Top 10 Business Questions to Ask While Optimizing Your Site

I find that each eCommerce site should be looked at as a unique business to its industry, audience, site design, inventory and so forth. It has so many variables that drive its sales a certain way that even a similar competitor site would be an orange to an apple comparison. Similar analogy would lie within comparing a given human being to another, even if we try to narrow them down to, let’s say: male, 30-40 year old, highly active athletes – both would have a different optimal cardio (metabolic) rate. Thus, Overstock.com and Walmart.com would enjoy different conversion rates too. Feel stuck? Puzzled and have an urge to go back and keep digging in the data? Great, but before, you do, take a pause and re-focus a few levels up.

These are 10 business questions that you might want to ask initially to get a sense on the site specifics and keep asking further while you started refining what works best for your site. They are also good indicators how well you use your data to make any actionable sense. They are the only reason why to do any data analysis for your site. Some of the answers can be pulled from your clickstream data (to the “what” and “where” and some limited ”why” questions), some you might look for via other tools (user testing, panel studies or surveys).

1. Why people buy products at your site? With so many options where to buy, your site should provide an incentive, a differentiating value proposition why to start searching or shopping there. Why should I buy from you directly vs. a distributor that might have volume discounts or one of your competitors? Tell them why via your product positioning through repeating the reason why buy here. Southwest.com does a great job with its value prop branding during the checkout process. It reminds you why you chose to go with them in the first place “1 ticket. 2 bags. zero fees” and reinforces your content at the end. You can also glance into the top converting keywords and see some customer intent.

2. What are the alternative products/or methods to buy similar products? I am a savvy shopper, due to the industry or personal choice and I might go to several sites or a comparison engine to look for stuff to make sure I get the most for my money. Having a good understanding of your competitive landscape helps to not to get obsessed about conversion metrics but get on top of how others lure shoppers in via messaging to make sure you are truly different. You can use some of the search intelligence tools to gain an idea of where else people are buying the same products and what terms they are using to find what they want.

3. What is the buying process for your audience? Each business has its own segments that behave and make decisions within their own patterns. The specifics of your audience, and reasons why they buy your products are great reminders of why you are in this business in the first place. Are you still focusing on their needs? Do those needs change or remain constant? How do they get to your site? This question should help you paint the context where your customer and your product coexist, not the actual site experience.

4. What is the buying process for each specific product/category? Shopping for a dress is so  much different than shopping for a fridge. Do you cater to the product shopping experience as it is “in nature”, using searchandising techniques that matter for each specific product or do you keep them all in general terms? Does your product page change per each category as much as it makes sense for a shopper? Path analysis report with common top 10 paths taken to conversion should aid with nuggets on what is currently happening on your site. It does not show what could make it faster or easier though! You can also segment your site traffic by tasks accomplished before conversion and see what feature/content adds value.

5. What are the external events that drive people to buy your products? If your business is season or experience driven (a wedding, a graduation), you might want to be aware of the thinking process, ideas and thoughts your audience might have, places that would be relevant to the stage and a whole bundle of other products that might trigger the purchase on your site. This is primarily important for your acquisition marketing efforts and site design (in relation to the display ads/merchandising banners). One way to gain insights is to use competitive intelligence tools (Hitwise, Compete, Google Insights) to find related search terms, top most rising searches and their demographic or geographic positions.

6. What are the typical personas for your site audience? From all of the site traffic that you get, only a few people come with the intent to buy. Moreover, a mere intent is not enough to close the sale. Here, it is all up to your magic of merchandising, available options to buy/pay with and your persuasive messaging. Some people shop comparatively, those are known as “competitive” shoppers, others rely on reviews mostly and go by “humanistic”. The third type is rather “impulsive” or “spontaneous”, followed by the fourth – a methodical persona. Now, drilling further, out of those 4 shopping behavior styles, what else can you add into the psychographic and demographic profiles specific to your markets? Segmenting your site traffic might help to see the percentages of various actions, percentage of ones that convert and the ones that do not.  Following up this exercise with a survey, can also validate the numbers.

7. How do shoppers choose one product over another on your site? What content, information piece closes the sale for your product? Is that a self-generating parts diagram or an outfit combination? A price or free shipping? Once you found it, display it prominently to encourage conversion. Some of the product “usage” data that you can pull from reviews can become a very compelling reason to buy (be that “most durable product for kids”, “best for its value”, “top seller”, or “works best with clarifying serum”) that you can display/provide as a search/navigation/narrowing down criteria. Event tracking also can add some insights on what is going on your pages. Or you can also try to walk in your shoppers’ shoes and perhaps unveil some navigational challenges with a review of top pages within the click density/site overlay report. 

8. Why do people come back to buy from your site? This is my favorite question. It does remind the # 1, but it opens more information on the experience shoppers had with your site and can shed light on your strong and weak parts. Is it a service or a one-click buy that keeps customers coming back? Or is it mostly for the cash their reward program provides that makes them tolerate your 7 step checkout process (which should not be that long in any case in 2010 at least)? Knowing the answers to those questions helps crafting compelling messaging for your offsite ads and onsite branding. It can also reveal opportunities on where/how you can expand your differentiating value or reasons why your competition cannot provide the same. And of course, if you can display some of that data, it might help methodical and competitive personas pick your product faster (“45% of people who viewed that product, bought it in relation to other 2”). In addition, visitor recency and loyalty reports that show latent conversions can help you identify the effectiveness of your online marketing campaigns. Your top 25 keywords might also give some insight on how they come about your store. Or visits to purchase ratio, days to purchase can uncover what it takes to convince people to buy on your site.  Focusing on your converting traffic only can assist you in seeing what makes them buy.

9. What will make your customers buy more/use more of your product? Another good one that might open the gate to consumption patterns of your audience that you can use as opportunities for increasing average order size. Impulse buy based on 3rd party reference, powered by reviews, efficient product description and free shipping makes Amazon Books profitable for 5 years from my own behavior. It is always the same pattern, automatic and easy that if the frequency of marketing is dialed up, makes me transact more often without much thought.

10. What makes your customers delighted to share their site experience with their friends and more? The answer to this question taps into a fountain of potential free marketing that you can dig into. Does your site make your heavy users so happy that they volunteer to spread the wealth? What are the scenarios when they would benefit more out of sharing?

Most of these questions come from marketing or business strategy framework and seem to get lost in the process when we plug in ourselves deeply into the operations data and speak in metrics terms only. These business questions should drive your metrics drilldown and up and sideways, while also painting a holistic picture of complex, but functioning organism (your site)!