COVID-19 and eCommerce

COVID-19 store window closure sign and ecommerce symbols

Simple Steps to Disaster-Proof Your Online Business During the Coronavirus Pandemic (and Other Catastrophic Events)

Back in 2019, economic experts and analysts predicted a forthcoming global recession for 2020. Some outlets were quick to dismiss these warnings but political malfeasance, crumbling international relations, and threats of war earlier in the year laid down the foundations for another impending economic crisis like the one which took place in 2007. However, not even the best and brightest forecasters were able to anticipate that the root cause of our next great recession would be in the form of a devastating pathogen known as COVID-19, the coronavirus.

COVID-19 virus in front of declining line graph
Since its initial discovery in late December 2019, the world has been held hostage by the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Drastic measures have been taken as the world attempts to combat and slow the spread of coronavirus. Schools have been cancelled, travel has been restricted, mass quarantines are in effect, and businesses–both big and small–have ceased operations. Thus, putting the economy to a grinding halt. But as these businesses face an uncertain future in the months ahead, new opportunities are arising for eCommerce and owners of online Internet-based businesses. Forbes reports: “Self-quarantines and emerging consumer worry about public places will provide opportunities for the e-commerce business to thrive over the next few months. As consumers turn to digital options as a means to circumvent physical shopping environments, the change in behavior may impact longer-term comportment. (Forbes, 03/06/2020)”

ecommerce sales bar graph
eCommerce is still expected to experience major growth, despite an uncertain future in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s good news for you, the Internet business owner. More people doing their shopping online means more prospective customers could be heading over to your webstore. But is your website up-to-date? Can it support a sudden influx of web traffic? Will shoppers be able to find exactly what they want from your company? If you’re not 100% sure how to answer any of these questions, it would be wise on your part to take this time to fortify your online presence by strengthening your website’s public appeal. That means making it easier for shoppers to find you and giving your prospective customers a far better shopping experience than the competition. It sounds like quite an undertaking, but there are some very simple steps you can do on your own to disaster-proof your online business in the event of national or global tragedy, such as the current coronavirus outbreak.

#1: LAYOUT

Clean layouts, simple navigation, and easy-to-digest product pages are key.

laptop screen with keep it simple message
Beauty in simplicity. Complex website layouts can actually deter sales and hurt the overall user experience.

Director Tom Hooper garnered commercial and critical acclaim with his 2012 film adaptation of ‘Les Misérables’. Against a budget of $61 million, ‘Les Misérables’ went on to collect a total gross of $441.8 million, as well as earn 3 Academy Award wins out of 8 total nominations (including Best Picture). Seven years later, Hooper attempted to follow up on the success of ‘Les Misérables’ with another film adaptation of another legendary Broadway musical production, the ill-fated ‘Cats’. Grossing only $75.4 million against its $95 million budget, ‘Cats’ regrettably became 2019’s biggest box office failure, the butt of many jokes from critics and audiences who were appalled with what they had seen, and the source of Internet memes for years to come. So, what sent ‘Cats’ to euthanasia? The ingredients were all there: an award-winning director, an all-star cast, and a certifiable piece of 1980s pop culture history in today’s nostalgia-hungry entertainment landscape. Critics and audiences both derided the film for its overuse of garish and grotesque CGI effects, inane plot, and confusing tone. In other words, a lot of flashy visual effects with no discernible plot or focus. The cinematic equivalent of spray cheese: a lot of empty calories and filler that’s not even remotely palatable.

eCommerce websites can also fall into this trap. In the early days of online shopping up to and as recent as the last decade, it wasn’t too uncommon for sites to be inundated with a barrage of complicated layouts, complex and unnecessary full-screen animations, and an incoherent explosion of mixed media. While impressive on the technical front, this styling trend was found to be off-putting for those looking mainly to do their shopping online, buy what they want, pay, and get out. Plus, it was also taxing for those with older machines that were barely capable of running the latest web browsers and necessary components. Lately, web designers have been on a trend towards simpler, cleaner, more efficient elements. A minimalistic approach to art and design that is as straightforward as it is eye-pleasing. We have covered the topics of Effective Product Pages and How to Optimize Product Pages for Higher Conversions in our own blog and as stated in those pieces, the reason for optimization is to reduce the time a shopper spends on your website? Why would you want to reduce the time a shopper spends on your website? Because more time spent NOT shopping or buying is more time a customer has to contemplate whether or not to actually shop your site and make a purchase. The aim is to get the customer interested in making a purchase and then letting the customer make that purchase as quickly and as effort-free as possible. This also extends past the product page and into the actual layout of the site itself. Remember: a good percentage of shoppers will find your website through means other than search engines and many will end up on the main page instead of being directed to the exact product (or similar product) of which they were originally searching. Having a clean layout will help make navigation and exploration of the site easier to the new shopper who you’re attempting to convince to shop your business and not your competitor’s.

