Are you shopping comfortably?

A fancy web offering is no use if customers drop out before they check out. Getting the online journey right is crucial, and new web analytics are helping brands do just that.


Since the earliest days of the internet, marketers have revelled in the data it can provide about the performance of advertising campaigns. It’s only relatively recently, though, that executives have started to look at how detailed internet reporting can reveal exactly what is happening to the traffic attracted to a site.

Traditionally, web pages have been left to designers, who used gut instinct to create an appearance that summed up brand values, but not only were their assumptions rarely challenged, the overall user journey to which each page contributed could be overlooked.

This is why site optimisation is coming of age through sophisticated analytics packages that track how site traffic flows. User journeys with differing copy or design can be compared and the one that leads most effectively to the desired outcome can be selected, whether that is a purchase or, in the case of Volvo Cars, prospects configuring a car.

Volvo has been optimising the content on its site to support its transformation from a premium to more of a luxury brand, a change in direction that it expects to develop towards the end of this year and into 2012. Its digital excellence manager, Sofia Heddson, sums up the move as going a ’notch’ above premium, which has prompted an optimisation rethink with its digital brand consultancy, Melbourne IT DBS.

“To be above premium we need to focus on the content on our sites; showing what the brand stands for and the features of our cars which provide a luxury experience,” she says.

“So we’ve been optimising our site so it remembers people as they come back. On the first visit we prioritise brand messages, on the return visit we push product information more so people can see our cars’ features. We only prioritise sales information on the third and subsequent visits.”

The strategy presents the brand and what it stands for, then the ’premium’ features its models offer before attempting a sale. One of the first priorities has been to better promote the car configurator that the brand believes is a major step in the purchase cycle. The result has been a 90% uplift in the numbers of people configuring their potential next car.

Optimisation ultimately comes down to brands using powerful analytics to see what is impacting on customers’ journeys. Rather than rely on gut instinct for why sales or brochure orders are dropping off, television and online retailer IdealShopping has been using a package called Tealeaf to get alerts when customer journeys are experiencing blockages and what chief executive Mike Hancox calls ’bail outs’.

“You can have feelings for where things are going wrong but until you get your site set up to report back to you, you can never know for sure,” he says. “The first thing we noticed was expecting people to log on to shop was a big mistake; more than 20% of our traffic just disappeared. We also found out that 90% of customers drop out when something’s out of stock. That’s a big figure so now we offer suitable alternatives and send a message to our buying team to get some more stock in quick.

“We’ve also been looking at abandoned shopping carts and the software can flag up registered users who’ve given us permission to call who dropped out at the last minute. We’re finding we convert 40% of the people we call.”

Carrying over the online experience to the telephone customer support area is a key issue Shire Hotels has been looking at. Its e-commerce director, Sam Wilson, has been using free tools to optimise its main site but is soon to invest in software that passes on a customer’s details to allow a sales call for expensive packages virtually never bought online.

“For the residential side of the hotel business we’ve been using Google Analytics to follow the flow of customers through the site to ensure they are never more than three clicks away from being able to purchase,” he says. “We’ve also been using a free Firefox plug-in which constantly tests the speed performance of every page because slow loading can be a real turn-off.

“However, one of the most profitable parts of our business is conferences and meetings which people generally don’t want to book online. So we have to manage their transition on to the phone. At the moment we’re using a package from Lead Forensics that enables us to call people who haven’t converted but have shown a great deal of interest. We’re also investigating a new package that generates a number for an interested party to call that is unique for them so we know more about them when they call up and, just as importantly, we can enter them in our system if they convert on the phone.”


While analytics can show where the pain points are in the customer journey, they cannot always tell you what to do about them. So again marketers are turning to sophisticated software packages that allow comparison of two versions of a page, called AB testing, or many versions, called multivariate. With a detailed report on which pages aided the customer journey more than others, designers can then allow the wisdom of the crowds to dictate layout and appearance.

