8 Tips For a Better Site Navigation

Your site navigation is one of the most important features of your storefront and overlooking any aspect of it can be catastrophic to your business. If you want to sell more, your customers need to be able to find what they want with ease. Any good store design begins and ends with a positive user experience, which always relies heavily on the simplicity of your navigation.

There are far too many online stores that spend a great deal of time on designing large, beautiful site images, only to offer a sub-par and confusing navigation structure. You can design the most beautiful and effective landing pages for your products, but it won’t matter if customers can’t find them.

With this in mind, here are our top recommendations for improving how people navigate your online store:

1. Simple & Apparent Navigation

Though it seems obvious to say, your navigation must be simple to use, easy to find, and consistent through all pages. Users have to learn how to use every new website they visit, so making your navigation structure the same throughout your site will make it easier for them to understand. Navigation menus should never interfere with other site functionality.

2. Top-Level Menu Items

The pages/categories that are at the top of your navigation structure must be intuitive and obvious. Each of these must be on the same level of importance. Don’t place categories in the top level that make more sense to be subcategories of another category. Your store should be structured like a tree, with the most important branches supporting smaller branches.

3. Clickable Categories

Everything in your navigation menu should be clickable. If you have a category with 3 sub-categories under it, customers should still be able to click to a page for the master category, even if that page only has a short category description and links to the sub categories.

4. Number of 1st and 2nd Level Items

It’s important to limit the number of 1st and 2nd level items in your navigation structure. If there too many, the category will feel too heavy and may be best served by splitting it up.

5. Obvious Labels

Terms that are used in your navigation must be easy to understand and not overlap. If the customer is confused by what category they should look in to find a particular item, then your category labels should be made clearer.

6. Featured Product Display

You can implement a featured product display within a “megamenu”-style navigation to show a good example of what kind of products will be found within a category, and possibly get your customers to the most popular products faster.

7. Intuitive Breadcrumbs

Make sure to include a useful breadcrumb trail on every page on your site to show your current location in the site structure so that users to navigate easily to parent pages. If you have a page that exists in more than one parent category, consider displaying two different breadcrumb paths so that users have a choice when navigating backward through the site structure.

8. Single Navigation Menu

Whenever possible, your site navigation should not compete with any other menus so that users do not get confused. If you have a navigation menu that spans the top of the page, do not have a competing menu on a left sidebar, or another menu on top for items of lesser importance.

Introducing Gboard: All the Power of Google Right From Your Phone’s Keyboard

Google has done it yet again – they’ve created an ingenious, super convenient, all powerful app. Say hello to Gboard – Google’s newest iPhone keyboard app (sorry Android users, currently it’s only available on iOS at the moment). Gboard takes all the search capabilities Google offers and compresses them into a neat little package that lives in your phone’s keyboard. Search for images, addresses, GIFs, (even emojis!) right from the little Google icon – it’s literally one tap away.

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We’re all familiar with the annoyances of having to switch apps all the time just to accomplish one silly task such as finding the perfect cat GIF to send your best friend. Previously, you would need to exit the texting app, open up Google, search for said GIF, save it, and then go back to the texting app to finally send it. Or what about looking up an address to send to your friend so you can meet up for dinner later? Same story – exit the texting app, open up Google maps, search for the address (and get the wrong one a few times), copy, go back to the texting app, paste, and THEN send. Pain in the butt right? Well, good news – Gboard eliminates all of that nonsense. Now you can find all the cat GIFs & restaurant addresses your little heart desires without ever leaving the texting app.

Simply tap the Google icon (right underneath your camera icon on the left) and enter whatever it is you’re searching for and the results will pop up right in your keyboard underneath the search bar. Think of your keyboard as your new direct portal to Google – convenient, fast, & simple. Think of all the possibilities! Think of all the time you’ll be able to save not having to switch between apps all the time. Plus, Gboard follows you into all of your apps – email, texting, YouTube, etc. It’s never been so easy to search & share information.

On top of all of the magic listed above, Gboard also offers the Swipe function, something iPhone owners previously have been forced to go without. Now you can type out a word in a single swipe instead of having to tap each little letter. But wait, there’s more! You can also search for emojis now instead of swiping right 500 times just to find that stupid little pizza emoji you know your brother loves. Now you can simply search ‘Pizza’ and the pizza emoji will pop up as the first result (to the left of the Predictive suggestions).

