Ecommerce Conversion Optimization: How treating products like content boosted sales
This article is more than six months old, and some specifics have likely changed.
The thing about having almost a decade of data to draw on — you start to see patterns you wouldn’t otherwise find. Spice House had been a client of Table XI’s for 15 years before they came to us to redesign their spice-selling website last year. That meant we’d been tracking ecommerce conversion rates and checkout funnels for as long as the technology has existed. Being able to apply season after season of real user data gave us a new approach to ecommerce conversion optimization:
Treat the products like content.
For Spice House, so far that approach has netted a 66 percent conversion rate increase and a 35 percent increase in ecommerce revenue year-over-year. It helps that Spice House is in the food business. And people love to learn about food. When they go to buy a spice, they want to know where it’s from, why it’s the best and how they can use it. Not every product works that way — commodity products, for one — but the popularity of sites like The Wirecutter and Everlane prove there are plenty of shoppers out there who want to know everything there is to know about what they’re buying.
If you think your business might benefit from the same approach, here are some ecommerce optimization tips, and how we applied them to Spice House.
How to increase your conversion rate by attracting motivated buyers with SEO
The trick with all of that user data is knowing what to analyze. The first thing we looked at was the conversion rate based on how users arrived at the Spice House website. We saw that people coming to the site directly had a good ecommerce conversion rate. Not surprising — these were likely repeat customers who knew what they wanted. It was the people who came to the site via Google to look at a recipe that weren’t purchasing at the rate we expected. That spoke to opportunity.
Spice House has great SEO on their recipe database, and it generates a lot of traffic. We wanted to put energy into converting those users, because they had much more new business potential than selling more to repeat customers. To help people find spices to buy, we improved the calls to action on recipe pages, so users who weren’t familiar with Spice House would understand that they could buy the spices mentioned and do so easily.
We also gave Spice House more opportunities to draw users in by architecting the new site for better SEO. For example, on the old site, black pepper would have had one page with options for different forms. But there’s SEO value in both whole black peppercorn and ground pepper. We broke the site up into separate product pages to create more opportunities to rank in search and reach more users. We also adopted a new collection strategy, outlined below, that created additional text and image-filled landing pages that give Spice House opportunities to rank for things like best spices to pair with chocolate.
How to drive more users into the ecommerce funnel with content
Spice House has a lot of great recipes and product descriptions, even a few videos. We wanted to find more ways to surface that content, so users can clearly see Spice House is the authority on these products.
We created a lightweight CMS that would make it easier to build collections of recipes and spices, and associate those collections with product pages. Now, if you’re shopping for Cooking Spices, you can see collections of the best vegetable spices and barbecue spices right on the page. We extended that content strategy to recipes, so Spice House can now easily feature all their vegan recipes, or Middle Eastern recipes, or holiday recipes. The collections keep the site looking current, and give shoppers inspiration. They also make great landing pages for targeted advertising or marketing campaigns.
The biggest step we took for ecommerce optimization was showing related spices on every product page. Now, if you want to buy Za’atar for example, you can see the recipes that use it, the collections that it’s in and other spices in those same collections.
All of this interlinking makes it much easier for people to stumble across related products they might want to buy.
Results: Making it easier to find content and spices is already keeping people on the site longer. Since we launched, year-over-year average session duration is up 27 percent and pages per session are up 32 percent.
How to increase the commerce conversion rate with better architecture and search
We could see from the data that people who were browsing the site didn’t often end up purchasing. That indicated users were struggling to find the spices they wanted. To help them, we overhauled the navigation and completely redid search.
To find out how people wanted to navigate spices, we paired our user data with a competitive analysis. The research led us to four simple categories: baking spices, cooking spices, salt and peppers, and gifts and accessories.
Results: The new autocompleting search lets people find what they want immediately and add it to their carts. Now, 10 percent of searches result in users adding products straight to their cart from the search bar without having to click through to the product page.
How to use shopping cart optimization to reduce cart abandonment
Now that we had people putting things in their cart, we had to work on ecommerce funnel optimization. The actual ecommerce cart conversion rate was not where we wanted it — too many people were shying away from making a purchase at the last minute. So we analyzed how users actually checked out to remove any obstacles to purchase.
With the new optimized shopping cart flow, we ask users for their email first. That’s the most valuable piece of information they can give us if they don’t end up buying, because now we have a way to reach them. It also lets returning users login, so they can skip filling in information that’s already saved and check out quicker. We give new users an opportunity to create an account at the end of the flow, so they can become members. It makes it easier for them to purchase when they do come back. It also adds them to Spice House’s newsletter list, so they can market to people who have already converted once.
To keep customers moving through the checkout process, we minimized the time it takes for the page to update, using API calls instead of page refreshes to get the response time down to less than 100 milliseconds. We also included validation within the checkout flow, so users would know immediately if they’d made a mistake entering their credit card information or other data. We didn’t want users to complete their order, then get an error message and have to redo everything. Providing instant validation reduces frustration and increases successful ordering.
Results: Making it easier to move through the checkout process helped increase Spice House’s cart completion rate by 10 percent.
How to take the free shipping conversion rate site-wide
We could also see from the data that every time Spice House would send out a coupon for free shipping, sales would skyrocket. John Gore, the product owner, ran the numbers and made a business case for offering free shipping after $45 all the time.
Free shipping is one of the more common conversion rate optimization best practices, but again we treated it more like content. We built the site so messages and notices about the offer appear when you add something to your cart and throughout the checkout process. It becomes almost like a shopping aid, constantly tempting users with by free shipping if you just spend $13 more. Once users have gone through the trouble of building a cart to $45, they’re less likely to abandon it. Now, almost every order ships free, because people are buying that one extra spice to get the deal.
Results: By offering a free-shipping incentive to customers who buy at least $45 of products, the average order value is up 19 percent year-over-year.