The Best Live Chat Practices for Your eCommerce Site

The Best Live Chat Practices for Your eCommerce Site

live chat

For many eCommerce merchants, their website’s live chat function is one of their primary means of communication with customers. That is why it’s crucial for eCommerce merchants to adhere to a well-developed set of best practices that helps to ensure their live chat representatives leave their customers feeling engaged and satisfied with the interaction.

Fortunately, we have created a list of the live chat tactics that will help eCommerce merchants provide customers with a great online experience. Although some tips may seem simple in nature, many businesses fail to get the basic components to a successful live chat experience right.

1. Visibility is Key

One of the most important aspects of live chat is its visibility. If customers can’t immediately see this feature while they are shopping, chances are they won’t search it out. In order to be easily detected, the window should be in the bottom right corner of the page with some sort of bright icon that is easy on the eyes yet readily seen. Even better, reach out to the customer first! Automate the first message to communicate with the customer before they run into an issue – that way they immediately have a helpful resource at their disposal.

Visibility also means that live chat should be available on every page in the same spot. If a customer ever runs into a problem they shouldn’t have to backpedal to the main page to receive assistance.

H3: 2. Respond Quickly

Replying promptly is the most important function an eCommerce site’s live chat can serve. Quick response times showcase a businesses’ ability to be attentive and professional in handling customer issues. An easy way to ensure that your live chat is speedy is to set up an automated response for initial contact followed by a swift follow up from a real representative. This way, shoppers will be engaged immediately and be attended to as quickly as possible.

3. Ask Questions

Understanding exactly what a shopper is asking using the live chat feature is the key to properly solving and answering their question. To get a full scope of the issue, instruct your live chat representatives to ask plenty of detailed, pointed questions at the beginning of the interaction to understand exactly what the issue is. Being thorough at the start of a conversation will help save time for both the representative and the customer later on.

4. Avoid Robotic Responses

An eCommerce merchant should sound professional, but also like a human being. Sounding too robotic will give the impression that there isn’t a person on the end of the line, which will leave the customer feeling isolated. Greet the customer warmly as they sign on and consider personalizing it with their name. Ask how they’re doing and how you can help them. Maintain a friendly tone throughout the interaction to keep that personal touch.

Additionally, be sure to maintain a tone of voice that properly reflects your brand. If you sell high tech gadgets and tools, you may be slightly more professional than an eCommerce store selling makeup or jewelry.

5. Know When to Escalate

A live chat representative should do everything in their power and capability to fix the customer’s issue. When they can’t, they should know when to escalate to a supervisor, IT professional, or alternative department. Be sure to vocalize this to the customer and assure them that help is on the way – if you take too long or leave them hanging they are more likely to abandon their cart and seek out a different merchant.

6. “Is There Anything Else I Can Help You With?”

Once the live chat representative shares their solution with the customer, they should confirm that they have solved the customer’s problem. Once this is complete, they should ask, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” The customer may have additional issues to discuss and it should be the live chat representative’s goal to provide a comprehensive customer service experience. Even if the customer doesn’t have additional questions, it highlights the eCommerce merchant’s commitment to superior customer service.

7. Ask for Feedback

Once the customer confirms they have no other concerns, an eCommerce merchant should present them with a poll or request comments on the interaction. This type of direct request is a great way for an eCommerce site to gain valuable feedback and continue improving their live chat service.

For more tips on how to create the optimal live chat experience for online customers, contact our team of experienced eCommerce professionals today.

The 5 On-Site A/B Tests Your eCommerce Business Should Try

The 5 On-Site A/B Tests Your eCommerce Business Should Try

Ever wonder how a user experience change on your site would affect conversions, but afraid to wreck your existing customer path-to-purchase? In these cases, a tool like on-site A/B testing—a way to compare one template style to another—can be a valuable asset for businesses to utilize. Even better is that most eCommerce platforms have built-in features allowing merchants to A/B test relatively easily. (If your platform doesn’t, there are plenty of extensions available for testing, too).

The A/B testing ideas listed below will help you understand what your customer’s preferences are when it comes to the layout of your website as well as what gets them to select and ultimately purchase a product. Whether you’ve just begun to look into the benefits of A/B testing and are ready to try it for the first time or you’re an expert looking for additional ways to tinker with your website, these tests will help you discover how to best present your website to your customers.

1. Showcase a Prominent Sales and Specials Section

Many online shoppers only end up making a purchase if an item is discounted or at a special price. Making it easier for these shoppers to find the items on sale on your website can be a great way to increase conversions. On your website’s homepage, consider adding a sales and specials section that highlights the best deals your website has and encourages customers to act fast before it expires.