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There are a few cons to this wonderful new app however. For one, there is no Ok Google built into the app so users who are accustomed to using that feature might not be too pleased. Also, if you’re not a big fan of Predictive Text being on then this app might be more of an annoyance than a blessing to you. Unfortunately Gboard only works with the Predictive Text function on and there is no way to shut it off. And the last one has already been touched on – currently it is only available through iOS which is eliminating a large portion of mobile users.

All you have to do to get this wonderful app is open up the App Store and download it. All of the instructions & details on how to set it up are within the app and it even links you to the correct places within your Settings so you don’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to find the right section. Go download it – you know you want to.

Still curious? Here are a few other articles all about Gboard:

Google Makes Major Shift on Search Results Pages

You may not have noticed it, but Google made a major change to the way it displays search results.  Google recently removed all pay-per-click ads from the right side of it’s search results pages.  After more than ten years of Adwords pay-per-click results taking up both the top 1-3 spots and the entire right column being a long list of ads, this is a significant shift in how Google is going to provide “answers” to search queries.So why did Google remove a major source of revenue on the right column of its search results?  The answer is almost certainly a result of testing and monetization.  Google thinks it can provide a better user experience, and make more money, by using that space more wisely.  But what is going to go there?  To learn where Google is going, you have to be fully immersed in the world of all things Google.  Luckily for you, that’s pretty much all we do. 🙂

Over the past few months, the team at VenturaU (and also Ventura Web Design) has noticed that there are many queries that bring up a special box called a Knowledge Panel on the right with relevant info about your search.  While the knowledge box itself is not new, how it displays specific information about medical searches is very interesting.  Look at the results for “hay fever”:

You can now learn about symptoms and treatments directly on the search results page, without leaving Google.  This content includes information from medical doctors about how common a condition is, whether it’s critical or contagious, typically affected age group(s), and more.  The knowledge box includes tabs for an Overview, Symptoms, and Treatments for that ailment.
The information comes from a variety of sources, including the NIH, CDC, FDA, WHO, and more.  Google has also partnered with organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, Apollo Hospitals, Lumiata, and VoxHealth.  The source of the information in the past was quoted very prominently and the goal of Google was to help you go from Google Search Results to the website with the answer to your query.  As you can see from the search result image above, that “goal” seems to have changed.

Even the knowledge box is styled and looks nothing like any other knowledge boxes.  Google commissioned illustrations from licensed medical illustrators for use here.  The colors and attention-grabbing layout differs greatly from what Google has provided in the past.

This is a major shift in Google’s philosophy.  This layout shows the direction Google is heading: to a more display driven layout, rather than its historically text only layout.  Remember when Google’s single goal was to get you OFF of their website and on to what you’re seeking?  Google is now answering a question without linking away.  But more importantly, Google is now in the content creation business.  This is a major historic shift for the search leader.  Think about that for a moment.  Google is using the power of all the data it has access to, that you no longer have access to via Google Analytics, to guide its own decision making on content creation.

From the Google perspective, this new direction improves the user experience by providing “quality” answers even faster than before.  Google’s stated mission is to answer the question you have, before you’ve even fully typed the question in to the search box (instant search (link:https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/186645?hl=en).

The knowledge box is a function of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which launched in May 2012.  it’s used both by Google itself to improve search relevancy and also to present the knowledge boxes that provide facts about people, places and things alongside regular results. Google reports it has over 3.5 billion facts, including information about 500 million entities, including movies, museums, bodies of water, music, astronomical objects, buildings, sports, medical ailments, and more.  Similar to how Google uses a link graph to model how pages are interlinked to and which are relevant for searches, it uses the knowledge graph to determine relationships between entities and report facts about them.  If you currently have a knowledge graph card and want that information to change, you need to request a change from Google.  Here is the link for more information on changing knowledge graph cards. (link: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/6325583?hl=en)

There is currently no mechanism to include yourself or your site as part of the Knowledge Graph.  If you run a blog all about movies, there isn’t a way to be listed as a suggested source for information.  Tagging information on your landing pages with rich snippets can be helpful in the long run, though it’s no guarantee of inclusion.  This is where good SEO efforts can help.  Your goal, as a website owner, is to have Google view your site as the leading authority of information on a particular topic.  If Google determines that your topic is popular enough, it may create Knowledge Cards and include a link to your site or information in that card.