At foreign exchange business Travelex, e-commerce director Dane Stanley reveals that using a testing facility within its Ektron content management platform has given the brand significant insights.

“We have a number of service propositions we have been keen to test and splitting our market and testing different messaging has been a very powerful tool,” he says.

“We have a price promise which guarantees that customers will get the best deal online or we’ll refund the difference. We also offer a very convenient service where we will deliver money, or you can pick it up, and we also pride ourselves on our service.

“However, the testing showed that the market reacts best to a repeat of the price promise, so we realised our market is more price-sensitive then we’d thought. With the work we’ve done, we’ve seen a 36% uplift in those starting the purchase procedure who then go on to complete it.”
With all the analytics and testing that is being done by a wide variety of brands in different sectors, one could be forgiven for thinking that few bugbears remain. However, one of the major issues marketers still need to look at is search, both on their site and internally.

According to Nick Lisher, marketing director at furniture retailer MyDeco, this is still one of the most frustrating parts of the user journey. The site has developed its search engine to reduce user frustration and he has been working with search agency Efficient Frontier to ensure landing pages from paid search are appropriate.

“It’s the most annoying part of the web. Search engines are far too general, even when they are on a site,” he says. “The very least brands can do is ensure that if someone’s clicked on your paid search advert for a ’red sofa’ you give them a landing page for red sofas.

“We’ve developed our site search engine to understand our market. So our users can search for colour, texture and materials as well as the item itself. It means they don’t end up at those awful generic pages after they’ve taken the time to tell you what they’re looking for.

“If you don’t think search is annoying, just pretend you’re doing some decorating and type ’wallpaper’ in Google and see how many results are actually what you’d put on your wall rather than on your computer screen.”

Search is a basic element of optimisation that brands ignore at their peril, but so is the depth of content on a site. While the latest software will map out journeys, highlight problem areas and allow testing to improve them, simple efforts to source better content have brought rewards at Keith Prowse Hospitality, according to head of marketing, Ted Walker. “We use Google Analytics to look at bounce rates and so on, but the biggest success we’ve had was optimising our site to show customers what they will actually get on the day,” he says.

“We only deal with official bodies running events, so our hospitality is only ever on the course or ground itself. We found we weren’t getting that over, so we’ve invested a lot to ensure our typical user journey now shows potential customers the type of room they will be in, the drinks and food they’ll enjoy, plus pictures of the venue showing the proximity to the action.

“It’s had a great result. For every £1 we’ve put in to our website, in our various activities, we now believe we get £3.50 back.”

The message from marketers, then, is that while the innovative new packages and services can put science in the place of gut feeling, it might not be a good idea to remove the human instinct altogether. Getting the very obvious basics around a helpful search journey and navigation path right, as well as ensuring content is relevant and encourages the next click, is just as important as data mining through sophisticated analytics spreadsheets.


Nick Glynne, managing director of BuyItDirect, Debenhams-Extra and BHSDirect

Marketers are having to face the fact that the internet is no longer a place where you can take your customers for granted. In previous years we’d become nonchalant. Like everyone else, we were growing and not really asking why, with a 2% conversion rate, 98% of the traffic we were earning wasn’t converting.

We’ve been using multivariate testing from a company called Maxymiser to help us build a site that users find easier to navigate and conveys the value message we want to put over. We’re competitive on price but we also want to reassure people we’re a trustworthy brand – that’s the real change now online, people want to be sure they’re buying from someone they can trust.

With multivariate testing we can go beyond simply comparing the success of one page to another, we can identify little things, such as the colour of the ’buy’ button or the wording for a product being at its side or below it. Some of the things we’ve been learning are counter-intuitive, but they do make sense.

Asking for names is a good example. All sites seem to ask for this up front and so did we, but testing showed us asking for a postcode first is much more successful – people don’t want to give away personal information until they know when you can deliver in their area

We’ve also found that people respond better to round, red discount stickers on products, just as they’d appear in a shop. Like a lot of people, we thought spelling out discounts in large text would work best, but it doesn’t.