Even if the “on-sale” sale section on your homepage only provides a link to the actual discount page, it still serves as a faster, more efficient way to point customers in the direction in which they may be already interested in heading.

2. Try a Wide-Appeal Products Section

If your homepage isn’t currently being utilized in a way that emphasizes your best-selling products, testing a section that does just this could be helpful. Be sure to include great, enlargeable product images with clear pricing. You can also encourage quick purchases by including an ‘add to cart’ button for each product being showcased.

Testing a best-selling products section is one of the most surefire ways to encourage purchases and increase conversions. Customers life to buy products they know other customers have bought.

3. Make the Search Bar More Prominent

If your website has a vast variety of products, chances are you likely already have an on-site search function in place. However, if that search function isn’t visible or prominent enough, customers may have a hard time using it. You may want to test out a different size or location for your website search bar to see if it makes a difference.

A well-located search bar can help your customers have an easier time locating the products they were looking for, leading to an increase in purchases made.

4. Display a Benefits Bar

If you’re looking to add a bit of an edge against the competition for your eCommerce business, consider showcasing your benefits at the top of the home page. Many companies using this feature to tout any current free delivery deals, discount codes, reviews, and loyalty programs.

If you decide to test out a benefits bar, make sure to include only the most important aspects that set your business apart for shoppers.

5. Live Chat Assistance

Nearly 44% of online shoppers report wishing they had live chat assistance in the middle of a recent purchase. If your business has the personnel bandwidth, try adding the feature to see if your conversions increase as a result of this quick assistance. Not only do chatboxes help with customer service and conversions, but they also serve as a means to build your brand and receive feedback (read more here).

Ideally, set up the live chat assistance feature as a widget that floats somewhere on the side of your website and that can be clicked on to expand. This way customers will be able to use the live chat whenever they need to.

Create a Better Website

These A/B test ideas should help you understand your shopper’s online habits better, allowing you to better cater to their preferences. We recommend rolling out these tests incrementally instead of all at once so you can truly measure how each feature is performing without overwhelming your shoppers with new additions. For any additional help crafting the best website experience possible, be sure to contact our team of experienced developers and solution specialists today.

The Automotive eCommerce Guide to Navigation and Images

The Automotive eCommerce Guide to Navigation and Images

automotive eCommerce

In order to construct a visually appealing Automotive eCommerce site that promotes a fluid customer experience, there are two important things to keep in mind: know your customer and keep it simple.

Those statements may seem obvious. Certainly you must identify your customer base, and of course, you shouldn’t over-complicate your site. As obvious as it may sound, many Automotive eCommerce sites get it wrong. Whether that is due to the considerable amount of data on the topic or simply the nature of the industry, here are some tips to help keep you above par.

The best converting Auto eCommerce sites are the ones that are easy to navigate. First, identify your niche. Then, cater your navigation to your specific customer. The biggest challenge is always the data.

Data Should Fit the Customer Experience – Not the Other Way Around

Data is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of Automotive eCommerce because it is extensive, complex, and ever-changing. Recent trends in the Automotive industry point to the year, make, model, and engine-filtered navigation. We have seen Auto eCommerce companies spend so much time, money, and effort simply integrating this functionality that they gloss over the issue of how a customer actually shops. The best automotive eCommerce sites are the ones that are extremely simple and easy to navigate with the ability to land customers on a very relevant and specific landing page. That’s very hard to do with the year, make, and model lookup. Our favorite (and the best converting) sites are the ones that utilize categorized navigation effectively, such as runningboardwarehouse.com and bumpersuperstore.com.


Running Board Warehouse separates their navigation into vehicle, category, and brand.


Bumper Superstore has multiple categories (including best selling, front and rear, style, vehicle, and all) that allow the customer to shop in a way that best suits their needs.

Make the user experience cater to how the customer shops – don’t try to cater the customer experience to the data. Because of data difficulties, merchants should start by identifying their niche (accessories, reused parts, etc.). Once they do, basing your site navigation and user experience around that specific niche will make fitting your data in that much easier.

Images Can Make or Break a Conversion

Automotive parts sites are often notorious for having either poor quality or catch-all representative images. Merchants that successfully convert prospects to customers generally take their own photos. Some do better than others, but having images that are detailed, bright, enlargeable, and vehicle-specific are more likely to resonate with customers. Nobody with a Dodge Ram wants to look at a Ford F-150 when shopping for aftermarket accessories – they want to know what the product is going to look like on their vehicle.

Often times images are pushed to the back of the to-do list. But, if you’re selling online, you need actual photos of every individual part. When people are searching for a specific product online, they use their eyes to verify that they are purchasing the right thing. If there are basic filler images and customers receive a product that’s not right, they won’t trust you again. They need to be able to look at the picture and description and know that’s what they need.