#2: MAINTENANCE

Having the right content and SEO keywords will help you place high in the search engines, but it’s not permanent. Not without regular maintenance.

hands on keyboard with website coding in foreground
Business websites and online stores require regular periodic maintenance in order to stay relevant.

The Internet has become heavily reliant on content in the past few years. Social media, in particular, has become the hottest outlet for individuals as well as companies to get their names out into the public (more on that later). As such, fresh content that is modern and up-to-date is what gets you the prime spots in search engines. This article by Smashing Magazine (originally written in 2010) lists a few areas of attention to help keep your website current so that your eCommerce business can weather a recession. Yes, the article is a decade old but contrary to technological trends, these same focal points actually still apply today. The most important, the ones which are proven to be just as effective today as they were back in 2010, are CONTENT, LINKS, METADATA, and SPEED.

  • CONTENT – Product pages shouldn’t be the only areas of your website that are rich in content. True, they’re great for inserting valuable keywords but content goes far beyond your titles and product descriptions. Think about setting up specific landing pages, not just where you want to direct first-time visitors but also where you’ve been receiving the highest amount of web searches and traffic. Set up landing pages in relation to your most popular products or for the parts of your site that generate the most clicks and views. If you have a specific part of your site that is garnering a lot of attention, why not boost it some more with a content-rich landing page and optimize it so that will rank even higher with the search engines. This is where you can apply some creativity in not only writing blocks of text that are attractive to search engines, but also interesting and informative for your customers, prospective customers, and first-time visitors can enjoy. Images (with appropriate image and alt tags) will also help improve website visibility, so be sure to title and tag your images according to the exact type of product or service that you advertise. Don’t use generic ‘IMG_00#’-type image file names without tags. Once you’ve addressed the individual pages of your site, you can move onto other areas and add more content.
  • LINKS – Stay on top of your broken or missing links. Too many 404 errors don’t look good to search engines during web crawl and customers who might find your site during a random search inquiry will be put off when they find out that the product they wish to purchase is unavailable. Use 301 redirects to divert customers from a missing product to a main category or a similar product page. You’re going to want to pitch or possibly upsell a different product in lieu of the original item as opposed to letting the customer walk away empty-handed.
  • METADATA – Search engines (Google, being the biggest) tend to display only the first 60 characters of a website title, address, and metatag. When you go to write titles and meta tags, be conscious that someone–not a bot or web crawler–might actually want to read what you wrote to help get an idea as to what you’re all about. Keep your tags and titles short, informative, and be sure to use important keywords.
  • SPEED – There are a variety of factors to consider that determine site speed and load times. Some aspects are not as easy to control as others. These include server location, special webpage coding, the use of complicated themes, and the incorporation of add-ons and plugins on your website. However, there are some easy ways to cut down your load time. One of the biggest culprits is media; more specifically, images. Images saved at super high resolutions are not necessary for web display as it is in the case of print. Large images, in particular, definitely should not be saved in high res. You can reduce load time by resaving your images in a lower resolution. Be careful not to use too low a resolution for small images, especially when using the .JPG or .JPEG image formats. Too low a resolution will create distortion known as image artifacting. This is not too big an issue on large images that can better hide the artifacting when saved at a lower bitrate. Also, there are certain image formats that you should avoid. Bitmaps (.BMP) and Tagged Image File Format (.TIF, .TIFF) should not be used. Images formatted under Portable Graphics Network (.PNG) are becoming more commonplace, as are Graphics Interchange Format (.GIF). Be careful of large animated .GIFs as some can be so detailed that their hefty file sizes can actually rival movie and audio files. To check the current loading speed of your website, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights. For mobile speed, try Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

    Also, consider your mobile site speed. More and more websites–not just eCommerce sites–are placing a high emphasis on mobile device compatibility. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have seen steady increases in usage during the past 5 years. According to Statcounter, the user demographics have been split three ways with mobile devices accounting for 49.07% of all users (3.9% are on tablets) versus 46.94% of users who still prefer sitting in front of a desktop computer. That, don’t forget, is from the collective 4.1 billion Internet users worldwide and the 1.94 billion websites that are currently active. Page loading speed often determines whether or not a prospective visitor becomes a customer. In a study conducted by Google, they determined that the average mobile page loading time is 22 seconds but 53% of users will leave after the first 3 seconds. Optimizing your site for mobile is considerably more involved than simply reconverting image formats. If your site uses Responsive Web Design, pages will automatically format according to window viewing size, including instantly conforming to mobile screen viewing. The downside to this is that it works through CSS and heavy CSS coding can affect precious loading time for websites. For websites that still use a separate mobile site, be mindful of the use of CSS and Javascript as too much unnecessary flourish can bog down load times.

