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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - April 2007

Welcome to the April edition of our monthly newsletter, covering current web search and marketing issues that can have an impact on business websites.

This month we report on the some recent research into the online shopping behaviour by Australian web users, and consider some of the factors that can help e-commerce sites to increase their conversions of site visitors to sales. We also look at the benefits for websites of being indexed by Google on a regular basis.

Read more about these stories below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subjects covered.

On to this month's edition...

Online shopping behaviour in Australia exposed

Recent research published by ACNielsen has shown that Australian Internet shoppers are still generally more influenced by prior experience and window shopping for particular product categories, compared to their global counterparts.

In the online survey conducted across 41 countries around the world, consumers were asked what helped their final decision when it came to purchasing a variety of products.

‘Searching the Internet’ was the most popular decision influencer for Australian consumers when it came to purchasing holidays (66% - 12points above the global average), MP3 players (43%) and loans (41%). This demonstrates the importance of search, not just in these categories but for all markets, to enable companies to put their products or services in front of the online public.

‘Prior experience with the same brand’ was the most popular influencer for around one in two Aussies for banks (53%), mobile phones (48%) and cars (47%) – all significantly higher than the global average. Brand loyalty is therefore an important factor and one that needs to be earnt and retained throughout the whole online buying process.

‘Window shopping’ was the most important decision influencer when it came to fashion, with almost two in three Australians (65%) preferring some good old-fashioned retail therapy, compared to the global average of 47 percent. Window shopping was also a critical factor when it came to Australians purchasing jewellery and watches (55%).

‘TV/print ads’ was also a key influencer on Australians’ decision-making when it came to fashion (41%), cars (36%), mobile phones (35%) and holidays (33%), which highlights the need for an integrated media strategy and the need to include a web address and coordinated content alongside any traditional advertising campaign.

For more information on these research results and to find out how they may affect your online marketing strategy, please contact us now.


Increase sales conversions with website improvements

With the average cost of PPC advertising continuing to rise in many markets as new campaigns are added by companies that also recognise the advantages of this activity, then conversion costs can also rise and so reduce your return on investment. This means that every visit has to count and sales conversion rates need to improve.

Getting more conversions from the visitors coming onto your site will be dependent on a number of factors, with relevancy and site usability being 2 of the most important areas that constantly need to be reviewed. We looked at relevancy last month with Google’s Quality Score measure, so here are some thoughts on improving the usability of your website to help increase sales conversions:

* Encourage easy navigation to your checkout page - customers do not like disjointed and confusing websites and they can quickly get fed up and move on to the next website in their search results list.

* Invest in a search facility on your site - research shows that by including an internal product search engine you could boost your sales by up to 30%. The search facility should allow the customer to:
- search by price range or product code
- look at a results page that can be sorted by a variable such as price or manufacturer
- view an image and description of the product
- purchase via the results page.

* Advertise other means of purchase - don't rely solely on your online shop since some web users are reluctant to make online payments. Ensure consistency across all means of purchase (i.e. customers are able to purchase the same product by phone, mail, catalogue or instore) and promote your website's URL on all company signage and documentation.

* Personalise the online experience to build confidence and loyalty. Enable customers to track their order progress online; use email acknowledgements to communicate with the shopper; email customers with details of new promotions.

* Manage subscribers to your site efficiently. Think about where customers can opt in - most visitors are drawn to the top left of the screen - and perhaps give customers the option on every page. The key point here is that by managing how customers subscribe will enable you to communicate with existing and potential customers with new products and promotions in a direct way.

* Ensure that your headlines are attention-grabbing and problem solvers - what does your product do for a potential customer? What solution is your target audience looking for and how you can help gives a clear message.

* Use images of your product as the shopping experience then becomes more “real”. Where the images are placed within the website may need to be explored to gauge the impact on sales. Be prepared to be flexible and experiment. The images must be of a high quality.

* Emphasise the security measures your online shop is protected by. According to ScanAlert, online sales can increase by up to 33% when shoppers are confident that credit card details are stringently protected. The greater the value of the product, the greater the impact on online sales.

* Less is more - don't offer too many products on your home page as research would suggest that offering just one or two products or services (along with sufficient detail) yield greater sales than a flood of products on the home page. Your other products can be sold on pages elsewhere but minimise the number of products on the first page that your customer is likely to see.

* Include testimonials from other customers - browsers are seduced by favourable reviews and user experiences. Establishing your credibility is important.

* Provide excellent customer service. This includes a fast response to queries and possibly a loyalty scheme for customers revisiting the site. Invest in free sample offers (if applicable to your market) or offer discounts for further visits to your site.

* Finally, test the changes made to the website (taking some or all of the above suggestions on board) by split testing your customers. Enable some users to see the new changes and some to see the original design to gauge the potential benefit to sales - before you get carried away and redesign the entire site.

If you’d like to know more about any of the above suggestions, or would like us to review your website to make some proposals on ways you could improve your sales conversions, please contact us now.


Encourage regular indexing by Google

There are a number of ways that you can monitor how often Google visits and indexes your website. You should use this information and then try to ensure that your site is frequently updated to encourage this event to happen as often as possible, since this can bring a number of benefits.

Gone are the days of the ‘Google Dance’ which would happen every 4-6 weeks and mark a major update of Google’s index, as well as fevered discussion on the SEO forums about the changes it would bring! Google now tries to index the web more frequently so that its search index is continually being updated, with a particular focus on websites that refresh their content on a regular basis.

You will sometimes notice on the Google search results that some listings include a recent date at the end of the URL line, in green. This indicates websites that tend to be indexed on a regular basis and the date that Google’s spider last recorded the page. You can also click on the ‘Cached’ link under each of the search result listings, which will display the copy of the page that Google holds in its index, plus the date that the page was last visited.

In addition, if you’ve signed up to Google’s Webmaster tools and Sitemaps option, you can see the date that Google last indexed your site. Your website statistics package may also show data on recent visits by Googlebot, the main Google ‘spider’ that trawls the web and captures information on each website that it visits.

Ideally you should be encouraging Google to reindex your site on a regular basis, for a number of reasons. Firstly, there may be some small benefit within the ranking results for sites that are frequently updated and seen as providing ‘fresh’ content. This has not been directly proven as a factor, but there are indicative signs that it carries some importance within Google’s current ranking algorithms.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, by regularly updating your site - either just through the Home Page or through pages within the site - you will encourage regular visits by the Google spider, with as many as 2 or 3 updates per week. This can be hugely beneficial if you are adding new content or pages to your site, as it will enable them to be indexed quickly.

It can also be useful if you are testing changes to your site optimisation and ranking performance, since your amendments will be indexed by Google within days. You can then assess the impact on your ranking results of these changes and then revert back, or retain the improvements, within a short period of time, rather than waiting weeks or even months for the next update to visit your site.

To find out more about the advantages of updating your site for regular Google indexing, please contact us now.


We hope you've found this month's newsletter useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.