Consistency is key, but lifestyle images should be incorporated into your site as well. If someone is searching for a tonneau cover, they want to see how to use it. They want inspiration – so inspire them to buy your products by showing them how to use the product and its various features. This can be done with images and video – don’t limit your team to just a photographer. Investing in video will pay off and help you inspire ideas and trust with customers. Incorporate videos onto your site with product demonstrations, installation how-to, Q&A, and customer testimonials.

Build a Community

Keep in mind that your customers are enthusiasts. Build a community around your brand with good content, social and email outreach/remarketing, or even some sort of rewards program. These days, when things are increasingly competitive in the auto industry, it’s a necessity to do more to engage your customers after their initial purchase. For additional help in building a strong customer following, check out one of our previous blogs on the topic.

If you need assistance with your automotive eCommerce site, feel free to contact us today.

How User Intent Can Impact Website Traffic

How User Intent Can Impact Website Traffic

user intent

Getting visitors to a website requires work, and that’s only half the battle. No matter how  good your SEO strategy and tactics, visitors won’t stay around long if they don’t easily find what they’re looking for. A successful site anticipates user intent—the reasons behind the search—and provides content that will satisfy it.

Types of Searches

When a user goes online to conduct a search, sometimes they are looking for general information on a topic. Other times they want something specific. These specific searches are most valuable because they are more likely to turn into business transactions. In order to understand why visitors are coming to your website, try classifying the searches they conduct that ultimately lead them there.

Most internet searches can be classified into 3 different forms of intent:

  • Topical: Searches for information about a topic may be general or specific. If the searcher is looking for an answer to a particular question and finds it on a site, that can lead to bookmarking the site and coming back again.
  • Website-specific: Searches aimed at finding a particular website are very specific and demonstrate prior interest. These will often lead to a business transaction.
  • Transactional: Searches aimed at a transaction, such as a purchase or subscription, are specific and promise a quick conversion—if the site handles them properly.

How Intent Affects Content

As the internet has developed and evolved, search engines have become much better at understanding intent. As a result, strategies to increase website traffic have changed too. For example, crude SEO tactics like keyword stuffing haven’t been effective for some time (in fact, they will often result in lowering your SEO ranking). This is why matching content to what the user wants and expects to see produces better results than trying to game the system. And when a user sees what they were looking for on your website, the opportunity to do business with them is that much greater.

To achieve the best results, website creators should design each page with a clear knowledge of its end purpose. Is it to provide a general introduction to the business, to answer questions about it, or to sell a product? Creators need to put themselves into the user’s shoes. What are people going to search for, and what kind of content will satisfy them?

Pages designed specifically to optimize SEO can fail when it comes to giving the user the information they are actually searching for. For example, a business could lose potential customers if their website visitors have to look extensively for the address of a nearby store but find only testimonials about how great the company is. Instead, website creators should provide a store locator with a conspicuous link to it on the homepage. This same strategy comes to play when searchers are looking for a certain product, only to land on a page that displays it but doesn’t even say if it is available for purchase or not. Product searches should yield product-specific results.

The bottom line is that sales will be much harder to make if the user can’t get to where they want to go and fast. A page should make it clear from a quick glance that it has the information relevant to the searcher’s intent. If the information is buried too deep within the page, chances are it won’t be very effective.

How to Understand Intent

Several techniques will help you understand what the intent is of your website visitors.

Searching social media and forums for mentions of the site will provide valuable information about what people want to know. Your site can also add an FAQ page directed at answering common questions and facilitating sales.

One of the best ways to understand user intent is by trying out search terms and looking at the list of related searches. For example, a search for “socket wrench” on Google reveals that related searches include “socket wrench sizes” and “ratchet socket wrench.” This simple example search reveals that most people searching for these keywords need information on the size and types of wrenches available. Use this technique to tailor your website’s content to make sure people can find the information they need.

Online tools such as KeywordTool.io give lists of words and phrases related to a given keyword. They help provide clues about what people are searching for, as well as unrelated intents that offer no value. People searching for “a wrenching experience” probably aren’t immediately interested in buying socket wrenches.

To get the most out of every visit, a website needs to have content that mirrors the intent of its visitors. Research and planning are the keys to accomplishing this. If you’d like help, please contact us.

How to Re-Engage Dormant Email Subscribers

How to Re-Engage Dormant Email Subscribers

dormant subscribers

Dormant subscribers are among the biggest challenges an email marketer must face.

In the modern digital world, email subscribers are a significant part of your success. These are people who are interested in your newsletters, excited by seasonal deals, and more likely to come back as repeat buyers time and time again. But what happens when one (or more) of your subscribers stop opening emails or clicking on links?

