Author: Lars Lofgren

How to Add Adsense to Your Website

You’ve spent countless hours designing and updating your website. But you’re not getting paid for all of your hard work.

Rather than letting your efforts go to waste, you can monetize your website by adding Google AdSense.

What is Google AdSense?

In short, AdSense is an advertising network run by Google. It’s a free way for websites to make money by displaying targeted Google advertisements on their sites.

Advertisements come in all shapes and sizes. Your site can display images, videos, text, and interactive ads as a monetization strategy.

Arguably the best part about Google AdSense (aside from the cost — it’s free) is that you won’t have to deal with advertisers directly. Everything gets handled through Google’s platform, so you don’t have to worry about collecting money or maintaining relationships when you’re hosting ads.

Google does all of that work for you. It collects money from the advertisers, keeps 32% for its role in facilitating the process, and the remaining 68% goes to the publisher (you).

It’s essentially a hassle-free way to earn money by displaying ads on your website.

How AdSense works

AdSense is based on a bidding system, which is referred to as an “ad auction.”

Advertisers determine how much they are willing to pay for their ads to be displayed by setting a maximum bid price. Google automatically connects advertisers with publishers who have relevant users for the advertisements.

For example, if you run a blog for new mothers about getting through that first pregnancy, your website visitors won’t see ads related to skateboarding targeted at teenage boys.

If more advertisers bid to be displayed on your site, bids will increase as well in order to stay competitive. In this case, you’ll be able to earn more money as a publisher.

Google uses a tool called Ad Rank to determine which ads will appear on your website. This is the basic formula used by Ad Rank.

Quality score is extremely important, which is why it equally weighted with the bid. Quality score is measured by predicted click-through rates based on past performance as well as other relevant factors, such as keywords.

This means that an ad with a lower bid could win an auction if they have a high quality score, even if other advertisers had a higher bid.

That’s because Google wants to make sure that the ads get clicked, which is a win-win-win scenario for your website, the advertiser, and Google.

Getting paid with AdSense (bid types)

Website owners get paid based on various bid types for the ads they display.

  • CPC (cost per click)
  • CPM (cost per thousand impressions)
  • Active View CPM (active view cost per thousand impressions)
  • CPE (cost per engagement)

CPC

With the CPC monetization strategy, you’ll get paid for each time a website visitor clicks on an ad displayed on your website. Depending on the content of the ad, some advertisers are willing to pay higher rates for clicks than others.

CPM

In the advertising world, the “M” in CPM stands for mille, which is Latin for thousand. So, Cost Per Thousand — or the cost per 1,000 impressions. In this case, publishers are paid for displaying the ad, regardless if a user clicks on it or not.

CPM bids are typically lower than CPC bids since the fee structure is not contingent on the user taking an action. Google will display whichever ad type (CPM or CPC) is expected to earn more revenue for the publisher, which is in Google’s best interest, since they take a 32% share of the revenue.

Active View CPM

In order to get paid for Active View CPM ads, the impressions must be measured as “viewable.” This means that at least 50% of an ad needs to be shown on the screen for at least one second.

These bids will be higher than traditional CPM bids since the chances of a website visitor actually seeing the ad are increased.

CPE

Cost per engagement is based on how active a user is with an advertisement. For example, let’s say an advertiser decides to run a lightbox ad. These formats are expandable — they take up a large portion of the screen if they’re clicked on. If a website visitor hovers over a lightbox ad for more than two seconds, the ad will expand. This is the type of engagement that is required for CPE payouts.

How to add Google AdSense to your website in 7 easy steps

Now that you understand the basics of AdSense and how it works, it’s time to get it set up on your website. Believe it or not, this actually isn’t very complicated. You can put AdSense on your website in just four steps.

Step 1: Set up your site

Before you get started, you need to have an existing website. You can’t apply for AdSense on a hypothetical or future site. So for those of you who are in the process of creating a new website or have an “under construction” landing page, you need to hold off before applying.

If you’re at this stage, I have a few guides that can help you out:

Step 2: Make sure your site is in compliance

Google does not just accept any website into this program. You need to meet their eligibility requirements to be considered.

This means that you must have an easy to use navigation. Elements need to be lined up properly. Text must be easy to read. All of the functionality of your site has to work properly.

AdSense won’t work with any publishers that sell counterfeit goods on their website. Any publishers in the AdSense program aren’t allowed to receive traffic from certain sources, such as paid-to-click programs or unsolicited emails.

Google has a responsibility to its advertisers. Businesses don’t want their ads associated with certain types of websites, so it’s Google’s responsibility to review your website content before you get accepted. These are some examples of content that cannot be included on pages with Google ads:

  • Mature or adult content
  • Shocking content
  • Excessive profanity
  • Malware or adware
  • Drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • Sales of alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, weapons, or ammunition
  • Illegal activity
  • Hateful content or discrimination against religion, race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, etc.

For the full list refer to Google’s eligibility requirements for AdSense. You need to make sure your site complies with all of the guidelines before you apply, or your application will just be rejected.

Step 3: Apply to AdSense

Now that your website is up and running, you’re ready to apply to AdSense.

The first thing you need to do is navigate to the Google AdSense website.

From the Home tab, look for the Sign Up Now button, and click it to start the application process.

Step 4: Configure your ads

Now you have to determine which types of advertisements you want to be displayed on your website.

On the left side of your dashboard, look for the Content option. Once you click on Content, there will be a drop-down menu with some additional options. From here, you’ll want to click on the Ad Units menu.

This is where you’ll select things like the ad type, ad size, style, and everything else associated with the advertising space that advertisers will be bidding for.

When choosing a size, it’s in your best interest to go with one of the options recommended by Google. While there are a wide variety of choices, Google gives you recommendations based on the most popular sizes for advertisers.

For ad style options, you can control how text ads are displayed on your site. The best way to do this is to match the style with your website’s color scheme.

Step 5: Copy and paste the AdSense code onto your site

After you’re done configuring your ads, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Click on the “save and get code” button.

Google will automatically generate a code for you to add to your website, which will look something like this.

Next, you’re going to copy and paste this code to your website. If you’re using WordPress, you can do this by using widgets.

From the administrative dashboard, go to Appearance and find Widgets.

Paste the custom AdSense URL, then you and just drag and drop the code into the widget area where you want it displayed on your website.

Alternatively, you can use plugins to help you manage your ads. I’d recommend the AdSanity plugin for this.

Step 6: Update your privacy policy

When AdSense is enabled, you need to include a privacy policy on your website. This is in place to let your website visitors know that an ad network is displaying ads on your site.

Here’s the full Google resource for required content in your privacy policy.

Step 7: Verify your address

Once you start generating earnings from Google AdSense, you’ll receive a card from Google in the mail. Before you can withdraw your earnings, you’ll need to make sure your address has been verified.

The card will include a PIN associated with your AdSense account. Just follow the instructions on your card for verifying the PIN online.

Once the PIN and address have been verified, you’ll be able to cash out payments when your account reaches the specified payment threshold.

Google AdSense best practices

Now that you’ve got AdSense installed on your website, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of being a publisher. There are certain do’s and don’ts you need to be aware of.

Following these best practices will help you earn more money and reduce your chances of violating Google’s policies.

Never click on your own ads

Since AdSense is based on clicks and other engagement, clicking an advertisement on your own website is considered fraudulent. It’s important that you don’t let any family members in your household click on those ads either.

Google won’t be able to tell the difference between you or your spouse if you’re living together. If they see clicks coming from your house to ads on your website, they can remove you from the AdSense program.

Don’t display ads on your ecommerce site

This isn’t a violation of Google’s policy, but it’s not in the best interest for driving conversions on your website. Remember, AdSense is based on relevancy. So it’s possible (and likely) that one of your competitors’ ads could appear on your website.

If this happens, you could be driving visitors away from your website to a competitor’s site instead. The amount you’ll get paid for displaying the ad isn’t worth the lost sale. Furthermore, ads can distract users from your CTAs and sales copy, even if they aren’t associated with your competition.

So, I wouldn’t recommend AdSense to any websites selling products or services.

Run different ad units

Everyone has different preferences. Different website visitors might be attracted to different styles and types of ads displayed on your website.

If you’re just running the same ad unit over and over again, you could be leaving some money on the table. For example, let’s say you’re only running text and display ad units right now. You can probably earn more as a publisher by running native ads.

But you won’t know this for certain until you experiment with different ad units.

Find the best placement

In addition to experimenting with ad units, you’ll also want to test different areas of your website for displaying ads. You can’t assume that the first place you put your ad is the best.

I’d recommend checking out Google’s best practices for ad placements based on the type of website you have. They have different suggestions for:

  • Blogs
  • Gaming sites
  • News sites
  • Travel sites
  • Sports sites
  • Classifieds
  • Forums

It’s also a good idea to look at some of the most popular and successful websites in your industry. Look at their ad placements. If you notice a common formula across the board, you can try to replicate that as well.

Create content and drive traffic

AdSense isn’t a magic ticket to making money on your website. It’s 100% reliant on your website traffic. So you need to be constantly creating new content and coming up with ways to get more people to your website.

If you’re in a rut with creating content, you might want to read these guides:

The more traffic you have, the greater chances you’ll have of getting ads seen, clicked, and engaged with.

You can’t just put yourself on autopilot once you add AdSense to your website. It’s imperative that you continue doing all the good things that brought people to your website in the first place. This will be the best way for you to earn money.

In sum: It’s easy to add AdSense to your website

There you have it. You can add Google AdSense to your website in just seven steps.

I’d recommend AdSense for any website that isn’t already selling a product or service. There are tons of other ad networks out there, but Google is definitely the most reputable. AdSense is free for publishers, so there is no harm in trying it out.

Be sure to use this guide as a reference when you’re ready to set up AdSense. Follow my seven-step guide and your site will soon be earning money with ads.

The Single Best WordPress Plugin Across Every Essential Category

WordPress powers 30% of the top 10 million websites. It controls more than 60% of the of the CMS platform market share.

Needless to say, it’s a popular solution for running a website. WordPress itself is great; but it’s limited in terms of its built-in functionality.

That’s why plugins exist.

What exactly is a WordPress plugin?

It’s essentially an app for your website.

I love how WordPress is designed to be lean out of the box. This prevents code bloat — your website isn’t dragged down by bulky code for things you don’t need or use. The core of WordPress is simple. You can customize it with plugins.

The core of WordPress is designed to be lean and lightweight, to maximize flexibility and minimize code bloat. Plugins then offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs.— WordPress Codex

Installing a plugin to your WordPress site provides you with advanced features that aren’t available with the bare bones version of WordPress.

Where can you get a plugin? There are a number of places, but the primary source is the Official WordPress Plugins Repository.

In-Depth Reviews of the Best WordPress Plugins in 13 Categories

In the official repo you’ll find a plugin for nearly every feature you can imagine. Actually, there are hundreds of plugins for each specific function. As a matter of fact, there are more than 54,300 WordPress plugins. It’s an overwhelming number to say the least.

That’s why I took the time to identify the best WordPress plugins for the most popular categories. I’ve already created extensive guides for each one of these 13 categories. Every guide contains a list of the best WordPress plugins in each segment. And if you’re after something specific, you should check out that post — many of plugins I recommend are for particular use cases.

This my the complete list of my in-depth plugin reviews for…

The Best of the Best WordPress Plugins

Each of those posts reviews multiple plugins in each category. But most people don’t need to go that deep. That’s why I made this best of the best list. This is a resource to identify the top must-have plugin for each category.

The plugins on this list are not the niche options; these are the plugins that will appeal to the masses. They’re the WordPress plugins I’d recommend broadly.

Best SEO Plugin for WordPress — Yoast SEO

There are hundreds of WordPress plugins that will help improve your SEO strategy, but one stands above the rest.

Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is an all-in-one solution for your WordPress SEO needs. With more than five million active installations, it’s one of the most popular WordPress plugins on the market. I’m not saying you should always follow the crowd, but a number that big is a great indication of quality.

Why I like it:

  • Create and manage XML sitemaps without having to code on your own
  • Identify and avoid duplicate content on your website
  • Comes standard with templates for meta-descriptions and titles

Cost: Free; $89 per year for premium

Best Google Analytics Plugin for WordPress — MonsterInsights

Google Analytics gives you in-depth knowledge and insights about your website traffic. By installing a plugin, you can have access to all of your Google Analytics reports without leaving your WordPress dashboard.

MonsterInsights is the best WordPress plugin for Google Analytics. This plugin lets you add your Google Analytics code to your website without any manual coding required. It’s advanced and versatile enough to handle analytics for all websites, including ecommerce shops. No wonder it has two million active installations.

Why I like it:

  • Detailed reports about your audience and their behavior on your website
  • Helps ecommerce sites track KPIs like conversion rates and average order value
  • Identifies your best content and top performing landing pages

Cost: $99.50 for a basic website, $199.50 for ecommerce sites, and $499.50 for agencies and developers — all plans billed annually

Best Membership Plugin for WordPress — MemberPress

The whole concept behind a membership website is to drive recurring revenue with a subscription business model. You can offer premium features and content to your paid members. In order to set this up, you’ll need to install a plugin to manage memberships and payments on your WordPress site.

MemberPress is the best plugin for this category because it makes it easy for you to convert your existing website into a membership site, without having to start from scratch. All you have to do is add the details of your payment gateway and set up your products and content in a members only area.

Why I like it:

  • It supports payment gateways like PayPal and Stripe
  • Integrates with your email marketing software
  • Comes with pricing page templates for membership options

Cost: $129 per year for Basic, $249 per year for Plus, and $349 per year for Pro

Best WordPress Backup Plugin — VaultPress

In the event of a crash or malicious attack on your website, a backup plugin will be there to restore your content and minimize downtime. It will also act as a fail-safe against human error on your WordPress dashboard.

We’ve been using VaultPress here on Quick Sprout since 2011. So naturally, I think it’s the best WordPress backup plugin, or else I’d switch to something else. It’s so easy for you to set up and automatically back up your website content. You don’t need to be a tech wizard to use this plugin.

Why I like it:

  • Great for site migrations, restores, and file repairs
  • The calendar view allows you to locate and restore content from old backups
  • Built-in file scanning and spam defense helps reduce chances of malware, viruses, spam, or a malicious attack

Cost: Plans range from $39 to $299 per year

Best WordPress Cache Plugin — WP Rocket

Adding a cache plugin to your website will help you speed up your page loading times. Out of more than 900 cache plugins available, one stands out as the best.

The WP Rocket WordPress plugin is extremely versatile. It’s simple enough for beginners to figure it out, but has advanced features that can meet the needs of developers with more technical experience.

Why I like it:

  • Quick setup and simple navigation
  • Image on request feature (images are only loaded when the scroll depth is reached)
  • Minifies JavaScript, CSS, and HTML files to speed up loading times

Cost: $49 per year for one website, $99 per year for three websites, and $249 per year for unlimited websites

Best WordPress Security Plugin — WordFence Security

Roughly 90,000 websites get hacked every day — 83% of those websites use WordPress. Clearly, security needs to be at the top of your priority list. You can install a WordPress plugin to help beef up your website security.

More than two million WordPress websites are currently using the WordFence Security plugin as a security solution. The plugin fights against malware, spam, and other threats in real time. It’s a great option for those of you who don’t have a background in IT or cybersecurity. You’ll still be able to secure your website with WordFence Security.

Why I like it:

  • Block attacks from specific regions that are known for cybercrime
  • See trends and reports about any attempted hacks on your website
  • Firewall blocks and brute force attack protection comes standard

Cost: Free; premium version starts at $99 per year with other add-ons available for purchase

Best Form Plugin for WordPress — Ninja Forms

Website forms are crucial for collecting information. It’s the best way to get your website visitors to sign up for something, like your email subscription list.

Ninja Forms is great because of its seamless integration into your WordPress dashboard. Once you have this plugin installed, you can create your first form in just minutes. That’s why it’s no surprise that more than one million websites use Ninja Forms.

Why I like it:

  • Can integrate with your email marketing software
  • Collect payments with Stripe, PayPal Express, and Elavon
  • Export and analyze the data that’s submitted through forms

Cost: Free; $99 per year for Personal, $199 per year for Professional, $499 per year for Agency. Add-ons range from $29 to $129 per year.

Best WordPress Gallery Plugin — NextGEN Gallery

WordPress has a basic image gallery. However, I wouldn’t recommend using it because it’s so limited. For truly improving the visual appeal of your website, you’ll need something extra. A gallery plugin is ideal.

