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Top Three Inbound Marketing Strategies for Mobile Apps

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Posted by robiganguly

Disclaimer: This post is an extension of the recent Mozinar "Standing Out in the Sea Of Apps: Building an Audience of Fans for Your Mobile App's Success" and covers questions from audience Q&A. You can watch the recorded Mozinar here!

Mobile. The very word makes some of us cringe these days. Everywhere you look in the marketing world, you see signs of it – mobile this, mobile that… Is it just me, or is it a bit overkill?

Sometimes, I feel like we're pushing the idea of mobile to the limit. But then I look at the numbers:

  • There are currently 750,000 apps in the App Store alone.
  • These apps have over 40 billion downloads.
  • There are one billion smartphones existing in the world, and that number is growing.

2 Huge Markets - The growth in iOS and Android apps over the past 4 years

Whoa.

There are over one billion consumers looking for information on their mobile devices, and you know what works when consumers are looking for information? Inbound marketing. 

In this post, I share the top three most effective inbound marketing tips app marketers can use to begin making waves in the world of mobile. 

Inbound marketing wins in mobile

The opportunity to connect deeply with consumers through inbound marketing has never been larger than it is today, and mobile is fueling a huge amount of the growth. When it comes to apps, all you need to know is this: apps have already surpassed the web when it comes to consumer time-spent, and are second only to time spent watching television.

Time Spent in Mobile Apps Now Rivals Time Spent with Television - a multi-year comparison chart

The secret is this: very few companies are taking advantage of this space. It’s 2013, but in the world of mobile apps, it's like it’s 2001 all over again.

App developers and their audiences need help acquiring customers profitably and not focusing simply on vanity metrics, such as number of downloads. That's where inbound marketing comes in.

Inbound marketing on the web has matured and grown a lot over the past several years. We can learn a lot from our past and apply it to our future (i.e. we can take what we know and apply it to mobile marketing). Below are three simple inbound marketing strategies for mobile apps that are delivering absolutely incredible results.

1. Be social

By this point, we should all understand how important social is to any good marketing strategy. However, when it comes to mobile, social is just what we do as humans. We text and email like crazy. We ride the bus and check Facebook. We Instagram our lunches and Tweet our random observations while standing in line at Starbucks.

These days, to be mobile is to be social. This means that social is a perfect venue for conversations about your mobile app's offerings. Let’s take a look at two of social’s leaders and how they can be used for mobile purposes.

Twitter

A while back, Nike ran a Twitter-focused experiment to introduce a new mobile app they’d created. They proactively shared their content and the app with likely consumers who were sharing their athletic activities on Twitter. The results astounded them. Their two week experiment yielded:

  • Over three clicks per outbound Tweet
  • A doubling of the positive ratings and reviews in the app store for their app
  • As many downloads from the Twitter campaign as their largest paid channel

Although Nike is a large company, the results of their campaign fascinating at any level. The last part is the most interesting: they received as many downloads from their social “experiment” as they did through their largest paid channel. The ROI was extraordinary.

Facebook

It’s impossible to talk about the social landscape without bringing up Facebook. For mobile, Facebook can be incredibly important. For certain categories of apps (movies, tv, games, news, and others), connecting with Facebook drives a massive increase in revenue and engagement from users. Take a look at the data from some of the most popular apps who have integrated a Facebook login.

Engagement & Monetization Data from Popular Apps with Facebook Login

Facebook isn’t necessarily the best option for every app developer, but when it’s done well, it’s clear that integrating Facebook into your app can really improve your results.

2. Tell your own story

Consumers generally surf and search for apps from within the app store. As such, making sure that you’ve optimized your app store presence is absolutely crucial.  Getting discovered by a large audience of interested customers can be as simple as:

  • Selecting the right name
  • Investing in a compelling and memorable icon
  • Experimenting with categories and keywords, and
  • Testing and optimizing your app’s description (social proof in the description itself works wonders – take a look at the description that document signing app SignNow has crafted)

You must own your presence in the app store and also make it another channel for telling your app's story. Most app developers gloss over many of the important details that can affect downloads for an app. It's important to not let the app store tell your app's story for you. If you do, you'll be missing out on a large marketing opportunity.

The app store is only one place to tell your story. Using your website and other channels to share why people use your app and what problems you’re solving is an increasingly powerful method of enabling app discovery, and it also makes your app seem more "human."

Because apps are so exceptional at providing task-oriented solutions in small consumable packages, journalists and bloggers are actively searching for apps they can share with their audiences. The largest tech blogs and app review sites routinely drive as many installations as a feature in the app store. Take the time to produce content and information that will appeal to journalists and share your story in enough detail that they’ll discover your app and want to learn more. For a great example, take a look at how the small team behind Chewsy has shared their unique take on restaurant and dish reviews with publications like Forbes. By sharing your story with these outlets, it's likely that your downloads will increase. 

3. Court your audience of fans from day one

It should be clear that you want to own your story and tell it in the app store and elsewhere. However, there is another, more powerful route – having your customers tell great stories about you. Not only is this personally gratifying (nothing’s better than hearing from a customer that you’ve developed something that delights them), but word of mouth is incredibly effective. Consumer studies continue to show that recommendations from the people we know are trusted the most for the average consumer.

Data on the Most Trusted Advertising Sources for Consumer Decision-Making

Now, how do you get your fans to go tell their friends and say good things in public?

For many web businesses, this is an incredible challenge because there’s no centralized source for customers to share their thoughts. For mobile apps, that’s not the case – the app stores give you a great venue for this in the form of the ratings and reviews sections.

But how do consumers get to the app store to review your app? Despite the existence of easy opinion-sharing venues most customers don’t speak upIn factit appears that less than 0.1% of downloads result in a rating or review in the app store. Most consumers need a nudge – a reminder that they can share their thoughts and opinions.

This is why you should be proactively connecting with your customers from day one. If your app has a returning audience it means that there are people who are a fan of what you’ve built. Those customers are highly likely to share their fandom with the world, if you make it easy for them to do so.

The wonderful thing about developing apps is that you can use them as a direct channel to talk with your customers. Reaching out to your biggest fans inside your app, and connecting more deeply with them is a powerful strategy for increasing customer loyalty and motivating a group of evangelists.

Connecting with your audience of fans certainly increases the number of customers leaving great reviews for your apps, but it’s about more than just reviews. It’s about the recognition that we walk around with our smartphones all day long.

When we take a look at our phone in a meeting or open it at dinner, we’re around others, introducing them to apps we love. By communicating closely with your customer base, you can massively change your awareness and download trajectory. We’ve talked with a number of developers who can map their adoption geographically. Word of mouth, in the real world, is a major inbound channel for mobile which every app developer can influence in a meaningful way.

As this Microsoft ad from a few years ago uncomfortably reminded us – we’re addicted to our phones.

So, mobile

…is a term we’re all going to be hearing a LOT over the next several years. As big and as fast as this opportunity is growing, the mobile apps industry is in its infancy and could benefit from the expertise that any great inbound marketer can bring to the table.

A simple and consistent focus on:

  • Being social
  • Telling your story effectively, and
  • Empowering your customers to share their stories about you

…will be certain to pay off in the long run.

When it comes to mobile apps, inbound marketing looks a lot like the industry we’ve all grown to love. Provide a tremendous amount of value for your target customers and reap the rewards of building customer acquisition channels that increase in efficiency over time. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my thoughts on the emerging mobile app opportunity. Now, I'd love to hear from you. Have you been utilizing your inbound marketing prowess for mobile apps? Which strategies are working for you? Did I miss any strategies which are incredibly effective? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or find the entire Apptentive team on Twitter!

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

SMX West + SEO Workshop with Bruce Clay – Rates Go Up Friday!

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SMX West + SEO Workshop with Bruce Clay – Rates Go Up Friday! was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Education and professional self improvement are works in progress and it’s never too late to start. However, they say the early bird gets the worm, and in the case of next month’s SMX West in San Jose, that worm is a discount on registration. Early bird pricing for the conference ends this Friday. Add to that 10% discount code SMXW13bruceclay and the justification for this investment is overwhelming.

Just be sure not miss the SEO Workshop Bruce  presents at SMX West to take full advantage of this opportunity to learn from search and social thought leaders.

Pass Options
(See what you get)
Early Bird
Now – Feb 1
Conference Rate
Feb 2 – Mar 10
On Site
All Access Pass $ 1,495 $ 1,595 $ 1,695
All Access Pass + Workshop $ 2,395 $ 2,595 $ 2,795
All Access Pass – One Day $ 795 $ 895 $ 995
Workshop Only* (Workshop Descriptions) $ 995 $ 1,095 $ 1,195
SMX Boot Camp (Learn More) $ 399 $ 449 $ 499
Pass (Learn More) Free Free $ 50

If you’re planning to go to SMX West, jump on it. If you’re not sure SMX West is for you, consider this…

The BIG SMX West Preview: Why You Should Attend

  • Keynotes from Facebook and Google promise revealing insights about the company’s missions and the future of marketing on these powerful platforms.
  • There are sessions devoted to SEO, paid search, social media, microformats and semantic search, in-house marketing, content, mobile search and a brand new track called SMX Summit — proclaimed “no-holds-barred Q&A.”
  • On Thursday, Bruce presents the rave-reviewed SEO workshop in conjunction with SMX. Think of this as a sanity booster and concept solidifier after the 3-day marathon of the SMX conference. In this workshop, Bruce places everything you learned over the week in a framework that fits all the Internet marketing pieces back together after the conference sessions broke them down into laser focus. Bruce gives you the knowledge and tools to use your website as the anchor of your online presence, around which you can develop a robust Internet presence for your business.

Who Should Come to the SEO Workshop at SMX West

Attendees of the SMX conference SEO workshop come in with all roles and marketing experience levels. In one survey last year, attendees reported job titles including:

  • marketing coordinator
  • social marketing manager
  • manager of an online business
  • company owner
  • ecommerce product manager
  • SEO specialist

Basically, if you care about your business’s visibility online, you’ll benefit from the workshop.

What Past Attendees Say

SMX West and SEO workshop with Bruce Clay
To totally toot our own horn, this workshop is highly praised by past attendees.

One said: “I found the one-day training from Bruce Clay to be extremely eye-opening and helpful. The course takes a holistic look at SEO and how to make website better for both the search engines and the users. Bruce is very knowledgeable on the subject matter and conveys it well.”

Another said: “I came into this course knowing very little about SEO and when it was done it created a whole new perspective for me and my company on what needs to be done to get in the top 3 organic SEO positions on the search engines.”

And one more for good measure: “If you are interested in learning SEO, Bruce Clay is the one to learn from. He is an excellent teacher, with years of experience and he can get you going in the right direction.”

What You Get in the SEO Workshop at SMX West

One last thing you’d probably like to know is what to expect from the SEO workshop:

  • Course materials, of course, but in a form that you can continually reference in your day-to-day work. Along with Bruce’s slide presentation, you also get the For Dummies All-In-One SEO Desk Reference, a modular handbook for all things SEO. Just search the index and dive-in to the stand-alone topic that you need right now.
  • Future savings on a week of SEO training education with Bruce. If you’re an SEO workshop attendee and it looks like the one day isn’t enough, we’ll deduct the cost of the workshop from the price of our 5-day SEO training course in Simi Valley.
  • A relationship with Bruce Clay, who I’ll honestly say is one of the most generous educators in SEO. Bruce doesn’t really end his workshop at the end of the day. Business consultant Steven Hume attended the SEO workshop with Bruce at SMX Advanced last year, and says, “The staff and even Bruce himself has taken time out of his schedule to speak with me on very simple questions that I really didn’t understand. I appreciate that greatly!” When you come to our SEO training or an SEO workshop, you’ve just opened a door to a great resource in Bruce and our organization that we hope will serve you for a long time.

Register for SMX West by Friday to save with the early bird rate. Use the code SMXW13bruceclay for an additional 10% discount. And we’ll see you in San Jose soon!

Bruce Clay Blog

The SEO of Responsive Web Design

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Posted by Kristina Kledzik

Will Critchlow announced back in November that Distilled's blog was updated with a new responsive design, but it occurred to me recently that we never went into the specifics of why responsive web design is so great. Responsive design has been a hot topic in online marketing for the past few months, but is it really going to become an industry standard?

Short answer: yep.

Responsive web design means that you don't have separate mobile, tablet, and PC versions of your site: the site adapts to whatever size screen it's being displayed on. Regardless of what device a visitor is using to access your site, they'll see all of the content you have to offer (no more partial-content mobile versions of sites) and they'll see it in readable way.

With a 55% increase in smartphone subscriptions in 2012 alone, responsive web design is the future of online marketing.

How does it work?

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? It all started with a fairly simple theory from Ethan Marcotte in a 2010 article titled "Responsive Web Design." Rather than creating a single webpage that is 800px across and centers itself on the screen, responsive webpages are composed of elements that size, shape, and place themselves based on the width of the browser screen. Elements determine the screen size using CSS media queries.