It’s incredibly difficult to understand exactly why a subscriber has chosen to stop opening your emails. Perhaps they are bored with what they may view as repetitive offers, assuming they already know what’s inside the message. Or their email service started sorting your messages into the spam folder. Or they have just been super-busy, so have been skipping lots of emails, including yours. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to effectively re-engage your dormant subscribers or determine if they’re out for good.

Change Up Your Subject Lines

The first and easiest step to re-engage subscribers is simply to change the way you write subject lines. Over time, subscribers may begin to skim over your emails, noting that they have seen that subject line previously and assume they already know what’s inside. To break that pattern, step out of your rigid subject structure and try something new.

If you regularly focus your subject lines on discount percent (ex: “September 20% discount opportunities!”), try focusing on seasonal specials (ex: Our famous holiday desserts are on the menu!”) or even speaking to the subscribers directly (“Your favorite ice cream is on sale this week at LocalStore!”). The key is to significantly change the way you address your subscribers. Surprise them, or better yet, offer them something new. Inspire them to take a second look at your content.

Send ‘From’ a Different Email Address

Although it often goes unnoticed, the “from” address is an important aspect of subscriber response. The ‘from’ line of an email is how we judge who is sending us a message. Is it a robot or a person? A stranger or someone we already know? Especially on mobile, the “from” address is big and bold – and when scrolling through dozens of emails, it’s easy to filter through content based on the sender. By changing “who” your email appears to be from, you can inspire subscribers to subtly or even completely re-think how they look at your emails.

Additionally, certain “from” fields can trigger automatic spam filtration – which is detrimental to open rates. If a subscriber has stopped reading your emails because they always land in the spam bin, a new source email and ‘from’ address can get you back in the main inbox.

Incentivizing the Click

Incentivizing the click is all about offering something new. Make a big splash with a significant or personal offer. Or offer content that isn’t sale or discount focused, but that simply helps lift your brand or makes a connection with or provides value to your subscribers. Make sure it is out-of-sync with your normal marketing schedule and offers something your subscribers aren’t expecting to see. This one-time out-of-the-ordinary communication and more surprises like it in the future may be enough to re-engage customers who just haven’t felt like engaging lately.

Reviewing Your Contact Data

Take a closer look at the data available about your dormant subscribers. Before investing too much in re-engagement, it’s important to know what you’re working with. For example, someone may have changed jobs and no longer uses that particular email address at all. Or maybe they moved away from your physical store location and, therefore, have stopped looking for local deals.

A little bit of research and certain industry tools can help you identify some clear reasons why someone no longer reads your content. Some of the reasons may indicate a subscriber who is recoverable, while others may lead you to let them go permanently.

Remove Truly Unengaged Subscribers

This last tip brings us to our final point: if a subscriber is genuinely no longer interested or if all engagement strategies fail, cut them loose. You don’t need inactive names cluttering your mailing lists and reducing your email “engagement scores”, when there are real, engaged customers to work with. You can significantly improve your overall results by knowing when it’s time to scratch a name off your list. Not only is this good for your efficiency, but it will increase open rate percentage and decreases your chance of being flagged as a spam IP.

Address the Problem Quickly

If you have a mailing list that is starting to wane, don’t let the problem continue as-is. Do everything you can to re-engage interest with your subscribers by following these tips and attempting something new. If you need assistance, feel free to contact us today.

The Factors Impacting Email Deliverability

The Factors Impacting Email Deliverability

Email Deliverability

Email marketing is a great tool for establishing relationships with potential customers, current customers, and even past customers because it gives you the opportunity to reach out to them directly through their inbox. But in order for email marketing to be to be an effective tool of communication, the email must get to the mailbox and must be read. Service providers and end users filter aggressively against spam, and you need to make sure your messages don’t get caught by those spam filters.

There are four main factors which affect deliverability; three of them are directly under your control, while the other is a matter of user behavior (which is still a directly connected to what you send).

Subject Lines and Content

An obvious factor affecting email deliverability is the subject line and actual content of the messages. Using “spam words” can get a message blocked, even if they serve legitimate business purposes. Avoid overusing expressions like “free,” “must respond today,” and “urgent.” This is especially crucial when crafting a subject line. Anything that looks too good to be true is likely to be flagged – a straightforward description is more likely to get through.

Also, don’t overload the message with images. Having a message that consists of one big image may look great when you compose it, but the odds of it being flagged as spam are high. A good rule of thumb: email content should contain around 40% images and 60%  text.

Additionally, here are a couple of content tips that affect deliverability:

  • Be careful with your links. A link to a website with a bad reputation will land your messages in a black hole.
  • Always include a clear unsubscribe link and the sender’s physical mailing address.
  • Do not use excessive capitalization or punctuation.

