The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The 4 Pillars of e-Commerce Excellence, Why Amazon.com Has Earned the “First In Mind” Advantage


The Pillars of e-Commerce Excellence and Amazon.comWhen I work on e-Commerce optimization projects, I often take clients through several examples of what I consider to be e-Commerce excellence. While I go through this process, it usually doesn’t take long before I mention Amazon.com. Amazon consistently exceeds my expectations with selection, ease of use, access, security, and customer service. I've written previously about how strong Amazon is, including a post last year about mobile e-Commerce. I explained how Amazon blurred the line between making a purchase via your browser and your mobile device. It's just another example of how Amazon goes above and beyond to ensure customers can access, browse and purchase across devices. So, after placing yet another order with Amazon late last week, I started to think about the reasons I visit Amazon over other e-Commerce websites. I also started to think about how those reasons apply to other websites (and possibly yours).

Here’s a quick, yet important question you should ask yourself (and yes, I understand that every website can’t be like Amazon):

In your industry, are you the knee-jerk reaction for buying online?

It's such a basic question, but can mean the difference between thousands or millions of dollars in revenue… Do customers think of your business first when they need to buy something? For me, Amazon is often the first website that comes to mind, and there are several reasons for this. As I was writing down the core reasons that I buy at Amazon so much versus other websites, I noticed that I was inadvertently listing the pillars of e-Commerce excellence. More on this shortly.

An Impromptu Friday Afternoon e-Commerce Purchase
Last Friday I needed to buy something quickly. I was in between meetings and only had a few minutes. Literally the first business that came to mind was Amazon.com. I could have purchased the item at a number of websites, but Amazon was my knee-jerk reaction. I also could have stopped on my way home, but Friday evening and New Jersey traffic don’t mix well, to say the least. So I opened up a new tab in Firefox, accessed the website, searched for the product, visited the product detail page and added it to my cart. I then quickly checked out and completed the purchase in less than 90 seconds. From an e-Commerce perspective, that's simply outstanding. I closed the tab, received a confirmation email and was back on another conference call. Then, less than two hours later, I received a shipment notification.
{Update: I just received my order on Monday afternoon using standard shipping. Simply outstanding.}

OK, remember the pillars I mentioned above? Let’s take a look at each pillar of e-Commerce excellence and how Amazon has successfully achieved a first-in-mind advantage.

The Pillars of e-Commerce Excellence:

1. Accessibility and Simplicity
Amazon.com makes it easy to access their website across devices. Amazon also makes it simple to find products, read reviews, view product information, check technical specs, find out what other people have purchased, etc. On Amazon, I'm able to visit the site, search for what I need quickly, and view all of the necessary information in order to make a purchase decision. There are no hoops to jump through, and I don’t necessarily need to be in front of my computer to buy something.

2. Speed and Organization
Amazon.com loads fast, provides an easy to navigate organization of categories, which is almost unnecessary based on how good their on-site search is. Amazon’s search functionality enables you to easily search within their main categories. It’s fast and provides outstanding search results. Product detail pages on Amazon provide a thorough breakdown of valuable information. Note, I said thorough and not elegant and I’ll explain more about that soon. As I explained earlier in the post, I can make a purchase in less than 90 seconds. I can always quickly find what I need, add it to my cart and then check out in a flash. My order is always quick to arrive, but that’s included in another pillar below. A quick recap of pillar #2: Fast, fast, fast, and fast. :)

3. Trust and Security
Security is a big concern in e-Commerce, and it will only become a bigger concern as time goes on and technology progresses. For e-Commerce managers, a lack of security and trust can become a horrible barrier to conversion. However, if you can have prospective customers feel confident that their security is first and foremost, then you can reap great rewards revenue-wise. I always feel 100% confident when I’m buying at Amazon. If you put yourself in the mind of a consumer (and not a marketer), you can quickly understand how people browse through sites and what might be a problem conversion-wise. Some questions pop up like “who owns this site?”, “how long have they been around?”, “where are they located?”, “what happens if I need to return something?”, “how secure is this website?” …so on and so forth. The more you build trust, the easier it is for a person to click “Buy now” or “Proceed to Checkout”. Personally, I don’t even think about security when I’m on Amazon. That’s how much trust they have built up with me. I’ll cover my points system later in the post.

4. Communication and Customer Service
I’m not sure there is anything more frustrating than buying something and then having to jump through hoops to track the order, view order information, contact customer service, or return merchandise. It’s definitely a problem with buying online, and rightfully so based on some e-Commerce operations. Amazon makes it easy for customers to find any information they need, from invoices to tracking information to returns. Simply clicking on Your Account brings you to self service screen that enables you to handle a wide range of customer service tasks. Amazon knew this was important, and knew it could also save them money (a lot of money). Amazon empowers customers to handle various account related tasks by themselves. By far, it’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to handle this. Again, they make it easy for me to want to buy from them...

