Factors to look for when choosing an Ecommerce platform

I work with a number of ecommerce softwares and platforms each day. Some of them are lovely and some of them are terrible.

A number of people ask which ecommerce platform or software is the best one. You can’t recommend one without understanding the requirement of end user.

If I have to name an ideal platform for small or medium businesses (Large or enterprise business can ask their IT consultant), these features will be the available in it.

Factors to look for when choosing an Ecommerce platform

  1. Good Templates
  2. Standard Features
  3. Owner friendliness
  4. Affordable
  5. Documentation and Community
  6. Extensible
  7. Secure
  8. Scalable

Good templates

The software or platform should at least come with some well structured and responsive templates. It doesn’t have to be out of the box design but it should be good looking, minimal, responsive and easily customizable. One can make the theme work by just doing basic editing .

Thus, a new user doesn’t have to invest a lot of time or money to make a store which doesn’t suck.

Shopify has always been at top here. Their templates are great and well designed from start. They are also easily customizable and provide good experience.

BigCommerce used to have ancient looking themes but they recently launched some really well designed themes and now they are back to business.

WooCommerce might need some work in here. It’s basically a plugin and need a theme on top of it. I couldn’t find any free responsive theme for Volusion.

Standard Features

Standard features just contains basic functionalities of an ecommerce store. A platform should have customer area, cart & checkout page, product and category pages, shipping and fullfilment and seo and marketing friendliness etc.

BigCommerce aces here. It comes with more feature than any other popular platform and they are important for marketing and other purpose. Shopify and WooCommerce both also has nice set of features but not as much as BigCommerce.

Owner Friendliness

The backend (Admin area) of the platform should be owner friendly. It should allow very easy interface to manage store. There should be a good looking a detailed dashboard to list important things and user experience to perform all management tasks should be not weary.

Shopify and BigCommerce both has excellent backend but I will give more points to Shopify. Shopify literately wows. WooCommerce has good backend too but again as a WordPress plugin you don’t have much option.

Affordable

Affordability counts. You don’t want to spend thousand of dollars to start. The ongoing cost should be minimum. There shouldn’t be any hidden costs.

Shopify plans start from $29/month and BigCommerce plans start from $34.95/month. WooCommerce is self-hosted but a good VPS should cost you around $25/month.

Documentation and Community

Most of the small stores are one-man (or one woman, no discrimination) operations. Owners want to do most of the thing by themselves and proper documentation and community helps to learn.

Shopify’s community is more rich. They have a ecommerce university, detailed documentation, popular blog and forum. BigCommerce also has engaging forum and documentation available. WooCommerce gets some points here too because of its WordPress dependency.

Extensible

Everyone wants assurance that their store can have more features in future if required. Built-in features are good but not sufficient.

Integration with other apps and services is also mandatory these day. Store is incomplete without Google Analytics integration. Email marketing is required for more sales. That’s where extensibility comes.

Shopify and BigCommerce both has app ecosystem. Shopify’s app marketplace is more rich and has useful application. BigCommerce adopted the marketplace model late but gaining. WooCommerce plugins are being development every single day.

Secure

A platform should offer security feature to both users and owner. The data should be safe and security mechanisms (Such as SSL) should be used by default.

BigCommerce and Shopify both has excellent security, Both of them offer free shared SSL. You can also opt for your own SSL for a price. WooCommerce is somehow less secure than these platform. It’s not because of the WordPress but hosting a store by an unexperienced person attracts more threats.

Scalable

Scalability is important when you want to grow. Everyone wants to grow at some point and the platform should support it. You can add more contents and features, handle more traffic, target different demographics without any pain.

As a hosted platform, BigCommerce and Shopify both has different pricing tier. If you are growing, you just switch to an upgraded plan. Shopify recently launched a program called ‘Shopify Plus‘ for Enterprises. BigCommerce also supports custom plan for enterprise needs.

Scaling with WooCommerce requires more efforts. You need to be more technical or hire technical guy to support scalability.

I hope from now on, you will think about these parameters before choosing an platform.

Track External (Outbound) Links in Universal Google Analytics

This solution is only helpful if you are using the new Universal Analytics. If you have a WordPress blog, just use the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin by Yoast and you are good.

We’ll be using Event tracking here and the code automatically logs an event when there is a click on external links.

Steps for tracking external links, downloads, email links automatically

  1. Include jQuery in your site header.
  2. Download and host this file somewhere and then include it in site header.

That should work. It will create an event with ‘links’ category, ‘click’ action and the external link as label every time there is a click on external link.

auto-link-tracking

You can find the clicks report in your Google Analytics under Content << Events << Top Events. Connect via twitter if facing a problem.

Affiliate/Referral Marketing campaign for Indian Retailers

No one has written about affiliate/referral campaigns targeting Indian retailers. So, I am adding my two cents here.

Affiliate vs Referral

Note- I’ll be using a/r as a short-cut for Affiliate/Referral in this article.

Do you need an Affiliate or Referral marketing campaign?

You might be wondering if your business needs such campaigns. You’re already spending a good amount of money into different channels. You’re doing SEO, PPC, Re-marketing and Social marketing etc. Why invest time and resources in another marketing channel?

The answer is Yes. You do need a/r marketing campaign. If managed correctly, these campaigns might become an important asset.