In an interview with Search Engine Land, the Google’s Former Head of Search, Amit Singhal, noted that the facts come from publicly available sources like Wikipedia, the CIA World Factbook, and Google Books.  They also license data from other sources.  “Whenever we can get our hands on structured data, we add it,” said Singhal.  This is incredibly important to online store owners, as Google has said for years that structured data is important to being able to categorize product listings and display them in a relevant way.  While knowledge boxes currently lack the ability to take action on most of their listings (you can learn about the Tower of London but there is no option to buy tickets to a tour), that functionality is coming.  Amit recently left Google to pursue philanthropic efforts.  (http://searchengineland.com/amit-singhal-the-head-of-google-search-to-leave…)
To make room for the knowledge box on selected queries, Google removed the ads on the right column.  While this will limit the amount of adspace available and possibly drive up the cost of adwords campaigns, the side and bottom ads never did amount for the majority of click volume.  According to a study of January 2016 desktop paid clicks by position, only 14.6% were from the side and bottom, so the change is not decreasing revenue by any appreciable amount, only ad impressions.
However, it does allow for more Google PLAs (Product Listing Ads) on the right column, which is a benefit for online stores that offer a product feed to Google Shopping.  Also, if users grow to depend on Google being an authority rather than merely a portal, PLAs will be more trusted and therefore effective.  Overall, this is a good move for Google, its users, and those that advertise on it.

The Importance of Online Reviews

If you’ve ever shopped online, chances are that you’ve seen and considered reviews for merchants you shop with and products that you’ve browsed. Customers prefer real testimonials to marketing fluff, so it’s no surprise that reviews are the fastest growing social marketing tool for online stores. According to a 2012 study, almost 33% of shoppers trust reviews over a particular brand or its marketing. If you’re considering adding reviews to your website or online store, there are a few things you should know.

Online reviews are a becoming a big factor in determining your placement in search and shopping results. Total number of reviews, review quality and length, and trust of your review platform all play a big role. A 2013 study reported that almost 85% of users considered reviews before visiting a new restaurant, hiring a contractor, or making a major purchase, so it’s no wonder that search engines take reviews into account more than in the past.

In general, there are 3 different types of reviews.

Merchant reviews are a measure of trust in your business in general. When someone fills out a merchant review, they’re reviewing your customer service, shipping time, and overall quality of shopping experience. Merchant reviews are powerful incentives to trust your brand.

Product reviews rate the quality of individual products. Product reviews help build trust in the particular brand of a product, and allow customers to read personal stories from other buyers who’ve used that product, as well as share those reviews on social media. In fact, 42% of all Amazon customers have left product reviews, and products with postiive review have sold 200% more than those with no ratings. The best and most trusted review programs only allow reviews from someone who has actually bought that product.

Local Reviews are reviews you collect either in your physical business location or on the go (using a tablet or phone, for instance). You can then syndicate that review to many online lists and social media platforms to get you the most exposure available when someone searches your business.

While you can always install a simple review plugin or use whatever comes built-in with your e-commerce platform of choice, it’s far better to have reviews collected by a Google and/or Microsoft approved third-party review company. Those reviews are guaranteed to be from actual customers, which means they can’t be faked. Depending on who is collecting your reviews, can be used to boost your visibility and attractiveness in Google Adwords, Google Shopping, Yahoo and Bing ad networks.

We’ve found Shopper Approved to be the best review company overall. Their prices are highly competitive and their customer service is top notch. Their review management tools are easy to use, and they’re one of the most trusted names in the business. Shopper Approved collected 70% more review and are historically more visible on search engines than their competitors. Most importantly, their ratings are fed to Google so shoppers will see your review stars when browsing Google shopping.

Want to get started with reviews for your website or online store today? VenturaU can set you up with a 30-day free trial of Shopper Approved. For more information, contact us today.

How Can I Make My Store a Google Trusted Store

Having the trust of consumers is very important for online retailers.  There are a number of different ways to build trust for your store.  Becoming a Google Trusted Store and displaying the Trusted Stores badge on your site goes a long way towards building trust with your potential customers.

