Saturday, June 30, 2012

Are PPC Shopping Comparison Sites Worthwhile?

I see forum and blog posts all the time professing that PPC (Pay Per Click) sites such as Amazon, Nextag, Shopzilla, etc. are not cost effective. Some would say that the overall conversion rates show the cost of clicks to be more than the profit realized from the sales. From my perspective, looking in from the outside, do I think they are worth it?

Absolutely. Utilizing PPC sites can drive a substantial amount of additional traffic to your eCommerce site and increase sales considerably. But that's not where the gold is...

The gold lies in what's not selling. Everyone who clicks a link to your store wants to spend money, including 'window shoppers'. So why didn't they buy what they clicked on? Many, including the comparison sites themselves would have you just remove the under-performing products from your feed and concentrate on those that are currently generating sales. That philosophy will get you nowhere except right where you are. By focusing on that one question: "Why didn't they buy what they clicked on?", you'll not only increase sales and improve the performance of your dollars spent on the PPC sites, you'll also improve the conversion of every visitor to that product (and your site as a whole) no matter where they come from.

Although it may be a good idea to drop some products from the feed temporarily if you have a lot of products getting multiple clicks with no return, once the cause is found you shouldn't have to remove anything. Here's some tips and self-assessment questions to get you on the path to spinning that straw into gold:
  • Don't focus on generating clicks, focus on generating qualified clicks - Bringing in traffic is never a bad thing, even if that traffic isn't interested in your products at the moment - as long as you can leave them with a positive mental sticky note. But how much are you willing to pay people looking for casual shoes to come into your boating store? It might be worth adding a couple 'vague' products to a PPC feed that will bring in some window shoppers, but certainly not every product.
  • Provide accurate names and descriptions - What shows up on a shopping comparison site varies widely from site to site. Some, like Bing only show the first 50 (I think) characters of the name and no description. Amazon goes to about 70 with no description (for Product Ads From External Websites). You have to do your best to fully describe the main attributes in the product name. If you sell gloves for instance and your product name is "Insulated Gloves", that might generate a lot of clicks with no return because it's just an investigative click. "15deg Gortex Insulated Gloves, Fleece Lined" on the other hand weeds out a lot of potential useless clicks. Adding brand to the product name can be a positive for brand loyalists but whether it should be at the beginning or end of the name is a bit of a Coke/Pepsi debate. I say put it at the end so if the name gets truncated we lose the brand but not the description.
  • Do you sell low priced items with a huge shipping fee attached? - Imagine walking into Best Bin to pick up a new mouse for your computer. The price tag says $27.95 but when it's finally your turn at the cash register it's $42.95! (they have to pay the cashier somehow right?) Would you still buy it or just walk away disgusted? Would you go back to Best Bin in the future? Finding a way around this, even if it means higher prices could leave your customers without the mental black eye. Find a way to offer free shipping and you'll obtain a double positive; the user has the feeling of getting something for free and doesn't suffer the emotional let-down at the check stand.
  • Do people leave your site with a mental note to remember you or is it forgotten the moment they click out? - Think about the eCommerce sites you've visited but not made a purchase and ask yourself why you remember them and why you didn't buy. Apply that to your own site and see if your site has the same memory benefits or suffers from the same symptoms that caused you to move on.
  • Can the visitor tell instantly what other products or services you offer? - Consider the unqualified clickers that you attract. They'll undoubtedly have a wide variety of interests and tastes. Assume they got to your site by clicking the "Insulated Gloves" link and landed on the Insulated Gloves product page (of course it's not what they're looking for). Is every other interest that your store has to offer easy to find or is there too much fluff to see anything without micro-analyzing the page? They were on a mission when they came to your site, have you managed to convince them to take a minor detour?
Remember the conversion numbers shown in the reports generated by the comparison sites don't tell the whole story. Some people bookmark the site and come back, some just remember the site and come back, others block the conversion tracking code through various means. These reports can however spot trends and be your best ally in finding the weaknesses of your site and turning movers into shakers.