NextGEN Gallery is one of the best WordPress plugins because you’ll have so many different gallery options to choose from. Other plugins just give you a couple of basic templates for adding images. It’s a great option for photographers and artists.

Why I like it:

  • Customize slideshows with effects, transitions, and timing
  • Add watermarks and hotlink protection to your images
  • Ecommerce integration for selling images on your site

Cost: Free; paid versions available for $79, $99, and $139 per year

Best Social Media WordPress Plugin — Super Socializer

Your website needs to be integrated with your social media profiles. Otherwise, you’re not maximizing the potential of your social media. WordPress plugins can help you increase the exposure of your website content on social media.

There are so many social media WordPress plugins designed for specific features. But Super Socializer is more of an all-in-one solution. So if you don’t want to install multiple social media plugins, I’d definitely recommend Super Socializer.

Why I like it:

  • Site visitors can use their social login information to create an account on your website
  • Add social sharing icons to your pages
  • You can get more blog comments by enabling social comments

Cost: Free

Best WordPress Calendar Plugin — EventON

Every business needs to stay organized. Calendar plugins can help you manage events, tasks, and bookings on your website. Some of these plugins are more advanced than others, but overall, there’s one that shines above the rest.

EventON allows you to create calendars that will “wow” your website visitors. We’ve all seen websites with boring calendars that look like they were designed a decade ago without any updates. That definitely isn’t be the case here. EventON has modern designs that are visually appealing and fully functional.

Why I like it:

  • It can manage events lasting for multiple days, weeks, or months at a time
  • Add images to your event listings and integrate them with Google Maps
  • Sell event tickets with Woocommerce support

Cost: $24; add-ons sold separately

Best WordPress Directory Plugin — Directories Pro

Directories are extremely versatile. Whether you want to add a directory to your site for internal purposes or create a global platform of business directories, the right WordPress plugin can help you meet those needs.

No matter what type of directory you want to add to your website, the Directories Pro WordPress plugin will make it possible. This plugin is highly responsive and uses caching to boost your website’s performance. Make sure to enable reviews for your directory to enhance the content. You can even integrate listings with Google Maps.

Why I like it:

  • Drag-and-drop editor makes it easy for you to customize the directory without coding
  • Include an option for websites to claim their listing in your directory
  • Add paid listings to your directory

Cost: $39

Best WordPress Popup Plugin — Layered Popups

Do you want to add popups to your website? Popups can be great for getting email subscribers, driving downloads, generating sales, or enticing other actions on your website. Regardless of your intention, you’ll need a WordPress plugin to make it work.

Layered Popups is great because you can create popups that are visually appealing, so you have a chance to get creative. These popups will clearly stand out to your website visitors. It’s a chance for you to make unique popups compared to what people are used to seeing on other websites.

Why I like it:

  • Integrates with 56 of the most popular email marketing platforms
  • Run A/B tests to fully optimize the performance of each popup
  • Multiple options for triggering popups (such as exit intent or scrolling depth)

Cost: $21

Best WordPress Booking Plugin — Bookly

Booking plugins are necessary for any website that takes appointments or reservations. Online booking systems will optimize your process on the back end while simultaneously improving the customer experience. If you’re not allowing online bookings, you’re ignoring the preferences of the majority of your customers — 70% of people prefer to book appointments online with service providers.

Bookly has a sleek and modern design on both the frontend and backend. Booking options are completely customizable and fully responsive. You’ll definitely want to install Bookly if you’d like to take your customers through a quick and easy booking process.

Why I like it:

  • Custom pricing and availability for different employees (such as trainers at a gym)
  • Option to process payments or collect deposits at the time of booking
  • Customers can set up recurring appointments or get added to a waiting list

Cost: $89; add-ons sold separately

Conclusion: What’s the best WordPress plugin?

These are the best overall options for each of the essential categories. Keep in mind, I identified these as the best because they appeal to the widest possible audience. Some of you may want plugins that have more specific features and functionality within each category.

For example, you might want an SEO plugin that specifically helps you identify relevant keywords while you’re blogging. Or maybe you want a social media plugin that just adds your Instagram feed to your website.

Do you want a Google Analytics WordPress that’s made for tracking specific events on your website? There’s a plugin for that too.

There are caching plugins that are better for things like the cloning and migrating content between servers. The list goes on and on.

So I’d definitely recommend reviewing the individual guides for each category as well. That way you’ll know for sure that you’re installing a plugin that meets your specific needs.

More WordPress Plugin Guides

Website Security Guide

Your website is at risk.

I’m not saying this to try and scare you, but that’s the reality of the world we live in. More than 50,000 websites get hacked each day.

You can’t have the “it won’t happen to me” mentality. I encounter businesses all the time who feel this way. They think hackers have bigger fish to fry and don’t have any reason to target their website. That’s simply not the case. In fact, 43% of cyber crimes are against small businesses.

Roughly 54% of companies worldwide say they have experienced at least one attack within the last year. Just 38% of businesses say they’re prepared to handle cyber attacks.

I don’t have a magic crystal ball or some way to see into the future, but my gut tells me that cyber criminals aren’t going to just wake up one day and decide to stop hacking websites. So you need to take steps to improve your website security.

That’s what inspired me to write this guide. I’ll show you what needs to be done to secure your website today, in 2019.

Common website security threats

There isn’t just one way that websites get attacked. So before we proceed, I want to give you a brief overview of some of the most common threats to your website security. These are the things that you’ll want to avoid and be prepared for when taking security measures.

Spam

Usually, we perceive spam as something annoying. We all get spam emails delivered to our inbox or see the occasional spam popup when we’re browsing online.

However, sometimes spam is more malicious. Spam in the form of comments is extremely common on websites. Bots can hammer the comments section of your website with links to another site as an attempt to build backlinks.

While those types of comments are annoying and don’t look good on your website, they aren’t always damaging. But, some of those links might contain malware, which can harm your website visitors if they click on them.

Furthermore, Google’s crawlers can often detect malicious URLs and penalize your website for hosting spam. This will crush your SEO ranking.

Viruses and malware

For those of you who don’t know, malware stands for “malicious software.” So malware and viruses are essentially the same thing. Malware is arguably the biggest threat to your website. As much as 230,000 malware samples are created each day.

According to Statista, these are the most common types of malware used in cyber attacks across the world:

As you can see, malware comes in all different shapes and sizes. That’s why it’s such a big threat to your website.

These types of viruses are often used to access private data or use server resources. Criminals also use malware to make money with ads or affiliate links by hacking your website permissions.

With malware, both you and your website visitors are at risk. Someone visiting your site could click a link that downloads a malicious file onto their computer. It’s your job to keep your website secure and prevent that from happening.

WHOIS domain registration

Buying a domain name is like buying a house. The company that sells the house must know who they’re selling to and be able to contact them. This becomes public record.

The same goes for buying a website. Depending on the country you’re in, you’ll be required to release some information about yourself that’s recorded on WHOIS data. Outside of your personal information, this also contains information about your URL nameservers.

Hackers can use this information to narrow down the location of the server that you’re using. They can use this as a gateway to access your web server.

DDoS attacks

DDoS attacks deny access to users trying to visit a specific website. Basically, the hacker uses spoof IP addresses to overload servers with traffic. This essentially takes the website offline.

Now the host needs to scramble to get the server back up and running as fast as possible, which leaves the server vulnerable for malware.

Search engine blacklists

Technically, this isn’t a security threat. However, if your website isn’t properly secured, it can impact your SEO rankings.

According to a recent study, 74% of hacked websites were attacked for SEO reasons.

I briefly mentioned this earlier when we were discussing spam comments. If search engines detect malicious content on your website, your SEO ranking will suffer.

If lots of users are reporting your site as spam or unsafe, you could be added to a search engine blacklist. Once you’re on that list, it’s extremely difficult to get off.

How to keep your website safe

Now that you’re familiar with some of the most common security threats, it’s time to prevent them from happening.

You can’t just assume that your website is secure. If you haven’t done anything to beef up the security, it’s probably vulnerable for attacks. These are the steps you need to take to improve your website security in 2019.

Use HTTPS protocol

If your website isn’t currently using HTTPS protocol, it needs to jump to the top of your priority list. This essentially tells your website visitors that they’re interacting with the proper server and nothing else can alter or intercept the content they’re viewing.

Without HTTPS a hacker can change information on the page to gather personal information from your site visitors. For example, they could steal login information and passwords from users.

HTTPS protocol will also improve your search ranking. Google is rewarding websites that use this security measure.

This is comforting to people who visit your website as well. When they visit your site, they’ll see this next to the URL:

It’s secure and trustworthy. Now, compare it to a site that’s not using HTTPS protocol. The URL in the web browser will look like this:

Do you feel safe when you’re browsing on a website and see this? I don’t.

Furthermore, you can improve this security measure even more by combining your HTTPS with an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate. This is required for ecommerce websites since users are submitting sensitive information like credit card numbers, names, and addresses.

While SSL certificates don’t necessarily prevent an attack or distribution of malware, it encrypts the communication between the server and the user’s web browser. Even if you’re not selling anything on your website, I strongly recommend using HTTPS protocol and adding an SSL certificate to add security.

Update your software

Any software you’re using on your website needs to be kept up to date. You need to update WordPress software, plugins, CMS, and anything else that requires an update.

Why?

In addition to fixing bugs or glitches, software updates typically come with security improvements. No software is perfect. Hackers will always be looking for ways to take advantage of their vulnerabilities.

Lots of cyber attacks are automated. Criminals use bots to just scan websites that are vulnerable. So, if you’re not staying up to date on the latest software versions, it will be easy for hackers to identify your site before you can do anything about it.

Choose a safe web hosting plan

In theory, if your web hosting provider has security on its servers, you’ll benefit from those same levels of protection. However, that’s not always the case.

Going with a shared hosting plan might be appealing because of the price, but it’s not the most secure choice you can make. As the name implies, you’re sharing servers with other websites if you choose this type of hosting plan.

If one of those other sites gets attacked, a hacker can gain access to the server that you’re using as well. I’m not trying to steer you away from a shared hosting plan, but if you want to boost your website security, you’ll be better off with another option.

Check out my list of the best web hosting services, which can help guide you in the right direction.

Change your password

Change your password! I can’t stress this enough.

All too often I speak to people who have the same password for everything they own, and it’s something they’ve been using since they were in college ten years ago.

Here’s the problem. Let’s say you’re a foodie. So you have an account with a popular restaurant review website that requires your email address and password to write reviews. If that platform gets compromised, hackers have access to your username and password. If they find out you own a certain website, they can try that same password and login to your administrative settings.

Shockingly, 25% of passwords can be hacked in just three seconds.

The information from this graph was obtained using an open source software called John the Ripper. Anyone can use this tool to crack passwords.

If software like this can figure out 53% of passwords in just two hours, I can promise you that the best hackers are cracking passwords even faster.

That’s why you need to constantly update your password. You can use a password manager like 1Password to help you generate long passwords with special characters that are nearly impossible to solve.

Furthermore, you should pick a web host that’s using two-factor authentication. This will add an extra layer of security for password protection. If your web host doesn’t offer this, there are other ways for you to enable it on your own using apps or third parties.

Secure your personal computer

Don’t allow your own devices to threaten your website.

There is malware out there injects malicious files into websites by stealing FTP logins. It’s easier for a hacker to accomplish this if they target your personal computer as a gateway into your website. So make sure your computer has antivirus software. Surprised that antivirus software is still a thing — it’s especially important if you use a PC or are downloading files online. You might unintentionally install malware onto your machine without knowing it.

The last thing you want is to be careless while you’re browsing online and have that mistake end up hurting your own website. Scan your machine on a regular basis.

Use tools to monitor your security

You can’t manually prevent attacks on your website. Instead, look for online tools and resources that will monitor your site’s security for you. I highly recommend looking at my guide on the best WordPress security plugins.

The plugins on this list add a firewall to your website while simultaneously fighting malware, spam, and other threats in real time. You can run security audits that will highlight your vulnerabilities so you can take preventative measures to stop an attack before it happens.

Limit user access

Don’t blame yourself, but 95% of cyber security attacks are the result of human error.

The best way to prevent this is to limit the number of humans who can make an error. Not every employee of your business should have access to your website.

If you’re hiring an outside consultant, designer, or guest blogger, don’t automatically give those people access to change settings on your website. Implement the principle of least privilege, also known as the principle of least authority or minimal privilege.

Let’s say you assign a project to someone that requires a certain level of access to your website. By applying this principle, you only give them access for the time it takes them to complete the task. Once complete, the person goes back to their regular access abilities.

Make sure each user has their own login credentials. If multiple people are sharing a username and password, it doesn’t give them any accountability. Your team is much more likely to be careful with sensitive information if an error or change can be traced back to them.

Backup your website

When it comes to securing your website, you should always prepare for the worst. Obviously, you never want to be in a situation where your website is compromised. But in the event that something goes wrong, your life will be much easier if your content is completely backed up.

So try using a backup plugin, like BackupBuddy, to make sure you don’t lose anything on your website as the result of an attack.

BackupBuddy is one of the five best WordPress backup plugins that I reviewed for this year. So check out the full list to see which option is best for your situation.

Some of these backup plugins also come with built-in security measures as well, which can help you prevent an attack.

Adjust your default CMS settings

As I said before, so many attacks these days are automated. Hackers program bots to find sites with default settings. This way they can target a wider range of websites and gain access using the same type of malware or virus. Don’t make it so easy on them.

Once you install your CMS, make sure you change some of the default settings:

  • Comments settings
  • User controls
  • Visibility of information
  • File permissions

These are all examples of some of the settings that you can change quickly and right away.

Restrict file uploads

Letting website visitors upload files to your website can be risky. That’s because any file could potentially contain a script that exploits vulnerabilities on your website when it’s executed on the server.

In some instances, the nature of your website might require file uploads. For example, you may want users to add photos of your products when they’re writing a review. In this case, you should still treat all uploads as a potential threat.

You could also set it up so that any files that get uploaded are stored in a folder or database in another location. You can create a script that will fetch those files from a private and remote location to deliver them to a browser.

This will require some coding and is a bit complex to set up, so I won’t go into too much detail on this right now. The simple solution is to avoid file uploads altogether, or at least restrict the types of files that can be uploaded to your site.

Conclusion

Website security needs to be one of your top priorities.

If you haven’t taken any steps to secure your website, you’re currently at risk while you’re reading this.

It’s nearly impossible for any website to be 100% safe and secure — hackers are always going to find new ways to attack websites and steal information. But you can make this difficult on them by taking the security measures that I’ve outlined above.

At the end of the day, if cyber criminals are having a tough time hacking a website, they’ll just move on to other sites that haven’t implemented the website security tactics that we talked about. You don’t want your website on that list.

Checkout Process Design For High Conversion Rates

Ecommerce websites live and die by their conversions.

For those of you who have a high volume of traffic to your website, that’s great news. But traffic alone doesn’t generate sales.

It doesn’t matter how much traffic you are generating or how cool your site looks if you can’t make a sale. The number of sales you get will impact how well your business does.

Is your website traffic translating to conversions?

There are certain metrics you can use to measure this. Look at your bounce rates. Analyze your shopping cart abandonment rates.

If your website visitors aren’t converting, your ecommerce site won’t make money.

Don’t get me wrong: the products you’re selling might be amazing. That’s not necessarily the issue here.

The design of your website and the checkout process might be what’s hurting you.

For the most part, simple website designs have higher conversion rates. This same concept needs to be applied to your checkout process.

Here’s the thing though. People often neglect the checkout process.

Your customers make their final purchasing decisions before they get to checkout.

So why bother, right?

That’s being incredibly short-sighted.

Shopping cart abandonment is a real problem for ecommerce stores.

In fact a study found that a whopping 69.23% of ecommerce shopping carts are abandoned.

To put this into perspective, for every 100 customers who start the checkout process, 69 don’t finish.

Customers expect their shopping experience to be seamless, easy, and without friction.

If your checkout process does not meet these expectations, your conversion rates will dive, and your revenue will head south.

Is it a massive problem? Absolutely.

These numbers shouldn’t sit right with any business owner. That’s too many lost sales and potential lifelong customers.

If someone starts the checkout process, it stands to reason they have a strong purchase intent.

So, why do so many shoppers fail to complete their purchases?

Take a look at this chart:

Out of all the reasons why shoppers abandon their carts, a majority are related to the checkout phase.

Does this apply to all businesses? Not necessarily.

Don’t get me wrong. All businesses—no matter how upscale—suffer from shopping cart abandonment.

You can’t do anything about a user who is just browsing. They may just want to save their favorite items in the cart for future reference.