Domain Usage

Your sending domain or Email Service Provider (ESP) carries a reputation that affects deliverability. If your domain has a good reputation, your chances of successful delivery are good. If you are blacklisted because you made a mistake or someone started a campaign of malicious complaints, make fixing your reputation a priority.

The “From” address should always use a domain which your business controls. Using Hotmail or Gmail addresses for business mail looks unprofessional and is likely to get your messages blocked. Further, periodically run your domains through a blacklist checker, like MX Toolbox. That way you know if you’ve been flagged for spam or other complaints that could lead to blacklisting.

Additional tip: Consider having different domains for marketing emails vs transactional, that way if one becomes compromised or receives complaints, you can continue sending from the other.

IP Addresses

The Internet Protocol address is a numerical identifier of the sender’s server. All devices connected to a computer network have an IP address and thus every email is sent from one. As long as you keep it secure, no one else can send mail from it.

An IP address reflects the reputation of the sender, which is based on several factors.

  • Send volume: the number of emails sent.
  • Send frequency: the number of campaigns that are deployed per week or month.
  • User interaction: individuals who open and click — and complain or unsubscribe.
  • Quality: percentages of bounces or undeliverable emails.

IP reputation affects how an Internet Service provider will treat an email. Many companies utilize an ESP to send marketing emails. There are two types of IP addresses that ESP’s use:

  • Shared: More than one company or brand is sending from one IP address
  • Dedicated: The company or brand has one unique IP address

Some service providers issue a pool of IP addresses that all their customers share. If your sending volumes are small and you can benefit from the pooling volume (with other senders), make sure you educate yourself on their best practices and look into their efforts on ensuring a good IP reputation.

If your sending volume grows and you need to use a dedicated IP address, remember that it has no previous history – meaning that its reputation, good or bad, is up to you. Start small and gradually increase the number of emails you are sending. Begin by sending to your most engaged audience – this sends good signals to the mailbox regarding your reputation. As mailboxes begin to regard you as a responsible sender, you can increase the number of emails you are sending.

Recipient Behavior

The way recipients treat your messages can affect the likelihood that they’ll receive your future ones. If they delete your messages without reading them, then smart filters will take that into account. If they do it consistently, the filters will start marking everything you send as spam. If they file reports, their providers will take note. Enough complaints will result in your mail being blocked.

So how do you avoid this? Be strategic with your content. Follow an opt-in policy, make it easy to unsubscribe, and keep the amount of mail within reasonable bounds. The quality of your mail, not the quantity, is what will get engagement.

Follow good email practices, and you’ll get people reading it. Be sure to keep your content fresh and interesting, and analyze data to understand what readers want to read, and what they commonly ignore.

If you need help with your email marketing or want to get started with an ongoing email marketing program, contact us today.

How Social Media Affects SEO

How Social Media Affects SEO

Social Media SEO

We’ll get straight to the point—social media does affect SEO. More interestingly, though, is the question of “How?” Business owners are told over and over again that having a social media presence is key, but sometimes it can be hard to see the benefits. Social media is a great asset for businesses for a lot of reasons: it’s a great customer service tool and a convenient place for customers to get information about a business.

Beyond those incentives, one of the best benefits of social media is the way it works in sync with an SEO strategy. Though social media does not directly impact website rankings, it is still a very powerful tool used to leverage SEO.

Read on to take a closer look at how social media affects SEO by increasing visibility, brand recognition, and more.

Increase Your Online Visibility and Traffic to Your Site

The simple truth is that the more a business puts itself out there, the more people will see it. The main driving force behind any marketing effort is to increase leads and sales—in order to convert potential customers, they must be coming to your site in the first place.

When searching for a company online, social profiles will most likely appear in the first page of search results, usually right under their website. This means that if your company has social media accounts like a Facebook page or Twitter profile, it will serve as another opportunity for potential customers to see you when they make a Google search.

Check out the example below:

Social Media SEO

A simple google search for the word “Magento” has the company’s Twitter account appearing second in the search listing. This may seem minor, but it does increase the chances that they will end up on one of the pages that you control. Remember: the bigger the net, the more fish you catch.

Boost Your Brand Recognition

Brand recognition is important for any company; when an audience can recognize a company by its logos, slogan, or brand colors, you’ve done something right. In order to further increase brand authority, utilize your various social media profiles to encourage social sharing. But, despite the common misconception, “popularity metrics” (like the number of followers or likes) do not cause higher rankings.

What does cause higher rankings, though, is the chance that someone on social media will share your link and increase the number of inbound links to your site. Content will gain popularity—as well as credibility—and this can improve your rankings. Check out this infographic below:

Social Media SEO

As you can see, a couple of things must go right in order to affect rankings in a positive way. In order to help this process, it benefits you to actively build relationships with content creators so they consistently cite your content.

