Article by Richard Sexton, MicroD.
It goes without saying that there is virtually no business in existence today that does not require some sort of digital presence, and in most cases, a fully functional website is the baseline requirement. For our home furnishings customers, this is particularly important as they are competing against such heavyweights as Amazon, Overstock, and others for market share. Here at MicroD, websites, product content, visualization, and digital marketing are our lifeblood, as we help retailers and manufacturers thrive in this competitive landscape. But if you want a primer on where to begin, my recommendation would be to focus on these critical areas:
SEO is a complex subject to master in short notice, but you can start with three specific efforts:
- Local Search has been an SEO fact of life for the last 5 years but changes in Google’s result pages have given laser focus to local search results. Completing all of your local listings (on Google, Yelp, Yellow Pages, and other local directories) is the first and most important step in maximizing local SEO. You can use tools to help with this since there are a lot of directories out there, some of which you may never have heard of. Make sure this information is easy to access and consistent on your own site as well, especially on your footer, which displays on every content page. Your objective for local search is to be the first listing on the “Map Pack”, which highlights the top three local results for the search term.
- Paid Search: While bidding on the keyword (for example) “living room furniture” will burn up your entire marketing budget in about a minute, focusing on “Custom upholstered sofa Minneapolis” would be a great choice (if you had a store in Minneapolis, of course!). Use long-tail keywords (3 or more words) that are focused on your product, brand, and location, then geo-target them to your market area, and you will be able to stretch that paid search budget.
- Featured Snippet: Win the Featured Snippet Knowledge Graph. You know that box that pops up above all other search results when you ask “Why is the sky blue”? That box, also called the “knowledge box”, “answer box” or “search position zero”, is prime real estate and you can win it by becoming the undisputed expert in answering obscure but relevant questions on your website. Google will find it if it crawls your site regularly. You can also be present in the “People Also Ask” section that follows the answer box. This is the best organic search result you can shoot for.
Once you’ve done all the hard work of getting people to your site, your real work begins! But the onsite experience is how you turn site visitors into actual customers, whether your conversion objective is a phone call, lead form completion, or actual sale. Here are some basic elements you must master:
- Navigation: Keep your navigation simple and uniform, and try to make it as graphically enticing as possible, using images in the drop-down instead of just plain text. The more complicated your navigation, the less it will be used. When was the last time you used the navigation on Amazon instead of search, for example?
- Speaking of search: Ideally, you want about 60% or more of your visitors to use site search. Why? Industry leaders like SLI will tell you that a quicker product discovery experience leads to quicker conversion. I agree, especially when you can use the site search to provide refinements and filters that allow for a quick, highly focused UI.
- Product pages: While there are lots of variations, the best practice for a product page is an uncluttered layout, multiple images (with video if possible), clear product descriptions, and the use of enhanced visual aids such as 3D models (typically experienced as 360 spin). Again, simplicity rules the day, and while its good to present other merchandising opportunities, you may just be redirecting the visitor off the page. Keep distractions to a minimum.
- E-commerce: Focusing on transactional e-commerce is worth the effort, as long as your pricing is competitive (not the lowest, just competitive) but remember that the checkout process has to flow in a logical way that engenders trust in your brand and peace of mind to the buyer. Use legitimate seals of trust sparingly (such as those provided by Authorize.net) and be clear in your terms and conditions to avoid misunderstandings. Product availability really helps with delivery expectations as well, since your customers have probably checked out reviews before checking out onsite
On the product page itself, the focus should be on the product and little else. Of course, you want to present merchandising alternatives and opportunities, but too many times I’ve seen products obscured by distracting information or even ad placements for competing websites! Remember these all-important aspects to the product experience on the page.
- Visually engaging: What is the web if not the ideal opportunity for a visual experience? Unbound by the printed page, your website is the perfect vehicle for displaying aspects of your product in enticing ways. Starting with a silhouette image for establishing the basics, you can then focus on product variations, close-ups of features, lifestyle imagery (a room setting, with people in it), and our favorite functionality, Spin 360 with dynamic draping. There is simply no better way to convey customizable products attributes than using visual technology that allows the user to view a product in all its variations, from all angles.
- Selection: Retailers often fall into the trap of offering too many products simply because they can….the real estate doesn’t cost anything, as it would in a store. Or does it? Having too many products can leave your site feeling unfocused…leave that to Amazon, and concentrate on the products you know sell well. Every search result that returns undesirable products is actually taking away from the products you want to sell…those with the highest gross margin!
- Merchandising: Merchandise your site strategically, again, as you would with your store. A great tool for this is the product carousel at the bottom of the product page, which presents other items in an array, under the subject “You may also like”… or if you have a good search function, “Other customers have also searched for…”, or finally, if you have visual search, “Visually similar items..”. This last function is really interesting because visual search uses information it finds in the actual pixels of a product image and can present results you wouldn’t normally think of as related items.
If you focus on these three major areas (and this is a lot!), your digital investment will absolutely yield you results. Remember to proceed incrementally, always set up measurements for success, and test your results against those KPI’s using tools such as multivariate testing and robust site analytics.
About the Author
Richard Sexton is Chief Product Officer for MicroD and has over 20 years experience in cutting-edge retail and digital technology, beginning with a furniture gallery he started in Charlotte, NC in 1996. This business, which went online prior to Google and Facebook, eventually became Carolina Rustica, which he sold to Mattress USA in 2012. In his most recent role prior to joining MicroD, he was the Vice President of Member Engagement at AAA Carolinas. Richard has his Masters of Management from the Kellogg School at Northwestern and speaks frequently at conferences on technology, user experience, and digital marketing. He has run close to 100 marathons and has done six ironman-distance triathlons. He lives in Concord NC with his wife and 3 children.