Some facts:

  • Total Number of Affiliates have increased by 42% in 2012.
  • ‘Online Affiliate’ was voted #1 job of 2012 by a recent article from MSNBC.
  • A referred customer has a 16% higher life-time value (LTV) according to The Wharton School Business.
  • 83% of satisfied customers are willing to refer.

Advantages:

  • Pay for performance model helps for controlling costs.
  • More exposure and buzz helps brand to gain more recognition

Difference between an affiliate and referral marketing campaign

An affiliate has financial motivation. He doesn’t know about the referred customers personally and uses a broadcasting medium to promote.

Referral marketing is based on the relationship between referrer and potential customers rather than financial motivation. A referrer recommends to his friends or family members using direct communication.

Businesses using a/r campaigns in India

I’m not really sure about the exact number but these popular stores are benefiting from such campaigns.

  1. Flipkart
  2. Jabong
  3. Myntra
  4. MakeMyTrip
  5. Yatra
  6. FreeCultr
  7. Via

And the list goes on.

Tools/Services which help for setting up a/r campaigns

There are a numbers of platforms/tools which can be used. Some of the businesses listed above use their custom software.

If you want to launch your own a/r campaign easily and quickly, you can use the services listed below.

ReferralCandy

ReferralCandy is a service which lets you create a referral marketing campaign. Plans starts from Rs 700/month and it integrates with almost every single ecommerce platform.

ReferralCandy Indian customers- Yatra & FersnPetals

iDevAffiliate

iDevAffiliate is hosted software for Affiliate Marketing and it integrates with most of the carts/platforms. It also supports Indian currency and its licences are available from $99.

iDevAffiliate Indian Customer – Hostgator India

OMGPM

OMGPM is an affiliate network used by popular merchants. It seems to be most popular affiliate network solution present now.

OMGPM Indian Customers – BabyOYE

Getting more from a/r campaign

  • Fix your Conversion Rate if you’re willing to use Affiliate campaign. Affiliates hate low converting websites.
  • Test incentives and promotional materials to find out which drives more conversion
  • Connect with affiliates/referrers at regular basis. Teaching them a bit about marketing will benefit both parties.

I hope the article helps. If you have any questions or something to add, please use the twitter link below or contact page.

An ‘Exact Match Domain’ case

You have read all about Exact Match Domain (EMD) algorithm effect and how it is supposed to remove the low quality websites tricking to get the higher ranks. Here is what Matt Cutts tweeted:

https://twitter.com/mattcutts/statuses/251784203597910016

Well, I have a case to share. I was going through my SpyFu account and searching for keywords with highest CPC. A link to those keywords.

mesothelioma firm is listed on 57th place with CPC of $207.83. I validated this CPC data using Google Adwords tool and it was confirmed. $214.64 for a click. Can you believe that?

Now, I did a quick search for mesothelioma firm and the site http://www.mesotheliomafirm.com/ was on top. I opened the website and WTF! This is just a WordPress website with almost no content.

I was strong believer that EMD update with demote this site. So, there might be some other cases.

  1. A real site in past before the current site to earn the position
  2. Backlink spamming to trick the ranking
  3. Exact match domain effect still exist

I checked Archive.org Wayback machine and looked for any ‘real website’ in past. Found some stored copies but they had the same content as current site. Link to Archive.org result also the post date on current website is 27 Oct 2010, so it doesn’t make any sense.

I also did a backlink analysis on Open Site Explorer and there was nothing in there. No backlinks, Domain authority only 1 and even after that site ranks at top. I never seen any website with only 1 Domain authority to get the top place.

openSiteexplorer-emd

So, the only theory which makes sense that ‘Exact match Domain’ was working for this domain. I have not much results to contradict the EMD algo update but this is some hope for spammers. Got anything to share?

Google Ecommerce tracking in 3DCart

Jenny asked me for a small project – To set up Ecommerce tracking in her 3DCart store. I thought it as a small task but it took more than 15 days. A really long story with so many problems.

What was the major problem?

The major problem was use of Shared SSL or Lack of Dedicated SSL. She was using shared provided (Free one) by 3DCart.

Why shared SSL for 3Dcart is a problem for Ecommerce tracking?

Because if you use shared SSL, all your secure pages will be hosted on subdomain.3dcartstores.com.

And as it is not your primary domain, you need cross-domain tracking to keep up the original traffic source between your domain and subdomain of 3dcartstores. Otherwise you will have self-referral issues and Google Analytics will report that all the sales are coming from yourdomain.com/referral.

Self-Referral-for-BigCommerce1

You won’t be able to track the performance of your Adwords or Facebook Ad campaigns, Email Marketing and ultimately ROI calculation will be really tough.

Also, I couldn’t find any simple cross-domain method for 3DCart. It’s really bad because you’ve to pay for an SSL certificate.

How to setup Ecommerce Tracking?

  1. First of all, Get a dedicated SSL certificate. Buying it from 3DCart makes more sense because they will offer installation and support.
  2. Don’t use default Google Analytics plugin in 3DCart! It seems that it doesn’t report ecommerce sales correctly.
  3. Insert Google Analytics inside your theme manually. Just remember to put it before section.
  4. Go to Settings >Design >Titles and Content and insert the following code in footer section under Checkout#4 file. Capture

And it should work. Now, you can use Google Analytics to track ROI on all your marketing campaigns and channels.

Do you need any help with Analytics for your 3DCart store? Do you want to increase the revenue of your store? Contact me and let’s get started.