Let's start with a simple example on a grid, using 9 rectangular elements labeled A–I. On a small screen, like a tablet or an older computer with fewer pixels, the elements would display themselves in a 3 x 3 grid:

Web elements in 3x3 grid

When the screen is wider, those elements can spread out:

Web elements on 4x2 grid

When it’s narrower, they can stack:

Web content in 1x4 grid

Now, here’s a real life, complex, and, might I say, ingenious example. Microsoft’s website uses these sections:

Microsoft desktop layout

When the screen gets smaller, elements stack differently:

Microsoft site sized for mobile

For a more interactive example, go to www.microsoft.com and have some fun changing the browser screen.

In their design, Microsoft keeps all of the elements from the desktop version of the page to view on other devices. But one of the biggest differences between desktop sites and mobile sites is that mobile sites just don’t have room or the browser memory to have so much content on one page. For example, Smashing magazine gets rid of the extra stuff as your screen size gets smaller:

Here is their desktop view:

Smashing Magazine at desktop width

The full-sized page has two levels of navigation on the left, the main content in the middle, and search and ads on the right. It centers the main content in the middle, where you’ll be looking, but makes use of the ample width of the desktop screen.

Moving on to the iPad-sized tablet view:

Smashing Magazine for iPads

When the screen doesn’t have as much room on either side, Smashing Magazine keeps the ads and search on the right, but it moves the navigation to the top in a clever way that is noticeable, but doesn’t take up too much space.

Here's their Kindle Fire-sized tablet view:

Smashing Magazine for Kindles

The ads were sacrificed as screen space became too valuable. Search was moved to the top, so that second tier of navigation was moved to the side to make sure the main content didn’t start too low on the page.

And now, onto mobile:

Smashing Mag for Mobile Phones

On the mobile view, the ads are still gone, along with the share buttons. The navigation has changed from a constant element on the page to a small drop down at the top. The search bar was put in the space available once the top navigation was gone.

As you can see, responsive web design gives you an amazing amount of control. With some creativity, a responsive web design can convert almost anything from PC-optimized to mobile-optimized, to anything in between.

Why responsive design is good for SEO

So now you know that responsive design is a clever idea that, with the right set up, will cut down on web maintenance and content creation. But how does that help SEO?

Usability

Google wants to send visitors to the sites that they want to see. When searchers navigate to your site and immediately return to search engine results pages, Google makes a note that your site might not be the best choice for that search term.

If you have a mobile site that has less content or looks significantly different than your regular site, you’ll frustrate return visitors who are looking for something they found on the desktop version. If you don’t have a mobile site at all, 61% of visitors will return to Google to find a site that is easily readable. Either way, your bounce rate will rise and your rankings will drop. With a responsive web design, visitors will get all the content they want, in a format they can read.

Duplicate content

Don’t worry, a mobile site with the same content as the main site won’t be hit by Panda. But you’ll still have the same content on two places on the web, which is bothersome for you and could bring visitors to the wrong version of your site. A responsively-designed website means that content is only in one place on the Internet.

Ranking for mobile searches

Google has said that it ranks sites optimized for mobile higher in mobile searches. Google recommends responsive web design, meaning your responsive designed site will rank as well on mobile search as a site designed specifically for mobile. That’s especially useful for…

Link building

With a responsive web design, a link to your main site is a link to your mobile site as well. Mobile sites are still new, so your competition in mobile search is going to have significantly fewer backlinks. A responsively-designed website will have the backlinks of your original site, even while competing for mobile visitors. It’ll give you an instant edge over there. And, as mobile usage rises and webmasters start linking to mobile sites, your backlinks from both mobile and desktop sites will combine for a stronger backlink profile.

Early adopter recognition

Making your site responsive now, when the topic is hot but largely unused, will get you noticed. Here are a few great examples:

Results

As you can probably guess, if your site was previously unoptimized for tablet and/or mobile, you’ll see a decreased bounce rate from those devices. We’ve seen the positive effects spread into the main site as well. On a fellow Distiller’s site, implementing responsive web design increased visits by over 400% in a month:

Responsive web design traffic increase

That’s an extreme example; the switch to responsive web design on Distilled’s blog didn’t have the same effect. However, results like this show that, in the right situation, responsive web design could bring amazing results.

The cons

Responsive web design isn’t the Holy Grail of online marketing, though; there are some disadvantages you’ll want to mull over before you decide to take the plunge.

Set up time

Moving to a responsive web design will take a significant amount of time from both your design team and your development team. It’ll probably take longer than most redesigns you’ve been through since both teams will have to learn a completely new concept before they can implement it. On the plus side, when other sites start upgrading to responsive web design, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

Large pages

If you have a lot of content on your desktop pages, responsive design means that all of that content has to be loaded on mobile pages. Can you imagine a poor phone trying to load all of this?

Lots of content on NYT

That’s why sites like NYTimes.com and CNN.com have separate mobile versions that only display a small portion of all the articles and links they have on their desktop versions. If you have a site that’s huge like that – and is meant to be huge like that – stick with separate mobile and desktop versions.

Mobile user experience

Since responsive web design confines you to the same pages and content on the mobile and desktop versions, it could limit your options for enhancing user experience. While I pointed out earlier that mobile users want the same content as desktop users, they’re searching on a tiny screen with their fingers rather than a large screen with a mouse and keyboard, so their journey to that same content will feel completely different. If you have a really interactive or complicated site that needs to have different pathways to content, like Facebook, you might want to keep that mobile version of your site so you can have that control.

So, is responsive web design right for your site?

If your site is too large or too complicated and needs a mobile site, you’re probably aware of it (and probably already have an amazing mobile site that shouldn’t be messed with). But, what if you don’t have a mobile site, or have a simple one and don’t know if the switch to a responsive web design is worth it? You’re going to do a little Google Analytics research:

Do I even need a mobile site?

Start by going to the Mobile Overview report, which is a Standard Report in the Audience section under the Mobile drop down. If the number of mobile and tablet visits is under 5% of your total traffic, you probably don’t need to worry about creating a mobile-specific site (yet: this number is only going to grow).

If it’s more than that, click on the Goal Set or Ecommerce metrics set – whichever you use to track conversions – at the top of the page, under the Explorer tab:

How to change metric sets on standard reports in Google Analytics

Are your desktop visits converting significantly more than mobile visits? If mobile conversion rate is less than half of desktop conversion rate, your site is performing below industry standard, and you need to optimize for mobile visitors.

How does my mobile site look on their screens?

Go to the Standard Reports > Audience > Mobile > Devices and change the primary dimension to “Screen Resolution.” You can change that right above the table, by clicking the Other drop down to the right of the line of other primary dimensions you could use. Try out the 10 most common screen resolutions that are used by your visitors. How does your mobile site look on them? Use Screenfly to see your site on different devices. You might be surprised by how many tablets or large phones are seeing an overly simplified site that isn’t very compelling. Even if you have a mobile site that looks great on 50% of mobile visits, if it looks bad on the other 50%, you should consider responsive web design.

Does my mobile site give visitors what they want?

Look at the mobile bounce rate under Standard Reports > Mobile > Overview. When visitors land on your mobile site, is something making them leave more quickly than on a desktop? Mobile visitors should have roughly the same bounce rate as desktop visitors.

If you have the time, do a full mobile SEO audit to really identify what the mobile version of your site needs to look like. Aleyda Solis wrote up a great mobile audit guide on State of Search.

Your best option: move towards responsive web design slowly

If you’d like to move towards responsive web design slowly or already have a pretty good mobile site out there, consider making your site responsive so that it’s optimized for desktop and tablet, but not mobile just yet. The design will be easier, but you’ll get a first taste of the technical side, and you’ll get better conversions for tablet users (which you probably haven’t optimized for yet).

Ethan Marcotte explains how the coding works in his original article and developers have been creating themes for popular CMSs (for WordPress, for Drupal, and for Joomla).

Be aware that the technical implementation is fairly advanced, and there are a number of small mistakes you should watch out to avoid:

1. Use compressed images

You might have some gorgeous photos that load fine on the desktop version of your site, but those are going to have to be loaded on mobile versions as well. 74% of mobile users will leave after 5 seconds waiting for a page to load, so make sure that you compress your images as much as possible, and use them somewhat sparingly. Smush.it is a great tool for compressing images.

2. Design for all screen sizes

A lot of designers will want to design for one mobile size, one tablet size, and one desktop size, and just make a “responsive” design that snaps the site into a different layout for those standard sizes. But we have large and small cell phones, tablets the size of Kindle Fires to 10” Samsung Galaxy Tabs, and desktop monitors as big as 30”. A responsive design is more about resizing the elements on a page as you have more pixels than it is about snapping one design into another. As designer Stephen Hay says, “Start with the screen small first, then expand until it looks like sh*t. Time to insert a breakpoint!”

3. Always show all content

It might feel overwhelming to find a way to fit all of the content from the desktop version of a page onto a mobile version of a page, but that’s the point of responsive web designs. In the examples described above, the only content that goes away is ads (which users probably didn’t want in the first place) and some navigation (which is replaced by a simpler version of navigation). No actual content is hidden. Mobile visitors want just as much information and just as many options as desktop users do, so don’t deprive them.

4.  Optimize for touch

You probably won’t accidentally include an onmouseover JavaScript event on the mobile size of your site, but be aware that tablets can’t hover with their mouse either, and someone on a desktop might be using Windows 8 and want to use touch. Best practice is to make your site completely accessible with touch-only, regardless of the screen size.

5.  Test on all browsers

Remember the good old days, when you complained about having to test your website on IE and Firefox? Now you’ve got:

Desktop:

  • IE9 for Windows 7
  • IE10 for Windows 8 (which doesn’t run Flash)
  • Firefox
  • Chrome
  • Safari

Tablet/Mobile

  • Safari
  • Default Android browser
  • Chrome beta
  • Dolphin
  • Opera
  • Firefox

And those are only the most popular ones. You’ll have to test on all of those, at different screen resolutions, too.

But it’s worth it

Switching over to a responsive web design will be a big challenge, but with the way the industry is moving, it’ll prepare you for the future, and put you a step ahead of your competitors.

Have any of you made the switch? Any advice for those who haven’t?

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25 Killer Combos for Google’s Site: Operator

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Posted by Dr. Pete

There’s an app for everything – the problem is that we’re so busy chasing the newest shiny toy that we rarely stop to learn to use simple tools well. As a technical SEO, one of the tools I seem to never stop finding new uses for is the site: operator. I recently devoted a few slides to it in my BlueGlassX presentation, but I realized that those 5 minutes were just a tiny slice of all of the uses I’ve found over the years.

People often complain that site:, by itself, is inaccurate (I’ll talk about that more at the end of the post), but the magic is in the combination of site: with other query operators. So, I’ve come up with two dozen killer combos that can help you dive deep into any site.

1. site:example.com

Ok, this one’s not really a combination, but let’s start with the basics. Paired with a root domain or sub-domain, the [site:] operator returns an estimated count of the number of indexed pages for that domain. The “estimated” part is important, but we’ll get to that later. For a big picture, I generally stick to the root domain (leave out the “www”, etc.).

Each combo in this post will have a clickable example (see below). I'm picking on Amazon.com in my examples, because they're big enough for all of these combos to come into play:

You’ll end up with two bits of information: (1) the actual list of pages in the index, and (2) the count of those pages (circled in purple below):

Screenshot - site:amazon.com

I think we can all agree that 273,000,000 results is a whole lot more than most of us would want to sort through. Even if we wanted to do that much clicking, Google would stop us after 100 pages. So, how can we get more sophisticated and drill down into the Google index?

2. site:example.com/folder

The simplest way to dive deeper into this mess is to provide a sub-folder (like “/blog”) – just append it to the end of the root domain. Don’t let the simplicity of this combo fool you – if you know a site’s basic architecture, you can use it to drill down into the index quickly and spot crawl problems.

3. site:sub.example.com

You can also drill down into specific sub-domains. Just use the full sub-domain in the query. I generally start with #1 to sweep up all sub-domains, but #3 can be very useful for situations like tracking down a development or staging sub-domain that may have been accidentally crawled.

4. site:example.com inurl:www

The "inurl:" operator searches for specific text in the indexed URLs. You can pair “site:” with “inurl:” to find the sub-domain in the full URL. Why would you use this instead of #3? On the one hand, "inurl:" will look for the text anywhere in the URL, including the folder and page/file names. For tracking sub-domains this may not be desirable. However, "inurl:" is much more flexible than putting the sub-domain directly into the main query. You'll see why in examples #5 and #6.

5. site:example.com -inurl:www

Adding [-] to most operators tells Google to search for anything but that particular text. In this case, by separating out "inurl:www", you can change it to "-inurl:www" and find any indexed URLs that are not on the "www" sub-domain. If "www" is your canonical sub-domain, this can be very useful for finding non-canonical URLs that Google may have crawled.

6. site:example.com -inurl:www -inurl:dev -inurl:shop

I'm not going to list every possible combination of Google operators, but keep in mind that you can chain most operators. Let's say you suspect there are some stray sub-domains, but you aren't sure what they are. You are, however, aware of "www.", "dev." and "shop.". You can chain multiple "-inurl:" operators to remove all of these known sub-domains from the query, leaving you with a list of any stragglers.