The Self Service Account Screen on Amazon.com:
Amazon.com Account Screen

The Glenn Gabe Virtual Points System
You may not think about it this way, but you probably have a points system too. Every time I deal with a company and have a good experience, they earn virtual points in my mind. During an average experience, no points are awarded. During a negative experience, several points are deducted, and it depends on how serious the problem was to know how many points should be deducted. Over the years, Amazon has earned a mountain of virtual points. In fact, it has earned so many G-Squared points, that it has earned rollover points. That’s right, it means Amazon could actually screw up a few times, and I would probably still go back. And unlike my friends at AT&T, my G-Squared rollover points don’t expire. ;-)

A Quick Tangent About Website Design and Conversion:
For those of you that obsess about ultra-slick web design, head over to Amazon.com now. Amazon is pretty well known for their continual e-Commerce optimization. From a design standpoint, their pages are relatively plain, they are text-heavy, and it seems like images are thrown around the page. But let me tell you, they convert! They provide all of the necessary information in order to convert browsers into buyers. The pages load fast and have valuable segments of information that push you closer and closer to buying. It proves you don't need crazy functionality or a beautiful design to be a leader in e-Commerce. My advice is to optimize for conversion, and not for awards. :)

Strive for e-Commerce Excellence
So yes, Amazon is the proverbial knee-jerk reaction when I need to buy something online. And I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that Amazon is probably the knee-jerk reaction for thousands of other people too. But they deserve it and have quite a few G-Squared rollover points to play with.

Here are some quick takeaways:

1. In your industry, is your business the knee-jerk reaction for buying online? If not, which company is? What can you do to get closer?

2. How does your business fare when it comes to the four pillars of e-Commerce excellence I listed above? Can you improve any of the areas quickly while developing a plan to tackle the others?

3. Are your customers writing blog posts about your business like the one I just wrote about Amazon.com? How can you get them to become company evangelists?

Now that you know how I feel about Amazon, I’d like to hear about your favorite companies or e-Commerce websites? Why are they your knee-jerk reaction for buying online?

GG

Related Posts:
Mobile e-Commerce, How Amazon.com blurs the line between web and mobile purchase

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Your Google Local Business Center Dashboard, Analyzing and Refining Your Google Maps Listing Based on Analytics


Google Local Business Center DashboardMore and more small businesses are realizing the importance of advertising online, including how to maximize their presence in Search. As local businesses get more involved in online marketing, they begin to understand how prospective customers research products and services. Needless to say, many are searching for information online. And, if you offer a product or service they are looking for, it’s obviously important for you to show up for targeted searches. If you don’t rank highly for target keywords, other businesses are...and they are the ones receiving calls (or visits in person).

In addition, there are searches that Google and the other engines deem as “local” in nature. For example, bakery in Princeton, NJ and florist in Miami, FL. Google may provide a 10 pack of local results for searches like this, and it’s important to make sure you show up. Even further, Google recently changed the way it processes requests that it deems local. For example, you often don’t need to put a location to trigger the 10 pack. Google knows your location and provides tailored local results for you. How nice. :)

To learn more about local listings in Google, you can read a previous post of mine about how to set up a Google maps listing in Google Local Business Center. In the post I walk you through what it is and how to set one up. By the way, once you take a hard look at Google’s 10 pack of local listings, it should be no surprise that it attracts a lot of attention. The 10 pack, which sometimes shows less than 10 listings, contains a map with markers showing the location of each business. It’s pretty hard to ignore this on the results page… The 10 pack also pushes down the organic results, which can potentially move your organic listing down the page.

Why Continual Analysis Can Provide Serious Benefits
I've found that many local businesses either don't have a listing or they set one up and check it off their list, never to return to analyze and refine the listing. But hold on a second… businesses should really be asking themselves, “How is that local listing working for me?” I recently had a client make some relatively minor changes based on reporting. These changes ended up having a significant impact on their local rankings and subsequent visits and calls from prospective customers. That’s pretty powerful considering the reporting they analyzed cost them nothing. Yes, $0. I helped my client use data provided to them in their Google Local Business Center Dashboard. You might have heard about this recently, as Google launched it in June of this year. That said, I’m sure some of you reading this post have no idea what it is. That’s ok, since this post is here to provide a thorough overview of your local dashboard, while also giving you some ideas for how to best use the data to attract prospective customers.

The Google Local Business Center Dashboard, Free Analytics for Local Businesses
OK, let’s assume you read my post about setting up your Google maps listing and you are showing up for some targeted searches. That’s great, but do you really know how well that listing is working for your business? Until recently (June 2009), you really didn’t have a lot of insight into the performance of your local listing. Sure, you probably had Google Analytics or another analytics package set up, but that doesn’t specifically give you data about your local listing. Thankfully, Google understood this and did something about it. They rolled out a Local Business Center Dashboard that is basically a scaled down Google Analytics report for your local listing. It provides some important data about how your listing is being triggered, viewed, and accessed. Let’s explore the features below.

The Features of Your Local Dashboard
First, log into Google Local Business Center. You will see your business information, status, and a label for “Statistics”. Under the heading for statistics, you will see a quick view of impressions and actions. Impressions include the number of times your local listing was triggered and viewed as a result of a search on Google or Google Maps. Actions include when someone viewing your listing actually interacted with it. More on this shortly. Click the “View Report” link to access your dashboard.

