As a developer for an eCommerce site, it can sometimes feel like marketers are speaking another language. Or worse—that marketers are requesting complicated changes on a whim, without a clue as to what kind of work is involved for the development team.
The good news is that marketers are not on a mission to make your life miserable, but there are unspoken motivations and goals behind marketers’ requests. We’re here to break down what marketers are asking for and walk through what that means for you as a developer.
What marketers care about
Marketing and Sales Benefits
The first thing to understand about marketers’ requests is what’s motivating them. In the world of eCommerce, everything comes down to increasing revenue through measurable improvements in traffic, conversion, and the cost to acquire and retain a customer.
If these numbers take on a negative trend, it’s not only bad for the bottom line, this marketer’s job could be on the line. Understanding this motivation can help give perspective on what’s important to marketers and the sense of urgency that sometimes accompanies those requests.
The keyword here is measurable: marketers’ key performance indicators (KPIs) are tightly bound to these stats and analytics.
Here are a few of the most important figures that marketers are tracking:
- Organic traffic
- Conversion rate
- Return on ad spend (ROAS)
- Lifetime Value: Customer Acquisition Cost (LTV: CAC)
These numbers speak to the success of three main goals for eCommerce marketers: to drive more traffic, convert more buyers, and increase repeat purchases.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these three goals to identify the relevant KPIs and likely asks that developers will see in 2019:
How to drive more traffic
When it comes to driving shoppers to the site, it’s all about SEO. While marketers are thinking in terms of keywords and content, developers control many aspects of the site that can make or break search engine rankings.
We can group these activities into three categories:
- The things that affect your search engine ranking, making the site more discoverable
- The things that keep shoppers on the site once they land there
- The things that keep your site from crashing once you do get that traffic
For developers, SEO can be tricky. With other coding changes, it’s immediately obvious if the change was successful or not—it either works or it doesn’t. SEO is murkier.
Changes in ranking don’t take effect immediately, and it’s difficult to pin results to specific actions. When a marketer or SEO expert asks for a major site change, developers want to know: will this have real impact or is it just hot air?
As a developer, you know that the way you structure your markup and site architecture affect your search rankings, but it can be difficult to sort out the meaningful recommendations from things that do not affect, or worse, even negatively impact your SEO.
Below, we’ll go through a few of the essential considerations, no hocus pocus.
URL structures can sometimes be an afterthought—but they shouldn’t. URLs are the first thing that a search engine or a shopper sees on your page, and they need to be readable to both.
Your URLs should be descriptive of the page content and as succinct as possible. In most cases, this means that your URLs should mirror your page titles.
Don’t forget about keywords; URLs are a great opportunity to include keywords that you want to rank for. Don’t be repetitive, but do include keywords where it makes sense contextually.
To many developers, this might look familiar: First, you do whatever you have to do to make a feature work, then you focus on making it fast.
While there will always be an opportunity to refactor for performance improvements, there are some “quick wins” you can use to make sure your site speed is where it should be from the outset.
Ecommerce marketers care about site speed because of the impact on bounce rate–one of the primary metrics that a marketer is measuring. There’s not much point in attracting visitors to your site if they bolt when the site takes too long to load.
As a developer, here are a few things that will make your site more efficient (and win you points with marketers):
CDN Edge Caching
CDNs, or Content Delivery Networks, have evolved into much more than just a point of presence for digital asset delivery closer to users. Advances in technology mean CDNs can cache all content at the logical extreme edge of the network, commonly referred to as Edge Caching. Loading an entire page is much faster than loading a dynamic webpage, and makes a huge impact on user experience and on-site conversions.
You probably already know that images are one of the biggest sources of downloaded data on pages and the first place to look when you want to shave seconds off your load time. In addition to compressing your images and using CSS effects or web fonts over static images when possible, you can do your page speed a huge favor by leveraging a CDN to auto-detect the type of device a page is being viewed on and serve an image of the appropriate size and resolution.