We’re looking to put conversion up 50%, from 2% of our visitors to 3% and one site we’ve been working on has already seen a lift of more than a third in conversion rates. It may sound small but if we achieve the 50% uplift it will bring in an extra £50m a year.


Tatiana Cherevko, internet business manager, Ford of Europe

A recent Google Gearshift report found that 78% of new car buyers use the internet in their decision process. To better capitalise on this growth, we have created an optimisation programme aimed at improving the user experience by providing the relevant content to the appropriate user and increasing the overall business value of the website.

Together with ZAAZ (part of the Wunderman Network), our optimisation partners, we have built a programme that enables us to deepen visitor engagement, boost conversions and learn which marketing messages resonate. It’s a multi-market programme allowing us to test what works across markets, but also to identify the nuances within each market.

A significant amount of time and effort goes into the creation and approval of our site content as well as the online ads, paid search and other media that drive traffic to it. We test to ensure these messages are as effective as possible. We also recognise that different site users have different needs, so we test content based on anonymous user behaviour including traffic source, time on site, vehicle interest, and other factors. We’ve recognised considerable lift from these efforts and believe that targeting content more effectively fulfils customer needs better than a one-size-fits-all approach.

The Ford programme uses website analytics to identify underperforming site areas or activities. We then design the test, create alternative content, conduct the experiment and review results. We have also found it very valuable to test new site enhancements to validate assumptions. This process provides us with a clearer understanding of how site visitors are interacting with content while maximising return on investment.

Finally, since customers do not complete their vehicle purchase on our sites, we have developed a monetisation model which identifies specific site behaviours that have the greatest influence on vehicle purchasing. These actions are assigned a value and used to prioritise optimisation tests with the highest potential financial return.

Maggie Lonergan, client development director, Fortune Cookie

Here are the six basic steps you need to take to put your search and overall optimisation activity onto a strong footing. It’s a bit like creating a great driving experience.

1. Get the engineering right. Make sure your site is written in plain text that search engines can read easily. Tag your images, animations and movies so search engines can find and index them.

2. Fill it with fuel. In search optimisation, content is king. Make sure you have a robust content strategy and production plan in place. Content is the fuel for keeping your website high in the rankings, so create lots of it and refresh it often. That’s why blogs are often used as ’ranking weapons’.

3. Map the journey. Think about the links you want to create to and from your site to build authority in your industry category. Think about it in the context of the total user journeys your customers take in the purchase lifecycle, from interest, research and engagement to purchase, loyalty and advocacy. Remember that social media is becoming an integral aspect of overall search relevance, with the search engines integrating social data into their search results.

4. Provide clear signposting. Make sure each page of content that you create targets just ONE specific keyword for which you want to rank highly. That way your own site won’t be cannibalising its rankings in the search engines. It also helps you to achieve more relevant, deep links to your site on non-branded keywords.

5. Check your instruments. Measure everything you can to quantify the impact of each aspect of your site’s performance. Measurability is the strength of digital over any other medium to leverage the behavioural data your customers give you everyday. Make sure you invest in the analytics rather than just data gathering; it’s the insights that count. And analyse behaviour across all your channels and touchpoints together to build a holistic customer picture.

6. Keep moving. The internet is a space that changes every day. Set yourself up to test, learn and improve performance on an ongoing basis with A/B or multivariate testing. Your website is never static, it changes daily, just like the landscape outside your car window.

topline trends

Getting to know you…

  • Analytics is as useful to follow the flow of traffic around a site as it is in measuring the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.
  • By looking at the user journey, marketers can see points in the purchase funnel where visitors engage or drop out.
  • Points where customers are ’dropping out’ can be investigated by testing two or more alternative pages to see which better pushes people along the purchase funnel.
  • Analysis can even go as far as the telephone thanks to software which tracks the user journey beyond a website for purchases that are researched online but booked by phone (such as conferences).
  • Get the basics right: searches should land on an appropriate page and content must show clearly exactly what’s on offer.


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