May 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Technology investment for now and the future

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Simply deploying search and personalization strategies to attract shoppers to the site and boost conversions is not enough. Retailers also need to pay close attention to site performance if they want to create a relevant and satisfying site experience that keeps shoppers on their site.

“Shoppers are often unhappy about the performance of the site more than retailers realize,” says Eric Schurr, senior vice president of marketing for Gomez Inc., provider of web performance management solutions. “Page download times can be widely different from one location to another, transactions can fail, applications may not be compatible with certain web browsers, or the site or individual pages can be unavailable. Shoppers today expect a higher level of site performance and don’t have the patience to try and work through the problem.”

Assuring proper site performance starts with taking the customer’s point of view when it comes to application delivery over the web. Increasingly, consumer expectations of site performance are being set outside of the e-retail sector. Sites setting the bar for performance include search engines and YouTube.

“Retailers need to understand that not just direct competitors are setting the standards for the performance bar, but indirect competitors, too,” says Schurr. “They can’t have their head in the sand about which sites are setting customer expectations for performance.”

A plan of action

Once retailers understand the order of progression to creating a satisfying site experience-starting with drawing shoppers to their site-they can effectively develop and implement a plan of action.

Content management is the core of any effective search marketing strategy. “Most retailers put up content on their sites without standardizing image size or determining the content’s validity,” says ARS’s Heavilon. “For content to be search-optimized, guidelines need to be put in place at the outset.”

ARS, which is an online marketing agency, provides content management for web sites, e-mail, search and affiliate marketing campaigns, as well as web analytics consulting to determine the effectiveness of a retailer’s content through all customer touch points.

Optimizing content begins with understanding what shoppers want to know about each product in a retailer’s catalog. Identifying the keywords that shoppers are most likely to search for can optimize organic search results. It also helps retailers zero in on the right keywords and apply resources more efficiently.

For example, shoppers looking for an appliance will want detailed descriptions about the features, such as whether it comes with a built-in filter for dispensing water or its Energy Star rating. Savvy retailers will put hot links into the copy around these features to deliver more details about them.

How are they shopping?

In contrast, shoppers searching for a game are more apt to search for the best price since they are most likely familiar with its features from having played it and consider it a commodity product.

“Lengthy creative descriptions are not necessary for commodity products such as games because the shopper isn’t searching for that kind of information,” says Heavilon. “An appliance is a different story because this is something the shopper will use for years and shoppers want to be certain they find the products with the features they want.”

Content management is also applicable to yielding a good volume of sales from the comparison shopping sites. The growing popularity of these sites has dramatically increased competition on them, yet many retailers do not take the time to tailor their product descriptions in a compelling way from a sales standpoint in order to get maximum appeal given the limited space on these sites.

Subsequently, shoppers do not get the desired information on what they are looking for despite the fact that a merchant may carry exactly what it is a person is hoping to find.

“What a lot of retailers do is send the product description from their site to the comparison site without editing it for space constraints,” explains PM Digital’s Sandberg. “So what shoppers end up seeing for the product description could be the creative introductory copy from the retailer’s web site rather than key features.”

As part of its services, PM Digital will write and edit copy to be placed on comparison shopping engines so shoppers get the information they need to make the purchasing decision. “Having a product description that gets right to the point on a comparison shopping site can make a difference in conversions,” says Sandberg.

Online marketing services provided by PM Digital include pay-for-placement search engine marketing, data feed marketing (comparison shopping engines and paid inclusion), search engine optimization, online media planning/buying, multichannel planning/strategy, e-mail marketing, and creative.

One of the challenges of writing product descriptions for a comparison shopping site, or the retailer’s own site, is to make certain the copy includes keywords the shopper uses to describe the product. A retailer that names a magazine rack a “magazine butler,” for example, must incorporate the words magazine rack somewhere in the product description, as that is how shoppers are likely to refer to the product.

Don’t get cutesy

“While the term ‘magazine butler’ is a unique name for a magazine rack, it is not a term many shoppers will enter when searching for a magazine rack in a search engine or a comparison shopping site,” says Sandberg.

The retailer does not necessarily have to change the name of the product for it to be visible to the search engines, provided keywords commonly used by shoppers to describe it are in the product description.

That said, when considering the limited space and the nature of how people search to find products on the Internet, an intuitive naming strategy for merchandise makes a lot of sense and can cut out some of the middle steps that are required to ensure products will show up in search engines and the comparison shopping sites, such as adding relevant keywords throughout the copy, Sandberg adds.

After shoppers arrive at a retailer’s site, guided navigation becomes an important element of the site experience because it gets shoppers to the products they want expeditiously.

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