If we waited until all of a page’s resources are loaded before painting to the page, visitors would be left looking at an empty screen. Lazy loading is a technique that initializes the resources needed first before loading resources farther down the page, so we get a head start on the content that the visitor sees at the top.
Images below the fold, for example, would first load a placeholder image which would populate the final image later in the page load process, after the above the fold content has rendered.
How to convert more buyers
A full-funnel with lots of traffic is great, but at the end of the day, it’s meaningless if those users don’t buy something. A focus on optimizing UX, design, and engineering can pay significant dividends in increasing the conversion rate.
Considering user flow is a great start to optimizing your eCommerce site. The user flow is the specific set of steps that a user needs to take to accomplish a goal. For eCommerce sites that means finding a product and successfully executing a transaction.
Begin by plotting out your common user flows and identify steps that may be superfluous. Every additional step likely means a decrease in conversion. Make it easy to quickly add products to your cart, and get through checkout steps efficiently. UI devices like “quick view” enable users to go directly to their cart from anywhere on the site.
Optimizing checkout flow to reduce the number of fields that users need to enter is another easy win. Enabling a “same as billing address” to populate shipping addresses is an easy win, as well. Eliminating any nonessential content or distractions can also help focus the user flow on conversion.
Browse VS. Search
We often talk about the browse vs search paradigms relative to the user journey. If you have a significant number of products, browse and search become incredibly important if we want to quickly facilitate a user finding what they need.
Faceted filtering and clear category navigation are easy wins. For users who know what they want, ensuring that your search functionality is both fast and accurate is essential. Some eCommerce platforms have performant search out of the box. Other platforms may require integration with search-optimized technologies, such as Elasticsearch or Solr, to ensure highly relevant and fast results.
Wayfinding and Discovery
Not every optimization needs to involve significant development effort. Something as simple as breadcrumbs can help ensure users can quickly get where they need to be and is often easy to implement.
It’s also important to ensure that users always have somewhere to go. On single product pages, make sure that there are complementary or related products on the page to keep the user engaged. The lightest touch implementation could simply be other products from the same category. More advanced implementations could reference “also bought” opportunities to upsell customers.
There are several psychological motivators when considering a sales conversation that can be supported with the low-level development effort. “Urgency” is an attribute that you can leverage in your eCommerce platform.
The used car lot technique of flashing “buy now” or “don’t miss out” style messages is doable— but ill-advised.
That approach could counteract your goals by cheapening or diminishing your brand. However, you can still create a sense of urgency around the sale in more subtle ways. Show low stock counts, or if specific colors or models are out of stock – show them as such instead of hiding them. If you have items on sale, a small notation identifying when the sale ends can significantly increase the feeling of urgency the consumer has and help promote that conversation.
It’s worth calling out a big bucket of work that developers can do to optimize and increase the efficacy of their eCommerce platforms. Making sure that the things you build are accessible is the right thing to do, full stop. It’s also a great business strategy. Marketers fight for every potential customer, and as developers, we should strive to serve everyone.
The transactional interfaces that makeup ecommerce product and checkout pages leverage form interfaces extensively. Sadly, forms are often the biggest offenders when looking through the lens of accessibility. On the bright side, making sure your interfaces are accessible is more about diligence and care than significant effort. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, a reminder that nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States have a disability. If you’re not sure where or how to start, there are many tools available, notably Lighthouse (built into Chrome) and WAVE (browser plugin and automated tool).
How to increase repeat purchases
There is a holy grail of eCommerce for marketers: retention. While optimizing a funnel for more traffic and conversions are key to any site’s success, cracking the nut of repeat purchases will serve as a foundation to continually increase revenue.
When customers register accounts, it certainly makes segmentation (see below) easier and allows the site to offer a more engaging experience for the customer. While this can all lead to an increase in repeat sales, it turns out, asking customers to log in or create an account at the start of a checkout flow often increases the chance they’ll abandon their cart.