In addition, social sites give customers a chance to review businesses. Reviews can be a huge factor in SEO, especially when it comes to local businesses. Search engine algorithms love reviews, and they make up 13% of ranking factors when it comes to local searches, and 7% for general searches. Be sure to encourage reviews with incentives or gentle reminders through social media; they can make a big difference with customer trust and SEO.  

Extend the Life of Your Content

There are over one billion active daily users on Facebook. That’s a lot of likes, comments, and shares for you to tap into. With a blog, once you publish a post, it can get buried underneath pages and pages of other posts and seem lost forever.

But with social media, you can repost old content when it’s relevant to do so, or blast out messages whenever you want so you know your word is getting out there in a more controlled way. In addition, you can target content towards the audiences you know will benefit most from your messages. That may mean reposting an older blog on Twitter when a similar topic is trending or referencing an older, more-detailed blog in a Facebook post depending on what followers have been most engaged with recently.

Get A Leg Up On Local Rankings

We’ve already discussed the importance of reviews for SEO, but it’s also important to be consistent with business listings and NAP (name-address-phone number) citations. This consistency in how your business is listed across the web (including social media) is essential for local SEO. Social media profiles need to have keyword-rich descriptions, clear indications of services, hours, phone number, and an address that is identical to the one on your Google My Business profile.

When you are consistent with your NAP (meaning the same information shows up on all profiles and directories) search engines understand who you are, what you do, and how users can find your business.

Good Rankings Take Hard Work

Recognize that rankings are an outcome, not an action. The best search optimizers understand the importance of indirect benefits that come from social media. Many aspects of modern marketing are based on relationships—including search. And relationships are created on social media.

If you need any more information on SEO or social media, feel free to contact us today.

Death by Magento Customization

Death by Magento Customization

Death by magento customization

The dream website for many eCommerce merchants contains every feature they can imagine, plus any customizations required to make growing and running their eCommerce business a breeze.  

For many retailers, Magento has been that dream. A feature-rich, low-cost, easy-to-customize solution. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that dream morphed into a nightmare for many poor souls who over-extended themselves by adding too many features and customizations to their Magento site.

Upon initial build, it may seem feasible to clear up the outstanding bugs of an overbuilt site. But as time goes on, issues can pile on top of one another, potentially leading to your entire site going down and many customers being lost (along with the corresponding sales revenue).

So — How Much is Too Much?

That question has a unique answer for every individual business. There is a certain limit to the number of features and customization that can reasonably be created and maintained by any organization. Companies with great budgets and technical acumen can support incredibly complex software (ie. Google and Amazon). But every company must understand what their limits are and how to operate and grow within the confines of their capabilities. First, let’s discuss what kind of issues over-customization can cause:

  • Rising Costs – Not only do you have high costs of maintaining and upgrading the customizations, but you also have costs of maintaining documentation and know-how for them.
  • Security Risks – Sometimes extensions can contain code that opens a backdoor breach into your website. Third party extensions can offer some great functionalities for your eCommerce store but they should be thoroughly vetted for quality and security by an experienced developer before being installed.
  • Sluggish Speed – It goes without saying that in a competitive environment today, an eCommerce company must place website speed as one of their top priorities. Most extensions make HTTP requests to load assets like CSS, scripts, images, etc. If coded incorrectly, extensions can cause many different types of performance issues, some of which can be difficult to troubleshoot. Page speed should always be critically evaluated when a new extension or customization is being tested in a staging environment.
  • Website Continuity (or lack thereof) – Due to Magento’s vast and complex architecture, difficulty with code can cause extensions to conflict with one another. This can cause pages to crash unless the code has been fixed. Nothing is more unnerving than a “Page not Found Error,” except for when a customer sees that error. Per the following statistic: “Around 74% of visitors leave and never visit a website again after just one instance of a ‘Page Not Found’ error.” Those aren’t great odds.

I’m sure we’ve spooked you by now. So, how do you prevent these unfortunate consequences? Ultimately, we have to take a look at your company size, revenue, and resources.

Smaller Merchants – Is Magento Right for You?

With the onset of Magento 2, we’ve received migration quote requests from many smaller merchants running Magento 1 Community Edition that would be much better served by instead using a software as a service (SaaS) platform like BigCommerce or Shopify. These companies may have been lured into running Magento because of its many features and flexibility, but the cost to maintain Magento is way beyond what these SMBs are capable of. Instead of Magento working as an engine for growth, it becomes a liability, forcing these merchants to spend precious resources they should be dedicating to marketing on upgrades, patches, and support. In addition to the maintenance costs being (commonly) too steep, these merchants lack the resources in-house to properly administer Magento which further lowers their ROI.