Being accepted in the Google Trusted Store program and displaying the badge on your site lets consumers know that their orders are protected by Google for up to $1000, and they know Google will help in resolving any issues they have with your store.

Google doesn’t just let any online retailer display the Trusted Store badge; There are several requirements you will need to meet to earn that badge:

  1. Currently, the program is only available to US merchants
  2. The site’s content and customer support must be in English
  3. Merchants must process 600 orders on a 90-day rolling basis
  4. 90% of orders must be delivered on-time
  5. The Merchant must maintain a minimum 4 star rating on Google Trusted Stores customer survey and seller ratings over a 90-day rolling basis
  6. No more than 1 in 300 protected orders shall be escalated on a 90-day rolling basis
  7. It shall take on average no more than 4 calendar days for a merchant to resolve any issues
  8. If the annual payout of refunds paid by Google exceeds $5000 the client’s participation in the program may be suspended or terminated.

If you believe your store qualifies, head over to Google Trusted Stores to sign up for an account. Google will ask you several questions about your business. Once you answer all the questions you are ready to integrate the Google Trusted Store code into your site.  Depending on the platform you use this could be relatively easy, both Yahoo! Stores and Bigcommerce have built the code into their platforms, or may require more technical knowledge to integrate the code with your site.

Once the Trusted Store code is in place you need to test the code to make sure it is working correctly, Google gives you a special URL to test the code.  If the code is working correctly, your store will enter the Trusted Stores qualification period.  The qualification period can last anywhere from 30 – 90 days, depending on your order volume.  During this time Google will monitor your store and the badge will not appear on your site.  After the qualification Google will notify you whether your store passed and was accepted into the program.  If it was the badge will automatically appear on the site.

 

The Absolute Beginners Guide to SEO

Most of the visitors to your site are going to get there through search engines, the vast majority of which from Google.  There are many companies out there that will promise to get you at or near the top of Google rankings for your keywords.  Stay away from these companies; stay far away.  There are no guarantees in SEO, particularly if you are in very competitive field with many established competitors.  If you are a new company with a brand new URL, even if you do everything right you might still find yourself buried on page five in the organic search engine results.

That being said, there are many simple things you can do to increase your chances of being listed higher in Google.  This guide is intended for someone who is just starting out and has no experience in SEO at all.

Behind the Scenes Code 

  1. Page URLS: Each page should contain a keyword rich URL.  For example if you have a page on your site about fishing boats, example.com/fishing-boats/  is a much better and more descriptive URL than example.com/fshngbts/
  2. Title Tags: All pages should have unique title tags that are keyword rich and no longer than 55 to 60 characters in length.  The title tag should accurately represent and describe what the content on the page is about. Don’t repeat keywords or make the title just a string of keywords.
  3. Meta Description Tag: Each page also needs a unique meta description, which should be no longer than 160 characters.  The meta description should be easily readable by humans and accurately describe what the page is about.  The meta description should be keyword rich, but don’t repeat a keyword more than once.
  4. Meta Keyword Tag: Ignore the keyword meta tag.  Google doesn’t currently use them. They were prone spam, as people would try to game the system by repeating the same keywords over and over.
  5. Image Alt Tag and File Names:  Google can’t tell what your picture is about by just looking at it.  It uses the file name and the alt tag to determine what the picture is about.  This info is also used by Google to help it understand what the page the image is on is about.   For example, if you have a picture of a Tracker Pro 160 Mod V bass fishing boat, a good file name for the image would be: tracker-pro-160-fishing-boat.jpg, and a good alt tag would be “Tracker Pro 160 Mod V bass fishing boat”.  Don’t just put the image on the page with a file names\ such as image1.jpg or DSC_0001.jpg.  Make sure you give it a descriptive file name.  The alt tag shouldn’t be too long.  It should be short and to the point.  Google will see excessively long alt tags as spammy.