7. site:example.com inurl:https

You can't put a protocol directly into "site:" (e.g. "https:", "ftp:", etc.). Fortunately, you can put "https" into an "inurl:" operator, allowing you to see any secure pages that Google has indexed. As with all "inurl:" queries, this will find "https" anywhere in the URL, but it's relatively rare to see it somewhere other than the protocol.

8. site:example.com inurl:param

URL parameters can be a Panda's dream. If you're worried about something like search sorts, filters, or pagination, and your site uses URL parameters to create those pages, then you can use "inurl:" plus the parameter name to track them down. Again, keep in mind that Google will look for that name anywhere in the URL, which can occasionally cause headaches.

Pro Tip: Try out the example above, and you'll notice that "inurl:ref" returns any URL with "ref" in it, not just traditional URL parameters. Be careful when searching for a parameter that is also a common word.

9. site:example.com -inurl:param

Maybe you want to know how many search pages are being indexed without sorts or how many product pages Google is tracking with no size or color selection – just add [-] to your "inurl:" statement to exclude that parameter. Keep in mind that you can combine "inurl:" with "-inurl:", specifically including some parameters and excluding others. For complex, e-commerce sites, these two combos alone can have dozens of uses.

10. site:example.com text goes here

Of course, you can alway combine the "site:" operator with a plain-old, text query. This will search the contents of the entire page within the given site. Like standard queries, this is essentially a logical [AND], but it's a bit of a loose [AND] – Google will try to match all terms, but those terms may be separated on the page or you may get back results that only include some of the terms. You'll see that the example below matches the phrase "free Kindle books" but also phrases like "free books on Kindle".

11. site:example.com “text goes here”

If you want to search for an exact-match phrase, put it in quotes. This simple combination can be extremely useful for tracking down duplicate and near-duplicate copy on your site. If you're worried about one of your product descriptions being repeated across dozens of pages, for example, pull out a few unique terms and put them in quotes.

12. site:example.com/folder “text goes here”

This is just a reminder that you can combine text (with or without quotes) with almost any of the combinations previously discussed. Narrow your query to just your blog or your store pages, for example, to really target your search for duplicates.

13. site:example.com this OR that

If you specifically want a logical [OR], Google does support use of "or" in queries. In this case, you'd get back any pages indexed on the domain that contained either "this" or "that" (or both, as with any logical [OR]). This can be very useful if you've forgotten exactly which term you used or are searching for a family of keywords.

Edit: Hat Tip to TracyMu in the comments – this is one case where capitalization matters. Either use "OR" in all-caps or the pipe "|" symbol. If you use lower-case "or", Google could interpret it as part of a phrase.

14. site:example.com “top * ways”

The asterisk [*] can be used as a wildcard in Google queries to replace unknown text. Let's say you want to find all of the "Top X" posts on your blog. You could use "site:" to target your blog folder and then "Top *" to query only those posts.

Pro Tip: The wild'card [*] operator will match one or multiple words. So, "top * questions" can match "Top 40 Books" or "Top Career Management Books". Try the sample query above for more examples.

15. site:example.com “top 7..10 ways”

If you have a specific range of numbers in mind, you can use "X..Y" to return anything in the range from X to Y. While the example above is probably a bit silly, you can use ranges across any kind of on-page data, from product IDs to prices.

16. site:example.com ~word

The tilde [~] operator tells Google to find words related to the word in question. Let's say you wanted to find all of the posts on your blog related to the concept of consulting – just add "~consulting" to the query, and you'll get the wider set of terms that Google thinks are relevant.

17. site:example.com ~word -word

By using [-] to exclude the specific word, you can tell Google to find any pages related to the concept that don't specifically target that term. This can be useful when you're trying to assess your keyword targeting or create new content based on keyword research.

18. site:example.com intitle:”text goes here”

The "intitle:" operator only matches text that appears in the <TITLE></TITLE> tag. One of the first spot-checks I do on any technical SEO audit is to use this tactic with the home-page title (or a unique phrase from it). It can be incredibly useful for quickly finding major duplicate content problems.

19. site:example.com intitle:”text * here”

You can use almost any of the variations mentioned in (12)-(17) with "intitle:" – I won't list them all, but don't be afraid to get creative. Here's an example that uses the wildcard search in #14, but targets it specifically to page titles.

Pro Tip: Remember to use quotes around the phrase after "intitle:", or Google will view the query as a one-word title search plus straight text. For example, "intitle:text goes here" will look for "text" in the title plus "goes" and "here" anywhere on the page.

20. intitle:”text goes here”

This one's not really a "site:" combo, but it's so useful that I had to include it. Are you suspicious that other sites may be copying your content? Just put any unique phrase in quotes after "intitle:" and you can find copies across the entire web. This is the fastest and cheapest way I've found to find people who have stolen your content. It's also a good way to make sure your article titles are unique.

21. “text goes here” -site:example.com

If you want to get a bit more sophisticated, you can use "-site:" and exclude mentions of copy on any domain (including your own). This can be used with straight text or with "intitle:" (like in #20). Including your own site can be useful, just to get a sense of where your ranking ability stacks up, but subtracting out your site allows you to see only the copies.

22. site:example.com intext:”text goes here”

The "intext:" operator looks for keywords in the body of the document, but doesn't search the <TITLE> tag. The text could appear in the title, but Google won't look for it there. Oddly, "intext:" will match keywords in the URL (seems like a glitch to me, but I don't make the rules).

23. site:example.com ”text goes here” -intitle:"text goes here"

You might think that #22 and #23 are the same, but there's a subtle difference. If you use "intext:", Google will ignore the <TITLE> tag, but it won't specifically remove anything with "text goes here" in the title. If you specfically want to remove any title mentions in your results, then use "-intitle:".

24. site:example.com filetype:pdf

One of the drawbacks of "inurl:" is that it will match any string in the URL. So, for example, searching on "inurl:pdf", could return a page called "/guide-to-creating-a-great-pdf". By using "filetype:", you can specify that Google only search on the file extension. Google can detect some filetypes (like PDFs) even without a ".pdf" extension, but others (like "html") seem to require a file extension in the indexed document.

25. site:.edu “text goes here”

Finally, you can target just the Top-Level Domain (TLD), by leaving out the root domain. This is more useful for link-building and competitive research than on-page SEO, but it's definitely worth mentioning. One of our community members, Himanshu, has an excellent post on his own blog about using advanced query operators for link-building.

Why No Allintitle: & Allinurl:?

Experienced SEOs may be wondering why I left out the operators "allintitle:" and "allinurl:" – the short answer is that I've found them increasingly unreliable over the past couple of years. Using "intitle:" or "inurl:" with your keywords in quotes is generally more predictable and just as effective, in my opinion.


Putting It All to Work

I want to give you a quick case study to show that these combos aren't just parlor tricks. I once worked with a fairly large site that we thought was hit by Panda. It was an e-commerce site that allowed members to spin off their own stores (think Etsy, but in a much different industry). I discovered something very interesting just by using "site:" combos (all URLs are fictional, to protect the client):

(1) site:example.com = 11M

First, I found that the site had a very large number (11 million) of indexed pages, especially relative to its overall authority. So, I quickly looked at the site architecture and found a number of sub-folders. One of them was the "/stores" sub-folder, which contained all of the member-created stores:

(2) site:example.com/stores = 8.4M

Over 8 million pages in Google's index were coming just from those customer stores, many of which were empty. I was clearly on the right track. Finally, simply by browsing a few of those stores, I noticed that every member-created store had its own internal search filters, all of which used the "?filter" parameter in the URL. So, I narrowed it down a bit more:

(3) site:example.com/stores inurl:filter = 6.7M

Over 60% of the indexed pages for this site were coming from search filters on user-generated content. Obviously, this was just the beginning of my work, but I found a critical issue on a very large site in less than 30 minutes, just by using a few simple query operator combos. It didn't take an 8-hour desktop crawl or millions of rows of Excel data – I just had to use some logic and ask the right questions.


How Accurate Is Site:?

Historically, some SEOs have complained that the numbers you get from "site:" can vary wildly across time and data centers. Let's cut to the chase: they're absolutely right. You shouldn't take any single number you get back as absolute truth. I ran an experiment recently to put this to the test. Every 10 minutes for 24 hours, I automatically queried the following:

  1. site:seomoz.org
  2. site:seomoz.org/blog
  3. site:seomoz.org/blog intitle:spam

Even using a fixed IP address (single data center, presumably), the results varied quite a bit, especially for the broad queries. The range for each of the "site:" combos across 24 hours (144 measurements) was as follows:

  1. 67,700 – 114,000
  2. 8,590 – 8620
  3. 40 – 40

Across two sets of IPs (unique C-blocks), the range was even larger (see the "/blog" data):

  1. 67,700 – 114,000
  2. 4,580 – 8620
  3. 40 – 40

Does that mean that "site:" is useless? No, not at all. You just have to be careful. Sometimes, you don't even need the exact count – you're just interested in finding examples of URLs that match the pattern in question. Even if you need a count, the key is to drill down. The narrowest range in the experiment was completely consistent across 24 hours and both data centers. The more you drill down, the better off you are.

You can also use relative numbers. In my example above, it didn't really matter if the 11M total indexed page count was accurate. What mattered was that I was able to isolate a large section of the index based on one common piece of site architecture. Assumedly, the margin of error for each of those measurements was similar – I was only interested in the relative percentages at each step. When in doubt, take more than one measurement.

Keep in mind that this problem isn't unique to the "site:" operator – all search result counts on Google are estimates, especially the larger numbers. Matt Cutts discussed this in a recent video, along with how you can use the page 2 count to sometimes reduce the margin of error:


The True Test of An SEO

If you run enough "site:" combos often enough, even by hand, you may eventually be greeted with this:

Google Captcha

If you managed to trigger a CAPTCHA without using automation, then congratulations, my friend! You're a real SEO now. Enjoy your new tools, and try not to hurt anyone.

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Another January Mozscape Index Has Been Released!

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Posted by carinoverturf

Just 13 days ago on January 11th, we released the first Mozscape index for 2013. And today, we're launching the latest January Mozscape index – another two indexes in one month! Mozscape data has been refreshed across all our applications so you can see the latest data in Open Site Explorer, the MozbarPRO campaigns, and the Mozscape API.

This index finished up in record time, running smoothly on the high power cluster compute machines in AWS. Our Mozscape processing team (Doug, Martin, Brandon, and Stephen) has spent the past few months really cleaning up and optmizing the software that produces these indexes. Changes are slow going with this software – big data is big and changes are big! There is a lot of testing and optimizing that must be done before changes even make it into the production index, but these guys are dedicated to getting you index twice a month! 
 
We're eagerly waiting for our first index to be released from our new colocation in Virginia – hopefully in the month of February. With some new configurations and master network tuning from our Tech Ops team, we currently have an index churning away, so far with promising performance!
 
Here are the metrics for this latest index:
  • 70,278,347,012 (70 billion) URLs
  • 1,516,212,211 (1.5 billion) Subdomains
  • 145,518,352 (145 million) Root Domains
  •  783,206,227,396 (783 billion) Links
  • Followed vs. Nofollowed
    • 2.24% of all links found were nofollowed
    • 56.43% of nofollowed links are internal
    • 43.57% are external
  • Rel Canonical – 15.11% of all pages now employ a rel=canonical tag
  • The average page has 78 links on it
    •  66.68 internal links on average
    •  11.07 external links on average
And the following correlations with Google's US search results:
  • Page Authority – 0.36
  • Domain Authority – 0.19
  • MozRank – 0.24
  • Linking Root Domains – 0.30
  • Total Links – 0.25
  • External Links – 0.29
Crawl histogram for the January 25th Mozscape index
 
Since this index was kicked off January 14th, the latest crawl data is really fresh! There is just over 30 days of crawl data in this index, the majority being crawled in January, but some crawl data as old as mid-December. There was a significant increase in the number of subdomains crawled for this index compared to the our previous index. Further investigation revealed we found a fairly small increase of root domains that had a substantial number of new subdomains associated with them. Because they are such low authority, the increase won't have any impact on our metrics, but does significantly increase the number subdomains in this index.  
 
We always love to hear your thoughts! And remember, if you're ever curious about when Mozscape is updating, you can check the calendar here. We also maintain a list of previous index updates with metrics here.

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Holy Grail of eCommerce Conversion Optimization – 91 Point Checklist and Infographic

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Posted by CueBlocks.com

Invest in building filthy rich user experience, consistently and throughout your store. That is what stores with deeper pockets (like ASOS, Zappos & JCPenney) do to achieve better conversion rate than your store.

This article will take you away from usual Search Engine Optimization stuff to where the real money lies – Conversion Rate Optimization. What you do with the visitors you bring to your website?