#3: MARKETING

You might have the best inventory, the best prices, and the best service in all the land. It won’t do you any good if no one knows about it.

marketing and ecommerce business terms with magnifying glasses
Your company’s success depends on effective and efficient marketing.

A lot of independent business owners are intimidated by the words MARKETING and ADVERTISING. That’s because the words are known to force the brain to instinctively form mental images of expensive, high-dollar, aggressive media campaigns by hoity-toity overpaid executives in fancy suits. While those actions may be true for your Fortune 500 companies, marketing and advertising are extremely important parts of any business that wishes to be successful. After all, how did those Fortune 500 companies get to be Fortune 500 companies in the first place? But before you prepare yourself to shell out your entire life’s savings on launching your brand out to the public, rest assured that there are more modest ways to get your name out there.

As with any business regardless of size, planning a budget for marketing and advertising must be done with careful consideration to efficiency and effectiveness. An easy way to get into paid marketing and advertising is through the use of a PPC (pay per click) program such as Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords). You choose the keywords in which you will invest, you choose the budget, you choose the runtime, and it’s up to you to figure out the delicate dance of ROI (Return on Investment). You might also opt to start up 3rd party marketplaces through eBay, Amazon, and Google Shopping where the influence of those three brands help push your products ahead of the competition. Of course, these are pay-to-play strategies that will require investment of both time and money for maximum effectiveness. Keep in mind that it’s not always about who spends the most, it’s who spends the wisest.

If you’re not quite ready to dip your feet into the paid advertising field, you can always go the way of word-of-mouth through social media and blogging. Yes, even in today’s advanced world of electronic connection and instantaneous information, word-of-mouth has the potential to be just as powerful and as impactful as a full-on media campaign. For example, look at Netflix’s ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’, which released just 12 days prior to this writing. Through social media shares and mentions, ‘Tiger King’ has become an international cultural phenomenon, an overnight sensation that has dominated social media and Internet news outlets. As a respectable eCommerce business owner, you’re probably not going to want to take the same approach to instant fame as Joe Exotic and crew did, but the show’s popularity is an example of what word-of-mouth marketing can do–also taking into account that Netflix did very little (if any) advertising of this documentary in favor of bolstering their more established properties.

Social media can be a very cost-effective (as in zero cost) way to draw more attention to your website. Facebook does offer a pay-per-click service called Facebook for Business, but any user can set up and create their own personal pages at zero cost. This page can be your center for additional content, link sharing, and to provide additional information related to your website and your business, as well as opening the door for you to enter a massive online community related to your field. Don’t use this as a way to spam as Facebook (and Facebook users) will be quick to shut you down if they suspect that your main agenda is aimlessly posting links without any enriching content that users may find interesting. Use your social media outlets to start conversation, draw interest, and become an active member of the social media community. Be sure to keep your content informative and interesting. Unlike the actual web content which is intended mainly for search engine technical purposes, this is where you’ll be creating content for real people. This is how you can build up a customer base–a fanbase, even–out of total strangers.

In addition to social media, Blogging is another productive method of making web content work for you. The more blogs that you write, that’s more chances for you to get your keywords out there for the search engines to spot without resorting to keyword stuffing or spamdexing. Informational blogs work the best and you can incorporate SEO into your writing by actively seeking out specific topics to proactively answer your customers’ (and new visitors’) questions. Blogs often get shared and reposted through various online outlets like forums, social media, as well as other blogs. This is a great opportunity for valuable link sharing.

CONCLUSION

By adhering to these three points and keeping up with the regular maintenance that’s required for each, you can disaster-proof your website and keep your eCommerce business afloat during times of uncertainty. But what if you want more than to just “stay afloat”? What if you’re looking to get the jump on your competitors while they’re still struggling to figure out their next course of action? Diztinct can give your online business the keys to success.

At Diztinct, we are dedicated experts in design, development and marketing that don’t believe in the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Every aspect of our services–from graphic design and logo illustration, to platform development and web design, to marketing and advertising–is custom-tailored to suit your business needs and the needs of your customers. We’re here to make you stand out from the pack; to give you the cutting edge, to make you distinct. We are Diztinct.

Contact us at Diztinct.com to learn more about our services and pricing.

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