In our opinion, it is usually best for small to midsize merchants with less than $5 million in annual online sales to try and limit their use of custom modules for Magento to 10 or fewer. While this number is somewhat arbitrary, it is a good benchmark for merchants wishing to mitigate the risk of getting into more customization than they can safely handle.  

Most merchants selling less than $1 million online will likely be best served by a SaaS solution like Shopify or BigCommerce. If these merchants using a Saas are looking to safely mitigate any risk of performance issues or compatibility bugs, they should likely look to leverage existing templated themes and fewer than 5 apps.

Larger Merchants – You Aren’t Immune to the Bugs of Over-Customization

While larger online merchants have the budgets and technical acumen to properly run a website platform like Magento, they are not impervious to serious harm from adding too many features and customizations. We’ve unfortunately witnessed large merchants greatly reduce the effectiveness of Magento with too many features and customizations.  Many times in these situations, bullish executives (in an attempt to make a big splash with the launch of a new and better site) demanded the addition of excessive amounts of features and customizations while building a new site on Magento.

For larger merchants needing a large number of complex features on their website, we recommend ensuring that their customizations are loosely coupled and operating by interfacing with the Magento API to minimize performance and code compatibility issues. For example, a merchant wishing to solve complex shipping quote requirements can mitigate the risk of over-customization by using the 3rd party app ShipperHQ. ShipperHQ is a SaaS solution that integrates to Magento via a small bit of extension code and APIs.  Hence the app is very loosely coupled and thus has minimal risk of causing code conflicts or performance degradation.

Customization Doesn’t Have to be Scary

Customization can become overbearing, but it doesn’t have to. Don’t fear Magento extensions — but don’t trust them blindly either. Not all extensions are created equal. As long as you follow these guidelines and are strict about having a senior developer vet and test extensions before using, you can proceed with caution. As always, if you have any questions about this or are in over your head with customizations, call us today to speak with a Magento Developer.

How to Simplify an Overly Complicated Site

How to Simplify an Overly Complicated Site

simple site design

By Tom Deutsch, VP Creative Services at InteractOne

The word “simple” can be a little deceptive. For eCommerce sites, conversion is the ruling metric. So, simplification is a tactic that you HOPE will give you better conversion.

Often, what we describe as simplification is not achieved by removing content from the page. Instead, site simplification uses UI design principles to focus and compartmentalize shopper activity.

Google is not strictly an eCommerce site, but it is the most-offered example of simplicity.

On the first impression, this baby is zen. You know exactly what to do here, not only because you’ve seen it a million times, but because it is obvious the first time you see it.

Really though – just like on your site – there is a lot going on here.

Given these requirements, Google could easily have looked something like this:

Simple looks easy, but it’s obviously not. As the illustration shows, how a given set of content is formatted and arranged can result in brilliance or an uninspired mess. Obviously, you and I don’t have Google’s resources, but we can take some lessons from the example.

Conquer the impulse to decorate

Communicating your visual brand doesn’t require elbowing aside the eCommerce path to purchase. For example, Magento’s default theme provides for an image at the top of each category. Key to remember – it is optional.

Designers can and do use banners to display beautiful and inspirational images and promotion reminders. In most cases, they are a distraction or an obstacle. They push the products down the page and are literally in the way, whether the user landed here directly or via navigation. Category pages are high-shopping intent; let the people shop! One innovative idea is to package small promotional blocks within the product grid, as seen on Lush:

Another source of clutter included in most eCommerce themes is the sidebar, which often says to the shopper: “you probably don’t want what is on this page; here’s another thought.” Think carefully before including sidebar elements, which do not translate readily to mobile, anyway.

Background textures, colored text, underlining, too many control elements (arrows, buttons and open fields) can stress out your page visitor, often evidenced as increased bounce rates. Use control elements extremely selectively and they’ll provide prominent and effective visual direction for your visitors.

Don’t fear the click

In your home, clothes would be easier to pick out if they were carefully arranged by color on the floor. Will you stop wearing clothes if they are put in a drawer instead? On your website, there are many categories, tools, features, and benefits all competing for attention. It is tempting to use the flexibility of a web page to find places to display all of them. That is designing by fear – thinking the shopper will not click to explore. Instead, set filters to closed by default. Place content in collapsing divs, dropdowns or tabs.

Matsonline.com has a complex product configuration and extensive product documentation, but with a well-managed UI, the goal of the page is still clear.

Think of your shopping pages not as billboards or directories, but as a neatly organized and well-labeled closet. Present a confident, simple and intuitive experience and trust the shopper to shop – that’s what they came to do!