Whether you're selling pajamas, concert tickets, shoes or shaving blades; e-commerce today has evolved and humanized beyond just convenience shopping . It is therefore imperative that you stop seeing people who land on your store as 'traffic'; but as real human visitors. People come to your store and engage at various levels (let’s call these levels 'touch points'). With each word that visitors read and with each media pixel they view at these touch points, they form a picture of your business in their minds. And based on whether or not they like the final picture, they make a decision about buying from your store or your competitor’s.

Here are the areas of e-commerce touch point optimization that we're going to cover in this article:

Know your Customers

  1. Use Qualaroo to Survey Visitors
  2. Enable Olark for Direct Chat Interactions
  3. Survey your Existing Customers

Home Page Optimization

  1. Show your Top-Selling Products on your Home Page
  2. Offer More Ways to Order from your Store
  3. Show videos on your home page (below the fold)
  4. Localize your store to specific countries

Navigation Optimization

  1. Avoid vague category structures
  2. Sort category structure by popularity
  3. Use CrazyEgg to create focused category navigation
  4. Create categories based on what people are searching
  5. Use a Compelling Business Tagline
  6. Avoid writing vague ‘Unique Selling Points’

Product Search Optimization

  1. Test your search for accuracy
  2. Implement an Intelligent search to cover singular, plurals, mis-spells etc.
  3. Implement Auto-Suggestions to help user search for relevant keywords
  4. Enable Category Search
  5. Let the user know what they searched

Product Page Optimization

  1. Get high quality product images
  2. Pay attention to your product’s description
  3. Show Product Videos (for your top selling products at least)
  4. Don’t let Price be a Surprise
  5. Empower visitors with creative calculators
  6. Clearly show the Product’s delivery time
  7. Allow them to select delivery date
  8. Enable Out Of Stock Notification
  9. Encourage users to leave reviews

Checkout Optimization

  1. Offer Persistent Shopping Cart
  2. Don’t make users enter the same information twice
  3. Pre-fill information where ever you can
  4. Preserve Information on a validation error
  5. Clearly mark the fields as optional or mandatory
  6. Give input example against each field
  7. Offer a unified single ‘Name’ field
  8. Automatically pre-fill city & state field as soon as user enters a zip code
  9. Keep the form field labels visible at all times
  10. Keep the form linear
  11. Form field length should match the expected length of the input
  12. Use FaceBook Connect
  13. Be specific with your button’s text
  14. Display validation errors in close proximity to the input field
  15. Display validation checks against each field
  16. Make 'Account Registration' an Optional Step of Checkout Process
  17. Don’t complicate Password Selection
  18. Make the ‘Guest Checkout’ option more prominent than Registration
  19. Make your primary button most prominent among rest all call to actions
  20. Avoid unnecessary buttons on the checkout page
  21. Primary button placement
  22. Limit the navigation and exit points on the checkout page
  23. Use Intelligent defaults
  24. Let users force-proceed on potentially wrong validation
  25. Process steps should function as navigational links for the checkout process
  26. Don’t surprise users by adding extra cost abruptly
  27. During registration, make the Newsletter sign-up an opt-in by default, not opt-out.
  28. Offer Brave Guarantees

Touch Point Optimization

  1. Write crisp & enticing Meta Tags
  2. Enable Open graphs
  3. Check your Auto-responder Emails
  4. Registration Emails
  5. Pay attention to your password Reset Emails
  6. Get your Order Confirmation Emails right
  7. Enable Order Shipped Emails
  8. Optimize the thank you messages on your store
  9. Make user friendly 404 Error Page
  10. No Results Found (Product / Page)
  11. Validation Error Messages
  12. Offer them multiple payment options: It’s a no-brainer but this checklist will look incomplete without it.
  13. Show Social Media Proofs
  14. Sign-up with Google Trusted Stores

Information Touch Points

  1. Show product close-up videos
  2. Educate the visitors and enable them to make an informed decision
  3. Create an impressive about page
  4. Support/Contact Page
  5. Get a thorough usability testing done

Load Speed Optimization

  1. Leverage browser caching
  2. Defer parsing of JavaScript
  3. Optimize images
  4. Serve scaled images
  5. Combine images into CSS sprites
  6. Minimize redirects
  7. Enable compression
  8. Minify JavaScript
  9. Minimize request size

Shipping and Returns

  1. Get your Shipping Policies right
  2. Offer Free Shipping
  3. Display the Free Shipping Threshold Order Value Prominently
  4. Offer a good returns policy

Customer Re-Targeting

  1. Use Ad-Roll
  2. Use Adwords Remarketing
  3. Clean your Email Subscribers’ List from time to time
  4. Offer Cashbacks

Before diving into the technical aspects of conversion rate optimization, we feel it makes sense that we talk a little bit about user experience first. However, there's already enough written already about 'user experience', so here let's first define it and talk about one of the very often overlooked but biggest roadblock in the way of improving a store's user experience (or perhaps any website).

User Experience – Defined simply, user experience is the sum of all the experiences that a user is offered on your store. It includes everything from visual, audio, aesthetic, usability, commercial and also the experience a user carries with her or him post the purchase. It is an extensively inclusive phenomenon and determines the way a user will 'feel', 'think' and 'act' on your store. Optimizing user experience is not an exact science but a mix between science and art. No one cookie-cutter formula works for all sites and it's quite dependent on your niche industry and the target marketing you are aiming at.

There are many obvious challenges that every store owner has to face in creating a meaningful user experience on their store. It requires attention to the finest details.

To understand what picture your store has built and is projecting, you need to first break the entire user experience into unique experiences delivered at several of the touch points on your websites, for example:

  • What is the immediate impression that a user gets when he or she lands on your store?
  • What do users see when they type something in the product search?
  • What do users get in their mail box when they register, reset password, subscribe or place an order?
  • How are the users thanked when they perform an action, like new registrations, purchases, subscriptions etc?
  • What happens if a user lands on an 'out of stock' product page?
  • What happens if a user searches for a product that doesn't exist?
  • What does a user see if he enters an invalid email address during registration?
  • How much information is required to be filled in order to complete the purchase?
  • How does your store inspire trust in the heart of the visitors?
  • How does your store reflect that you will promptly ship the purchased product(s) to his country on time?

There can be thousands of such instances that can make or break your store's impression. Taking care of these touch points is one of the fastest and surest ways of growing your e-commerce business.

Most e-commerce stores (especially small to medium size enterprises) are built foremost for technology, aesthetics and average usability with Conversion Rate Optimization usually being left for a later stage.

Being an e-commerce specialized agency, we come across stores that are built upon high quality code and backed by high-end IT infrastructure but failing to deliver a meaningful or a memorable user experience.. This leads to users visiting these stores and leaving them without blinking an eye, let alone, making a purchase. With all memory erased of a damp store, they even forget that they ever visited such a store in the first place.

Just like these stores, you too have a chance to make an impression but if you fail there is no doubt that the user will leave within 15 seconds of landing on the website. Such instant abandoning will of course lead to allow ROI on the money invested in the development and marketing of the store.

The reason why this happens is simple. More often than not, most of the attention during store development goes into building the store, where designers design, programmers code the functionalities, testers remove the bugs, copywriters write content' but nearly every job role is unable to give single minded focus and attention to creating an optimum user experience. Of course, any website that is created or built from scratch will take into account the user's requirement but somehow a conscious investment into building an unmatchable user experience is still lacking in the initial phases of design, development and marketing processes.

So, the Agenda of this white paper is fairly clear – To give you a starting point to improve your Store’s Conversion Rate by identifying and working on the touch points which you might have skipped during development phase of your store. We have classified the work to be done on these touch points into easily readable and comprehensible ways, so that as a store owner you face no difficulty in recognizing the problem or implementing the solution to it!

Here we go:

Empathy is good but it doesn't go well with conversion optimization. You can't introduce changes on your store, simply by putting yourself in your customer's shoes and hoping that visitors would love them and eventually start buying more. It's far too much dependence on empathizing. If you want to improve conversions, you need fresh eyes and a different perspective than your own. You need to know your customers with the help of direct interactions and not just by empathetic assumptions.

Spend time and resources in knowing your business, your customers and your competitors before you create a single test. Many business owners and conversion rate experts create tests and winning strategies before even knowing the rules of the game (and how to win it). It doesn't work that way until you're 100% sure about what your customers want.

You can use the following tools to study your customer behavior:

1. Use Qualaroo to Survey Visitors: This Online survey tool (formerly called KissInsights.com) provides the quickest way of adding a short survey (usually just one or two questions) to important pages of your store.

Using Qualaroo, You can ask questions like:

  • Why did you decide to buy from us?
  • Would you recommend us to your friends or colleagues? Why?
  • How was your experience shopping with us?
  • How would you describe us to your friends?
  • What would make you shop more often on our store?

2. Enable Olark for Direct Chat Interactions: This tool enables you to chat with visitors on your store and gives you intelligence about your business. This is very useful in identifying what issues people face while buying from your store in a live scenario while they are actually executing a purchase. This highly crucial insight can help you discover common patterns, frequent problems which can be shared with your development and marketing team for further improving user experience and usability on your web store.

3. Survey your Customers: If you have been in the industry for some time and have a formidable customer base, then the starting point of your store conversion optimization process should be reaching out to your customers and getting their perspective about your store & business. You can use SurveyMonkey to email slightly longer surveys (4 to 5 questions) to users and seek their feedback in return for sweepstakes. This is the quickest way to reveal hidden conversion issues if you have a good email subscription base.

4) Show your Top-Selling Products on your Home Page

Use analytical tools like Google Analytics and administrator reports to determine which products & categories are performing. Once these are identified, you should focus your marketing efforts in promoting your top selling products in banner sliders and recommended products.

5) Offer More Ways to Order from your Store
Clearly show all the different ways in which a customer can place an order on your store including the 'by phone and by fax' options. Nothing is too obsolete or inappropriate when it comes to establishing connection with your user; present to them all available contact points. ). Some customers prefer to order in a certain way, so clearly stating these options will help increase your conversion rate.

6) Show videos on your home page

What is the best way to persuade the visitors on your store about the quality of your product? Videos! Show the work that went into creating the product that you’re selling. A professionally shot video can add serious credibility to your claims. This is like making the features of your product apparent to your customers. Keep in mind that abstract terms such as 'Art' or 'Quality' may not help the user in drawing a concrete conclusion about your product. But supported by actual evidence such as: showing an artist carving an artifact and of course by audio-visual media, it makes customers believe that what you are selling is really art. Plus a video can command both attention and the desired connection with the customer.

This is exactly how Apple manages to create demand for their products and also sell them at a premium. The following video shows the work that went into creating the body of Apple’s new MacBook Pro laptop: Apple’s Marketing Strategy

7) Localize your store to specific countries

If you're in the US and selling internationally, a good number of visitors and conversions on your store may be coming from countries outside your own. If these people know that it's going to be an international shipment, they will need reassurance from you that you can ship to their country in time.

For this, you can enable a functionality that identifies a user's country (from their IP) and show a notification on the top header, like 'Yes, we ship to Australia'. This can give the user a lot of confidence when he orders from a store that's outside his country. See how Threadless localizes its store internationally:

Along with it, see if you can change the currency of the entire store to currency of the user's country (if you ship to it). This advanced level of localization can be achieved by putting in more thought and coding resources.

Most of the visitors landing on your store are in a hurry. If they sail through your navigation and come up dry, they might be put off from using the search functionality again.

The objective of a navigation menu (top, side or footer menu) is to make your most or frequently searched content easily accessible to these hurried visitors. You have two options – either clutter your menu by putting everything you have inside the menu, or intelligently show only those links that are important to visitors. Showing what’s important to you in the navigation may not help your store’s conversion. Leaving the visitor guessing might not help either.

8) Avoid vague category structure: The size of your inventory should correspond with the number of categories on your website. Don’t create too many categories on your store just for the sake of having them. Only include the links (to information) that users are actively searching for on the store and not the links that you think are most important.

9) Sort category structure by popularity: The category links in the navigation should be in the ascending order of their popularity wherein the most clicked links are at the top and the least clicked category links are pushed down to the bottom of the navigation. If not by popularity, you can also put all the links alphabetically because it's one of the ways that users anticipate the standard navigation to be.

10) Use Crazy Egg to create a focused category navigation: Google Analytics site overlay is not very efficient in giving you intelligence about what people are clicking within your navigation. You might consider using Crazy Egg for this. Crazyegg is a tool that helps you see heatmaps and also helps in implementing the info you gain from them about your website. Even Crazyegg can’t generate heatmaps for links inside Javascript menus and pop-ups (under ‘not visible’ tab), however it can give you list of links inside the menu along with the number of clicks.

Create categories based on what people are searching: Use Google Analytics to find out what visitors are searching in your store's product search box. You can view the search terms by following this path in Google Analytics:

11) Create categories based on what people are searching: Use Google Analytics to find-out what visitors are searching in your product search box. Google Analytics > Account > Standard Reporting > Content > Site Search > Search Terms.

The keywords with top ‘total unique searches’ are the ones that people are searching for. You will find the top searched product and brand names here. These are obvious contenders to be placed at prominent places inside your navigation menu. A navigation based on users' preferences and popularity of products rather than on conventional categorization can have a positive impact on the conversion rate.