On Page Content

  1. Page Structure: The content on your page should fit within a certain structure. You need a heading, paragraph(s) and in some cases subheadings.  Make the headings stand out from the main content.  Your content should be geared toward the users of your site and not toward the search engines. Use heading tags properly, h1 for the most important headline, h2 for the next most important headline, and so on.  Make sure your content is easy to read and typo-free.  Your anchor text (text that links to other pages within your site) should be keyword rich.  Anchor text should not simply be “click here”, as that doesn’t give any context to Google about the page you are linking to.
  2. Text as Images: All the important text on the page should actually be text.  On some web pages you will see what looks like a block of text, but when you try to copy that text you find out it is actually an image. This is often done to get a pixel perfect layout or because the font used for the text is non-standard.  Avoid this at all costs.  Google doesn’t read the text in the image so it is useless for SEO.
  3. Navigation: Your site should be easy to navigate and have a well thought-out navigation hierarchy.  All navigation menus should be text based with no images, JavaScript or Flash navigation that Google can’t read.  If it is hard for your users to navigate through your site and figure where things are, it will be hard for Google to understand as well.
  4. Mobile Ready: Your website should look good on both mobile, tablet, and desktop devices.  Google favors websites that have mobile-friendly designs.  If your website doesn’t look good in mobile it will be penalized in Google’s mobile search results.  There are two different methods to make your site mobile friendly, either via responsive design or adaptive design.  Both ways work, but Google’s preferred method is responsive design.
  5. Content: Though this is last on the list, it is probably the most important.  Make sure the content on your site is original, high quality, and updated frequently.  The content should be easy to read and geared toward people, not search engines. Though you shouldn’t write content that is geared to the search engines, you should keep in mind keywords that your users may use when searching for your content and use those keywords, in a natural way, throughout your pages.

5 Tips for Properly Merchandising Your Online Store

Properly merchandising your online store is just as important as merchandising a brick-and-mortar store. Having a well-merchandised store can lead to increased conversion rates and higher average ticket sizes.

Online merchandising is, at its most basic, a way of displaying your products that entices your customers to make a purchase.  There are a myriad of different ways and methods to properly merchandise your store.  We will take a look at some of the most important.

  1. Make sure people can easily find what they are looking for.  This includes proper categorization of your inventory.  A store with poor categorization can be a nightmare for your potential customers to navigate through.  Make sure your navigation is clear and easy to follow.  The fewer steps a customer needs to take to get to the product the better.  Make sure your store has a search function.
  2. Provide unique product descriptions.  Writing your own product descriptions is more important than having your own product photography.  Using the same generic product description is going to hurt your SEO as Google will see it as duplicate content, and you will be lucky to make it on page one of the search results.  Writing your own compelling product descriptions will give you the opportunity to include any important keywords that the manufacturer may have missed.  It also allows you to optimize the content to your customers and fit within your store’s culture.
  3. Use high quality photos and product descriptions not provided by the manufacturer.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but many stores just use the product descriptions and photos provided by the manufacturer. Using the same photos and descriptions as your competitors will not set you apart from the crowd.   If possible, hire a professional photographer to take product photos for you.If professional photography is out of the budget, take your own photographs.  You should only take your own photographs if you can match or exceed the quality of the photos that the manufacturer supplies.  Poor photography shows a lack of attention to detail and makes your business look like an amateur operation. Make use of alternate images by showing different angles of the products or a close-up of important details.
  4. Make sure any promotions you are running are prominently featured.  Use attractive banners with compelling graphics on the home page to draw attention to your promotions.  If you run promotions that are category specific ,don’t forget to add banners to the category page as well.  Feature your best selling products or newest items on your home page. And don’t miss the opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell by adding related / alternative products and accessories on your product pages.
  5. Make it easy for your customers to make a purchase from you.  You have done a good job of merchandising your store, you have killer photos and product descriptions, cross-sell and up-sell is properly set-up, and promotions are prominently featured.  All this hard work could be wasted if it is difficult for your customers to make a purchase.  Make sure your buy button is prominently featured and easy for customers to see.The checkout process should be as streamlined as possible.  Do you force customers to sign up for an account before they can buy from you, or can they check out as a guest?  Remove any obstacles that may prevent a guest from completing the checkout steps.  Do you offer PayPal as a checkout option?  Many consumers are reluctant to give credit card information to merchants they are unfamiliar with, but they will use PayPal since that information isn’t passed on to the merchant and it gives the customer a degree of better security.

Merchandising your entire store can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but it’s certainly worth the boost in conversions and customer engagement.  VenturaU offers professional, personalized assistance in merchandising your online store.   Contact us today to see how we can help you.