With that said, there are varying reasons why shoppers do not complete a purchase and there are things that you can do to improve those numbers.

Here are 20 tips to improve your checkout process, reduce abandon rates, and boost your website checkout conversions.

1. Add multiple checkout buttons

For website visitors to make a purchase, they need to be able to navigate to your checkout page.

Once someone decides to buy, they’ll add the items they want to their shopping cart. In a perfect world, you want them to continue shopping so they spend more money.

But if the checkout buttons aren’t clearly labeled, the customer may ultimately leave the items in the cart without buying them.

This could be why your shopping cart abandonment rates are so high. Instead, include checkout buttons on both the top and bottom of the screen.

Check out this example from the Champs Sports website:

Positioning the checkout buttons in two places ensures the visitor will see and have access to both buttons.

The word “checkout” will stay in their line of vision, regardless of where they’re looking on the screen.

I also want you to notice that the location of the shopping cart on the right side of the screen allows the customer to continue shopping on the left.

This increases the likelihood that the average order amount will be higher and conversion rates remain high as well.

You can implement the same strategy on your ecommerce page to drive sales.

2. Secure the checkout process

Security needs to be a top priority for your ecommerce site. If your pages appear untrustworthy, people won’t want to buy anything.

In the past five years alone, 46% of people in the United States have been affected by credit card fraud.

There’s a high probability that nearly half of your website visitors have experienced this. Even if they haven’t personally fallen victims to fraud, I’m sure they know at least one person who has.

This puts people on high alert.

If your checkout process isn’t secure, people won’t feel safe entering their credit card information, which is ultimately what you need to make money.

All pages of the checkout process must be secure. It’s also in your best interest to include security badges, such as Norton, McAfee, or whatever else you’re using to protect your customers.

3. Reduce the number of form fields

A website visitor is ready to buy something. They’ve already made up their mind.

Don’t give them a chance to change their mind and abandon the cart. If your checkout process is long and complicated, you won’t have high conversion rates.

But if you can simplify the process by eliminating unneeded steps, you’ll make more money.

Ask yourself what information you really need from the customer to complete the purchase. Do you need the customer’s name?

Yes, but you don’t have to ask for it several times.

If a name is required to process the payment method or shipping information, don’t make them type those details twice.

Research shows that websites with fewer form fields have a higher performance rate during checkout:

Only ask for information required to complete the transaction.

If the customer’s shipping and billing addresses are the same, they should be able to check off a box indicating that—instead of having to type their address twice, for shipping and billing.

That alone shaves an extra step off the process and significantly reduces the number of form fields.

The hoop theory article I wrote a while back also explains why getting your visitors to make small micro-commitments typically increases conversion rates…as in a two-step checkout process.

You can leverage this on your checkout page by requesting your customers’ name and email info on the first page and credit card details on the second page.

This typically will boost your conversion rate by 10%. It’s worked well on Crazy Egg, and when I ran that test on Timothy Sykes, he saw a 12% increase in conversion rate.

The reason it works is because people feel that they have already given you their name and email address, so they might as well give you the rest of their details. Plus, if they don’t complete the checkout process, you can email them and try to get them back to your site. You can even entice them with coupons or just create a remarketing campaign to get their attention.

4. Offer a guest checkout option

I get it. You want to learn as much information about your customers as possible.

In a perfect world, everyone who visits your site will create a customer profile. This allows you to monitor their browsing behavior and suggest items to them based on this behavior and their purchase history.

Customer profiles allow you to segment your audience based on the customers’ locations and make it easier for you to add subscribers to your ecommerce email list.

When a customer is browsing from their customer profile, they can also place repeat orders with just a couple of clicks.

Customers can save their payment information to their accounts, which reduces the number of steps in the checkout process and makes it easier for them to convert.

If you’re encouraging customers to create a profile, I’m all for it.

But there is a big difference between encouraging and forcing. Does a website visitor need to have a customer profile to convert? Absolutely not.

Forcing people to create a profile could be hurting your conversions.

Need proof? This is the second most common reason for shopping cart abandonment:

Over 48% of online retailers also said a guest checkout was the most important factor to increasing shopping cart conversion rates on their websites.

This was the second highest response on the list, trailing only behind free shipping.

The lesson. People want to buy something. Let them give you their money.

Don’t prioritize your content marketing strategy over actual sales.

It’s always a good idea to follow the lead of the companies that have had major success in a particular space.

Here’s an example of how a global giant Walmart implemented this strategy:

Creating a customer profile is not necessary to complete a purchase, so don’t make it so. Otherwise it will turn some customers away.

However one way to encourage your customer is to provide incentives for them if they create an account.

Notice how Walmart requires you to create an account to use a promo code in the screenshot above.

You can reward them with a coupon code or credit towards their next purchase:

Guess what? Most people will jump on that offer.

That’s a much more effective approach than forcing them to create an account.

5. Make it easy to shop from mobile devices

It’s no secret that we’re living in a mobile world. Ecommerce brands need to recognize this if they want to succeed.

In fact, 62% of people who own a smartphone used their devices to make purchases online within the last six months alone.

It’s estimated that in the next three years, mobile retail sales will control 54% of the ecommerce market share in the United States.

Why is this the case?

It’s because technology has made it more convenient to shop from mobile devices.

People aren’t walking around with laptops in their pockets all day. But phones are seemingly always within an arm’s reach, if they’re not already glued to the consumers’ hands.

If someone visits your ecommerce site from a mobile phone, they need to have a great experience.

If your site isn’t optimized for mobile devices, there’s a slim chance you’ll be able to generate conversions.

The design of your mobile site can be the difference between customers buying something or bouncing and buying from your competitors instead.

But 74% of mobile users are more likely to revisit websites that are mobile-friendly.

If your site is properly optimized, it will increase the chances of your website visitors not only converting but also coming back and buying again in the future.

You may be thinking this is obvious, but let me explain.

There are multiple elements to mobile-friendliness.

I’ve seen mobile storefronts that are vastly different from their desktop versions.

If there’s no alignment between the two interfaces, shoppers will think they’re in the wrong place.

The result? They bounce.

As we’ve seen before, most people first go to the desktop site to browse, get reviews, and make their decisions.

Ensure your mobile store is familiar to those who’ve gone through that process.

The other element of a mobile-friendly checkout is speed.

Shoppers of all kinds—mobile or not—want instant gratification.

They’re not as concerned with buying your product as much as they are with owning it.

If you take that away from them, whether by having a slow site or asking for much information, they’ll walk away.

The desire to own the product doesn’t go away. Your customers will simply go to your competitor. That’s bad for business.

Another important consideration is browsing behavior.

Mobile browsing is unique in many ways.

Here’s how you can optimize the mobile checkout process with user behavior in mind:

  • To navigate, users use their fingers, not a mouse: This means you should place all key elements on your page within reach of the thumb.
  • Typing and clicking are trickier on mobile: You need to have bigger and wider easy-to-click buttons. A larger font size also helps with improving accuracy of text input.
  • Fingers are less precise than a mouse, so the process is more error-prone: It’s crucial you make it easy to detect and correct errors.

Bonus Tip: To test the speed and mobile-friendliness of your website. You can use Google’s mobile friendly test. Make immediate adjustment if it’s not up to par.

You could even consider creating a mobile app for a checkout process to minimize friction even further.

Touch of Modern is a great example of a successful retail mobile application:

You can learn a lot about getting high conversions from their business model.

They get between 150,000 and 200,000 new downloads every month. More than half of their customers are repeat shoppers. Nearly two-thirds of their total sales come from their mobile application.

Those numbers are incredible.

The reason why this app is so successful is because they use daily flash sales and store all their customers’ data on the app, making the checkout process lightning fast.

Customers don’t have to re-input all of their credit card information and shipping addresses every time they want to buy something.

The reduced friction results in high conversions.

6. Focus on your top benefits

Besides the product, what else does the customer get when they buy something from your website? There are certain things you can do to add the perceived value of the purchase.

Here’s what I mean.

As I’ve mentioned, not everyone comes to your website with the intention of buying something. But while they are browsing, something might catch their attention.

They may want to buy it, but they want to make sure they aren’t stuck with it if they change their mind later. That’s why you should clearly state your return policy.

Take a look at this example from Lululemon:

When you’re browsing on their website, you can clearly see at all times they offer free shipping and free returns. Their customers know they can get the item delivered free and send it back without any problems.

Obviously, you don’t want items to be returned. Don’t worry, they probably won’t be. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, about 8% of all purchases get returned.

But just giving your customers the peace of mind can be enough to drive the sale.

In addition to your shipping and return policies, make sure you highlight any other features your company offers. Some things to consider:

  • warranty information
  • secure checkout
  • social proof of the product
  • any differentiating features.

One of these elements can turn a “window shopper” into a paying customer.

7. Learn how to use images

Believe it or not, pictures can help improve your conversion rates. Instead of just listing your products, show the customer what they’re buying.

While you may have an image or two of your products on your ecommerce shopping page, make sure that image shows up in the shopping cart.

Why?

This can help remind the consumer what they’re buying and reinforce their decision. Plus, it’s much more appealing than just reading some text on a page.

Here’s an example from the REI website:

The consumer gets reminded of exactly what they added to their cart. This could also help avoid any confusion or mix-ups down the road if they selected the wrong color, size, etc.

When they see a visual confirmation of the product they want, psychologically they’ll feel more comfortable about completing the purchase.

Faces also help improve your conversion rates.

According to a recent case study, conversions jumped from 3.7% to 5.5% when an animated picture of a phone was replaced with the face of a customer service representative.

Include images of people on your website. They could be wearing your product, using your product, or be beside your product.

Check out this example from the Macy’s homepage:

Notice it shows a person, and that person is looking at the promotional information and the CTA button.

We’ve already established consumers are drawn to faces. In this case, you’d look at the model’s face and then follow his gaze directly toward the text.

This is a great method for increasing conversions.

8. Allow customers to see what’s in their carts as they shop

The whole shopping cart concept is a bit strange.

Think about it.

You browse through products and funnel different items to a page you don’t actually see.

It’s not until the end of the browsing process that you go to your cart to view your items.

Most ecommerce stores do nothing to improve this aspect.

It’s not uncommon for people to forget what they placed in their carts and be surprised by the total price.

Incidentally, these are also common reasons for shopping cart abandonment:

Based on the responses in the graphic above, here are some suggestions for improving the shopping cart experience:

  • show customers what’s already in their carts every time they add new items;
  • communicate the total price of their items every step of the way;
  • have a “save to cart” feature for those who are not ready to check out;
  • have your own comparison charts against competitors within product pages;
  • list shipping costs as early as possible in the checkout process.

9. Give your customers lots of payment options

Ultimately, the most important aspect of a checkout procedure is the payment step.

Without the payment step, transactions can’t happen.

According to research, 54% of people feel having a variety of payment options is important when checking out online:

Some payment options may be more beneficial to your company than others.

I completely understand this.

One credit card company may charge higher transaction fees than others, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept that method of payment.

Recognize your customers have preferences. Certain payment options may give them better reward points or bonus miles over others.

If they want something but can’t buy it with their favorite card, they’ll just buy it from a different retailer instead.

You should accept newer and unconventional types of payment as well. In addition to accepting all major credit cards and debit cards, you need to accept as many payment methods as possible, including alternative forms of payment:

Let’s not get carried away here. In 2019, it’s probably not necessary to accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

But in addition to all major credit cards, you need to accept alternatives such as Apple Pay and PayPal.

You don’t want your customers to leave your site without buying anything because you don’t accept the payment method they want to use.

Even if they have the options you accept, they still may go to one of your competitors instead so they can use their favorite method of payment.

The days of accepting only Visa and Mastercard are over. It’s time for you to adapt and add these other payment options to your checkout process.

I want to show you an example of this. Here’s a screenshot from the Nike website:

If you look at the bottom right corner of the screenshot above, you’ll see they allow their customers to check out using PayPal.

This could appeal to people who have a high PayPal balance and who want to use it for purchases. Accepting PayPal can also help eliminate concerns from customers who may be worried about their credit card information getting stolen.

The reason why I used this example from Nike is because it also highlights another concept I mentioned earlier.

Although they encourage customers to create a profile, they allow them to continue the checkout as guests. Even under the guest checkout area, it shows all the benefits of becoming a member.

To join, all you need to do is check off a box and proceed.

Another quick point about your payment methods. I recommend asking for payment as the last step of the checkout procedure.

By now, the customer has already invested some time into providing other information, so they’ll be more likely to continue. Asking for their payment first could drive them away.

10. Include trust elements throughout your whole funnel

You probably already know that placing seals like TRUSTe or VeriSign Secured can help boost your conversion rate. But did you know that in most cases you won’t see a lift if you place those badges just on your checkout page?

If people don’t feel secure when they first visit your site, they’ll bounce right off it before clicking through to your checkout page.

You can combat this by placing security seals throughout your whole funnel. So, from your front end pages to your product pages to even your checkout page… you are more likely to boost your conversion rate if you use the secure seals on more than just your checkout page.

I myself haven’t seen a big boost from adding them to my checkout page only, but I have seen nice lifts when I added them to the whole site. Before you do this, however, there are a few things that you need to know:

  1. It’s rare that security seals boost conversion rates by more than 10%.
  2. If you can’t afford a TRUSTe or VeriSign seal, creating your own free generic version typically provides the same conversion boost.
  3. This tactic works better in spammy industries like finance or health.

11. Frequently asked questions

No matter what, a good percentage of your visitors will have doubts in their minds when they are on your checkout page. For this reason, you won’t be able to convert 100% of your visitors. But if you can address their doubts, you can increase your conversion rate.

By using Qualaroo on your checkout page, you can ask people questions like:

What else can we place on this page to convince you to buy?

You’ll get a lot of responses from people telling you why they are worried about completing the purchase. You can then take this data to create a list of frequently asked questions with corresponding answers and place it on your checkout page.

When using this tactic on your checkout page, test placing the FAQ section towards the top of the page or below the page because placement can affect your conversion rate.

12. Help your visitors through live chat

When most companies test out using live chat, they aren’t seeing an increase in conversion rate because of two main reasons:

  1. They don’t have someone on the chat 24/7, so people are leaving with their questions unanswered.
  2. They are placing it on every page of their site, which can distract visitors.

If you want to test live chat, you need to make sure someone is there 24 hours a day. If you can’t put someone there, test a service like Chatter Lime as they provide you with someone who will respond to each chat request.

In addition to that, test having the chat only on your checkout page. That’s the page that typically brings up the most questions and uncertainty. Plus, if you add it to your homepage, people will focus their energy on typing in questions instead of reading your marketing copy, which could have persuaded them to buy.

13. Social proof

Adding corporate logos or testimonials from your current/past customers can help reassure your potential customers that you are offering a good product or service. This may not seem that important, but there is a lot of crap being sold on the web… and people are buying it.

This is leading to terrible online shopping experience for people and to buyer’s remorse. By placing social proof on your checkout page, you can increase the number of buyers going through your checkout page.

If you are going to use logos of companies who are buying from you, make sure you use logos of companies of all sizes, from big to small… this way you won’t neglect any customer segment.

In addition, if you are using testimonials, make sure you follow the steps in this blog post. Placing weak testimonials that don’t contain a person’s full name, location or even picture can hurt your conversions. So, if you are going to use them, make sure you do it the right way.

14. Let shoppers know their shipping costs early in the checkout process.

You can do this by introducing a shipping calculator to provide an estimate of the additional costs to be covered.

Here’s an example:

15. Offer free shipping

Here’s a common mentality I see from ecommerce sites all the time. If it costs you money to ship your products, that means you should charge your customers for shipping, right?

Wrong.

While this may sound like a reasonable justification to you, your customers don’t see it that way.

In fact, shipping costs play a major role in why shopping carts are abandoned in the United States:

Do not charge your customers for shipping.

But you still need to make sure you’re turning a profit, even if you’re offering free shipping.

You’re better off raising the prices of your items so that the shipping costs are built into the base prices. Psychologically, this won’t impact your conversions.

That’s because customers won’t be surprised when they see additional charges when they check out. If your product is listed for $50 on the site, that’s what they expect to pay. But if the costs add up to $70 with taxes and shipping, it’ll hurt your conversions.

I’m not expecting you to be unrealistic here. Don’t ship your customers a piano overnight for free.

All I’m saying is you shouldn’t charge for standard ground shipping. If a customer wants the delivery to be expedited, you can let them pay an additional charge.

While this may not be feasible for everyone, it’s wise to find ways you can reduce costs for customers.

Many businesses offer free shipping once shoppers reach a certain price threshold.

Like this example from Fashion Nova:

As customers add new items to their carts, they’re reminded of how much more they need to spend to meet the threshold.

Very clever.

16. Set up default billing/shipping address for returning customers

Most people hate filling out this information.

It’s time-consuming and repetitive, especially if you’re a returning customer.

This is necessary info, so people will do it anyway.

But there’s a lot of resistance.

What can you do?

In addition to eliminating unnecessary form fields, you can set up the form so that it auto-fills the information for returning customers.

Email address, name, billing address, and shipping address—all this information can be saved for future purchases.

Some stores use a tool that looks up addresses based on a postal code and auto-fills that info.

Here’s how it works.

You type in a zip code:

You’re prompted with a window like this:

You’re given address options based on your zip code so you don’t have to fill this yourself:

There’s also an address validation tool similar to this one.

When a shopper types in their address, they get asked if it’s the right one and are given other options.

This is useful for a few reasons.

First, it auto-fills with more accurate information.

Secondly, it reassures customers they have the right shipping info. This way, they’re not anxious about missing their shipment due to error.

There’s one thing you need to note.

Address validators aren’t always correct. It means customers should have the option to reject the suggestions and fill in their info themselves.

17. Satisfy your customers’ need for instant gratification.

Here’s what that means:

You want to give customers a sense that they’ll get what they want immediately.

This is an innate human need.

If you appeal to it, your customers will respond.

If you’re selling an information product, instant gratification is easy to provide. Your customers can have electronic access without delay.

But it’s trickier when you’re selling a product that has to be shipped.

My advice?

Take a page out of Amazon’s playbook.

They do this brilliantly.

Here’s what I mean:

If you know your items will be delivered to you in a couple of days, chances are you’ll be more likely to check out ASAP.

18. A/B test the elements of your checkout process

You can never truly be sure your checkout process is designed for the maximum number of conversions unless you put your theory to the test.

The best way to determine which elements are driving the highest conversions is through A/B testing.

If you’ve never run an A/B test before, the concept is very simple. You start by identifying one element of the page you want to test.

Then 50% of your site traffic will see version A, while the other 50% will see version B. Compare the conversion rates between the two variations to see which one yielded the best results.

When testing the checkout page, it makes sense to start with the “purchase/buy now” button, or whatever your final CTA button is that completes the transaction.

There are lots of potential tests you can run on this button:

  • size
  • color
  • placement
  • wording

Test only one element at a time.

For example, let’s say you test the conversion button at the bottom right side of the screen compared to the bottom left side of the screen.

Once you have conclusive results, you can implement that change and then move on to testing the wording of the button, e.g., “purchase” versus “buy.”

19. A data-driven approach to dealing with shopping cart abandonment

Want to find out the exact cause of your shopping cart abandonment?

Google Analytics is the tool to use.

It’s simple. I’ll give you a step-by-step play.

Step #1: Find the “Admin” tab so you can create a conversion goal:

This is so you can track the actions your web visitors take.

Click on “Goals”:

Step #2: Create a new goal and set it up to track a completed transaction.

In the first step of the goal setup, select an appropriate template.

While you’re tracking cart abandonment, your ultimate goal is to get customers to make a completed online payment.

Select that option:

It’s time to describe your goal.

Name your goal, and select “Destination” as the goal type.

The destination can be a thank-you page, which will help you track the number of completed purchases.

Next, you want to set the URL of your Destination.

As I mentioned, this could be any page that customers are directed to after their purchases.

The only reason someone would be on this page is if they completed a transaction, right?

Step #3: Map the path customers take leading up to complete a transaction.

This is what will help you determine where the pitfalls in your sales funnel are.

In the same “Goal details” section, switch the Funnel option to “ON.”

List all the steps that customers take leading up to the purchase. Name each step, and add the corresponding URL.

Like this:

If you have a one-page checkout, only include that page, of course.

Whatever steps customers take, include them all.

You may want to go through the process yourself to make sure.

Save your goal, and that’s it for the setup. Tracking will begin, and you’ll now have detailed data for each step of your funnel.

Step #4: Check your reports to analyze the data.

Here’s where to find them.

Under “Conversions,” click on “Goals.”

Pay special attention to “Funnel Visualization.”

You’ll see an illustration that looks something like this:

I just created this, so there’s no data. It will take some time for yours to show up as well.

This data will tell you where in your funnel customers are jumping ship. It will also tell you in how many sessions your goal was completed.

Useful, right?

You’ll have a complete view of the way customers move through your funnel. You can now make informed adjustments to decrease your shopping cart abandonment rate.

You should know this though: there’ll always be customers who drop out before completing a purchase.

That’s just the nature of the game.

You can optimize your process to reduce that percentage significantly.

But will the lost sales be lost forever?

Can they be salvaged?

They can, and I’ll tell you how.

20. The ultimate solution to recovering abandoned carts

I hate to bring up this depressing statistic again, but only 3 out of 10 shoppers complete their purchases.

There is, however, a simple follow-up step that can increase that number significantly.

Crazily enough, most businesses don’t take advantage of it.

I’m referring to cart abandonment emails.

This could be one email or a whole sequence. You decide.

The point of these emails is to recover lost sales. If a customer adds items to their cart and leaves without checking out, be sure to follow up via email.

Here’s a brilliant example from Vanity Planet:

Many things are going right in this email. It:

  • offers a massive discount
  • includes a free shipping offer
  • uses personal and persuasive language
  • provides a simple solution for returning to cart
  • has a direct link to checkout

They made an irresistible offer.

Many people would go back to complete their purchases in a heartbeat.

When cart abandonment emails are done right, they’re hands down the most powerful solution to recapture lost sales.

I highly recommend you test this strategy and watch it make a difference.

Conclusion

Getting higher conversions for your ecommerce checkout process isn’t that difficult.

It just takes a little effort.

As you can see from everything I talked about in this guide, these methods aren’t really too extreme. They are also fairly easy to implement.

If you’re driving lots of traffic to your ecommerce site but those visitors aren’t converting, you need to analyze the design of your checkout process.

If you follow the tactics above, you should see a nice lift in your checkout page conversion rate. But just like with all forms of conversion optimization, you will have to A/B test everything.

Why? Because what works for one business won’t always work for another… even if they are in the same industry.

Website Usability Guide

I’ll get straight to the point — if your website isn’t user-friendly, it will never succeed. That’s why website usability needs to be a top priority in 2019.

People don’t have to put with a poor user experience anymore. If they’re unhappy with a website, they’ll can just navigate back to a search engine and find another site to meet their needs. It’s that simple.

Once they go, they’re gone: 88% of online users are unlikely to return to a website after a bad experience.

On the flip side, if your website is user-friendly, people will keep coming back. Following website usability best practices will also increase your conversion rates.

But, most website owners don’t realize that their site isn’t user-friendly. Obviously, nobody is going to intentionally make things difficult on their customers.

That’s my inspiration for writing this guide. I want to show you the best practices you need to follow in 2019 to make your site user friendly. Follow along and make sure these principles are applied to your website.

Optimize for mobile devices

This should go without saying, but surprisingly, I still find myself landing on websites that haven’t been optimized for mobile users.

It’s wild, because 52% of global Internet traffic comes from mobile devices. Those mobile users are doing more than just browsing from their devices; they’re buying as well.

In fact, mobile commerce will account for roughly 73% of total ecommerce market in the next two years.

Some areas of the world have already surpassed that figure. Today, roughly 75% of ecommerce sales in China come from mobile devices.

So the first thing you need to do it make sure that your website is optimized for mobile devices. Even after that’s done, there are still improvements you can make to improve the website usability for mobile users.

When someone is browsing from a desktop computer, it’s easy for them to click nearly anywhere on the screen. On a desktop, there’s nothing wrong with putting your CTA or other clickable items in a corner.

That’s not the case for mobile devices where 75% of users navigate and click using their thumbs and 49% click with just one hand.

As you can see from this graphic, this makes it challenging for people to reach certain areas of their screens. If you have buttons in those red zones, it’s going to frustrate people on your mobile website.

It’s uncomfortable for them to try and reach the corners, and they might even click on something else by mistake. If they navigate to the wrong page, it’s going to be frustrating, since it adds steps to their process.

So even if your website passes a mobile-friendly test, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been fully optimized for the user experience.

Follow WCAG standards

The web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) were created so that websites can meet the needs of people with disabilities.

Roughly 15% of people across the globe live with some form of a disability. You don’t want to discourage or discriminate anyone from visiting your website. Everyone is entitled to a good experience.

Here are some of the categories of disabilities that can affect people on the web:

  • Auditory
  • Cognitive
  • Neurological
  • Physical
  • Speech
  • Visual

So what can you do to make your website more accessible? I’ll give you some examples.

About 300 million people in the world are color blind. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they see in black and white. It just means they process certain colors differently. You need to make sure your website isn’t using conflicting colors that can’t be processed by people with visual impairments.

Avoid alternating color backgrounds and flashing lights on your website. These elements can trigger seizures from people who suffer from light sensitivity.

To accommodate website visitors who have hearing impairments, you should add captions to all video content. Make sure that captions are displayed long enough for people to read and process the information.

The WCAC has four main principles to meet their web accessibility standards.

If your website is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for as many people as possible, you’ll meet those standards.

Stick to common design elements

When you’re designing a website, it can be tempting to get creative. Maybe creativity is part of your brand’s image, or maybe you just want to experiment with something new.

Save that innovation for your products and marketing campaigns. When it comes to usability, it’s in your best interest to follow common web design best practices.

Why?

People have a certain expectation when they land on a website. Let me give you an analogy to showcase my point.

What do you expect when you walk into a fast food chain, like McDonald’s? You wait in line, order at the register, then they call your number when your food is ready. That’s a pretty standard experience.

But what if you walked into a McDonald’s and an employee sat you at a table. They brought you some menus and asked you what you want to drink. Then they came back five minutes later to take your order, emulating a fine dining experience.

That’s not what you expect from a McDonald’s. You want fast food and fast service. Sure, this is a creative and unique approach, but it disrupts the customers’ flow and actually hinders their experience.

Now, apply this same concept to your website. If you try to reinvent the wheel, it won’t be a good experience for your visitors who are used to having things a certain way.

According to a recent study, these are the most standard elements people expect when they visit a website:

  • Logo in top left of screen
  • Contact information in top right of screen
  • Horizontal main menu navigation in the header at the top of each page
  • Search bar in the header
  • Social media follow icons in the footer

It’s in your best interest to follow these best practices. Don’t put the search bar in the footer and position your menu vertically on the right side of the screen. This will only confuse your visitors.

Create a visual hierarchy

It takes 2.6 seconds for a person’s eyes to land on an area of a website that will stimulate their first impression. This is something that happens automatically.

What does this mean in terms of your site’s usability? You need to make it easy for your visitors to understand what they’re looking at.

Imagine landing on a website that has 20 images on the homepage. Where do you look? It’s overwhelming, and people won’t know what to do. This is not a good user experience.

Instead, create a visual hierarchy that shows users the most important pieces of your website.

Here’s an example. Look at these four circles and rank them on their order of importance.

Even though you don’t know anything about these circles and what they represent, you still know that the blue one is the most important, followed by the green one. That’s what a visual hierarchy looks like.

So if the most important piece of content on your homepage that will add value to the visitor is positioned as the yellow circle, that hurts the user experience.

Without a visual hierarchy, people might navigate to the wrong page or focus on unimportant components of your website. That’s not what you want to happen.

These are the factors that you need to keep in mind when you’re designing your visual hierarchy for website usability.

  • Size
  • Color
  • Contrast
  • Position
  • Negative space
  • Alignment

Simplify the navigation

Ease of navigation is arguably the most important aspect of usability, especially for ecommerce businesses. Your homepage is important, but ultimately, users will need to navigate to other landing pages in order to convert.

How does a user get from point A to point B? How long does it take? How many clicks do they need to make?

These are all factors that need to be taken into consideration. Look at the top 10 reasons for shopping cart abandonment.

As you can see, two of the top three reasons for cart abandonment are related to navigation. Price was the only factor that ranked higher.

When a website forces people to create an account before checking out, it adds unnecessary steps to the checkout process, therefore making the navigation more complex than it needs to be.

Simple navigation needs to be a priority for all websites, even if they aren’t selling products on an ecommerce platform.

Let’s say you run a simple blog. How do visitors get from your homepage to your blog? How are your blog posts organized? Can they search for a particular post?

All of these are related to navigation.

Clickable content also falls into this category. If the text on your homepage is clickable and brings people to another landing page, it needs to be clear. Change the color, underline it, or turn that text into a button. Otherwise, it will be challenging for people to know where to click.

Establish credibility

People won’t have a good user experience on your website if they think it’s untrustworthy. Credibility needs to be established right away. Otherwise, visitors will feel unsafe while they’re navigating.

Be transparent about your content, prices, and contact information. Don’t force people to hunt all of your website to find those things.

Here’s what people expect when they land on a homepage.

Keeping these numbers in mind, what do you think the perception of a website would be if the homepage doesn’t include product information, contact information, or an About Us page? It’s going to be negative.

Prices should be clearly displayed next to each product. If the user has to click or navigate to another page to view prices, it’s not optimal for their experience.

(I know some websites don’t display prices until a product has been added to a shopping cart. This is primarily a workaround for offering deep discounts that they can’t advertise because of a relationship with the manufacturer. I don’t recommend this as a high-conversion strategy.)

Once you’ve established credibility on your website, your visitors will be at ease. They won’t be worried about getting scammed or clicking on a spam link. This will increase their chances of engaging with your content and converting.

Make sure your content is legible

Just because a font would look cool for your next tattoo, it doesn’t mean that it belongs on your website. If people can’t read the text on your site, they’re going to leave.

Take a look at some of the best fonts that go together in 2019.

Even after you pick a font, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your content is legible. You also need to think about your color choices, paragraph length, and your spacing.

Let’s say you pick a standard font, like the one I’m using for this blog post right now. It’s clearly legible, but not if you make the text yellow and put it over an orange background.

People don’t read word for word. In fact, the average person only reads 20% of your website. So your content needs to be highly scannable. You might be scanning this blog post right now. That’s why I write with short paragraphs, include lots of headers, images, and bullet points.

If each section was just one big block of text, it would be tough to read. But making it legible and scannable improves the user experience.

Be consistent

Your website needs to have consistency from page to page. If you’re always switching your themes and layouts, it’s going to be too confusing.

For example, let’s analyze this product page from Lululemon.

  • Product images on the left
  • Product name in on top right
  • Price below product name
  • Description on right
  • Color choices below description
  • Add to cart on bottom right

This is all very simple and straightforward. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this layout.

Now, imagine that you’re browsing on this website and you land on this page. Maybe you add the item to your cart; maybe not. But either way, you decide to look at some more products.

If you navigate to another product page and it doesn’t look identical to this, you’re going to be very confused. All of these elements need to be consistent on each page.

Conclusion

Website usability can make or break the success of your site. If visitors don’t having a good experience, they aren’t going to come back.

These are the most important elements of website usability in 2019:

  • Mobile optimization
  • Website accessibility
  • Common design elements
  • Visual hierarchy
  • Simple navigation
  • Credibility
  • Legible and scannable content
  • Consistency from page to page

Use this guide as a reference to implement these components on your website. Once you’ve accomplished this, you’ll benefit from happy website visitors that will convert and keep coming back in the future.

15 Ecommerce Conversion Rate Optimization Wins to Test

Ecommerce platforms rely on sales to survive. If you operate one of these websites, you know how important sales are for your business.

Whether you sell products exclusively online or have an ecommerce site in addition to your brick and mortar store, you need high conversion rates to be successful.

On average, ecommerce sites in the United States convert at about a 3% rate.

If you’re hovering somewhere around that number, you might think your website is already optimized for high conversions.

Even if you think you’re doing well, there’s always room for improvement.

In fact, some of the top performing websites, such as the Google Play Store, have a conversion rate close to 30%.

Companies such as the Dollar Shave Club have roughly a 20% conversion rate.

Do you still think 3% is sufficient?

I don’t.

Whether you sell products exclusively online or have an ecommerce site in addition to your brick and mortar store, you need high conversion rates to be successful.

If you want to improve your conversion rates and generate more sales, all you need to do is make some changes.

For the most part, these changes won’t cost you much money but will bring a massive return.

You could double, or even triple, your conversion rates in just a few months by implementing some of these conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies.

Those of you who don’t know how to optimize your ecommerce site for conversions are in luck. I’m an expert in this space and have plenty of experience consulting businesses about their CRO.

I’ve come up with a list of the top 15 ways for ecommerce sites to increase their conversions.

First, let’s take it from the top.

What is conversion rate optimization?

In layman’s terms, conversion optimization is the process of increasing the number of visitors who take a desired action on your site.

Any number of activities can count as a conversion. It depends on your goals.

Signing up to an email list, creating an account, making a purchase, and downloading software are all examples.

Here are some more examples:

The more often these conversions happen, the more revenue your business receives.

In theory, it’s pretty simple.

In practice, it’s a little more complex than just getting more people to take action.

Why so? You need to get the right people to take the right actions at the right time.

That means there are quite a few pieces that need to be moved to ensure your conversion funnel is working as it should.

What can conversion rate optimization do for your business?

1. You can have a fighting chance against Goliath competitors

Every time I think of competition, I think of this simple yet profound quote:

The strong eat the weak.

It’s true in life, and it’s true in business.

Ecommerce is extremely competitive. Just look at the increase in sales within the industry over the span of eight years:

New players are entering your space every single day with the sole goal of snatching up your customers.

The only way to combat this is to make your customers so loyal to you that the competition doesn’t matter.

That can’t happen without first moving them through your sales funnel.

There’s one mistake I see small ecommerce businesses make all the time.

They focus on traffic generation without first having the systems in place to:

  1.  convert that traffic into leads;
  2.  convert leads into loyal customers.

If you already have some traffic coming in, I recommend you spend some time optimizing your conversion funnel.

Because guess what? You may not be able to bring in as much traffic as larger sites. They have more resources, larger teams, and bigger advertising budgets.

You may not even be able to compete on price.

But you can still have a competitive advantage if you make use of conversion optimization.

2. You can learn more about your users behavior

The way users interact with your site is everything.

It’s the closest you’ll get to reading your prospects’ minds.

It tells you what they’re looking for, what they respond to best, and what turns them off.

This means you can give users exactly what they want when they get to your site. Conversions would happen much faster because web visitors would have what they need at hand.

But you shouldn’t just glance at your analytics and make changes to your site based on that one analysis.

You need to monitor user behavior over time.

It’s the only way to notice patterns you can capitalize on.

My advice?

Get a solid grasp on how to navigate Google Analytics. It’s one of the most powerful free tools for analyzing user behavior on your site.

Salesforce found that 56% of businesses rely solely on Google Analytics for their web analytics. Only about 11% don’t use it at all.

Here are a few things you can track right now:

  • Where are your web visitors coming from? You can target these sources to get more visitors.
  • Which channels are driving the most traffic? This will tell you where to focus your time and resources.
  • Where on your site are visitors spending the most time? This will tell you where users’ interests lie.
  • How “sticky” are your site pages? Check your bounce rates for that info. You want them to be low.

These are just a few ideas. User behavior has many aspects.

How do you get this info?

First, find the behavior reports within your Google Analytics account:

You’ll see several subsections, each with insights on how visitors interact with your site:

Hopefully, you already have Google Analytics fired up.

Go through the reports, and collect all historical data.

Identify what’s yielding the most results, and double down on it. Then, you can pinpoint underperforming areas and improve them.

These insights are crucial not only for conversions but for every aspect of your digital marketing.

Content, social media, and email marketing are all areas that can benefit from analyzing user behavior.

Here’s the other thing about using analytics for conversion optimization: It prevents you from making changes to your site based on a hunch.

You’ll have concrete data to base your decisions on, and that’s how you avoid making costly mistakes.

3. You can maximize your profits

Put simply, more conversions lead to bigger profits.

But know this: you need to tighten every aspect of your sales process.

There’s no point in optimizing for conversions at the top of your funnel if you can’t keep momentum as web visitors move through the funnel.

The best way to capitalize on all customer touch points is first to map your customer journey.

This is a map that illustrates the path your customers go through when they interact with your business.

Once you have that figured out, deciding what to optimize at each stage should be obvious.

Here’s an example of a customer journey map:

4. Your customer acquisition cost will be lowered

Conversion optimization is the silver bullet for reducing your customer acquisition costs (CAC).

Here’s the textbook definition of CAC:

In short, it’s the price you pay for acquiring a customer.

This one metric can make or break your business.

If it costs too much to convert a customer, your profit margins will be restricted.

Larger profit margins, on the other hand, give you more flexibility in your market. You’ll be able to serve your customers with more value and secure a spot as a dominant player in your space.

What does conversion optimization have to do with all this?

Here’s a scenario.

Let’s say you’ve decided to optimize your site for more conversions.

With a few strategic changes, you see a 3% bump in conversions.

The amount of traffic to your site hasn’t changed. Your ad spend is still the same. The only variable is what you’ve done to optimize your site.

The 3% increase in conversions means you’ll be acquiring more customers, resulting in more revenue, without employing more resources.

Granted, it may cost you to make changes to your site. However, the result is still the same.

Your CAC will decrease while your ROI increases. Now, that’s a sweet deal.

Now that I have explained a few of the reasons that you should focus your efforts on your Ecommerce conversion rate optimization here are 15 conversion rate optimizations that you should test today.

Top 15 conversion rate optimization wins to tests

1. Simplify your website

Websites with simple designs have higher conversion rates.

Depending on your company, you might have hundreds or even thousands of products for sale on your website. But trying to cram all of those products onto one page is ineffective, and it’s crushing your conversions.

Clutter overwhelms the customers. Instead, focus on your top selling products or items with the highest profit margins.

Let’s look at a globally recognized brand as an example. Here’s Apple’s homepage:

When in doubt, it’s always a great idea to look at successful companies as examples. Apple is an industry leader, and their website is about as simple as it gets.

Think about the number of different products they offer. They have all kinds of different desktop computers, laptops, phones, and other electric accessories, not to mention the digital products like software and music.

If they tried to fit everything they sell on their homepage, it would be an absolute mess.

Instead, they promote one product and have a navigation bar at the top of the screen that lists different categories.

This makes it really easy for shoppers to find exactly what they’re looking for.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, Apple reported $52.6 billion in revenue— a 12% increase compared to the fourth quarter of 2016. It’s safe to say they don’t have a problem with conversion rates.

2. Include a search box

Users should be able to browse through your products quickly and conduct searches without fuss.

That’s where a prominently-placed search box comes in: 30% of site visitors use search on an ecommerce store.

The quicker you can get customers what they want, the quicker you make the conversion.

That’s the point of navigation.

As such, it should be simple and distraction-free.

Add-to-cart buttons and checkout signs must be clearly visible.

3. Have clear CTA buttons

I’ll admit. The right-colored CTA button won’t make your sales funnel.

But it can certainly hurt you.

Don’t think this is a major problem?

These statistics show the many ways businesses neglect their CTAs:

If you don’t have a color that stands out and compels visitors to click through, it can take away from the user experience.

This is where color psychology can come into play. Make sure you choose the right colors for your ecommerce site, and your CTAs will perform as they should.

It’s not just about color though.

The words you use have far more impact. I recommend using words like “now” and “today” that convey urgency.

These are just a few elements.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for deciding how your web pages should be designed.

Step #1: Decide the primary goal of the page. Zone in on one thing.

Step #2: Decide on the secondary goals of the page. These should be related to your primary goal.

For instance, let’s look at product pages.

The goal is to get users to add products to their carts, right?

Your secondary goal can be a catalyst to get your primary goal moving along. For example, you may decide you want more persuasive product descriptions, more social proof, etc.

These will help advance your primary goal.

Makes sense?

Step #3: Make your primary call to action the most prominent element. This way you’re deciding for the user which action they should take.

Step #4: Include your secondary calls to action and nothing else. You don’t want to have anything on your page that doesn’t lead web visitors to your primary and secondary calls to action.

For creative elements, I always recommend split tests.

This is how you’ll know for sure which version of your site provides the smoothest user experience.

You should also always make sure your call-to-action buttons are clear.

They should be bold, standing out from other content on your website.

You can even put a box around the CTAs, clearly separating them from other text on each page.

Take a look at how The North Face does this on their website:

It’s clear which buttons on their homepage will direct customers to the right page.

Even though they have lots of different options, their website isn’t cluttered, and it’s organized in a professional way.

This makes navigation easy.

Now their customers can find what they’re looking for faster and start adding items to their carts.

Look at how the CTA button changes when a customer views an item:

Now the button is even more apparent because it’s red.

It stands out, so it’s clear what the customer should do.

Don’t hide your CTA buttons.

It should be easy for customers to navigate and add items to their carts.

Big, bold, clear, and colorful call-to-action buttons can help improve your conversion rates.

4. Highlight items that are on sale

Most online shoppers—86% of them— say it’s important for them to compare prices from different sellers before making a purchase.

It’s no secret price is an important factor when it comes to a purchase decision.

That’s why you shouldn’t hide your discounted items.

Take a look at how Macy’s highlights markdowns on their homepage:

The website is absolutely plastered with buzz words like:

  • free
  • X% off
  • markdowns
  • sale

That’s why they are able to get higher conversions than their competitors.

Customers love to get a deal.

Buying something that’s on sale makes your customers feel better about spending money.

All too often I see companies try to hide their sale items.

They would rather sell items listed at a full price.

That’s a big mistake.

Instead, highlight discounted products and services.

You can always try to cross-sell or upsell to those customers later by enticing them to buy something else through other marketing efforts.

5. Display multiple pictures of the product

You shouldn’t be selling anything based on just a description.

Your customers want to see exactly what they’re purchasing.

Make sure your images are high quality and portray the item in question accurately.

Here’s a great example from Lululemon to show you what I’m talking about:

There are six different pictures of just one pair of shorts.

They show the product from different angles and even zoom in on some of the top features like a pocket that’s designed to keep a cell phone secure.

Pictures are much more reliable in relating information about a product than a written description of it.

You can apply the same concept to your ecommerce site.

Sure, it may take you a little bit more time to set up each product.

You’ll have to take more pictures and include additional images on your website.

But I’m sure you’ll notice a positive impact in terms of your conversions after you implement this strategy.

6. Include a detailed product description

In addition to photos, you’ll want to thoroughly describe what you’re selling. With items like clothing, it’s usually self-explanatory.

However, if you’re selling electronics or something that has a bit of a learning curve, an accurate and detailed product description could help you close the sale.

Think of it like this. If a customer were to walk into a physical store, there would be employees to answer questions and help explain how different products work.

Shoppers don’t have that luxury when they browse online. It’s your job to make sure they aren’t confused about a product.

Even if you’re selling something simple, such as a t-shirt, point out how it differs from others. Does it keep you cool when it’s hot? Does it keep you warm when it’s cold?

These are things that can’t be determined from a photo alone.

Check out how Amazon accomplishes this with one of their TV wall mounts:

Just like companies in our previous two examples, Amazon is another industry leader across the globe. They know how to sell products online.

While the photos are helpful, the description really helps the consumers.

It explains which kinds of TVs this mount is compatible with as far as size and weight are concerned. The description also covers the various mounting patterns based on what kind of TV you have.

Without the description, you wouldn’t know how far off the wall the mount comes or how close to the wall you can push it.

Not everyone is an expert in mounting televisions. The majority of people probably never have to do this. And unless you install home theater equipment for a living, it’s probably not something you’ll do more than a few times in your life.

For a unique and somewhat niche product like this, accurate descriptions can really help drive the sale.

7. Offer easily accessible customer service

Even if your website is very informative, some customers may still have questions while they’re shopping. But what if there’s nobody there to assist the consumer when they’re shopping online, unlike in a physical store?

Conversions rates drop.

Do your best to replicate that customer service experience. You may have photos, videos, and a great description, but customers will still have questions.

Make sure you give them several options to reach a customer service representative:

  • phone
  • live chat
  • email

Offer as many options as possible so each customer can contact your company based on their personal preference.

You also need to have support ready at all hours. As an ecommerce platform, I know you’re aware that customers all over the world have access to your website 24 hours a day.

Let’s play out a scenario. A customer is interested in one of your products but has a few simple questions. They try to contact customer support but don’t get an answer.

They won’t complete the purchase process. But if their questions get answered right away, your conversion rates will improve.

Try to offer an online shopping experience they would get inside a physical store, with a sales associate available to assist them.

Look at how Apple does it. They offer a live chat for shoppers on their website, and it looks like this:

They make it super easy for customers to get all their questions answered online.

This is especially important if your company sells products that may need some extra explanation.

Realize not all of your prospective and current customers may be experts in your industry.

Although your product descriptions may be accurate, it’s possible there’s some terminology the customer doesn’t understand.

Rather than forcing them to pick up the phone or do outside research, offer them a live chat. Receiving this type of help can be the deciding factor that leads to a conversion for this customer.

8. Include all your contact information

On top of providing customer service, you should have as much information as possible about your company available on your website.

Clearly display your:

  • address
  • phone numbers
  • fax
  • email

If this information isn’t on your site, it could appear sketchy. Customers may think you’re not a reputable company.

What if they have a problem with their order? If your contact information isn’t available, how will they get their issue resolved?

That uncertainty could prevent people from buying things on your website.

9. Simplify the checkout process

How long does it take for someone to complete a purchase once they’re done browsing on your website?

Studies show 27% of shoppers abandon their carts on an ecommerce website because the checkout process is too long and complicated:

On average, the number of steps to check out on an ecommerce website is 5.42.

If you’re somewhere in that average range, nearly 30% of your prospective customers think your checkout process is too long.

Think about how much money you’re leaving on the table.

The more steps a customer has to take to complete the checkout, the more likely they’ll abandon the cart.

It gives them too many reasons to back out.

Don’t give them an excuse. Finalize your sale.

Get back to the basics, and narrow down the information you actually need from the customer:

  • shipping information
  • payment information
  • email address to send a receipt.

That’s really it.

You don’t need to know their favorite color or who referred them to your website.

While additional insight may be beneficial to your marketing department, you still have plenty to work with from just those few pieces of information.

Based on the shipping location, you know where the customer lives. You have their name from their payment information. And you have a way to contact them via email.

Now you can send them a confirmation email as part of an actionable drip campaign to try to cross-sell and upsell products based on the customer’s current order or location.

You can even personalize that message since you know the customer’s name.

Don’t force your customers to fill out a form that’s longer than paperwork at the doctor’s office.

Simplify your checkout process and only ask for essential information needed to complete the sale.

10. Offer multiple payment options

Imagine this.

Someone wants to buy something on your website, but they can’t because you don’t accept their preferred payment method.

This should never be the reason for you to miss out on conversions.

While I realize some credit card companies may charge you higher rates than others, it doesn’t mean you should restrict payment options for your customers.

Try to accommodate as many people as possible.

While I’m not suggesting you need to accept cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, you should be accepting every major credit card, e.g.:

  • Visa
  • MasterCard
  • American Express
  • Discover

You should even offer alternative payment options such as:

  • PayPal
  • Apple Pay
  • Venmo

Here’s an example from American Eagle:

They accept nine different payment methods on their ecommerce site.

You need to offer as many options as possible for your customers.

It all comes down to convenience.

Some companies may just accept MasterCard and Visa.

They figure those are popular options, so everyone must have one, right?

But here’s the thing: you don’t know everyone’s financial situation.

While someone may have a Visa, it could already have a high balance on it, forcing them to use a different payment method.

Others may want to use their American Express card or Discover card because they get better rewards there.

And some people may not want to use a credit card at all if they have a sufficient PayPal balance.

The more options you offer, the greater the chance you’ll appeal to a wider audience.

Don’t assume everyone wants to pay with the cards you accept if that selection is limited.

Assume people will find a similar product elsewhere, where their preferred payment option is accepted, which will crush your conversion rates.

11. Include user reviews

Consider this: 88% of shoppers say they trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations.

That means nearly 90% of people trust a stranger’s opinion online as if it were coming from their spouses, best friends, or family members.

Furthermore, 39% of people say they read product reviews on a regular basis, and only 12% of customers say they don’t check online reviews.

Basically, this means customers want to see what their peers have to say.

Encourage customers to review products they’ve purchased, and display those reviews on your website.

Take a look at how Johnston & Murphy does this on their ecommerce site:

More reviews means more credibility.

Obviously, you’re going to say only great things about the products you’re selling.

But other customers will be truthful about their experiences.

That’s why consumers trust these ratings and reviews.

Customers share personal stories about the uses of the products they purchased and the reasons for recommending them (or not).

Notice I also highlighted the chat option on the Johnston & Murphy website—a topic I covered earlier.

Don’t be upset if not all your reviews are absolutely perfect.

You’ll get some negative comments.

It happens.

Those negative remarks can actually help you. It shows shoppers your reviews are legitimate.

Hopefully, the positive ratings will largely outweigh the negative ones.

This will help you get more shoppers to convert and complete the purchase process.

12. Add a video demonstration

If your products are unique, include video demonstrations showing how to use them.

Here’s an example from the Training Masks website:

They have workout videos to show people how to use their product to train harder and smarter.

Since this product isn’t something you see every day, the majority of the population may not know how it works.

But don’t think you can’t use videos even if you’re selling something simple.

For example, everyone knows how to use a piece of luggage, right?

Well, that doesn’t stop Thule from including a video demonstration on their website:

The video shows all the hidden compartments of the bag.

It also shows customers how they can adjust the handles and straps and utilize other features.

In addition, you can include a video demonstration highlighting the features that set your product apart from similar products.

Even if you’re selling something simple, like a shirt, a video can show customers the item’s versatility for different occasions, scenarios, or weather conditions.

You just have to get creative.

13. Don’t surprise your customers with extra fees

Consumers are sensitive to price. You have to be upfront and totally transparent with the prices on your website.

The customer expects to see the same price for the same product on all pages, including in their shopping cart.

Adding hidden charges, taxes, and shipping fees will crush your conversions.

Look at the top reasons for shopping cart abandonment:

Extra costs are the number one reason why consumers abandon their shopping carts.

Look, I realize you’ve got to pay sales tax and shipping isn’t free. But rather than surprising the customer when they check out, include those costs in the original price.

You’ll still get paid enough to make a profit, and the customer won’t be surprised with extra fees. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone.

Plus, it will reduce cart abandonment and improve your conversion rates.

14. Send shopping cart abandonment emails

While you can certainly do things to improve your shopping cart abandonment rates, some customers still won’t always complete their purchases.

You can’t ignore this.

Someone was just a click or two away from buying something on your website. They identified what they wanted and added it to their cart.

It’s going to be much easier to try to get this customer to convert than to find a new customer.

This person is already familiar with your brand and obviously interested in at least one of your products. Sometimes they just need a bit of extra motivation to complete the sale.

Send out a shopping cart abandonment email to remind the consumer of your products. Here’s an example from Oakley:

This product will still be fresh in the customer’s mind—they just left it in their shopping cart. They wanted it, but for one reason or another, it just didn’t happen.

Receiving this email could be enough to trigger an impulse buy.

15. Recommend products to enhance the shopping experience

If your site is using cookies to track browsing behavior, you can recommend products to your customers based on what they like. Use their previous order history as well to personalize recommendations.

This shows the consumer you care. Their browsing experience is different from everyone else’s.

Here’s an example from Bed Bath & Beyond:

You can also try to upsell to your customers when they add something to their shopping carts. For example, if they buy a pair of headphones, you can recommend a carrying case for them.

Again, it reflects their personal experience. This strategy works.

Research shows that 49% of consumers said they bought something they weren’t initially planning on purchasing after seeing a personalized recommendation.

Conclusion

Your ecommerce site should be making more money.

If there’s one thing you choose to do for your ecommerce site today, let it be conversion optimization. Don’t settle for average.

Take steps to improve your conversion rates. It’s an especially powerful tactic for small businesses.

Why?

Because you can get better results by using the same resources you have. It means you can start to scale your business and make headway on your competitors without outspending them.

That’s golden.

Whether your business is brand new or has been around for a while, there is always room for improvement.

You can make simple modifications to your ecommerce website to get more conversion and the tips I provided are the best place for you to start.

You can start applying some of these elements to your website right away.

I’m not saying you need to implement all of these strategies overnight. In fact, you may even have a couple of these in place already.

But over time, you need to optimize your ecommerce website if you want to get as many sales as possible. Follow these tips, and I’m sure you’ll see an improvement.

Trust me, they work.

The Best Ecommerce Website Builder

Launching an online store and trying to decide among the best ecommerce website builders, but don’t know which one’s right for you? They all seem to promise the same things: gorgeous templates, robust analytics, effortless inventory management, wonderful customer support.

I’ve got you covered. I took a look at all of the options to find the best website builder for creating an online store.

In my research, I paid attention to the following criteria:

  • Functionality — The major difference between an ecommerce site builder and a “normal” website builder is you’re going to be running your business off this platform. It needs to accept payments instantly and securely. It needs to have a useful dashboard to monitor traffic, sales, and inventory. It needs to keep have a cart the makes buying easy, and a system for calculating shipping.
  • Ease of use — There should be an easy way to add and remove products, an easy way to see your analytics, and an intuitive sales dashboard that can serve as your home base.
  • Design — The templates should look good out of the box and be easy to customize without expert (read: $$) help; and the designs should be pretty hard to mess it up or make worse.
  • Customer support — When things get tricky, you don’t want to feel like you’re going it alone.
  • Marketing — The pages should be SEO optimized, and the template should work work with your social channels and easily to connect paid ad channels.
  • Add ons — Since almost no system will have everything for everyone out of the box, I made sure the website builder had a way to accommodate additional needs.
  • Pricing — Sure, I get that an all-in-one solution like an ecommerce website builder will be more expensive than a DIY option, but we don’t want to pay through the nose, and we want what we get to be worth it. This includes the terms for payment processing. This is the last bullet on the list for a reason though: saving a penny here isn’t worth losing out on a dollar later on.

Which online store builder should I use?

The short answer: You should probably go with Shopify, especially if you plan to do more than $5,000/month in sales. It’s the industry leader for a reason. It has the level of in-depth analytics, inventory management, POS, shipping options, and every other ecommerce feature that you need (and that you really need at the $5,000+ level. If you’re not thinking that big, it’s time to get started.

New digitally-native and niche brands are the future of retail. — “Small Is The New Big,” Forbes

If you’re running more of a professional portfolio with some sales or subscription offerings, then hen you should check out Squarespace. Price wise, they’re basically the same. Squarespace wins for design; Shopify wins for ecommerce features.

The other online store builder worth recommending is Wix, which has a pretty cool AI-builder that’ll turn your social media into a website with a coordinating color palette and pre-populated photos. If you run a bookings-based business, or a music business, then there are features in the Wix stores that are definitely worth checking out. It’s also one of the cheapest options, though if you’re picking your ecommerce platform by price alone, we need to have a side conversation about how you need to get your head in the game. There are some flaws I discuss further down in the in-depth reviews you should take into account — and see if they’re dealbreakers for you during your free-trial period.

Side note: No matter which website builder you pick, you should use the free-trial period as a test run. What features are missing and can you live without them? What’s it like to actually run your business from that platform?

I also reviewed WooCommerce which is an open-source, subscription-free way to sell things through your WordPress store. If you’re running a content site, I wholeheartedly recommend building your site with WordPress; it just wins in the content management space. Simple as that.

Finally, Weebly, which was recently acquired by payments processor Square, is fine, but not impressive. The standards set by Shopify, Squarespace and the other contenders are just too high for Weebly to hit them. I’ll keep an eye out though.

The top 5 ecommerce website builders compared

Shopify

  • Best ecommerce platform for most businesses
  • Drag-and-drop store builder
  • 70 themes: 10 free + 60 paid
  • Competitive pricing

Shopify is my favorite ecommerce software — and the one I recommend to just about everyone. It’s the leader in the industry and rightfully so. The most important ecommerce features are ready to go without any customization, and Shopify makes it easy to customize anything else with its super robust app store. If you run into any issues, there’s 24/7 support.

The worst thing about Shopify is the price point — and it’s generally competitive. The subscription, which starts at $29/month is right in line with what you’d pay with any hosted option, and so are the payment processing fees, which start at 2.9% + 30¢ credit card rates and only get better from there. I just don’t like the 2% additional fee for non-Shopify payment processors. I get that Shopify wants you to stay in the Shopify ecosystem, but offering multiple payment options is better for customers and one of our 8 quick wins for ecommerce sites.

Pros

  • Robust app store
  • Clean, modern themes
  • Intuitive product pages
  • Easy-to-use drag-and-drop store builder
  • Competitive payment processing rates
  • Safety and security
  • Speed
  • Can create landing pages
  • Optimized for SEO
  • 24/7 Support

Cons

  • Additional fee for payments from non-Shopify payment processors, like PayPal for example
  • Blog feature is minimal — it’s technically there, but it’s not enough to run a content site on
  • Majority of the apps in the Shopify app store aren’t free, so you could also increase your monthly spend there
  • Liquid set up, not PHP
  • Lock-in feature — it can be challenging to move your store away from Shopify. It’ll export as a CSV file, but it’ll be time-consuming to rebuild where you go next

Shopify pricing

It’s competitive, but like I said charges an kind of annoying fee for external payment processors. All in all, I think the price is worth it.

  • $29/mo for Basic Shopify — 2.9% + 30¢ credit card rates + 2% for non-Shopify payment processors
  • $79/mo for Shopify — 2.6% + 30¢ + 1% for non-Shopify payment processors
  • $299/mo for Advanced Shopify  — 2.4% + 30¢ + 0.5% for non-Shopify payment processors
The difference between these packages:
  • Increase in number of staff accounts: 2, 5, 15
  • Unlock gift cards, reporting, and advanced reporting
  • Unlock third-party shipping calculations
  • Better rates on shipping and payment processing as you increase in the plans

Shopify themes

When choosing a theme, I suggest skipping filtering by price point. None of the themes on Shopify are going to break the bank — the most expensive themes are $180. If a theme has what you want, that’s the theme for you. Go to the all themes and ask yourself a few questions.

The first question is the most important:

  • How many products are you selling? Just one? A few? A lot? If you are selling one item your site will be very different than another online store that’s selling hundreds. In fact, set this filter and see if that’s enough to bring the templates down to a reasonable number.

If the number is still large, then you can filter even further:

  • Do you need a size chart?
  • What social media do you want integrated? Instagram? Twitter? Pop-up email form?
  • Would you like a “related products” feature?
  • Do you need video capabilities?
  • What layout and menu option will be easiest for your user to navigate?
  • What’s your store’s style? What’s your business like? Which theme reflects your business and creates the feeling or idea in your customer that you’re looking for? If you don’t have a clue where to start with this question, I recommend filtering by Industry. You’ll get a sense of the types of designs Shopify considers in line with most businesses like yours.
  • How are you going to tell your brand story? Is it in video? Writing? Photos? Are you running a crowdfunding campaign and the goal tracker is part of that story?

Find one you think you like? Check the theme reviews.


If other people have this theme and are frustrated, that’s a little peek into the future for you too.


Back away from themes with frustrated customers who haven’t had good luck with customer service.

Take a look at the demo sites both mobile and desktop versions. Then take a look at the actual stores using the theme. Are these in line with what you want to make?

If everything checks out, choose your theme. Don’t worry — you don’t have to buy it now. You’ll pay for it later, after you have a chance to test it out. Do check out the different versions of the theme — these will control the overall look and feel of your site, and you’ll want to decide which one you like best at this point. It can be hard to tell which one is best when you have only template content to look at.

I went through this process with a hypothetical business that sells one, and found a theme I like for this business. I chose the Showcase theme because I like the full-page photography. I picked the theme, answered a few questions from Shopify and then got to my dashboard.


From here, I can add merchandise, or I can customize my theme. I’ll do a little bit of both, of course.

Key changes to make:
  • Change the font — this ensures your store will look different than other stores, even stores with the same theme
  • Layout, content blocks — you’ll drag and drop these in the menu on the left side and the preview will update to the right
  • Attach your social media feeds
  • Customize the cart experience

Shopify app store

If there’s anything your theme doesn’t have, like customer reviews, there’s the Shopify app store. Basically the apps are little snippets of code that will add a feature to your Shopify store. It’s like having a dev build something for you, but because Shopify is a huge ecosystem, you don’t have to pay them the real price of custom building you something. They’re going to sell this same code to thousands of other stores. I love this about Shopify. According to the Shopify app store, more than 80% of stores use apps — and I’ll bet if you filtered that number by the number of live, active stores that are really making sales, then the percentage would be really really close to 100%.

Squarespace

  • Stunning templates
  • Professional look
  • Ideal for portfolio sites
  • Has a learning curve

Squarespace has a reputation for beautifully designed templates. That reputation applies to its ecommerce store themes as well. They’re handsome, I must admit it. There are a few things you should know going in: I recommend Squarespace more for professional portfolio sites than true ecommerce stores. It’s just set up for those kinds of stores better.

It’s not a bad idea to run your online store with Squarespace; Shopify is just easier when it comes to managing inventory and customizing every little nuance of your store. The Squarespace builder is a module-based builder. It’s not drag-and-drop — but you can get the hang of it pretty easy. Don’t get frustrated by the “demo” content or “sample” pages. You’ll have to copy the page before you can customize it, a silly step but not one to deter you from getting your work done.

Pros

  • Gorgeous templates
  • Incredible looking result
  • 24/7 support
  • 15-day free trial

Cons

  • Tabbed interface that’s not super intuitive
  • Design requires high-quality photography (which you should get)
  • Only integrates with Stripe, PayPal, and Apple Pay
  • No app marketplace

Squarespace pricing

  • Basic online store: $26/month billed annually
  • Advanced online store: $40/month billed annually
What’s the difference between these plans?

The Advanced plan includes flexible coupons, subscriptions, abandoned cart auto recovery, gift cards, and advanced shipping. Unless you want one of these features, you’ll be good with the Basic online store. There are also two other plans that aren’t aimed at ecommerce stores — Personal website for $12/month billed annually, and Business website for $18/month billed annually. With the Personal plan you can’t sell anything. With the Business plan you can, but you’ll pay a 3% transaction fee. If you’re doing more than $275 in sales each month, there’s no question between the two plans — you’d be paying in fees the difference in the price without unlocking any of the online store features like inventory, tax, coupons, and shipping labels.

You can also upgrade or downgrade your plan at any time. Unless you know you want one of the Advanced features, I’d start with the Basic online store and go from there.

Squarespace templates

All of them are beautiful. Let’s start there. To find one that fits your store, I’d start by sorting into Online Stores. You’ll see your options are narrowed to 11 templates. Then ask yourself:

  • How many products do I want featured on the homepage?
  • What amazing photography do I have?
  • Do I want to use video backgrounds?
  • Does the quality of my images stand up to the quality of the Squarespace design?
  • Do I have much to say in words? Do I want those words over the top of my images or beside them?
  • What kind of menu do I want?
  • Do I want anything specific: Grid layout? Scrolling features? On-hover effects?

I suggest you preview the theme and notice what it’s like to use the example layout. To be honest, your site is going to be at best like this one, so if there’s anything you don’t like, take note. It’ll likely annoy you even worse in your own store.

Once you find a layout you like, click Start with “Theme Name.” You’ll create an account at this point. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay yet — you have a 15-day free trial to customize the store and make sure it’s what you want.

To make changes to the pages, you’ll need to make copies of the sample pages. The interface is minimal and soothing, but not very helpful. Just get in a meditative mindset and keep clicking to figure things out. There are a lot of tabbed sections, which I don’t love. But it’s not challenging.

I wouldn’t call the builder drag-and-drop — it’s more of a module based style to build and go. You’ll get use to it the more time you spend with the system. Though, I’ve gotta say, if you’re using Squarespace, I suggest you take your cues from the design that’s ready-made. It’s one of the things you’re paying for.

Wix

  • 500 templates
  • Drag-and-drop without limitations
  • Quick-start with the help of an AI designer
  • Unique templates for booking, music, events and restaurants

I really like the way Wix has used AI to automate the design decisions. It’s the exact opposite of the Weebly approach of making you pick a theme based on your first glance. If you already have some web presence — maybe in your Instagram or Facebook — Wix will take the work you’ve already done and create a website to match. You can also start from scratch. That’s one of the things I like most about Wix. It’s pretty much down to help you build your online store the way you want to: with help or without, from scratch or from a template, in the drag-and-drop builder or deep in the code.

Pros

  • Cheapest website builder in this list
  • Dozens of payment gateways including Square, Stripe, and 2Checkout
  • VIP Priority Callback support option

Cons

  • Limited reporting and analytics
  • No way to automate or integrate tracking numbers
  • Product pages don’t have a sort filter

The biggest drawbacks for Wix are its store features. Some very basic things you’ll want to do if you’re actually shipping products may become very irritating. I’m talking things like attaching tracking numbers to orders or downloading your reports.

If you’re making the choice on which ecommerce website builder to use simply on price, I implore you to stop using that as your methodology. There is a false logic at play. The $6 you’d save by choosing one website builder over the other will not be worth it when you’re wasting time trying to make the software do something it’s simply not built to do. Give the website builder you do select a thorough test run during your trial. This is the software you are using to run your business — don’t let a few bucks stand in the way of getting software that’ll really support you.

Wix pricing

  • Business Basic for $20/month
  • Business Unlimited for $25/month
  • Business VIP for $30/month
What’s the difference between these plans?
  • Storage: 20GB, 35GB, 50GB
  • Video hours: 5 hours, 10 hours, unlimited
  • VIP plan also gets VIP support with Priority Response
  • There are also 4 non-ecommerce plans that won’t allow you to accept payments

If you’re interested in learning how to make a Wix website for your online store, I have a whole tutorial on it, so I won’t repeat myself here.

WordPress with WooCommerce

  • Complete control over your ecommerce site
  • No subscription fees
  • 1 theme, with variations and customizations

WooCommerce is a little bit different than the other ecommerce options we’ve looked at so far. It’s a self-hosted option, which is the more DIY version. A website builder like Shopify is like living in a hotel where everything is already included: there’s a coffee maker and coffee grinds, clean towels, and shampoo. If anything breaks you know you’ll have help. But it’s also more expensive and you have less control and ownership. You can’t take the towels from the hotel home with you, for example. With WooCommerce, you’ll build your own site on WordPress and use the free WooCommerce Storefront theme. It’s not a drag-and-drop website builder, but you can customize the look and feel.

Pros

  • Free theme
  • Works with WordPress blog
  • Great for content-heavy sites
  • Easy to customize with add-ons

Cons

  • Not a drag-and-drop builder
  • Not an all-in-one solution

WooCommerce pricing

  • Free
  • Common add-ons range from $10–$60 a year

With WooCommerce you can get started for free. You’ll need to buy a domain name and set up web hosting. We have a how-to guide on all those steps here in How to Start a Blog. When you get to Step 6, choose a theme, you’ll choose the WooCommerce Storefront theme. There are a few different “child themes” to choose from — these change the look of the theme the way a new coat of paint changes the look of a room. Some child themes are free; others are $39.

I recommend also checking out the WooCommerce extensions. Most sites will benefit from the customizer bundle. You may also need features like the pricing table, a contact section (yes, you definitely want this), and maybe a hamburger menu. Some extensions are free, others are paid. The price points are reasonable.

Weebly

  • 35 ecommerce themes
  • 348 apps

Weebly was bought by Square in 2018, and though Weebly is run as a separate business, it’s clear to me that Square is attempting to bolster it’s full-service suite of offerings for small businesses — with the cornerstone of that suite being in-person POS systems and payment processing. The drag-and-drop builder is intuitive, but the set-up and guidance isn’t all there for me. For the price point — $4/month less than Shopify — I don’t think it’s worth going with Weebly.  

Pros

  • Intuitive drag-and-drop builder
  • Includes memberships, forums, support

Cons

  • Not very useful in helping pick a theme
  • No way to sort themes by feature
  • Cluttered page system that’s not good for more than 10 pages
  • You’ll need to manually copy blog posts if you migrate

If you’re launching an online store, you can skip right over the Starter and Pro plans — you’ll be pay a premium of 3% on every transaction and you’ll be limited in a lot of ways. You won’t be able to modify your cart, for example. For the price, I think you’ll get a better store from Shopify’s $29/month plan.

  • Starter $8/month annually
  • Pro $12/month billed annually
  • Business $25/month billed annually
  • Performance $38/month billed annually

What’s the difference between these plans?

  • Weebly transaction fee: 3% on Starter and Pro, 0% on Business and Performance
  • Number of products: 10, 25, unlimited, unlimited
  • Features only available on Business and Performance: Shopping cart, digital goods, product reviews, coupons, inventory manager, shipping calculator, among others

Weebly themes

When you create a store, Weebly will ask what you’re selling and if it’s online or offline, or both. After just two questions, it’ll pop you into a store for you. This seems kind of curt, and it is. When you click customize your store, you’ll be able to choose a new theme. How will you decide? Weebly doesn’t make it easy — there’s a page of themes offered, but you can only sort them by the top-of-the-fold look and feel.

Weebly pricing

The first few options are pretty and white.

Take note of a few things:

  • How large are the photos?
  • Is there a border?
  • Is there text on the photos?
  • Is there a CTA?
  • Where is the menu?
  • How many products are featured in that first view?

Since there’s no filtering, your best hope is to choose one you think looks like your store should look.

It’s pretty intuitive to add products and personalize your store. Keep checking back with the preview and you should do fine.

In sum: How to choose the right ecommerce platform for your online store

For an online store, you can’t go wrong with Shopify. It’s the industry leader, easily one of the best ecommerce website builders, and it’s well worth the price point. I like it a lot — particularly how much you can customize it with the app store. It’s got the analytics you need to run a real ecommerce shop. I also like the designs from Squarespace. They really do make it possible for a total beginner to create a professional looking site.

The other contenders for all-in-one builders are Wix and Weebly. I found them to have limitations, so they’re not my top picks. I did like the Wix AI creator and the features it boasts for booking businesses and other speciality stores, like music or video creators. It’s worth checking out (there’s a free trial period) if one of those things intrigues you. I’ll keep tabs on Weebly. However, right now it doesn’t come close to competing with Shopify and Squarespace.

If you want to run a WordPress site, then look into WooCommerce. You’ll find it is very familiar and has all the things that are great about any WordPress site: nearly limitless customization, great content management, excellent SEO, all subscription-free and open source. Granted, you’ll probably end up spending some on customizations and will need to throw down for your domain name and your web host. But if you’re the type that’s curious about building a self-hosted site, you already knew all that.

The Best SEO Tools the Pros Really Use in 2019

When I first started using SEO tools and tried to figure out which one was right for me, I was pretty confused.

There are a bunch of tools in the space, they seem to overlap a lot, and there are way too many specialist tools to sort through.

And which one’s have data that I can trust?

After using all these tools for years and years, I’ve come to realize there are only a few choices you need to make.

First, there are three main tools in the market: SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz. Everyone uses one of those three. We’ll get to our recommendations for these down below.

I call them the SEO workhors — and all three of them qualify as one of the best seo tools. These workhorses carry the bulk of the weight in any SEO program, but you only need one SEO workhorse.

Any serious SEO program absolutely needs a SEO workhorse. The rank tracking, keyword research, and link analysis are all too difficult or time consuming without one. I’ve tried to get away without paying for them; that was a mistake. I could have gained a lot more traffic by using one of these tools from the beginning.

After you pick your main SEO workhorse, I highly recommend you take full advantage of the free tools. Google Analytics and Google Search Console are both world class and I consider them both required tools in day-to-day SEO operations. Plus they’re free.

Beyond that, there are a few specialty tools worth picking up if you’re doing those types of tasks.

Pretty simple all-in-all.

Here’s how your decision process will go:

  • Pick SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz as your SEO workhorse.
  • Install a SEO plugin if you’re on WordPress.
  • Add an advanced SEO crawling tool if your site is massive.
  • Add an outreach tool if you’re doing link building.
  • Get the free SEO tools in place: Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Best SEO Tool for Beginners: SEMrush

If you’re new to this whole SEO thing, I highly recommend that you go with SEMrush.

Compared to the other “SEO workhorse” tools, it’s by far the easiest to use. Ahrefs definitely has a learning curve and Moz has never clicked with me — I can never understand where to find anything.

SEMrush’s rank tracking reports are also the best in the industry. I check our reports every morning. Within a few minutes, I feel like I’m in complete control of what’s going on. All the other tools spread stuff out all over the place. Or the reports coddle me too much and don’t have enough density. SEMrush has that perfect balance of usability and depth with its reporting. You’ll have everything you need without getting overwhelmed.

SEMrush has all the other essential parts of a SEO workhorse: link analysis, keyword research, and competitive analysis. All of them are more than good enough to hold their own against the other SEO workhorses.

Just for Quick Sprout fans, SEMrush is offering a 7-day free trial, which they don’t normally do. In order to give you full access to their pro plan, they will ask for a credit card before starting the trial.

Best SEO Tool for Advanced Folks: Ahrefs

If you’re more comfortable with all this SEO stuff and want a tool to really flex your skills, go with Ahrefs.

They’re the “new” SEO kid on the block and I have to admit, their tool has a ton of depth to it. Every time I log in, I find a hidden feature or report that makes me giddy.

That’s also the one weakness, I’m still discovering new features I had no idea existed. Ahrefs doesn’t hold your hand at all. For an SEO expert, it’s liberating. The tool is denser than granite. But I’ve watched SEO beginners try to get their heads around it and they really struggle. After poking around a bit, they stop logging in altogether.

Ahrefs is perfect if you know exactly what you want and are determined to get it.

On specific features, I prefer the link analysis in Ahrefs over the other tools. So if you’re planning on doing a lot of link building, it’s worth getting through the learning curve.

Best SEO Plugin for WordPress: Yoast

There are probably thousands of SEO plugins for WordPress.

Only one of them matters: Yoast.

I consider it a required plugin on any WordPress site. It automates a ton of SEO tasks and makes things like meta titles and descriptions super easy to update.

I don’t spend any time on this decision — I install Yoast and move on.

Just use the free version of Yoast; there’s no reason to upgrade.

Check out our full list of recommended SEO WordPress plugins here.

Best SEO Crawling Tool: Screaming Frog SEO Spider

There’s one type of SEO task that the main SEO tools struggle with: crawling and auditing huge sites.

When you have a site with thousands of URLs, there’s just no way to go through the site on your own. And the audit tools in SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz are pretty basic.

For a massive site that needs a huge audit, a dedicated crawling tool makes the task so much more manageable. The entire UI and all the workflows are built around having to manage thousands of pages at once. There’s no extra clicking or back and forth. And the tool automates as much of the process as possible. You’ll instantly find all the broken links, missing meta descriptions, bad redirects, and duplicate content on your site.

Screaming Frog SEO Spider is our preferred site crawler. It’s been around the longest and has site crawling dialed.

You didn’t hear this from me, but since site audits are usually a one-and-done type project, you can sign up for the tool, pay for a few months while doing your site cleanup, then cancel it once you’re done.

The only folks I know who have long-term subscriptions are SEO consultants who do multiple audits every month for clients.

Best Outreach Tool: Pitchbox

I remember the days when you could get away without doing any link building in SEO. That’s how we built the KISSmetrics marketing blog to over 700,000 visitors per month. We just posted a ton of great content over an 8 year period.

Nowadays, that’s not nearly enough. SEO has just gotten too competitive.

My rule is that if I’m not willing to do outreach for link building, I shouldn’t be focusing on SEO for traffic. I should find another strategy to grow my business.

I’ve done a bunch of outreach projects out of Gmail and a Google Sheet. It’s such a pain. Especially when a team is involved. Keeping track of who contacted who, updating last status, remembering to send follow-ups, coordinating and updating templates, it’s all a massive pain that takes up way too much time.

And outreach is painful enough, no reason to make it any harder.

These days, I always use an outreach tool when link building. I don’t even consider the option of skipping it. A good outreach tool automates the majority of the outreach. It’s a game-changer. I used to hate outreach with every fiber of my soul, now I don’t mind it.

Our favorite tool for outreach is Pitchbox. It’ll find contacts for you, automate email follow ups, and keep track of all your outreach contacts. Seriously, use it.

Make Use of Google’s Free Tools

Google Analytics is our favorite website analytics tool. And the search data in Google Search Console is a gold mine. Don’t bother trying to pay for any of the paid analytics tool. Google Analytics gives you more than you’ll ever need and it’s completely free.

We have a guide on how to set up Google Analytics here.

After you get Google Analytics installed, go set up Google Search Console too. It’s completely free and you’ll get access to your data once Google Search Console verifies your Google Analytics account. Other than the authentication to prove that you own the site, there’s nothing else you need to set up for Google Search Console.

Google Search Console is the one and only place to get real keyword data from Google. Every other tool is a best guess. It also records all the errors Google picks up on your site, tells you what’s been indexed on your site, and gives you impression and click-through data on all your keywords. I can’t overhype it enough — use it.

We never work on websites without installing both of them and they’re completely free. Even if they were paid, they’d be worth every penny.

The Best Ecommerce WordPress Themes

Choosing the right WordPress theme is important for everyone, but it’s especially crucial for ecommerce businesses: Your theme will ultimately have a direct impact on your conversion rates. As you know, conversions translate to dollars in the ecommerce world.

Here’s the thing — selling products online is extremely competitive. You’re up against global giants like Walmart and Amazon, as well the other smaller ecommerce shops in your industry. It’s unlikely that you have the same budget or resources to a pay a developer to build your site as the major online retailers. However, you still want your site to stand out and to convert visitors to customers. You might feel like a plankton swimming with whales.

The right WordPress theme solves this dilemma for you.

As a small business, your theme will be your website designer, developer, and a part of your tech support. Choosing the right one is crucial. There are thousands of WordPress themes on the market. Plenty of them are stylish, good-looking, and seem like they’d do the job, but not all of them are designed with ecommerce shops in mind.

When you’re trying to find the best ecommerce WordPress theme for your business, you need to look for ways to optimize the customer experience. What will they see when they land on your site? How are the products displayed? What’s the navigation like? You want everything to be easy to find and be visually appealing at the same time.

As an expert in this space, I’ve researched the best ecommerce WordPress themes and narrowed down the top five for you to consider. Use this guide as a reference as you research the best option for your ecommerce shop.

1. Artemis

Artemis is a great option for ecommerce shops that sell products with WooCommerce. This theme adds class and professionalism to your WordPress website.

Artemis has a modern design that’s extremely versatile. The theme comes with tons of different layouts and design options and it gives you the option to highlight what matters most to you on your homepage. You can showcase featured products, specific collections, discounts, and more.

It has a visual composer that lets you customize the page by simply dragging and dropping elements where you want them. You can start with a pre-built template and customize it to fit your needs and design style.

It’s great for sites that sell clothing but has the flexibility to reach niche categories as well. For example, let’s say you sell something unique, such as bicycles or watches. The theme makes it easy for you to emphasize specific features of your products with a combination of images and text descriptions.

I love that this theme supports videos in the product gallery. Rather than just showing your customers different angles of each product (which you should be doing), you can also include a video demonstration of the product. The theme is fully responsive and comes with the Slider Revolution plugin for free, so you can easily create a slideshow or presentation of your products as well.

With Artemis, you can also set up a shopping cart dropdown function on your site. Visitors can add items to their cart and continue shopping without being redirected. There’s also a wish list feature. These elements will help you increase the average order value for your ecommerce store.

Another benefit of this theme is the product quick view option. When a user clicks on a product, the image enlarges and shows a quick description of the item, as opposed to redirecting to a new landing page. This feature helps ensure you always have fast loading times.

Artemis is stylish, dynamic, and overall one of the best ecommerce WordPress themes you can buy. In my opinion, it’s well worth the $59 price tag.

2. Vitrine

If you want your ecommerce shop to stand out from all of the cookie cutter designs out there, I’d definitely recommend the Vitrine WordPress theme.

This is one of the best ecommerce WordPress themes because it’s so easy to use. You can import and install a demo with just one click. Other themes require complex downloads and configurations that are confusing and time consuming. You won’t have that problem with Vitrine.

There are more than 30 shortcodes available that make it easier for you to customize the content on your website. This theme is fully ajaxified as well.

Vitrine lets your customers add items to their wish lists, quick view items, and compare different products on your website. The theme also has extensive options for add-to-cart functionality.

I also like the sticky add to cart feature that this theme offers. Rather than putting your most important CTA at the top or bottom of the screen, where it can be hidden or out of view, the sticky button ensures that it’s in plain sight at all times.

Another reason why this is one of my favorite ecommerce WordPress themes is because it comes with blog design templates as well. Blogging is a great way to drive organic traffic to your website and keep people coming back, even if they’re not always shopping. But, your blog layout shouldn’t look the same as your product catalogs. Vitrine recognizes this with designs made specifically for ecommerce blogging.

Social media marketing is also vital for ecommerce shops — and the Vitrine theme makes it easy. Instead of downloading a separate social media WordPress plugin for that specific feature, there’s a built-in Instagram feed plugin. I love this because it amplifies the work you’re already doing on social and helps convert visitors into followers. You want to make sure your website visitors follow you on social media so you can continue to market to them in the future.

Vitrine employs lazy loading, which is great for websites with lots of photographs. Rather than loading all the images at once, they’ll only be loaded as the user scrolls. With lazy loading, you won’t have to worry about slow page loading times on product pages with tons of images. (And you want tons of images.)