12) Use a Compelling Business Tag-line

Visitors on your store pay more attention to your business tag-line (small text, just under your logo) than you think. In many ways, your business tag-line gets equal attention as your logo does. Putting a little more effort and creativity while creating a business tag-line that summarizes the experience you’re offering to the user on your store can get further drive the customers to make a purchase on your store. A great tag line can form immediate connections with the visitors by positioning your business at the spot where they would want to see it.

13) Avoid writing vague ‘Unique Selling Points’

You don’t need an MBA degree to know that you must tell your visitors clearly and exactly what your Unique Selling Points (USPs) are. Why they should buy from your store? Strategically presented USP on your store can help you counter the mental barriers in the visitors' mind that might be stopping them to buy from your store.

Bedding.com is a good example of vague USPs, for example: Easy Returns, Free Shipping, Price Guarantee, Risk Free Shopping:

Thus, avoid writing vague ‘unique selling points’ on your store, for example: Satisfaction Guaranteed, Fast Shipping, Best Deals etc. Be specific, such as: Free Shipping on orders above $ 50, $ 10 Flat Shipping, 100% Organic Products, 60 Days Return Policy etc.

If your store is like many others, then the off your market visitors enter your store from the home page. If they know what they want, they would straight away search the product name in the store's product search box. An inaccurate or dysfunctional product search can hurt your business in the form of lost sales, especially when the size of your inventory exceeds the scale at which it can be manually browsed.

Sometimes, users are not able to locate the product search. You can use Google Analytics (Content > Site Search > Usage) to know whether or not users are actively using product search.

You will notice that the conversion rate of visitors using product search is higher than visitors who are not using product search.

One of the possible reasons of low usage of product search is the placement and presentation of the product search functionality. You must highlight the presence of product search functionality by using both better placement and aesthetics. This will ensure that search box doesn't get lost with the other elements on the page.

You should have an effective search feature on your store, which is:

  • Easy to use: Gives clear instructions on what and how a user can search.
  • Fast & Accurate: If your inventory size is huge, you can use 3rd party engines like Celbros or SOLR to return search results faster.
  • Friendly: Think of what users will see if there is no product match in the inventory.

14) Test your search for accuracy

Test your search for accuracy by searching keywords (singular & plural). For example, if you’re running a sporting goods store, a search for ‘basketball’ & ‘basketballs’ should return the same results associated with basketball(s). 

15) Implement an intelligent search to cover singular, plurals, misspellings etc.

Your store search should be intelligent enough to return results as per the intent of the searcher. For example, the top listings of a search should return ‘basketballs’ and not ‘basketball jerseys’. If the user wanted a ‘basketball jersey’, he would have searched this term. Test your search with similar key phrase combinations and see how accurate it is.

16) Implement Auto-Suggestions to help user search for relevant keywords

It’s a commonly used search functionality wherein you show keyword recommendations, as the user types his search query in the search box. This feature helps users to search the right keyword and makes it easier for them to find the desired product more quickly. If this feature functions properly it can push users to purchase from your store.

17) Enable Category Search

Implementation of most product search engines (like SOLR & Celebros) requires considerable investment of time and money. If you can’t afford to invest in search but still need to manage a huge inventory search, you should at least have a category level search so that users are able to search in a particular category.

18) Let the user know what they searched

While displaying results for a search, always let the user know what ‘keyword’ they searched. Don’t test their memory and help them search the product right keywords.

For example, searching for a keyword like ‘Sandals’ at NineWest.com returns no results (it’s not that they don’t have sandals, it’s just that their search functionality isn’t that great). It also doesn’t show what keywords exactly did the user search. Imagine, if a user misspelled a keyword, she would abandon the store with an impression that the store doesn’t have what she is looking for. She won’t realize that she actually misspelled the product name in the search box.

 

19) Get high quality product images

People no longer want to browse a website – they want to experience it. An image is ALWAYS the first thing that a visitor will notice as soon as he lands on your store’s product page. Good product images can add life to your store and help your store convert better – there are no two ways about it.

Images are more sense-oriented and may not evoke an emotional response:

  • Pay special attention to the default image of the product description page. It should be really high quality.
  • Avoid using generic stock photos. Take actual pictures of real persons using your products. A real product picture (taken from an average camera) will convert better than a cheesy stock picture.
  • Don’t just show a single image, show as many as you can – from different angles.

20) Pay attention to your product’s description

After the product image, the other element that plays an important role in improving the conversion rate of your store is the product’s description.

Internet is full of “killer” copywriting words, winning sales layouts, etc. Let us tell you from our experience that these tricks won't take you very far. In fact, they will take you nowhere. A mile long sales page won't convert if you don't understand exactly 'what' will persuade visitors to buy. This is what we suggest that can make your product descriptions more compelling:

  • Keep the most important features of the product at the beginning of paragraphs and bullets. 
  • Don’t try to pester, persuade or build a hype about the product – users will know if your claims aren’t genuine. 
  • Offer two versions of the product description – summary and detailed. Product summary will be read by the visitors who are in a hurry and the detailed version will be read by visitors who are willing to spend more time knowing about the product and getting more confident about their buying decision.
  • Use bulleted points to make the information easier for the visitors to consume.
  • Link out to privacy pages, shipping, return policy & FAQs.

Users have apprehensions about privacy, shipping details, FAQ and returns policy. Keep these pages within easy reach of the product pages & checkout screen.

(see how Zappos links to important information from its product page).

21) Show Product Videos (for your top selling products at least)

Because your images can’t talk. With the technology getting cheaper and more accessible, more and more stores are embracing videos to show their products. If you haven’t given it a shot yet, do it now. Show videos along with product pictures and see if the addition impacts the sale of the product.

22) Don’t let price be a surprise

When visitors don’t buy, one of the biggest reason is that the user finds the price either too high or the product description too vague to back up the claims.

Price must stand out on the page. Use large font size, bold formatting, and a different color. Full price or estimated full price – should be shown to the user as early as possible. Shipping and handling prices if listed too late in the checkout process can also be one of the reasons for a higher cart abandonment rate. Design the checkout process in a way that there are no surprises for the user. It's not just the product price, the visitors might also find your shipment and handling charges too high. If there are any taxes to be included, show the total amount on the product page before the user checks-out.

23) Empower visitors with creative calculators

There are many types of calculation tools that you might want to offer to enable them to shop the exact product specifications they want from your store and in the quantity and quality they prefer. For example – shipping calculator, size calculator etc.

24) Clearly show the product’s delivery time

Buyers want to be in control of the transaction when buying from your store. On the product page, let users know when they can expect to receive the product if they order.

25) Allow them to select delivery date

If the product's expected delivery date doesn’t suit the user, you can give user the facility to delay the delivery or predate it. So, if a user is going on a holiday for 4-5 days and which also happens to be the expected delivery date, you must enable the customer to select a delivery date and leave a comment as well.

26) Enable Out Of Stock Notification

We recommend adding an “email me when item is restocked” feature wherein you prompt users to submit their email address so that they can be notified as soon as the product returns back 'in stock'. This is an automated process but there are ways of giving this 'auto responder email' a more personal touch.

27) Encourage users to leave reviews

Collecting product reviews has to be made part of the sales process itself. Using auto-responder emails, prominent call to action buttons etc. can further help in enhancing sales and generating better response from the users.

After the Panda & Penguin update it’s critical for store owners to keep their website updated with fresh content all the time. It may not always be feasible to create unique copies for each and every page on the website or adding content to different pages at regular basis. This is where user generated content comes in handy. Thus content like user reviews can have a direct impact on traffic, conversion rate and average order value of your store.

Not only do good product reviews add a lot of content on a product page but stand as credible testimony to the high quality of the product. Positive customer reviews make your store more shop worthy and thus can have a direct impact on the store's conversion rate.

Along with offering a provision for product reviews on the product page itself, you can also send an auto-responder to all your customers after a specific number of days (depending on the nature of product that you're selling). Send a link in the email where they can share or post about their experience of using the product.

Users are most vulnerable to abandonment during the checkout process. An effective use of text, icons and symbols is necessary to overcome all user apprehensions & objections that users might experience without overwhelming them. Here is what your checkout page should reflect:

  • Security: Let users know that your website is secure and that their privacy will never be compromised.
  • Transparency: Be transparent and include accurate shipping & tax details.
  • Payment Methods: Clearly show all the payment methods users can use to make the payment (PayPal, Credit Cards, Google Checkout etc.).
  • FAQs: If you think there are additional FAQs, you can cover them in a checkout related FAQs section.

28) Offer Persistent Shopping Cart

A lot of users add a product to cart, thinking they will complete the purchase or checkout later. Offering them a persistent shopping cart will be very useful for both the users as well as the store. This is because, if on their return they see the cart empty, they might not start again. They will prefer to abandon the cart instead of going through the process again.

A good solution to the problem is enabling persistent shopping cart on your store so that user finds the products in the cart until he removes them. If you’re wondering for how long should the product stay in the cart? The longer the better.

29) Don’t make the user enter same information twice

As much as you might think that users want to spend time on your store, the truth is that users want the buying process to be over as soon as possible. Start by removing the extra or avoidable fields on your website. A user in any case would never like to fill in the same information twice. It's not a good idea to make them enter the same information twice. For example, during checkout process, don’t make a user enter his shipping address and then enter the same information in the billing information fields again. This doesn’t make sense especially when only a small fraction of customers want to give a billing address that's different from their shipping address. There are many ways how you can get rid of this unnecessary step, for example: you can enable a checkbox (or something similar) that enables the user to choose whether or not user wants to give a different billing address.

30) Pre-fill information where ever you can

Like we just said, you’re not making your customers happy if you’re making them enter the same information twice. If a customer has already provided some information in step 1, don’t ask for it again in step 3. If you have to, automatically pre-fill the fields so that user doesn’t have to enter it again.

31) Preserve information on a validation error

This is an extension of previous two points. Don’t make your customers enter same information twice. If and when there is an error somewhere in the form, all entered information should be preserved. There is nothing more annoying for a user if he loses all the entered information because of a tiny validation error in one of the 15 fields on the form page. It can really drive a user nuts.

32) Clearly mark the fields as optional or mandatory

Make sure that you use asterisk (*) to clearly mark optional fields. It can confuse a user if he is not able to proceed because he is missing out filling some information which has not been marked as a mandatory field.

33) Give input example against each field

To minimize the chances of user hitting validation errors, you can show correct input examples next to each form field so that the user can know the correct way to enter the required information.

34) Offer a unified single ‘Name’ field

Offering extra field or two to make user enter middle or last name is unnecessary. It makes more sense to offer a single unified name field to the user.

35) Automatically pre-fill city & state field as soon as user enters a zip code

You can make the user’s life easier by implementing an intelligent data input system. Auto-detect and pre-fill city & state field as soon as the user enters his ZIP code.

36) Keep the form field labels visible at all times

Many stores show the input labels inside the input field to keep the form clean. Although this design approach makes the form look less cluttered, if the user is in a rush, he might click on the label before reading it. In such a situation, he would be confused about the required information he is supposed to enter in the field.

37) Keep the form linear

User starts from the top and work their way from top to the bottom. If your form has a trigger field, keep it right below the field that triggers it. For example, a state field should always come after the country field. On the shipping information page, if by default you show US states before the country selection field, user might get an impression that you don’t deliver to their country because triggered field is above the field that the user is working at.

38) Form field length should match the expected length of the input

Most of the users closely relate the length of an input box with the input they are supposed to enter in the field. For example, if you’re asking for a CVV number, don’t make the length of the input box same as the credit card field just for the sake of design symmetry. Similarly, don't allow more than 12 digits in the credit card field:

This can make some of your visitors less certain about whether or not they’re entering the correct information. 

39) Use Facebook Connect

With the help of Facebook connect, you can encourage more visitors to buy from your store by allowing them to login and complete their purchase using their Facebook username & password. This is better than forcing them manually register to complete their purchase. It saves their time and thus they are more likely purchase from your store.

40) Be specific with your button’s text

Avoid using generic button text for example – ‘continue’ because a button named ‘Continue’ if used in a shopping cart could mean two actions to the user:

  • Continue ‘shopping’ – continue adding more products to the cart.
  • Continue to ‘checkout’ – continue to checkout and pay.

This can make the user less certain while shopping on your store. Thus, it makes more sense to make the buttons more descriptive with text like 'continue shopping, 'continue to checkout' etc.

41) Display validation errors in close proximity to the input field

This is one of the most common usability issues found in many e-commerce websites. The validation error is displayed at the top of the form and in most cases it remains hidden due to scroll. 

42) Display validation checks against each field

The best practice is to show the validation error right next to the field and show a ‘check’ mark the moment user enters correct input. This gives confidence to the user that he is heading into the right direction.

43) Make 'Account Registration' an Optional Step of Checkout Process

Do you know that a recent Econsultancy / Toluna study found that 25.6% of online consumers would abandon a purchase if they were forced to register first.

