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October 20, 2016: Q4 is here in earnest, and etailers will soon be fighting a pitched battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers. In this hyper-competitive environment, if sites don’t load fast, if navigation isn’t smooth, and if products don’t stand out, sales will be lost. But even small errors represent lost opportunities for sales and user affinity. Etailers, please avoid the following site errors – often seen in the wild – this Holiday shopping season:

Duplicate product descriptions

A common error often seen on e-tail sites is the practice of simply replicating a pre-fab product description on a product page. This description is often lifted verbatim — from product catalogs or feeds. Unfortunately, when searchers execute queries using the product name, what results is a stack of identical – or near-identical — results from Amazon.com, Sears.com, Yahoo Shopping, and a ton of well-optimized sites others. If the site proprietor is lucky enough to get any listing on the SERP, it’s somewhere on page 2, 3, 4, or beyond. Few clicks occur on these pages.

But if an original description – even a simple rewritten description – had been on the page, the results would likely have been much better – perhaps even dominant. Etailers don’t have to go crazy creating unique descriptions for all of their products – but they should have unique descriptions for their Top 10 – or Top 100 products this season.

Cryptic Alt tags

Imagine you’re selling home air conditioning products on your web site. You have a bunch of photos of these machines for sale, the product descriptions are fine, but the images associated with these descriptions are all alt-tagged cryptically or incompletely (e.g. “alt-ac-1,” “root-unit-large”) or generically (“air filter,” “compressor,” “etc.).  Images matter – especially on mobile – and so do alt tags, which search engines need to give images meaning. There’s no character limit to alt tags, so you have plenty of room to make your alt tags complete, distinctive,  and somewhat discursive.

Critical sales information embedded within images

SEO for 2017This error is far less common than it used to be, but it’s amazing that some merchants continue to embed critical selling messages in images (often in large format montage-style images announcing seasonal sales)- without filling out alt-tags or replicating this text in some kind of machine-readable form. Sometimes merchants even embed critical information (phone numbers, physical addresses) in their graphics. This information should never be buried this way, so make any info about your upcoming sales or special deals crawlable and indexible – not embedded and invisible!

Links to deserted/dysfunctional social media outposts

Links to Facebook, Twitter, et al are routinely placed in very noticeable locations on a merchant’s site. In many cases these links work, delivering users to active areas, but in too many cases they link to social ghost towns. If resource constraints prevent the retailer from maintaining active social outposts, it’s best to delete the link from the site, rather than letting users discover these inactive areas.

On-site consumer review Issues

Reviews — when they’re favorable and come from authorized buyers — are incredibly powerful convincers for shoppers who find themselves “on the fence.” But too many retailers implement review functionality poorly on their own sites (one merchant that does this very well is trekbikes.com).  Unless your review process is smooth, better to outsource it Google, Facebook, or Yelp.

No Search

Many e-tailers have good search functionality on their sites, but many don’t, which is puzzling. Even if the bulk of a merchants’ visitors navigate through product categories and product pages using nav bars or menu-based sorting mechanisms, leaving search out prevents users from using this familiar well-established technique, and also denies the merchant the insights that can come from monitoring search usage.

Missing Privacy Policies

Missing privacy policies are a common error that’s likely justified by management’s opinion that “nobody reads these pages.” Well, Google reads these pages and sites that lack privacy policies aren’t accorded the same high status as sites that have them. Unfortunately, many small e-merchants still haven’t gotten the memo. Your Privacy Policy doesn’t  have to be unique or particularly interesting, but it should exist on your site (in fact, Facebook requires onsite privacy policies for some of its ad programs).

Slow-loading pages

On the roads, speed kills. But on the web, tardiness is what’s fatal. According to Google, “the average U.S. retail mobile site loaded in 6.9 seconds in July 2016, but, according to the most recent data, 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. And 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with site performance say they’re less likely to purchase from the same site again.”

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Steve Baldwin
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Steve Baldwin
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Q4 is here in earnest, and etailers can't afford site errors that upset the shopping cart.
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Steve Baldwin
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Steve Baldwin

Editor-in-Chief at Didit
Steve Baldwin writes and edits technology content. He lives in Brooklyn and, once a month, conducts free wild parrot safaris there. For more info, see: BrooklynParrots.com.
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