By: Simon Dale, Group Account Director at Organic
A winning website is the result of many factors. There are more indicators than ranking and visibility scores, and e-commerce brands must have a clear understanding of opportunity and risk if they are to create – and sustain – a successful site.
It goes without saying that a lot goes into achieving this, but focus areas for brands can be broken down into three broad categories. First, consumers. The impact of COVID-19 has seen more consumers embracing online shopping, and it’s crucial that brands understand what makes consumers choose one brand over another.
Second, there’s the matter of an increasingly crowded marketplace and the rise of D2C sites. Brands need to be able to adapt and protect their offering if they are to maintain or grow their current position.
Then there are external factors beyond anyone’s control – things like Google’s algorithms and the pandemic. What brands can do here is learn to obtain data fast and act on it effectively, making smarter decisions.
By understanding ‘what it means to have a winning website’, brands can determine where they stand in an increasingly competitive landscape – one that is made even more complicated by the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
However, gaining a true understanding means choosing a vertical and digging deep into the detail. We are choosing to focus on the makeup industry here, but the techniques and processes discussed will be relevant for any ecommerce sector.
Starting with SEO
When it comes to site performance, SEO is a great starting point. Brands will want to ensure they have the best ranking and visibility versus their competitors, while continually seeking to improve keyword performance.
Go-to data points here are visibility and ranking information, providing quantifiable data on where a brand is positioned in the marketplace. However, brands need to know more than this. Brands need to know where they are winning, where opportunities are, and areas where they will lose, beyond the boundaries of on-page and technical SEO.
Quantitative data alone is not enough. We need to gain an understanding of how customers view individual brands, and how these brands appear to them throughout all stages of the customer journey.
With this in mind, and using the makeup industry as our example, we can draw up a list of required information points to establish what it means to win in digital for brands in this sector.
We need to consider:
- Who the customers are, including:
- Where the customers shop
- What is important to the customers
- Who the competitors are, covering:
- How successful they are
- Where the opportunity lies
Surveys are an excellent way to gather required insights, so we started by surveying 1,000 potential makeup customers. By acquiring customer data on gender, age, most recent online makeup purchases, and information on brand resonance, we could build a picture of the marketplace for brands in this sector.
We also needed to know where customers were doing their pre-purchase research. Retailers’ websites and Google proved the most popular research methods, but YouTube, online review sites, and social media are significant too. Why is this relevant? It shows that brands must be visible when customers are choosing what to purchase. This means generating content to help with purchase decisions for their site, as well as being visible on social media and YouTube.
Gaining a clear understanding of what it means to have a winning website should be grounded in both quantitative and qualitative data.
It is also important to consider content and engagement across the website to see how and where our customers are looking for reassurance and support in their journey. Customer personas like the below can then be created:
Female | 25-34 years old | Living in London | Purchased makeup 2-3 months ago | Strong resonance with Boots and Superdrug | Always researches before purchasing online | Research is mainly via Google and rarely using YouTube.
Diving into the data
Building a picture of who your customers are, and how they think and behave online helps provide a starting point for deeper exploration.
We have mentioned visibility and rankings as key indicators of site performance, and one tool that provides an industry standard view of visibility is Sistrix. Sistrix provides a score depending on a site’s ranking performance on a pool of around a million terms, and higher rankings for higher volume terms gives a site a higher mark. We can look at this for an entire site, or drill down to specific areas of a site.
Merely looking at a domain level can hide a huge amount of detail on true performance against competitors. We must understand the performance of the site on a category level or deeper against the relevant competition.
Moreover, visibility might be a good rule of thumb for site performance but there’s much more to be discovered, including:
- The number of terms a site ranks for
- How sites perform against each other
- What opportunity is available to each site
Being where your customers are
Makeup consumers rely on content from resellers to make informed purchasing decisions, highlighting that being visible at this stage of the purchasing journey is vital. Google’s ‘Messy Middle’ framework offers insight into the modern path to purchase.
Meanwhile, research carried out by Google and The Behavioural Architects has shown that simply being present in the middle stages of the buyer journey can be enough to sway buyers away from their initial preference.
A presence in the ‘middle funnel’ offers the chance to encourage a customer to deviate from their first-choice brand, and for the makeup sector in particular that chance is a significant 34%.
To have a winning site, brands need to know how and when to talk to their customers and provide content which engages them, turning browsers and researchers into buyers.
Our research also included a review of the opportunity for Position Zero (P0) results.
A look at the availability of P0 results for all the ranking terms produced these numbers:
At first glance it appears there is a rich vein of opportunity here, but let’s consider the percentage of the available positions which have been won. This paints a different picture:
This shows that the opportunity for makeup brands is not found in P0, and it is well worth knowing, because this avoids wasted effort and resources for brands.
What does all this mean?
Without knowing what it means to have a winning website, it is impossible to develop an effective digital strategy that will deliver results. Regardless of sector, brands must have a clear understanding of their customers and competitors, and the foundations of a winning website comprise five fundamental pillars.
- Understand your market – Know your competitors and use this knowledge to develop effective strategies and target terms that will make a difference to you and your customers.
- Understand the opportunity – A clear understanding of your opportunity allows for a wise allocation of resources. Winning in any category means you must beat your competition on high-value terms, and you also need to know where you are not going to win.
- Understand your customers – Meeting your customers’ needs means knowing what they want, how they think, their journey, and how they view your brand.
- Be there – Be present throughout the purchase funnel, providing important and interesting content.
- Create an amazing environment – If a customer is on your site, then they must be able to find what they need. This means really reviewing what they want to do and ensuring the site enables this.
A winning website means more than having the highest domain level visibility. You must know who your customers and competitors are, how you perform against customer needs and competitor pages, and which battles should be fought and won.
Brands should be evaluating every level of their site to understand their strengths and analyse their weaknesses. Those that do will win. Those that don’t will be left behind.