Forcing a user to register in order to complete purchase can make your customers feel that they’re not in control while buying from your store. This increases the chances of cart abandonment by the user.

Here is an example where account registration is a mandatory step of buying process:

Thus, if you're also forcing your visitors to register to complete purchase, providing a guest functionality clearly is the easiest way for you to improve your store's conversion rate.

Apple does a good job clearly defining that use can either login or checkout as guest.

44) Don’t complicate Password Selection

Avoid applying complicated validations to the password field. Let users easily select a convenient password and don’t force them to create something so difficult that they can’t easily memorize.

(Selfridges.com not only forces a user to sign-up in order to complete check-out process but also select password in a specific format)

45) Make ‘Guest Checkout’ a more prominent option

If you make ‘register as new user’ a more prominent option, users might perceive that they are being forced to register on the website to complete their purchase. Thus, with the help of design elements and typography, you should make Guest Checkout a more prominent option than ‘register as new user’ option. 

46) Make your primary button most prominent among rest all call to actions

While surfing, our eyes act on buttons based on their prominence (size and color) instead of what they read. On a typical checkout page, there can be various buttons like ‘save’, ‘redeem’, 'apply', ‘ok’, ‘calculate’, ‘cancel’ etc. Make sure that the primary buttons of your checkout page are ‘Buy’, ‘Next step’, ‘Continue checkout’, etc. Make these visually the most dominant buttons or else a lot of users who are in a rush will end-up clicking on a wrong button.

47) Avoid unnecessary buttons on the checkout page

Show only the primary buttons on the checkout page and avoid unnecessary ‘apply’ buttons. Use AJAX to auto-submit the information as soon as it’s entered in the field. The changes should be applied immediately without reloading, and in close proximity with the input field.

48) Primary button placement

Inconsistent prominence and placement of primary buttons can confuse the user about whether or not a button will result in the execution of the primary function of the page. Most users expect a primary button to be placed on the lower right or left corner of the visual frame. Also, make sure that the primary button is placed consistently throughout the entire checkout process.

49) Limit the navigation and exit points on the checkout page

You have done all the hard work to help a user find products they want and add to cart. They have made the payment for their purchase and have entered the shipping address. Get rid of everything from the checkout page that might distract users away from the checkout page. Get rid of header navigation (or trim it), search and only show things that encourage users to complete the purchase for example – Guarantee, Return Policy, Support Information etc. Flipkart.com has a very clean and focused checkout process with almost no navigation.

50) Use Intelligent defaults

Use intelligent defaults in the most commonly selected values that users select so that customers can proceed with little friction. For example, you can help users make a decision by pre-selecting the most popular shipping option. If you don’t want to give a pre-selected option, help them in making the choice by labeling the most popular option as 'recommended'.

51) Let users force-proceed on potentially wrong validation

Many forms are designed in a way that users are forced to correct the validations of the unimportant or optional fields. You should allow your customers to force-proceed through potentially wrong validation errors; for example – it might not make sense to stop a user on the ‘shipping information’ screen of the checkout process and force him to remove special characters.

52) Process steps should be presented as navigational links during the checkout process

Many checkout processes make the checkout page look like a chronological process by breaking the entire process into steps, for example:

  • Step 1: Register
  • Step 2: Shipping Information
  • Step 3: Billing Information
  • Step 4: Select Payment Method
  • Step 5: Pay

Most store owners make these steps clickable allowing users to go forward to the next step. But very few stores allow users to go back to verify the selected product or information entered by clicking on the previous step. Allow users to maneuver both ways (forward and back) by clicking on the checkout steps.

53) Don’t surprise users by adding extra costs abruptly

If users suddenly see an increased cost when they checkout (i.e. when they’re least expecting it), they will feel that they’re being tricked. Let users know about any extra costs (for example – shipping & handling charges or taxes) in advance on the product page itself. It should be clearly shown when extra cost is being added to the order during the purchase process.

54) During registration, make the Newsletter sign-up an opt-in by default, not opt-out.

When users are registering you don’t want them to feel tricked into signing-up for your newsletters. Let it be more of a permission than a trick. Not only will it make your business look more legitimate but will also help your email marketing campaigns in the longer run.

55) Offer Brave Guarantees

Most buyers expect some form of guarantee when they purchase from your store. Try giving different guarantees. Test bigger and a bolder ones for different shopping seasons. Check if your site is prominently displaying these guarantees on important pages of the store (e.g. Product description, cart and checkout).

56) Write crisp & enticing meta tags

Although, this is essentially a part of Search Engine Optimization, but Meta tags are the first level of contact with potential customers who are searching for keywords relevant to your business on various search engines. Thus, title and description tags are not only important touch points but also the doorway to your store from Search Engines. Thus, make sure that your meta tags read well.

You can use Google Webmaster Tools (Traffic > Search Queries) to check the Click Through Rate of the keywords that your store is ranking for and make necessary changes in the meta tags to achieve better CTR. If the avg. position of a keyword is good (within top 10) but the CTR of the keyword is low, it's an indication that the meta tags of that page might need rework.

 

57) Enable Open graphs

Lots of visitors on your store might land from social media websites such as Facebook. Similar to how meta tags help you show how your store listings look on Search Engine Result Pages, Open graphs will help you control how the pages on your store look, when shared on Facebook. Since many users might discover your store on Facebook, these open graph settings become important touch points for your store.

(see how, MrPorter.com has enabled open graphs on their store to make it more share friendly). You can use Facebook debugger to see how your page looks when shared on Facebook.

58) Check your Auto-responder Emails

Auto-responders are the email notifications that your system automatically sends to users at various instances like: new registration, password reset, order confirmation etc. These emails are important because these are your first personal communication with your customers. Reflect that you do business sincerely and can be trusted for fast order fulfillment too.

59) Registration Emails

This is the automatic email that goes out to users when they register on your store. The format of these emails varies from business to business. But there are a few things that remain standard to most businesses, for example:

It’s a good idea to include your company name in the sender field, the subject line or both. If the customer wants to spot your email among the rest, this would help them find it faster. Make sure that you use words like 'welcome' & 'thank you' in your first auto-responder. Include customer support information and encourage users to join you on your social media pages like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest.

60) Pay attention to your password Reset Emails

You can safely assume that many of your users will register and forget their user name or password when they visit your store again (check the visits on your forgot password page from your Google Analytics account if you need proof). This is a very standard functionality that almost all online stores have in which a user enters his email address and receives his password or password reset link in his email. Now, since it's so standard, store owners tend to ignore the language and presentation of the following touch points:

  • Password Reset page, where user enters his email address
  • Confirmation page where user gets the confirmation on the user's password request
  • Password reset email that goes to the user

(This is how JcPenny acknowledges their users to the password reset request)

plain text email

(ASOS sends a plain text message to users as password reset email)

61) Get your Order Confirmation Emails right

These are the automatic emails that go out to users when they make a purchase on your store. And since these emails have very high open rates, it's important that you pay attention to what users see in them. While these emails are effective instruments to drive return visits to your store, it is important that your customers also perceive it as a great service.

Order confirmation emails are a great opportunity for you to offer deals that entice the user to buy more. Other than this, you can also introduce the buyer to other products he might like. If you engage with your customers in your order confirmation e-mail, they'll probably be more receptive to your future emails.

As part of your store's touch point optimization, scrutinize your confirmation e-mail messages to ensure that your email reinforces why your customer bought from your store at first place and then cross-sell other products.

62) Enable Order Shipped Emails

This is also an automatic email that goes out to the buyer when the product is dispatched from your warehouse. It's triggered by your system when the product is marked as dispatched by your warehouse manager. This email is also very important because from the time they place the order till the time they receive the delivery, users are most receptive to your messages. So apart from giving the order tracking link and user login link in your e-mail, you can also ask the users to check the action happening on your social media pages.

63) Optimize the thank you messages on your store

Your store has thank you pages created by your development team that trigger at various instances when the user takes a desired action. These can be actions like:

  • When user places an order
  • When user subscribes to your store
  • When user registers to your store
  • When user chooses to be notified when an order is back in stock

Pay attention to these pages because these are reached only by the users who were receptive and decided to trust you. Thus, they are likely to take more actions if you give them enough reasons to.

The actions you can ask them to take on these thank you pages are: 

  • Sign-up for your Newsletters: Once a user has completed the purchase, you can insert an opt-in box in the Thank You page and then encourage the user to subscribe to your store's newsletter.
  • Encourage Social Media sharing: You can embed social media sharing buttons neatly with benefits of joining. For example, you can tell the user that you're giving away free gifts, discount coupons etc. to your Facebook fans.
  • Ask for feedback: After a user completes the purchase, you can give him a survey and ask him to share his experience on your store. Since he just been on your store or has completed a transaction, he will be more likely give you a candid feedback.
  • Offer Support: Show a customer support number or email contact option in case they have any concerns regarding order fulfillment or they want to buy anything else.

Error Messages

There will be many instances when users do something unexpected on the store. Your system will trigger various error messages for these unexpected actions. More often than not, these error notifications are written by programmers and are lacking in about human touch. There are different types of error notifications that a user can encounter on your store:

64) Make user friendly 404 Error Page

This error occurs when a user requests for a page that doesn't exist on the store. There are potentially many ways, how a user might request server for a page that doesn't exist, for example: URL changing during store migration, Admin deleting page(s), Incorrect hyper linking etc. As there is no web page at the location requested by the user, the server sends a page that simply says "404 Error – Page not found". As a best case practice, your store should have any or all the following elements:

  • Friendly Error Message
  • Search box
  • Customer Support Information
  • Direct links to the most important pages

 

65) No Results Found (Product / Page)

This error is displayed to the user when your system fails to find a result matching the query user has entered into the product or page search box. Programmers usually display errors like “No match found”. Since there are many instances in a day when visitors might see this error notification, it's an opportunity for you to leave an impression.

(see how Zappos engages with visitors when they search for a product name that doesn't exists)

66) Validation Error Messages

These types of messages are displayed by your system when the user enters a value in 'input forms' that is not supported by your store. For example, when a user enters a phone number in an input box where he should be entering his email address.

Places where these validation error messages are encountered by a user are:

  • Registration form
  • Login form
  • Email Sign-up forms
  • Pre-Order forms
  • Contact forms etc.

Again, since these validation errors are designed by a programmer who won't bother about the tone of the message, at times these validation messages may sound either rude, confusing or unnecessary.

Trust Points

There is always a psychological barrier & objection in the mind of users when they're engaging with your store. The objective of optimizing the touch points below is to find all the objections that a user might have in his or her mind, and suggest changes to build and inspire trust & confidence in them.

Do everything to earn as many accreditations for your business as you can, like: BBB, Bizrate, Verisign etc. Show these badges on your store to give the user an impression that they are doing business with a genuine, secure & ethical company.

67) Offer them multiple payment options: It’s a no-brainer but this checklist would look incomplete without the mention.

Accept multiple payment types – Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Amazon, and Google Checkout etc. People always have a preferred method and showing them logo of that payment processor can encourage them to buy from your store.

68) Show Social Media Proof

The easiest way to make people trust your store is by showing them your followers on social media. If you have a considerable presence on Facebook, show the numbers to visitors using a Facebook Like Box widget.

69) Sign-up with Google Trusted Stores

Google is making an extra push to expand their Trusted Stores program with the roll out of Google Shopping and it's a must have if you're promoting your store using Google AdWords or CSE. Google Trusted Stores is designed to help customers easily find merchants who offer a superior online shopping experience. Please note that for having a Google endorsed advantage over your competitors, Google requires that you commit and comply with their quality guide-lines. You can apply for a Google certification here. Being a Google's trusted store cannot just help you improve your store's performance on Google AdWords & CSEs but also on Google Organic Search.

There are other information touch points on your store that most of your users will engage with while they make a buying decision. Since these are not critical touch points, they are often ignored. However, these information touch points are important as they give a human face to your store.

70) Show product close-up videos

These videos can be with or without human models. The idea here is to show the HD quality video of the product under professional lights wherein the whole focus of the video is product visuals. There is no sound or human voice required and such videos can be shot pretty quickly. Again, MrPorter.com has done a great job shooting really high quality small product videos.

 

Reference

71) Educate the visitors and enable them to make an informed decision

Such videos are an interactive way to give users all the information they need to make a buying decision. These videos are unbiased and done by a professional to educate buyers. You can post them to your blog or create a dedicated buying guide section.

SportsAuthority.com has smartly chosen topics like 'Choosing the Right Treadmill' to help visitors buy the right treadmill (this video ranks 6 for this key phrase).

Video is also a branding tool wherein you can create professional videos with people who have engaged with your store. A nicely shot video like this featured on your home page can dramatically enhance the image of your store as a trustworthy brand. With more visitor trust, you can expect more people buying from your store instead of Amazon as they would think that they are buying from a specialized group. Again, MrPorter.com has done a great job in presenting customer stories.

72) Create an impressive about page

Check the Google Analytics of your store and you will be surprised to know how many people actually go to your About page before they make a purchase from your store, especially if they are visiting your store for the first time. 

