card payment transactions over an https:// secure URL. So basically, you need this if you’re going to take payments, unless you stick to PayPal or Google Checkout. All of Applied Innovations’ web servers are certified for use with secured access for data transfer involving payment methods and sensitive information, and you can use this service with or without your own secure certificate (shared SSL is available on all plans.) For a very thorough (but easy-to-understand) definition, check out this page on The Linux Documentation Project website:

5. Merchant account
A merchant account accepts credit card payments and deposits them into your bank account. For a fee, of course. You may set up a merchant account through your existing business bank, through Quickbooks, or even through Costco! Just be sure to check around and compare fees. If you’re working with a CPA, you may want to ask for their recommendations, also. In some cases, simply by having a CPA or professional bookkeeper set up the account, you can obtain lower rates.

6. PCI Compliance
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is an internationally accepted standard for credit card payment fraud prevention. Essentially, it sets standards for data control and exposure that apply to all companies that process cardholder information for VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover or JCB (Japan Credit Bureau) cards. While this topic is too vast to cover in a mere newsletter article, you may find the answers to all your questions at the PCI Compliance Guide website

7. Traffic
You can’t sell anything unless you can drive traffic to your website. How you do that is perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll face in your pursuit of ecommerce nirvana. First, let’s talk about the “free” promotional vehicles out there. A blog is a must. Check out the article on Benefits of a WordPress Blog . A Facebook fan page for the business and your own Facebook page are also great places to start. You also can create Twitter profiles for both yourself and the business, a YouTube channel with topically-relevant videos, a LinkedIn business profile, and any number of other social network profiles. Submit your business to as many free business directories, local or review sites, or industry-specific directories you can find. Start a mailing list and send out a regular newsletter with specials and product news. Then see what kinds of promotion your competitors are paying for. Banner ads? MyPoints, Groupon or Living Social campaigns? Look into PPC (pay per click) advertising on Google, Bing or Yahoo. Price out direct eblasts (email marketing) to purchased lists.

8. Statistics
Finally, you need to be able to analyse your site traffic, referral sites and customer base to get the most out of your website. First, you want to install Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools (both free.) And then be sure to take advantage of Smarter Stats, a powerful suite of tools that are included with your Applied Innovations hosting plan. SmarterStats monitors your site performance and traffic. You may view many vital statistics about your site, including number of visits, viewer locations and peak traffic times—information that will allow you to make intelligent, informed decisions about your web investment.

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Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Ecommerce


Taking Payment: Basket and Checkout Optimisation

The Overall Checkout Flow

The faster, easier and more reassuring a checkout process feels, the more likely a potential customer will reach the final stage. In general, that means minimising the number of pages in the process, removing anything that may confuse them, ensuring they are reassured at all points in the process, and handling any errors in a way that doesn’t frustrate people. For mobile checkouts, where devices are smaller and connection speeds often slower, all of that applies twice as much!

Baskets vs Mini Baskets

Whereas most e-commerce sites used to send users to the basket whenever they added an item, more frequently now you see a little ‘mini basket’ sitting at the top right of every page. Adding a product to your basket now often simply updates that, only sending users to the ‘basket page’ unless they specifically try to visit it. is a good example of a ‘mini basket’ site. Add any product to your basket there, and you’ll remain on the current page, while a small notifier lets you know at the top right of the screen that the product has been added.
Mini baskets work very well on sites where you would expect the user to buy four or five products, as they allow visitors to continue shopping without interrupting them by jumping them to the basket page. But, on sites where visitors are only likely to buy a single product, it’s often more sensible to send them straight to the basket page itself. For example, sells unique experience days. Because people tend to buy those as ‘one-off’ events, they send visitors straight to the basket when any product is added to cart. Doing so means it’s less likely potential buyers will be side-tracked, and more likely they’ll move from ‘basket’ to ‘purchase’.

The Basket Page

A good basket page should include the following:

  • Details of all of the items in the basket complete with quantity and price
  • A subtle area allowing them to add promotion codes if theyare already intent on doing that
  • The total price, broken down with shipping costs (and VAT displayed if business customers may purchase)
  • The option to increase or decrease the quantity of items in the basket
  • Delivery information or a link to display a delivery popup
  • Prominent display of all the main payment types you accept
  • Notification that your checkout is secure, or any relevant safety icons
  • A prominent, impossible to miss ‘checkout’ button, which should be visible without the need to scroll
  • A less prominent ‘continue shopping’ button
  • A way to contact you in case the visitor has any final ‘must answer’ questions before purchasing

Take a look at your own basket page, compare it against the above list, and if it does not match, ask if there is a good reason why not.

Customer Information and Registration

Forcing new visitors to register for a site before they checkout often reduces the likelihood they’ll purchase. Econsultancy consultant Dan Barker noted “Occasionally this only makes a small difference, but usually, removing the need for customers to register before they buy has a big impact. The biggest difference in improvement I’ve personally seen in a test reduced the number of new visitors who dropped out at this stage in the checkout by more than 50%. “
It’s often best to display your Checkout with PayPal option as early in the checkout process as possible, to reassure visitors that they aren’t going to have to enter lots of personal information, and that they can simply purchase with a few clicks using their PayPal details.

Reassurance and Validation

Throughout the checkout process, it’s worth reassuring visitors they’re in the right place, and entering the right details, and validating any details they give immediately before moving on. Some simple tips:

  • Add a tick icon next to form fields once they’ve been correctly entered
  • Include a subtle link next to any areas that may be confusing, allowing visitors to hover over it to see an explanation
  • Show any error messages as soon as the error appears, rather than waiting for the visitor to hit ‘continue’
  • Have a visible ‘Step 1 of 3’ notification to show visitors where they are in the process at all times
  • Include a summary of their order at all steps during the checkout, not just on the basket page. Many sites do that by placing a green tick next to each form field when they’ve been correctly completed.


On mobile, everything written here applies twofold. PayPal’s checkout is optimised for mobile, but for elements outside of PayPal, it’s worth bearing in mind the potential issues and making sure you’ve done what you can to overcome them. The main issues to bear in mind with mobile payments are:

  • The screen size is usually smaller
  • It’s far more fiddly to enter form fields
  • Connections are often slightly slower than they would be on a desktop
  • Customers are usually slightly more wary of paying on a phone.

Taking Payment

If the customer pays with their PayPal account, taking payment is all handled for you in a simple interface that customers are used to. If you also take payments by other means, it’s best to make sure the form fields you use are very clear, and that simple mistakes like entering a postcode in lower case, or with no space, don’t trigger an error. It’s also worth remembering the buyer may have to enter their 3D Secure or Verified by Visa information at this stage. Adding reassurance around that, notifying them that it’s coming, and offering absolute clarity on where they are in the process can all smooth out little bumps in the journey like that.

The ‘Thank You’ Page

Finally, a step that e-commerce sites often pay little attention to is the ‘Thanks for your Order’ page. This is the last impression your customer will have of your site, so it’s worth making this page as nice as possible, with all of the information they may need about their order and delivery, and of course a gentle nudge for them to tell their friends about your site via email or via social media.

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Ecommerce, SEO - Search Engine Optimisation

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