Plan to succeed

To get simple, think integrated. Focus heavily on the things that spur conversion in eCommerce: Blazing fast page load, intuitive user interface, high-quality product images, authentic reviews, high-authority links. When those essential elements are in place, then your site will have the freedom to shed or reduce the emphasis on promotional content, memberships, forums and offers better suited to ads and social media.

The primary technique for maximizing simplicity is something you’ve often heard but is not often practiced: Mobile first design. Designing for desktop usually means you are starting with a grand and polished vision of a home page – that usually gets marked up and appended by numerous well-meaning hands. Designing for mobile forces discipline on your requirements. The best mobile sites behave like a guided tour – with each landing page focused on one thing and branching out from there, presenting choices in clear and manageable chunks. A desktop site that looks and functions like a mobile site is far preferable to a mobile site that looks like a squished and peeled version of a desktop site.

Your website will reflect the state of your business. Clutter within the business will produce clutter on the website. Simplicity breaks down when complex features are tacked on to the middle or end of a project, or if internal buy-in of the requirements was not secured up front. Whether embarking on a new eCommerce site build or revamping an existing one, have a specific plan. Know your requirements and make sure your platform can fill them without major customization. Pick designers and programmers you trust, then let them guide you to achieving a simple, user-friendly, high-converting site.

If you would like assistance with streamlining or otherwise improving the user interface of your eCommerce site, please feel to connect with our team. We’d be happy to lend a hand.

The Complete Magento Commerce Migration Checklist

The Complete Magento Commerce Migration Checklist

magento commerce migration

After spending countless hours researching whether or not to upgrade to Magento Commerce or keep with your existing platform, you’ve finally decided to make the jump. If you haven’t decided yet, read our recent blog to help inform your decision-making.

Before you can bask in the success you’re sure to see from making the upgrade, there are a few things you’ll need to do to ready your eCommerce business for it. Make sure to check off the following boxes before actually upgrading to ensure a smooth and successful process:

Take Inventory of Your Current Implementation ☑

Upgrading your eCommerce website is a long, ongoing process that never really feels completed if your business is looking to stay ahead of the next trend. If your website features this kind of next-level functionality and capabilities, chances are the complexity of implementing a new platform will be greater. This is why it’s essential to review the current state of your website through the lens of user experience, configuration, and customization. For more information on how to best review these components on your website, take a look at this Magento article.

Check Extension Compatibility ☑

Another component to review before making the upgrade is what extensions your website currently has installed. Most eCommerce websites feature a variety of extensions, some that are useful and some that seemed important but don’t have much functionality. The extensions that you plan to keep should be reviewed and tested to make sure they run properly or will need to be upgraded on the new platform before making the switch, otherwise you could run into a slew of functionality issues. If making the jump from M1 to M2, every extension must be updated to the M2 version in order for them to function properly. If you aren’t sure what other extensions will need attention when you make the upgrade, be sure to ask a Magento-certified developer. This is also an opportunity to clean up your website from unnecessary or non-functional extensions that you may have installed in the past, which could end up helping your website run faster.

Jumpstart UX Design ☑

Whether you’re upgrading from a different version of Magento or another platform altogether, design is something you should consider right out of the gate. Though there are many third party templates out there, we recommend skipping those and reaching out to Magento-certified developers (like us) instead. We can tailor Magento’s template to fit your needs and ultimately avoid any headaches shabby templates can create.

If you do decide to go with a third party theme, reach out to a reputable Magento expert before you purchase. Though the most popular themes are usually the most well built, that’s not always the case. Be sure to check with an expert first.

Test Your Website—Extensively ☑

When you make the upgrade, it’s important to test out your website before you publish it. Put your website in ‘maintenance mode,’ a Magento feature that allows you to test your website without it being live. To do so, create a maintenance.flag file in the root of your site. Once completed, many Magento Specialists use this 3-step process to see if their eCommerce website is ready to roll:

  1. Start at the homepage, navigate to a category page, then a product page. Add a product to your cart. Repeat these steps by choosing all the different possible paths to find that and other products. 
  2. Run a full checkout to test the various payment and shipping methods. 
  3. Test other functionalities such as price rules.

After extensively testing your website and checking all of the other boxes listed above, it’s time for the big moment: going live with your new, upgraded website. 

Be sure to continue running tests after publishing your website to ensure everything is working smoothly. To do so, consider running analytics and comparing the results to your old website. If you find any glaring differences in traffic or conversion rates, there could be an issue as a result of upgrading.

Making the upgrade to a new platform is a long process, but one that can pay large dividends to a growing eCommerce business. If you need any help along the way, be sure to contact our team of Magento-certified experts.