E-commerce Best Practices Series (Part IV): Understanding what your customers are doing online

Detailed data can help make your site more effective

Fourth of a five-part E-commerce Best Practices Series:

By Brad Smith

With fast, easy access to information online, customers today come to your dealership armed with more knowledge than ever.

In the same way, you can be better educated about their interests and buying habits — so that you can convert that knowledge into more sales and satisfied customers.

In part four of this five-part e-commerce series, let’s explore some ways to understand what your customers are doing online, so you can use this knowledge to your advantage.

What information should I be monitoring online?

Your Web site is operating, you’re getting traffic, and hits are increasing month over month. Is that enough? The answer is “no,” because the goal of your site is to generate sales.

Some businesses tend to just look at the traffic going through the e-commerce area. But that’s just visitors, and there are many other contributing factors to your conversion success. If you’re not seeing the numbers you want in e-commerce, it may be because you don’t have quality traffic overall.

Think of it this way. If you had, say, 300 people enter your brick-and-mortar store but only one person goes through to the checkout, you’d want to understand why that happened and what those customers were doing.

Ask yourself: Where are my visitors coming from? What keywords are bringing them to my site? Which pages get the most traffic?  

Any advice on analytical tools?

There are a variety of popular online tracking tools, including Web Trends, Omniture and Google Analytics. Google Analytics is particularly simple and intuitive to use. Plus, it’s free! So, for purposes of this article, let’s focus on Google Analytics.

When you first start using analytics, keep an eye on:

Where your traffic is coming from
What keywords people are typing in to find you
How traffic flows through your Web site to see where it is stopping

That’s just the beginning of the analytical capabilities available that can help you recognize evolving trends and customer preferences.

While the numbers can be helpful to your e-commerce efforts, don’t get too carried away at first with monitoring. Why? Because if your traffic is low, you won’t get data that’s consistent enough to analyze whether a significant pattern is occurring.

Therefore, how frequently you should check the statistics for your site depends on the volume. When your Web site is new, you probably won’t have to check as frequently. Then, once your traffic begins to grow, you should get in the habit of checking more frequently — weekly at a minimum.


Research has shown that people look at Web pages in a rough “F” pattern. People scan first across the top, then across the middle, and finally down the left side of the page — as demonstrated by these “heatmaps” from a Nielsen Norman Group study that tracked users’ eyes as they looked at three different Web pages. For more on the research, see “F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content” at www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html. How can I apply what I learn to improve my site?

One of the most practical functions you can take advantage of with Google Analytics is something called a site overlay. On each page, it lets you see exactly where people are clicking. For example, if you feature products on your home page, the site overlay will help you see which ones are getting clicked on and which are not.

Typically, you’ll find that users do a scan roughly in the shape of an “F” — they look across at the top of the page (forming the F’s top horizontal bar), then across the middle (the second horizontal bar), and then down the whole left side of the page. The site overlay can help you identify opportunities to capitalize on your visitors’ attention.

As a general rule, you should switch products in these areas weekly so long as each product falls within a category that’s popular in that season, such as lawnmower blades and oil throughout the summer. If your sales practices are demonstrating success, continue what you’re doing, but you should still keep content and specials fresh so visitors always see something new and have a reason to keep coming back.  

What is the “bounce rate” (and what should mine be)?

Your bounce rate is a percentage based on how many people leave without going any further into your site than the page they landed on.

With e-commerce, you want people to move throughout your site and, ultimately, to the checkout. Thus, your bounce rate should be a low number — no more than 20 percent, meaning only 20 percent of people left your site before going deeper than the page they landed on.

To help you reach that target, identify the steps for someone to get through the checkout process. Using analytics will allow you to track that entire process and see if there are trends regarding when visitors leave. It could be various things. For example, you might discover you’re requiring visitors to log in too early.

What about sales conversion rates?

In general, sales conversion rates for e-commerce are 2-3 percent of all traffic that comes through the site. Sites that are especially strong in e-commerce reach 4-5 percent.

If your site is falling short, some simple ways to increase your conversion rate may include:

Clearer calls to action for visitors
Greater emphasis throughout the site on fewer terms, such as “Sales Specials on All Parts”
Cross selling at every opportunity. For example, on the service landing page, cross sell into OEM parts or maintenance items.
Promotional “carrots” that entice visitors such as limited-time or online-only specials to keep people from moving on to the next site
How do I get information about individual visitors?

Since you’re trying to close deals with customers, you certainly want to get to the next step of learning contact information about your best prospects.

But customers are understandably guarded about this data, and you must respect their concerns by following some basic guidelines. For one thing, keep your form as simple as possible. Ask only for the details you really need — name, phone, e-mail address — or, better yet, just the e-mail address.

In addition, depending on how your Web site is laid out, it’s sometimes risky to ask customers to provide their information too soon in the process because they might quickly navigate away. A best practice to follow is never to force visitors to log in or create an account before they’ve seen product pricing.

How can I take advantage of social media?

A big part of social media is just engaging with your customers regularly, so that you’re not relying on search marketing alone to bring people to your site. Your analytics will reveal the sites where people are active and accessing your site.

Go where they are, listen to what they’re saying, and interact.

Dealers can gain a lot of traffic and loyalty by contributing to sites where people are looking for answers. Expand your reach by participating in forums, or set up a blog that continually generates articles on a similar topic such as, say, summer lawncare tips and tricks. You can provide links into your site within or alongside this content.

Using social media properly is all about interacting, answering questions, and engaging. If you post nothing other than sales and product information, you’ll see very little return for your efforts.

Can I use analytics to track offline campaigns and other goals?


A good e-commerce system should enable functionality such as coupons/discount codes connected directly to each campaign so that you can track which campaigns are the most successful.

You may also have broader goals for what you want people to do on your site. For example, perhaps you want every visitor to go to the services page. You can easily monitor your site’s progress, as well as which referral sites or keywords are best supporting this goal.

There are few limits to the information you can gain about your customers online. But the world of Web data can be overwhelming, so make sure that you spend time educating yourself or look to a good Web services provider that can help you sort through the numbers and use them to your greatest advantage.

 Brad Smith is product manager of web services including WebsiteSmart Pro, PartStream and PartSmartWeb for ARI, which provides technology-enabled services to dealers, distributors and manufacturers. From electronic parts catalogs to dealer e-commerce solutions to search-engine and direct marketing and more, ARI helps increase sales and productivity for companies in several industries, including outdoor power equipment, powersports, motorcycles, marine, recreation vehicles, appliances, agricultural equipment, floor maintenance, and construction. ARI currently serves more than 20,000 dealers, 100 manufacturers and 150 distributors in more than 100 countries worldwide. For more information on ARI, visit www.YourEveryAdvantage.com.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *