Profitable Product Pages

Sharper search means shoppers are skipping home pages and going directly to product pages. Is your site prepared for the change in traffic flow?
According to MarketingSherpa's just released "Landing Page Handbook, Second Edition," 79 percent of traffic from search engines is directed to interior pages, making every product or landing page a de facto home page.

"Checklist for Comprehensive Content," adapted from the "ARS eCommerce/e-taling group Online Content Impact Survey"

Text/Image
  • Start with a clear overview of the product
  • Follow up with a long description (mixing paragraphs and bullet points) for those who seek more information
  • Provide a crisp, clear image to give a true sense of the merchandise

Tools

  • Include user-generated ratings/reviews
  • Incorporate alternative views, zoom and color change
  • Include product comparisons (if appropriate)

Customer Service

  • Place your merchant guarantee in a prime location
  • Show stock status
  • Include customer service links with a toll-free number
"Today's home page is quickly evolving into not being a home page," explained Guy Mansueto, the vice president of eMarketing at Bayshore Solutions, an Advertising Age Top 100 Interactive Marketing Services Agency. "And the reason for that is the tremendous amount of search taking place today on the Internet [over 9 billion searches a month in the U.S. alone, according to comScore]. Search engines are now defining what a site's home page really is." And more often than not these days, it's a product page.

The trouble is, if your product pages don't include the proper amount and mix of information that online shoppers are looking for, they'll leave without making a purchase. Indeed, according a recent survey conducted by ARS eCommerce and the e-tailing group, 79 percent of online shoppers rarely or never purchase a product online without complete product information — and 72 percent abandon the site completely, often going to a competitor, if they don't find what they want or need on a particular product page.

So how can e-commerce businesses optimize their product pages to attract search engine traffic and turn visitors into purchasers? ECommerce-Guide.com spoke with experts to find out.

Profitable Product Pages: The Top 10 Must-Haves
According to the "ARS eCommerce/e-tailing group Online Content Impact Survey," more than half of consumers spend six or more minutes on an individual product page when deciding whether or not to make an online purchase. During that time, they spend 43 percent of their time reading text (product-specific information), 31 percent of their time looking at images (preferably with alternate and zoom views) and spend 26 percent of their time using on-page tools (such as customer ratings and reviews and comparison guides).

So what text, images and tools do consumers consider "very important"? According to the survey, the Top 10 must-haves were:
  1. a product overview
  2. a merchant guarantee
  3. stock status/availability
  4. a high quality image
  5. customer service links
  6. product-specific information
  7. a long (detailed) description
  8. a size chart
  9. a toll-free number
  10. customer ratings
While including a product overview may be an obvious must-have, many online merchants fail to recognize the importance of including an online guarantee on product pages, explained Lauren Freedman, the president of the e-tailing group. Not only is a guarantee easy to add, it gives customers the confidence and reassurance they need to make an online purchase — and has been shown to increase average order size.

Many smaller merchants also don't let shoppers know if the product they are looking at is in stock or not, another avoidable mistake. "If you have the product in stock, let the customer know," said Freedman. And if you don't, let them know when it will be in stock (if you can).

Common Product Page Mistakes
Another common mistake online merchants make is that they don't include a toll-free number on their product pages, which shoppers like because sometimes they want to talk to a person to find out more about a product.

"In terms of other things that go wrong, a lot of times it's too much clutter," said Freedman. "You can't find what you need… or the right images… to make a decision." Bayshore's Mansueto agreed. Your product pages, he said, shouldn't look like a page from a print brochure or catalog but be geared to an online, interactive audience, with bullet points and short paragraphs and interactive tools.

Product pages can also suffer from the opposite problem, not enough information. For example, said Freedman, merchants will often advertise a sale price (versus the regular price of an item), but they don't let shoppers know how much they are saving — and shoppers, particularly women, love to know how much of a deal they are getting.

Similarly, online merchants often wait until checkout, which is too late, to note special offers (such as free or discount shipping) and cross-selling or up-selling opportunities, which should appear right on product pages.

Another problem, which may be harder to address, is speed, or lack thereof. "Speed is king," said Mansueto. "Any time you have to wait for a page to display, it opens you up to lost visitors."

Stand and Deliver: Anticipate and Address Visitors' Needs
"Understanding and addressing visitors' needs, so that they can get what they are looking for [quickly], is very important," stated Mansueto, who cited Amazon.com and Dell.com as good examples of e-commerce sites with excellent product pages. (Freedman also is an Amazon fan and likes eBags, Victoria's Secret and Pottery Barn's sites, too.) Your "Web site [needs] to establish an online conversation with the visitor about your products and solutions," explained Mansueto. And the way online merchants can and should do that is by showcasing each product with helpful, search-engine friendly product descriptions, a great picture and ratings and reviews from fellow customers.

"Search engines are now defining what the home page of a site is," reiterated Mansueto. "So optimizing product pages for search engines, for the different types of traffic you are trying to attract, is critical."

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a freelance writer who covers issues and technologies that impact small and mid-sized businesses.

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