The Vitrine WooCommerce WordPress theme costs $40.

3. Halena

I’d recommend Halena to anyone who wants a modern and minimal theme on their ecommerce site. The layouts are very simple, which is great for showcasing top products on the homepage.

The layouts offered by Halena remind me of luxury websites. But that doesn’t mean you need to charge $10,000 for a watch to use this theme. You can transform any ecommerce site into one that’s elegant and tasteful by using Halena.

The designs are of high quality and really showcase your images in a way that is more creative, unique, and somewhat abstract. It’s certainly not a conservative or traditional theme.

Unlike other WordPress themes, the content and settings on different Halena demos can be mixed and matched. With all of the configuration options, I’m sure you’ll be able to create a design you’re completely satisfied with.

You can completely customize your product pages as well as additional landing pages. The theme can help you create an About Us page that generates leads.

Halena has four unique product layout styles.

  • Product zoom
  • Lightbox
  • 360 degree
  • Video

This theme has a comprehensive ajax product filter. It allows customers to narrow their searches down by selecting multiple attributes and filters from the side menu.

One of my favorite features of this theme is the unique lookbook. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you’re selling clothing on your ecommerce site. You can show images of models wearing different items, and allow website visitors to click on articles of clothing that grab their attention. By adding hotspot pins that are ajax enabled, users can add those items to their cart by directly clicking on the image, as opposed to navigating to a product page to buy it.

Don’t know how to code? No problem. Halena has a visual page builder that is simple enough for anyone to use, regardless of technical skill level.

Hundreds of free fonts come standard when you install this WordPress theme, which is priced at $49.

4. Shoptimizer

Shoptimizer is optimized for speed and conversions — two of the most important elements for every ecommerce website.

This plugin is unique in the sense that it’s built differently. Rather than focusing on the latest design trends, the developers analyzed data. After researching the top ecommerce websites on the Internet, they came up with themes that follow those best practices.

The first best practice: speed. The reason why Shoptimizer is so fast is because the theme automatically minifies the main CSS files on your website. It also creates a critical CSS file that loads content nearly instantly from the viewpoint of your website visitors. In addition to lightning fast page loading times, Shoptimizer is also made to improve your organic reach by improving your SEO strategy.

Next, a distraction-free cart. With Shoptimizer, the checkout process clean and keeps the user focused. By removing clutter and steps from checkouts, it will decrease your shopping cart abandonment rates while increasing conversion rates.

Shoptimizer also has a sticky bar for the product details. When people scroll on a product page to get more information, the title, product thumbnail, price, and add to cart button stay at the top of the page in plain sight. This theme includes critical information next to the add to cart button for every product. I’m referring to things like:

  • Customer reviews
  • Availability
  • Return policies
  • Shipping options
  • Safe checkout badges

All of these add credibility to your website and increase the likelihood that your website visitors will buy something.

You can also leverage FOMO and scarcity on your product pages. This theme has an option for a sales countdown timer, as well as a real-time availability tracker. These persuasive techniques will help you drive more conversions.

The theme is built for accessibility, making it easier for you to reach as many customers as possible, including people with impairments or disabilities.

Speed and conversions aside, the theme is also beautifully designed. You can purchase this ecommerce WordPress theme for $99.

Pro Tip: If you want to buy this theme, add it to your cart but don’t check out right away. I left it in my cart for a couple of minutes, which triggered a popup offering it for $49 instead.

5. Hugo

You’re a business owner, not a website designer. Hugo recognizes the fact that not all ecommerce webmasters are skilled in design. Some website owners just want to sell without having to deal with complex configurations on their sites.

If this sounds like you, then you’ll definitely want to take a look at the Hugo WordPress theme.

The layouts offered by Hugo are extremely simple. If you want to make any changes, just to use the drag-and-drop page builder. It’s responsive and hassle-free to set up. Instead of spending days or weeks setting up your ecommerce shop, you can be up and running in no time at all.

Overall, the styles on Huge are modern. You can choose different color schemes to match your company logo and make sure that you’re appealing to the right audience.

Hugo’s biggest differentiation from other ecommerce WordPress themes that we’ve seen is the backend simplicity. It’s perfect for new WordPress users or ecommerce shop owners who aren’t concerned with minor design details. If you’d rather spend time selling as opposed to playing around with endless customized elements on your website, this is the best ecommerce WordPress plugin for you.

Conclusion

What’s the best ecommerce WordPress theme?

With so many options to choose from, it’s a difficult question to answer, but after extensive research, I’ve been able to narrow down the top five.

Each one of the themes on my list has something that makes it unique or stands out from other options. So take the time to review each to see which theme fits the needs of your ecommerce site. No matter which theme you choose, I’m confident that it will improve the overall design, layout, and performance of your ecommerce website.

Website Speed Guide

Do you know how slow your site loads?

Website speed needs to be a top priority for all websites in 2019. Why?

Just a one-second delay in loading time results in:

  • 16% decrease in customer satisfaction
  • 11% fewer page views
  • 7% loss in conversions

Amazon says that one second of load lag time would cost them $1.6 billion in sales each year.

So, how fast should your website load? 47% of people say they expect pages to load in two seconds or less and 64% of mobile users expect sites to load in less than four seconds. However, the average loading times for various industries in the United States don’t meet those benchmarks. Take a look at this research from Google:

As you can see, the average website speed for all of these industries is significantly higher than the best practices line.

If you can speed up your website, it will give you a huge advantage over your competitors with slower loading times. You’ll want to aim for your pages to load in three seconds or less. That’s because 40% of visitors will abandon sites that haven’t loaded within three seconds. But obviously, the lower you can get that number, the better.

OK, now that you understand why website speed is so important, it’s time to do something about it. I created this guide of best practices that will help you speed up your website.

So read carefully and make any necessary changes to your site moving forward. Don’t be intimidated by any technical terms that you’re unfamiliar with — I’ve done my best to explain everything in plain English, so it’s easy for everyone to follow along.

Minimize your HTTP requests

HTTP requests are made for each element on your website. I’m referring to things like images, scripts, and stylesheets.

Research shows that 80% of website loading time is related to downloading on-page elements. So for those of you who have lots of these components on your website, you have more HTTP requests.

Using your developer tools settings, you can figure out how many requests your website currently makes. Then, take steps lower that number. Reduce clutter on your website and simplify the design.

You should also eliminate unnecessary redirects. While these are often needed for fixing broken links, they create additional HTTP requests. This will slow down your website speed.

I’d recommend using a tool like Screaming Frog to help you identify all of your redirects. Once they’ve been identified, get rid of the ones that you can live without. Only keep the ones that are absolutely necessary.

Reduce the time to first byte (TTFB)

TTFB refers to the time browsers need to wait before getting data from the server. Simply put, it’s basically how long it takes for a page to start loading.

Your TTFB is comprised of three elements:

  • HTTP request time
  • Process request time
  • Response time

Here’s a visual representation showing how the time to first byte works.

If your website has a fast TTFB, then requests can be delivered to the browser faster. Ultimately, this gets your content loaded for visitors faster.

You should be aiming for a TTFB that’s less than 200ms. Use WebPageTest as a resource to identify your time to first byte.

Just look at the “first byte” column to see where you stand. For those of you who have a TTFB that exceeds 200ms, you’ll need to take steps to improve that number. Here are some common issues associated with slow TTFB:

  • Server configuration
  • Network issues
  • Content creation
  • Website traffic

One of the best ways to reduce your TTFB is by enabling browser caching. Make note of that — we’ll discuss how to execute on that concept in greater detail later in this guide.

Make sure your web hosting plan meets your needs

Cheaper isn’t always better. When your website was new, you might have gone with a budget hosting plan to keep costs low. However, as your traffic increases, you’ll need to make sure that your hosting plan is upgraded.

There are four types of web hosting:

  • Shared hosting
  • VPS hosting
  • Dedicated server
  • Cloud hosting

The plan you choose and the company you use will impact your website speed. Rather than spending all day discussing the pros and cons of these hosting options, it’s in your best interest to review my guide on everything you need to know about web hosting.

This will give you the information needed to choose the best web host that will speed up your website.

Run compression audits

In order for your website to be as fast as possible, you need all of your files to be as small as they can possibly be. Just make sure that you’re not sacrificing quality, of course.

Smaller files load faster — it’s as simple as that.

I’d recommend running a compression audit with a tool like GIDNetwork to give you a better idea of how compressed files can speed up your website. Here’s what the audit looks like for Quick Sprout.

To test your website, all you need to do is enter the URL and click “check.” As you can see from this audit, Quick Sprout isn’t compressed. The tool also offers a “what if analysis” to show you the benefits of compressing your website.

This chart shows what my website would look like at different compression levels. It tells me that at the fourth level of compression, the size can be compressed to 131 bytes compared to 178 with no compression. The download would also improve from 0.12 seconds to .09 seconds.

These numbers are pretty marginal for my website, which is why I don’t currently have compression enabled. However, some of you might learn that your site can greatly benefit from compressed files after running this audit.

Which brings me to our next point . . .

Compress your files

Let’s say your compression audit looked something like this.

There is a huge difference between no compression and the first level. Those figures continue to improve as we reach level five.

In this scenario, you’d absolutely want to enable compression. Gzip is the industry standard for this practice.

This software locates lines of similar code and then replaces them to make all of your files smaller. It’s ideal for HTML and CSS since those files tend to have lots of whitespace and repetitive code.

Studies from Yahoo say that Gzip compression can reduce response sizes by 70%.

Reduce your images sizes

Visual elements are necessary on your website. Without images, your site will look boring, unprofessional, and probably untrustworthy.

But with that said, images can really slow down your loading times. That’s a big problem for some of you, especially for ecommerce businesses. Why? Well, consider this.

Some of you may have even more than three images per product. Now multiply that number by how many items are available on your website. The figures add up quickly.

Even websites that don’t sell anything need to reduce their image sizes. The average blog post has 3.2 images.

Use a tool like Compressor.io to help you compress your images without sacrificing the quality of them. After the images are compressed, you’ll want to make sure that you’re saving them as the right file type.

For the most part, JPG will be your best option. You can use PNG files for graphics that need to have precise detail, like a logo.

Minify and combine files

Each file on your website will increase the time it takes for a page to load. If your pages have lots of files, they will require additional HTTP requests, which we discussed earlier.

But you can’t just go through and eliminate everything. Then your website will be left with nothing. Instead, just minify and combine them. You can do this for:

  • HTML files
  • CSS files
  • JavaScript files
  • Google Fonts

Minification removes unnecessary characters from your files, such as formatting and white space. Basically, it will get rid of anything that isn’t required for your code to function. This ultimately reduces your file sizes.

Combining files reduces the number of HTTP requests by concentrating them into smaller groups. For example, a browser can potentially download six smaller files faster than one giant file.

If you have a WordPress website, your best option is the WP Rocket plugin. This will definitely improve your website speed.

Use asynchronous loading

Now that your CSS and JavaScript files are minified and combined, it’s time for you to optimize the way they get loaded. There are two options:

  • Synchronous loading
  • Asynchronous loading

Files that load synchronously load one at a time, based on their location on the page. The problem with this is that if one file is taking longer to load, no other files will get loaded until that particular file is complete.

With asynchronous loading, files can load simultaneously. In the event of a file taking a while to load, other elements of your page can still load without any delay.

You can use the same WP Rocket plugin to enable this as well.

Just navigate to the Static Files tab and check off the option for asynchronous loading, as shown above.

You’ll also see from this screenshot that “Load JS files deferred” is also checked off. This brings me to another best practice for website speed.

Defer loading for JavaScript files

When you defer a file, it means that you stop it from loading until other elements on the page have loaded. By deferring a large file, it helps ensure that the rest of your files load quickly without any problems.

JavaScript files are large and can be deferred.

As I just showed above, it’s easy to accomplish this with just one click if you’re using a plugin like WP Rocket. Otherwise, you’ll have to insert some code into the </body> tag for JS files. It will look something like this:

Personally, I like to avoid manual coding at all costs. So finding a plugin or tool that can do the work for you is definitely easier.

Improve DNS lookups

DNS is short for “domain name system.” This is a server that has a database of IP addresses along with names of various hosts.

When a user types a URL into their browser, the DNS server translates the URL into an IP address, indicating its online location.

Typing the name of a website URL into your browser doesn’t mean much to your computer; it needs to be translated to find the site that you want to reach. Here’s a visual representation of what this looks like, using ubnt.com as the example.

With a DNS lookup, people don’t need to memorize long strings of number combinations. However, sometimes this takes too long.

If your DNS lookup time is too slow, you should look into switching to a new DNS provider that will give you faster service.

Make sure browser caching is enabled

I talked about browser caching earlier when we were discussing TTFB. If you’re not familiar with how caching works, I’ll quickly explain.

Whenever someone visits a new website, all of the elements need to be loaded. These elements get stored in a cache, which is a temporary storage on their hard drive. The next time they go to that website, their browser can load that page without sending an additional HTTP request to the server.

If you have caching enabled, then your website speed will be faster for returning visitors. Check out my list of the best WordPress cache plugins to get this set up on your website.

Install a content delivery network (CDN)

As you know, your website is hosted on a server. Every time someone visits your site, a request gets sent to that server. So if you’re experiencing high levels of traffic, requests will take longer to process, which will slow down your website for these users.

But high traffic is a good thing for your website. The last thing you want is for this surge in visitors to deter those same people from coming back because your website speed is too slow.

The physical location of a user to your server can also impact how fast your website is for them. People who are farther away from the server will experience slower loading times, even if you aren’t having high volumes of traffic at that time.

Content delivery networks solve that problem.

CDNs cache your website on networks of global servers. So when someone requests a file from your website, it gets routed to the server closest to their physical location.

For example, let’s say your origin server is located in Texas, but you’re using a CDN to host your files across the world. If a user in China navigates to your website, their browser can download files from a server somewhere else that’s nearby.

Venture Harbour ran some tests on five pages on their website after they implemented a CDN. These were the results:

  • Page 1 — 20% faster
  • Page 2 — 37% faster
  • Page 3 — 41% faster
  • Page 4 — 4% faster
  • Page 5 — 51% faster

It’s worth noting that the page that was 4% faster went from 2.06s to 1.97s, so it was already fast to begin with. Overall, Venture Harbour experienced a 30.2% decrease in loading time across their entire website. That’s a huge improvement.

I’d recommend using Cloudflare or StackPath (formerly MaxCDN) to help you set up your content delivery network.

Host videos on external platforms

Videos can definitely add lots of value to your website. In fact, 64% of consumers are more likely to buy products online if they can watch a video about it.

But videos on your website can slow down your loading times if they’re not properly optimized. Let me explain what I mean.

Let’s say you filmed a product demonstration video that you want to add to your website. How do you approach this?

If you’re planning to upload the video directly to your website through a file transfer protocol (FTP) or your WordPress editor, it’s the wrong approach. Doing this means the video will get hosted on your server, which will take up tons of space. Look at how this compares to other file types.

For those of you who are using a shared hosting plan, you’ll be limited in the amount of space you can use. Adding videos to your website this way will push your limits. This can also hinder the user experience. Assuming multiple people want to watch a video simultaneously, servers with limited bandwidth will cause lagging and stoppages throughout the playback.

Instead, upload your videos to a third-party platform, like YouTube.

That platform will host your video; then you can simply embed the video on your website. This method will save you server space and speed up your website.

Uninstall unused plugins

Plugins are a great way to improve the performance of your website. There’s a plugin for nearly everything you can imagine.

I use them as well, and they tend to make my life much easier.

With that said, too many plugins can make your website heavy and slow down your loading times. So it’s in your best interest to only install plugins that you’re actually going to use.

When searching for a plugin, look for all-in-one solutions so you don’t need to get one for every little feature. For example, say you’re looking for the best social media WordPress plugin. Rather than getting one plugin for Instagram, one plugin for Facebook, and one plugin for Twitter, look for one that supports all of these platforms.

Go through your plugins and get rid of ones that you aren’t using. These could potentially be slowing down your website.

Conclusion

The importance of website speed can’t be overstated. Page loading times can make or break the success of your site.

You can’t just launch a website and forget about it. Your loading speed needs to be monitored on a regular basis. Otherwise, you’ll have no way of knowing where you stand, and what needs to be improved.

So what’s it take to have a fast website in 2019?

There isn’t just one thing you can do. Start by following the list of best practices that I’ve identified above.

Don’t get overwhelmed. It’s unrealistic to implement all of these tactics overnight. Start with one or two and work your way down the list.