  • Share the Whole Story
  • Highlight Your People
  • Sprinkle in Some Hard Facts
  • Write in Your Company's Natural Voice
  • Let it be More Than Just Text
  • Be Authentic

73) Support/Contact Page

Display a land-line phone number (toll free would be great) and a street address. Make sure that there is a way to contact you that’s not electronic. Your customers must know that real people are available to help if they’re lost or confused.

Give them options: If you give them multiple options to contact you (like Live chat, email or a toll free number); they will think that you value your customers.

74) Get a thorough usability testing done

You can use tools like Usertesting.com to hire remote usability testers (@ $ 39 per tester in your target demographics). You can give them pre-defined test cases. The output of their testing comes to you in the form of video recording of their actual user experience on your store, along with written notes of their finding.

People use Internet because it’s convenient. If your store takes more time than the user anticipates to load in a user’s browser, you’re actually taking that advantage away from the user. It’s rather inconvenient and annoying to buy from such a store. Google provides some fantastic information on ways to increase the load speed of your store. We have copied some of the important ones below; you can check their knowledge base here.

75) Leverage browser caching

Caching is a double win: you reduce the round-trip time by eliminating numerous HTTP requests for the required resources, and you substantially reduce the total payload size of the responses. Besides leading to a dramatic reduction in page load time for subsequent user visits, enabling caching can also significantly reduce the bandwidth and hosting costs for your site.

76) Defer parsing of JavaScript

In order to load a page, the browser must parse the contents of all <script> tags, which adds additional time to the page load. By minimizing the amount of JavaScript needed to render the page, and deferring parsing of unneeded JavaScript until it needs to be executed, you can reduce the initial load time of your page.

77) Optimize images

When you optimize every line of code for your website, don't forget about your static content – including images. Simple improvements can drastically decrease your download size, without compromising on the site's quality.

78) Serve scaled images

Sometimes you may want to display the same image in various sizes, so you will serve a single image resource and use HTML or CSS in the containing page to scale it. For example, you may have a 10 x 10 thumbnail version of a larger 250 x 250 image, and rather than forcing the user to download two separate files, you can use markup to resize the thumbnail version.

79) Combine images into CSS sprites

Combining images into as few files as possible using CSS sprites. This reduces the number of round-trips and delays in downloading other resources, reduces request overhead, and can reduce the total number of bytes downloaded by a web page. Similar to JavaScript and CSS, downloading multiple images incurs additional round trips. A site that contains many images can combine them into fewer output files to reduce latency.

80) Minimize redirects

Minimizing HTTP redirects from one URL to another cuts out additional RTTs and wait time for users.

81) Enable compression

Compressing resources with gzip or deflate can reduce the number of bytes sent over the network. Most modern browsers support data compression for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. This allows content to be sent over the network in more compact form and can drastically reduce the download time.

82) Minify JavaScript

The 'Minify JavaScript' filter removes unnecessary bytes on the wire. While it's great to put comments, tabs and whitespace in code to improve readability and maintenance, these are bytes that take up space on the wire and that a browser's JavaScript parser has to parse unnecessarily.

83) Minimize request size

Keeping cookies and request headers as small as possible ensures that an HTTP request can fit into a single packet.

84) Get your Shipping Policies right

The way you handle the shipping of your products plays a critical role in deciding the conversion rate of your store. It plays a direct role in the cart abandonment rate of your store. This is what a recent research paper from UPS concluded, after studying the impact of shipment handling on conversion rate of online stores:

  • While free and discounted shipping is a big benefit, there is more to online shopping and customer experience. In fact, many shoppers are willing to pay a nominal fee to receive the product faster if given an option.
  • Shipping and delivery timing is important during check-out – it’s all about communication! To reduce shopping cart abandonment, retailers should show the shipping costs, inform them how much more should be ordered to get free shipping, and give consumers the option of shipping time frames.
  • Customers are willing to wait for their packages, but need to know what is happening – they want estimated delivery time clearly stated and they want e-mail or text alerts about their delivery.
  • Also important to the customer is the feeling of control. Options such as “special delivery instructions,” the ability to schedule a late delivery, or having a delivery window gives the consumers the control they need to improve their shipping experience.
  • Finally, good experiences with returning items lead to repeat customers and recommendations for the retailer. Good experiences are those that ensure ease for the consumer, while the bad experiences are the ones that highlight hassles and the extra cost.

85) Offer Free Shipping

Irrespective of the business and cost implications, if you talk to your customers, they will tell you that they want free shipping.

“For whatever reason, a free shipping offer that saves a customer $ 6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $ 10.”

If you still have to charge for shipping, make sure that you always mention the shipping costs up front. If you can afford to offer a flat fee, it will work best because it makes the buying decision much easier for the buyer.

86) Display the Free Shipping Threshold Order Value Prominently

Showing ‘Free Shipping’ prominently on your store and not drawing user’s attention to the ‘thresh-hold’ order value can work against your store. If a user notices the threshold order value late during the checkout process, he or she might feel tricked and abandon the cart. Display the Free shipping threshold Amount Prominently on all the pages (home, category & description pages).

Leatherup.com is an example of how your most sincere intention to give attractive offers to visitors can actually look like a deceptive selling tactic. Leatherup.com shows a ‘free shipping banner’ on the home page without mentioning the threshold order value of $ 89 in the banner. They also don’t show the flat rate $ 7.95 ground shipping charges that applies to order below the thresh-hold order amount. The rule of thumb here, is to be as clear as you can with any message that you give to your customers.

 

 

87) Offer a good return policy

Will it fit me? What if the delivered product is not same as what I order? To counter such common scenarios and doubts, offer an attractive returns policy. If your store's returns policy isn't clear, visitors might get apprehensive when buying from your store. Make your returns policy visible, clear and buyer-friendly so that people feel safe while shopping with you.

88) Use Ad-Roll: You can use traffic re-targeting tools like AdRoll to improve the conversion rate of your online store. With AdRoll, you can show banners to users who abandon your store without buying and motivate them to come back and complete their purchase. You can create dynamic ads with interactive and personalized banners.

What makes AdRoll so useful is that it enables you to segment your potential customers based on the products they've viewed, how far into the purchase funnel they've gotten, or any other action that you may find valuable.

89) Use Adwords Re-marketing: With AdWords Re-marketing, you can target people who have already visited your store and show them customized ads when they surf other websites that are part of Google’s Display Network. These Re-marketing Ads can help you bring these users back to the website and convert them by giving them custom offers on customized landing pages.

90) Clean your Email Subscriber List from time to time

For most online stores, Email Marketing is a big tool to generate more traffic on the store. Ensuring optimum conversion rate of traffic coming from these emails requires investment of time & efforts. Not paying attention to your email list can have a negative effect on the conversion figures of your store. You should only send emails to people who are ‘open’ and willing to engage with your brand. 

Figure-out different levels of dis-engagement and inactivity within your subscriber list from Email Service Provider dashboard (and Google Analytics). From there, find people who have been on the list for some time but are not opening your emails. Trimming the clog from your list will not only lower the chances of you being tagged as spammer but also give you a better view into the engagement level of your active subscribers.

Stay-or-go Email Campaign

Set-up a re-engagement email series (two emails) for people who have stopped engaging with your emails (have either stopped opening your emails or clicking on the links within your emails). Let them know that they are missed and offer them incentives to open your emails and re-subscribe. If the first message is ignored, send one last email notifying the subscriber that they will be removed from your list if they do not take an action.

91) Offer Cashbacks

This is a really powerful technique that many e-commerce store owners use to encourage their customers to come back for more. You can offer your customers cash back in the form of gift cards / vouchers, for example – a “Free $ 15 voucher on your next purchase when you spend $ 40 or above”. This can not only increase the returning visitors on your store but also improve your store’s conversion rate with repeat orders.

Implement it!

You see, knowing all this won’t matter, if you don’t go ahead and implement these recommendations to your store. And when you do, we would of course love to hear about it.

Want this article in PDF?

Tweet @cueblocks and we will send you a direct link to download this guide as PDF.

Comments on this report are welcome any time.

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How Unique Does Content Need to Be to Perform Well in Search Engines? – Whiteboard Friday

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Posted by randfish

We all know that content needs to be unique to rank highly in the SERPs, but how "unique" are we talking? From a content creation perspective, it's imperative to know what duplicate content really means and to understand the implications it can have on SEO.

In this week's Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses what makes content unique in the eyes of the crawlers, and the bane of duplicate content.

Video Transcription

"Howdy SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to take some time to talk about content duplication and content uniqueness, which is very important from an SEO perspective. It can also be important from a content marketing perspective.

For SEO purposes, search engines like to filter out what they view as duplicative content, things that are exactly the same. They never want to show you a set of results where result two, three, four, and five are all exactly the same article or are essentially the same three paragraphs repeated with the same photos embedded in them. It could be that content gets licensed among different parties. News vendors do this a lot. It could be that someone has done some plagiarism and actually stolen a piece. It could just be that someone is posting the same article in several different places on the web that accept content submissions. In any case, the engines are trying to filter this type of behavior out. They don't want to see that content because they know users are made happy by, "If I didn't like this result on this website, chances are I'm not going to like it on result number three on the different website." So they try and filter this stuff out.

From an SEO perspective and for content creators, it's therefore very important to understand, "What does that really mean? What is meant by duplicate content, and how unique do I really need to be?"

The first thing that I always like to talk about when we get into a discussion of content uniqueness is that content, when we talk about the content that the engines are considering for this, we're referring only to the unique material on a page. That excludes navigation, ads, footers, sidebars, etc.

I've got a page mockup over here, and you would exclude all this stuff – the logo, the navigation, the sidebars. Maybe this person is running some ads in the sidebar. Maybe they've got a little piece about themselves, and they've got a bunch of text down the right-hand side. Then they think, "Boy, I only have a couple of lines of text on this page and a photo and maybe a couple of bullet points. Is this unique from these other pages that look exactly the same except they have some different content in the content section?" This is the content. If you're worried that, "Oh no, I think that my pages might be kind of heavy and my content is kind of light," I wouldn't worry too much about that so long as you're doing everything else right. We'll talk about some of those. Number two, uniqueness applies to both internal and external sources. Copying either one can be trouble. It could be that these are other pages on your site and these are other pages somewhere else on the web where this content exists, and you're taking from those and putting those pieces on your site. That can be a problem in either of those cases. Internal duplication, usually engines will try and ignore it if it's small and subtle, just happens here and there. It's like, "Oh, there are four different versions of this page because they've got a print version, a mobile version. Okay. We'll try and canonicalize and figure that out."

You would be wise in these situations to use something like a rel=canonical. Or if you're consolidating pages after a big site move or a re-architecturing, something like that, a 301 is proper. But you should also be aware that this can happen from external stuff.

However, when I say that, what I don't mean to say and what I know a lot of people get confused about in the SEO world is this doesn't mean that you can't take a paragraph from Wikipedia and put it in a bigger article that you're writing, or cite a blogger and include a couple of phrases that they say, or take a piece from New York Magazine or from the Wall Street Journal, from Wired, or wherever you want and take, "Oh hey, I'm going to caption this, and I'm going to have a little clip of it. I'm going to put a video that exists on YouTube already." That's not duplicative so long as you are adding unique value.

Number three, uniqueness alone, some people get lost in the minutiae of the rules around SEO, the rules around search engines and they think, "Well, this content exists nowhere else on the web. So I just took someone else's and I changed all the words." You have technically provided unique content, but you have not provided unique value. Unique value is a very different thing. What I mean when I say "unique value" and what the search engines would like you to do and are building algorithms around is providing value that no other sources, no other sites on the web are specifically providing. That could mean that you take a look at the visitor's intent, the searcher's intent or your customer's intent and you say, "Hey, I'm going to answer each of these things that this person is trying to achieve."

If somebody searches for hotels in Cape Town, South Africa, well they're probably looking for a listing of hotels, but they probably have other intents as well. They might be interested in other stuff related to traveling there. They could be wanting to know things about weather. They could be wanting to know things about neighborhoods where these hotels are located. So providing unique value as opposed to just, "Hey, I'm going to take the content from Expedia's website and then I'm also just going to rewrite the paragraph about the hotels specifically," that's not going to help you. But if you were to do something like what Oyster Hotels does, where they actually send a reporter with a camera, a journalist essentially, to the location, they take tons of their own unique photos, and they write about the weather and the neighborhood and the hotel cleanliness and investigate all these sorts of things and provide true, unique value as well as unique content, now you're hitting on what you need to achieve the uniqueness that search engines are talking about when they talk about unique versus duplicate.

Four, there's this imagination that exists in the minds of folks in the SEO field, and has for a long time, that there must be some mythical percentage. If over here, "Oh, this is 100% duplicate and this is 0% duplicate, 100% unique and this is the 50/50 mark, there must be some imaginary, magical, if I just get to like right here at 41%, that's the number. Therefore I'm going to create a huge website and all my pages just have to hit that 47% mark." That is dead wrong. Just totally wrong. There's nothing like this.

