I originally created a post that was featured on BNET.com. You can view the original article here.
Let your customers help keep your website fresh
One of the most effective methods Amazon uses to drive page views and stay high in search rankings is to let its customers do some of the work. You know those detailed — and brutally honest — customer reviews and comments? If you’ve ever shopped on Amazon, you know they’re helpful when you need a second opinion before you buy. But that user-generated content has a much bigger, behind-the-scenes benefit: It’s one of the most powerful methods of ensuring your website has a steady flow of fresh, unique, keyword-rich content — the very stuff that search engines love when they crawl your site to determine how highly to rank it. Plus, if you have the occasional product description that’s weak on keywords, customer reviews help bolster the SEO value of the page. And you get them for free.
Tip: Take a cue from Amazon and make sure the process to submit a review on your site is short and dead-simple.
Get more control over your listings in Google
You can’t always control which text the search engines grab from your website and display in search results — Google’s chief concern, after all, isn’t helping you sell your products. But there is a simple way to up the odds that your product listings will show up with the kind of text that converts lookers into buyers. Amazon makes sure that extra snippets of product information — such as pricing, star ratings, number of customer reviews and availability — appear prominently in Google search results.
The trick is to use microformats, which are meta tag snippets — a new, but relatively unknown, set of agreed-upon conventions used to describe content. Microformats can be anything from the price of a product to the location of the business — the idea is to include the main keywords shoppers might use to try to search for the product.
Here’s an example of how Amazon uses microformats in html to describe a Razor A3 Kick Scooter:
Tip: For more details on how to insert microformats into your e-commerce pages, check out this explanation from Google. Most of the e-commerce platforms like Magento, or even WordPress (the de facto content management system these days) support microformats.
Win on long-tail key phrases
Amazon may rank No. 1 on the Web for the keyword “books,” but that’s not how the site converts most of its Web traffic into actual book purchases. Think about it. If a shopper is looking for, say, a hardcover edition of Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivering Happiness,” he doesn’t google “books.” He probably searches for exactly what he wants: “hardcover Tony Hsieh Delivering Happiness.” And Amazon owns that search phrase, hands down.
If you’re a smaller, niche business, optimizing your product pages for these so-called “long-tail” keywords is crucial for several reasons:
- They bring in targeted traffic to your website, thereby boosting your conversion rates.
- You can’t compete on broader, “short-tail” keywords.
- Winning on more specific terms will eventually help your site appear in searches for more general terms as your website gains more traffic and authority.
Tip: Let’s say you sell scooters — all kinds of brands, colors, and prices — and you want to get specific products ranked in search engines. The single most important on-page factor when search engines rank your pages is the title tag, which is the text that shows up in the top part of a Web browser. Here is where you want to use very specific keywords: “green Razor a3 kick scooter” instead of just “Razor scooter.” However, a note of caution: Don’t overdo it and stuff it full of keyword gibberish. You’re writing for people, not search engines.
Make it easy to find things
Keeping a website’s navigation simple can be deceptively complicated — it’s all too easy to introduce clutter that can lead a user astray. But making it easy to find things is the single biggest thing you can do to make sure customers return.
Take a cue from Amazon and pay particular attention to these things:
- The navigation bar. Amazon’s clean and simple navigation bar (the menu on the left-hand side of the page) covers all of the categories and subcategories you’d need to find just about any product.
- The search box. The search box is clearly visible at the top of every page on the site. Plus, the dropdown menu next to it helps customers quickly and easily refine their searches.
- Different page layouts for different products. Amazon understands the buying process well enough to know that the purchase decision varies depending on the product. As such, the site has different page layouts for different categories. Amazon’s laptop category page, for example, is slightly different than its camera category pageif you look at the bottom half of the pages. Amazon organizes the laptops according to brands and prices. But the camera page organizes products according to lenses, point-and-shoots, accessories, etc. — with no price categories. The camera page also has a prominent widget advertising the “most wished for” products to appeal to gift givers.
Personalize the experience
In Amazon’s quest to become the one-stop shop for nearly everything that can be shipped via cardboard box, the site developed several key ways to personalize the buying experience and turn shoppers into loyal, repeat customers. Among some of the best innovations: personalized product suggestions based on previous orders and searches, wish lists and shopping lists to organize potential purchases, and the Gift Organizer tool, which keeps track of birthdays and special occasions.
Of course, Amazon has an army of engineers working on these sophisticated features. But even with fewer resources, there are simple things to you can do to personalize — and maximize — the shopping experience on your site:
- Give customers the ability to save the items in their shopping carts.
- Maintain extensive customer profiles, including order history.
- Use “What’s New”, “What’s Hot,” and “Special Deals” widgets that help you cross-sell related items. On Amazon’s page for point-and-shoot cameras, for example, you’ll also find widgets for related accessories and best-selling camcorders.
- Let customers link to social networks like Facebook and Twitter so they can “like” the products they have bought or are thinking of purchasing.
Anticipate customers’ questions
Even if you have live customer service support via telephone, customers should be able to easily find the answer to the most common questions on your website. In this respect, Amazon has mastered the customer experience. Here are just a few examples:
- Order and shipping confirmations. As soon as a shopper makes a purchase, Amazon sends an email to confirm the order and say “thank you.” The company sends another email when the order has been processed and shipped. This may seem common sense and even a bit trivial, but email confirmations are a simple way to instill confidence.
- A clear and generous return policy. Amazon dedicates an entire page to its return policy and the terms are generous: Customers can return almost anything for a full refund if they aren’t satisfied — and in some cases, even 365 days after the purchase.
- User-generated customer service. To make sure that customer reviews are helpful — and not just useless rants — Amazon lets the community vote for them. The people who write the most helpful reviews then get the distinction of “top reviewer.” This strategy helps foster a community of knowledgeable customers who help each other decide what to buy and even jump in and answer each others’ product questions.