Making it as simple as possible for a customer to create an account is key here. One option is simply starting the checkout process with an email field to automatically check if it correlates with a previous purchase. If the email is unrecognized, the customer has the option to complete their details without forcing them to create an account. This solves both for the cart abandonment problem, while also making repeat purchases as simple as possible.
Segmentation and Automation
A glance at nearly any marketing or sales blog these days and you’ll easily see that marketing automation is king. Sending emails to the right customers at the right times, following up on abandoned carts, reminding a customer that those shoes they bought last year are now available in yellow, are all key functions of any marketing automation platform.
At its core, marketing automation is about optimization. By developing audience segments, marketers can optimize which customers they are spending effort on and when best to contact them.
For each customer segment, automated flow of touchpoints can be triggered based on specific actions. Let’s take for example the shoe customer again. She bought a pair of red shoes in August, from there she’s in a campaign segmented not only for new customers, but also by what she purchased and even what else she added to her cart, but removed before completing the transaction.
The automation flow for this customer would include remarketing via online or social ads when complementary items are on sale, and email for an existing customer exclusive promotional offer, touchpoints for holiday shopping, and on and on.
By having comprehensive event tracking throughout the site, you’ll be able to read the overall data trends to see what repeat purchases a person who has bought red shoes makes, and target the automation flow accordingly.
You’ve made it. The customer has become aware of the brand through your stellar SEO techniques, and they made their first purchase in large part due to the conversion rate optimization steps taken on your site. Now we enter the world of email marketing.
It’s true, even today amidst the cacophony of phones pinging non-stop with social media alerts and text messages, email marketing still shows the biggest return on investment (ROI) for eCommerce marketing efforts.
First amongst the pillars of email marketing is the newsletter. Implementing the segmentation and automation tools from above, the marketing team can now send personalized newsletters to increase open rates an average of 5%.
Next is figuring out email nurture. What this means is connecting with a customer post-conversion to nurture them along to their next purchase. Automation tools are key here. Triggering email sends based on time, actions the customer took or did not take, or some combination thereof are all ways to optimize email marketing.
A Note About Email Deliverability
Email list size has been the ultimate vanity metric for marketers, but it carries less and less weight as emails that are never opened can soon turn into emails that are never delivered. To decrease the noise of spam, email providers and ISPs are rejecting more and more marketing emails, where they simply end up undelivered.
Following best practices for email deliverability will allow more of your emails to reach the inbox. Keeping a strong reputation by sending emails that are relevant to your customers will result in fewer unsubscribes.
From a technical standpoint, authenticating your email streams via domain keys identified mail (DKIM), sender policy framework (SPF) and having a properly configured infrastructure can have a huge impact on email deliverability.
Further Communication Channels
While email is top of the food chain for customer touchpoints, there are further options to increase customer retention including push notifications via web or app, SMS, remarketing via social media ads, and on-site messaging opportunities.
When you learn that text messages have a read rate upwards of 90%, it can be tempting to move much of the marketing to text, but it’s a tricky medium. Legalities are one thing to watch for when it comes to SMS marketing, in the US, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) has pretty stringent guidelines on who may receive SMS marketing. Specifically, they must opt-in and they must be able to easily opt-out.
Used judiciously, SMS messaging of return customers can increase the sense of urgency and in-turn increase repeat purchases.
On-site notifications are another perfect channel to communicate with return customers. A simple alert bar along the top of the site offering a promo code for existing customers or promoting a loyalty program goes a long way for customer retention.
As messaging apps continue to overtake social networking, expect more and more opportunities to pop up for personalized messages directly to your customer in their inbox—wherever that inbox may be.
How to align for mutual success
It’s easy to feel like your marketing team is speaking a different language when you are responsible for the technical side of your eCommerce site. With a common understanding of the overall goal for your site and how it will grow the business, developers and marketers can easily live in harmony.