The algorithms that you might imagine are so much more sophisticated than an exact percentile of what is and isn't duplicate, even when it comes to just studying the content in here. That specific percentage doesn't exist. They use such a vast array of inputs. I'll give you some examples.

You can see, for example, that an article that might be published on many different news sites, after it moves out of Google news and into the Google main index, sometimes duplicates will appear, and oftentimes those duplicates are the ones that are the most linked to, the ones that have lots of comments on them, the ones that have been socially shared quite a bit, or where Google has seen user usage data behaviors or previous behaviors on those sites that suggests that each site provides some sort of unique value, even if the content is exactly the same.

Like Bloomberg and Business Week are constantly producing the same articles. Business Insider will produce articles from all over the place. Huffington Post will take articles from places that writers submit, and it'll be published in different places. People will publish on one site, and then they'll publish privately on their own blog. Sometimes Google will list both, sometimes they won't. It's not about a percentage. It's about the unique value that's provided, and it's about a very sophisticated algorithm that considers lots of other features.

If you are in a space where you're competing with other people who are posting the same content, think about unique value and think about getting the user usage data, the branding, the social shares, the links, all of those things will be taken into consideration when it comes to, "Are we going to rank your site or this other site that's licensing your content or from whom you are licensing content?" Domain authority can play a big role in there.

The last thing I want to mention is that duplicate and low value content, because of Google's Panda update from 2011, Panda means that low quality content, duplicative content that exists on one part of your site can actually harm your overall site. I'd be very cautious if you're thinking, "Hey, let's produce an article section on our site that's just these 5,000 articles that we licensed from this other place or that we're copying from someone's blog. We might not get much SEO value from it, but we will get a little bit of extra search engine traffic." In fact, that can hurt you because as the Panda algorithm runs its course and sees, "Boy, this site looks like it copied some stuff," they might hurt your rankings in other places.

Google's been very specific about this, that duplicate, low quality content in one area can harm you across your entire site. Be mindful of that. If you're nervous about it, you can robot.txt that stuff out so engines don't crawl it. You can rel=canonical it back up to a category page. You could even not include that in search engines. Use the disallow meta noindex, or you could do it inside your Google Webmaster Tools, disallow crawling of those pages. These are all options for that kind of stuff.

All right everyone. Hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday and you'll go out there and create some unique and uniquely valuable content, and we'll see you again next week. Take care."

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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When Your Audience Hates Your Content Marketing Plan

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When Your Audience Hates Your Content Marketing Plan was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Any good decision-maker knows that it’s not what he or she likes when it comes to making sound business decisions. Sure, we know what’s in our gut, and we should trust that voice, but decisions are to be made with trusted data, too — whether it’s counsel, research or something else.

Businesses and their marketing tends to have a bandwagon mentality. We see and trend or a buzzword or a way of doing something, and if enough people talk about it, then it it so. This is why I love it when a target audience reveals something totally unexpected about what we’re doing — that we’ve got it all wrong.

Over the weekend, the Content Marketing Institute published a slide from recent research at ExactTarget. The slide shows the differences in what marketers want for their target audience and what the target audience wants from their brand. Check this slide out below, taking note of the data on email marketing, content about products and content about related topics.

ExactTarget Research Slide

While those initiatives were among the top by marketers, the audience was singing to a different tune. Plus one for email being both a top marketing initiative and the desired form of communication from the audience  But, at least for this audience, content about products and related topics were not on their must-read list.

And even though the survey choices seemed a bit misleading (some are related to content and some are related to channels the content is featured in), it got me thinking about what people want in content from a brand.

To me, the data paints a story:

  1. People don’t have time to go searching for the content they should care about — they want the brand to do the work for them.
  2. People want meaningful, personalized content delivered right to their “front door.”

So what does that mean to our content marketing? The more we can learn about our customers over time, the more data we can gather — whether it’s transactional data, survey data, interviews with our audience — the more we can tailor the content they really want and deliver it to them with a bright shiny bow.

When you think about all the noise we have to sift through every day, it’s mind-numbing. Don’t discount how special it is when you get that opt in from someone to receive communications from your company. This person is saying, “I trust you, and I’m willing to hear what you have to say.” So you better deliver the very best you can.

So how do you do that? Use as much data that is available to you to start understanding your audience. In an interview with Sundeep Kapur late last year, we talked about some of those tactics.

But here are a couple more tips for you:

  • Explore the conversion process inside and out. Get to know what that process actually looks like from initial inquiry to the close. No business is going to have the same path, so I can’t tell you to just go talk to sales or just go talk to marketing or just look in your analytics. But if it’s helpful, start from the end and go backwards. Whether you have a CRM tool or just Sally the office assistant — start mining data, start having conversations to understand what the engagement and conversion cycle. The information you uncover in this process will reveal a lot about your audience and the opportunities for improvement in customer service, marketing and more. These are the opportunities where content can really matter.
  • Understand the audience to the best of your ability. Who are these people? Why do they buy this product or sign up fro this service? Who is the extended audience — who is influencing the primary target’s decision? Who is funding it? Is it a personal purchase? Do they need a family member to make the decision for them? Does their company pay for it out of an annual budget? When you understand the circumstances around the conversion, your content can better speak to all of them, and better offer a solution in the form of content that matters.

Above all, I think what this particular data from ExactTarget illustrates is that we need to get personal and get to the point. Don’t make your audience work too hard for the content that will be meaningful to them

Bruce Clay Blog

Promote Your Brick and Mortar with Facebook Nearby

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Promote Your Brick and Mortar with Facebook Nearby was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

On December 12th, Facebook introduced the “Nearby” feature for its iOS and Android apps. Facebook Nearby allows users to find a place near them based on the recommendations of their Facebook friends.

The app now includes:

  • Recommendations
  • A rating system
  • A search box made of different business categories
  • Functionality that allows users to contact a specific business directly.

Only those businesses (large or small) that have a Facebook Page will be listed.

With the Nearby feature, Facebook aims to become a personalised local recommendation engine.

Local Recommendations are a Natural Fit for Facebook Mobile

check-in arrow

How will you check-in?

By tapping into the social connections and the increasing number of businesses building their own Pages, Facebook is entering the “local” market of other well-established location-based review services such as Foursquare and Yelp. Both have much lower numbers of active users (Foursquare counts approximately 30 million users, Yelp 78 million, Facebook, by contrast, has 250 million users tagging locations every month).

Anyone who has updated their Facebook app since Monday will find the new addition in the menu.

In the Nearby tab, users will see a search bar, a history list, and location categories – restaurants, nightlife, arts, hotels, shopping, etc. Each category also has its own subcategories (e.g. Italian food inside restaurants).

Facebook is not simply listing locations arbitrarily, or based on their global popularity. With Nearby, Facebook is using true social recommendations to find the best places for each user based on friends’ interactions.

What Facebook Nearby Offers Users

Let’s say your Facebook friend Tim just gave an Italian restaurant located near you a great rating when he checked-in last night. It’s likely that Facebook’s Nearby algorithm would show you that specific location above the others. In order to prevent spam and fraud, only people who’ve checked-in to a business can rate it.

facebook nearby

Once a user chooses a location, he will be presented with Facebook’s redesigned location pages, which includes info like friends who’ve been there, hours, a map, star ratings and reviews.

Users will also have the ability to connect to businesses directly within the Nearby tab on their smartphone by performing actions such as liking, checking in, calling or getting directions.

After you’ve experienced the location, Facebook wants you to share that experience with your friends through rating and reviewing. In theory, the more people that participate in this way, the more accurate the recommendations will bec.

Facebook says that 150 million people visit Pages on a daily basis – which means they have a huge amount of like, check-in, and rating data to pull from, making Facebook Nearby incredibly useful and a strong threat to similar applications.

The company also said that this is an early release and that they will be improving the service as it gets more feedback. It also says that it plans to add place info from third party services to it in the near future.

Implications of Facebook Nearby for Brick and Mortar Businesses

Facebook Nearby represents a big opportunity for businesses with a physical location to promote themselves, get found by and connect with new, local customers.

To fully benefit from this update, businesses with a Facebook page should do the following:

  • Update their Page to include all the basic information, including address, store hours, phone number and details about the business in the About section.
  • Update their category to make sure they appear when people are looking for a specific type of business.
  • Encourage consumers to check in, like, rate and recommend the place to their contacts.

Bruce Clay Blog

Answer Customer Needs by Building a Customer Advisory Board

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Posted by JackieRae

We sure do love feedback at Moz. One of our biggest contributors to feedback is our Customer Advisory Board (which we lovingly call CAB). Who doesn’t love sharing the work they do with a group of awesome people, hearing their insights, and learning how to provide the most value to users based on their feedback?

Dana Lookadoo sporting her Customer Advisory Board shirt at MozCon.

A few weeks ago, our VP of Growth Marketing, Joanna Lord, did a Whiteboard Friday about 10 Ways to Get Feedback. I’d love to expand on this topic and share how we developed our CAB, what's worked well, and how we've improved.

Framing the CAB

We started the process of creating our Board over a year ago. Fortunately, our Director of Product, Samantha Britney, already had a fabulous framework formulated for us (how’s that for alliteration). It was important for us to flesh out and gather ideas in a document so we could define the purpose of the CAB, understand what it would take to be successful, and mitigate any risks that might occur.

First, we defined the purpose. Our Board members would weigh-in and validate product decisions, and they would provide feedback during early stages of product planning and design. The feedback gathered from the Board would need to be strategic and tactical, and would be used to help unveil any issues that may arise and expand on ideas we might not have thought about yet. We also wanted to develop relationships with folks in the industry in order to better understand our customers' needs. Finally, if CAB members love the work that we do, they may, over time, turn into our biggest evangelists.

Once our goals were set, it was time to move on to the "what ifs" of implementing this new program. There were a few risks we acknowledged before creating the Customer Advisory Board, which allowed us to think critically about the feedback we would received. For example, many of our contacts are relatively close to our company, brand, and/or product. This is awesome! However, their feedback might be swayed by their preconceptions about us and potentially lead to “group think.” We took steps to move away from these notions and help keep our CAB members neutral.

It was also important to set goals to ensure that our CAB was functioning like we intended it to. We defined indicators to use as benchmarks, such as participation of the CAB, quality of the feedback loops, and amount of CAB member's time we use (that last one was important, because we didn’t want to violate any promises we made to those helping us). This allowed us to gauge our success and to determine when it was time to revise our original framework.

Selecting the team

The final piece of our framework was to list the type of candidate we want to engage with. We used written "personas" to group potential candidates into more manageable sectors during our selection process. We originally called for 20-25 people (although the number has currently been upped to 35). These CAB members are open and honest with us, even if they provide negative feedback. They represent a diverse segment of our users and work in small to large companies, from in-house SEO’s to independent consultants.

To make the selection process as neutral as possible, we compiled of a list of candidates from internal recommendations, active community members, and folks who gave feedback to our Product Team in the past to make our final selections. With our final group, we were sure that we would not only hear praise, but would be provided with a significant amount of "tough love" that was needed to make the CAB project a success.

CAB members challenge us, allowing us to make better products. 

Getting to know our CAB

Now that you know the driving factors behind our process, it's time to learn a little bit more about who makes up our Customer Advisory Board.

The folks on our Board have very different backgrounds, areas of expertise, and passions, which means their feedback can be quite diverse. When a CAB member first joins, we ask them to fill out a little “getting to know you” survey. The goal is to understand that no two people are going to want the same thing, and it helps set context around the feedback that we receive.

We have 35 CAB members from seven different countries, including the U.S., Portugal, Spain, England, Austria, Australia, Brazil, and Canada. They’ve been customers of SEOmoz’s anywhere from 1 to 6 years, and some have more experience with our brand and product than others. They work in different a variety of  different environments so we can field customer needs from all sides of the inbound marketing process.

Every CAB member has different expectations at work.

So, have we been successful?

Success? I think YES! We’ve had several formal feedback loops (11 and counting), and many more informal conversations with our Customer Advisory Board members. From these meetings, we've been able to collect the following data:

  • Of the original 15 members that joined, all 15 are still active members.
  • We have an average of 9 out of 10 Customer Advisory Board members giving feedback when asked (although we’re getting closer to 9.5 out of 10!).
  • Every member that opts-in to a feedback loop (whether the loop is a survey, email, or in-person interview) has finished the feedback loop.
  • We've found the feedback is so useful that we went a step further and created a Local Customer Advisory Board for GetListed last month.

We've been thrilled with the success of our CAB so far. Though it took some time to get this process in place, our gains from answering to and gaining feedback from our CAB have far outweighed the time and effort it took to get it up and running. 

A quick thanks

Our Customer Advisory Board is doing us a huge favor by putting in time and energy towards keeping us awesome. We constantly bounce ideas off of them, show them product plans, introduce crazy new content and designs, and the list goes on and on. We are benefiting from their help in a million ways. CAB members help drive us to success (pun intended). To all our CAB members, THANK YOU!

Does your team have a Customer Advisory Board? What are the results you've seen? Please leave your tips and thoughts in the comments below!

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