Dan Croxen-John and Johann van Tonder

Dan Croxen-John and Johann van Tonder

Do you want to save money and effort with your e-commerce website? Do you want to get the most out of your current site? Dan Croxen-John and Johann van Tonder, authors of ‘E-Commerce Website Optimization’, have some insights which may help.

Switching to a new website is one of the biggest capital expenses any 21st century online business can make. It comes with high expectations that the effort will be worth it. However, the reality is too often very different.

If you’re currently looking to redevelop your e-commerce website, you might be interested to know that there are other options that require a far smaller investment and less effort. Even better, you’ll know with relative certainty that the performance will be better.

A redevelopment project generally comprises five key stages. These are the strategy stage with the development of a business case, the early stage with the production of functional specification and identification of suppliers, the middle stage where design and development has started, the final stage in the run up to launch and then the live stage where the website has launched.

Each stage is different, with a range of beliefs and pitfalls. At any one of these stages decisions will be taken that could seriously harm sales when the new site is launched. But there are also concrete actions you can take at each stage, to protect your existing conversion rate and make sure the new site performs as well or better than the current one.

We’re going to look at the first stage, as this is definitely still early enough in the process for you to consider your options.

  The start of the strategy stage

Typically at the strategy stage there is an awareness that the website is becoming out of date whilst newer website platforms offer exciting features. Competitors’ websites are pored over and sometimes copied wholesale (of course, with no knowledge of exactly how well their website is performing).

A financial case may be developed to weigh up the cost of updating your current website versus commissioning a new one – especially if updates are currently slow and costly to make and/or there are no other companies that could take over the maintenance of the website.

Right now, though, this analysis is unlikely to be well-documented and the process of deciding whether to replace the current website has just begun.

Beliefs and pitfalls

Whilst the decision to replace your current website requires a good deal of thought, it is expected that your new website will convert visitors into customers at a much higher rate – why else would this much money be spent?

Expectations are that the new website build, if it happens, will be on time, within budget and deliver substantial ROI.

Most of the pitfalls at this stage are around the quality of information available and the assumptions that are being made. It is common for there to be little investigation into the cheaper (but less exciting) solution of optimizing the current website, although this could be a cost-effective way of replacing the current site. In reality, though, once the decision has been made to commission a new website then any expenditure on the current one often is perceived as ‘dead money’.

There is a good deal of excitement around the project and much anticipation of the greener grass on the other side that the new website will offer.

Finally, despite all the nightmare stories that surround new website projects going horribly wrong, there is an overwhelming belief that these disasters only happen to others.

Considering optimization

This early stage may be your best opportunity to gain a high-performing ‘new’ website at a fraction of the cost of re-platforming or redesigning, so optimization should be given serious consideration.

What factors should influence your decision? It’s all down to how much money is being left on the table versus how much could be gained by launching a new website.

What you know is the cost of the new website and by extrapolating previous years’ revenue from your current you could forecast likely sales. What you don’t know and is hard to predict is the increase you may gain from optimizing the current website. What you can do is conduct a review of the website’s weaknesses. Some of the tools and techniques used to do this kind of evaluation can include:

  • A conversion funnel to reliably show where visitors are dropping off
  • Heatmaps to understand exactly what your visitors click on and what they don’t click on, and how this matches the page objectives
  • Usability testing with testers recruited directly from the website to understand their experience of the current website in the most revealing way, and to uncover conversion roadblocks
  • Asking your website visitors and customers why they abandon / don’t buy more from your website (either personally, or with a survey)
  • Asking customers why they choose to buy from you and not from your competitors
  • Compiling a list of how you can strengthen your value proposition to your visitors and customers
  • Benchmarking your website against your competitors in terms of the strength and weaknesses of your value proposition versus theirs

Having completed this evaluation you will be far more informed about how the current website can be optimized, without the need to invest in a new website. You can now present a detailed analysis as to the costs associated with the new website side-by-side with the untapped opportunities still on the current site. As part of an optimization project, you can run a series of split tests which will help you find your way to the most optimal design while at the same time having the confidence that the changes will actually have the desired results.



E-Commerce Website Optimization by Dan Croxen-John and Johann van Tonder is out now, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99. For more information see www.awa-digital.com



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