Accessing the dashboard from Google Local Business Center
Google Analytics-like Graphs for Impressions and Actions
The first thing you will see is a timeline at the top of the page showing activity for your listing. The chart breaks down impressions and actions visually by day, over the time period you selected. The default timeframe is the past 30 days, but you can easily change that by using date range selector in the upper right corner and then clicking apply. Right below the timeline, you will see the number of impressions, which again is the number of times your listing is viewed as a result of a search on Google or on Google Maps. Underneath impressions, you will see a breakdown of actions, which is the number of times a user took “action” with your listing. Possible actions include clicks for more information on Google Maps, clicks for driving directions, and clicks to your website. Actions are aggregated in the graph, but actually broken down underneath the graph. Providing this reporting enables you to get a quick snapshot of the performance of your local listing.

Viewing impressions and actions in Your Google Local Business Center Dashboard
What to look for:
You might notice spikes in impressions and actions based on advertising campaigns you have launched. You can identify the most active days of the week or periods of time based on activity. For example, are many people searching for your services on weekends or during the week, right before holidays, or heavily during a specific season? You can also test the effectiveness of the details of your listing. Google provides the ability to edit the details of your local listing, so my recommendation is to test various ways to communicate your business and then view the impact on impressions and actions. For example you can refine your description, specialties, and categories served to determine the optimal combination of elements. Don’t just throw up a local listing without revisiting its performance on a regular basis.

Top Search Queries
Below the breakdown of actions, you will find top search queries that triggered your local listing, along with the number of impressions. Although this isn't a robust list of keywords like you would see in Google Analytics or another analytics package, it still provides important data for you to review. You probably have an idea about the types of keywords that trigger your listing, however, I’ll bet some of the keywords in the list surprise you. It’s just like when I talk about performing keyword research, you should find what people are actually searching for versus what you think they are searching for. Trust data, and not necessarily opinion.

Click the image below to view a larger version:
Viewing top search queries in Your Google Local Business Center Dashboard

Are there keywords you never thought about targeting that people are actually searching for? Analyzing even this simple keyword report can help you target the right people locally, based on what they are really looking for. For example, let's say you are a florist focused on wedding arrangements and none of the keywords triggering your listing seem targeted for that niche. You find that most people are searching for gifts or flowers versus a specific type of arrangement. Or, you might find the opposite is true and that people are searching for very specific types of arrangements. Again, you never know until you look. Then you can determine the best path to take with regard to your local listing.

Based on what you find, you should start to think about why your listing is showing up for those searches. Is that because of the type of search being conducted or the information contained in your actual listing? It’s a good question and it is definitely worth analyzing... For example, did you let Google know that you provide organic food at your restaurant? Take the time to analyze the data and make changes to your listing. Don’t miss out on customers. In addition, the data can help you craft new marketing messages, and even possibly how you explain your business in person or via other forms of advertising. Using the example above, are you using the word organic in your advertising, whether that’s on TV, in mailers, at shows or festivals, and when you speak with people in your community. If they are searching for it, you might want to start including it. :)

Know Where Your Customers Are Coming From (Literally)
Underneath top search queries, you will find a list of zip codes, based on where driving direction requests are coming from. To clarify, this is when someone clicks “Directions” or “Get Directions” from your local listing. This data would mean more to a business with a physical location serving local customers and can provide some interesting data. For example, you can see the impact of offline marketing, you can see which areas provide high demand for your products or services, and can help you craft future advertising campaigns. For example, I know some local businesses like to attend town festivals, which enable you to set up a booth. Let’s say you planned to attend four festivals in the fall (at $750 per booth). Your knee jerk reaction might be to set up at festivals that are in close proximity to your business, maybe the four closest towns to your business. However, you might change that strategy based on data you view in your dashboard. Maybe more requests are coming from locations 10-15 minutes away versus 5 minutes away. You actually might pass on the festivals right around your town and target ones that are two or three towns over. Again, you don’t know until you review the data. If you don’t, you could miss opportunities to get in front of more targeted groups of people. This is why I always recommend continual analysis and refinement based on data. It has become a motto here at G-Squared Interactive.

Click the image below to view a larger version:
Viewing where direction requests are coming from in Your Google Local Business Center Dashboard

Go Check Your Local Dashboard Now
So there you have it, an overview of your Local Business Center Dashboard, or what I like to call a scaled down Google Analytics report for your local listing. I would love to see the ability to access more data, but this is still better than flying blind (which is what many businesses were doing beforehand).

Here are some key points to think about after reading this post:
* First, do you have a local listing and are you effectively managing that listing?
* Second, are you reviewing reporting for your listing and making changes based on the data?

Remember, you don’t want to miss an opportunity that’s right around the corner…literally. :)

GG

Related Posts:
How to Set Up Your Google Maps Listing
How to Perform Keyword Research for SEO
The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

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