Okay, time for Tom Funk to take a deep breath. I’ve spent the better part of each day since September 8’s introduction of Google Instant, panicking, gnashing my teeth, tearing my hair, rending my garments and dodging chunks of falling sky.
Search is an important source of lifeblood to any commercial website. Until now, I’ve always felt Google did an exemplary job in letting relevant results, from little guys and big guys alike, bubble up to the surface of search.
Now, Google Instant and its predictions bias search against the long-tail, against the little guy. We now have less a web of discovery, and more a web of trend-following, big-name brands, and some repetition of your personal user history. Google Instant is the tyranny of the majority, where nobody finds anything without seeing a little eBay, Facebook, or Lady Gaga first.
But it’s time for me to look beyond Google Instant for a moment, and recognize what matters most to ecommerce marketers and site owners. There’s plenty of stuff we can control. Let’s stop fretting about what we can’t.
1. Brand positioning. Visitors coming to your site from whatever source must immediately “get” — both through the look-and-feel and from a clear “positioning statement” or slogan — who you are, what you do, and why that’s a benefit to them.
2. Guarantee. Offer a strong, unconditional guarantee, be conspicuous about it. Stand behind it. It’s a selling point, not some hidden legalese boilerplate.
3. Checkout optimization. Shop your own site with an eye toward removing roadblocks, eliminating unnecessary forms and fields, cleaning up the look, adding confidence-building logos of your security, shipping and credit card partners. And enable a friendly, low-key abandoned cart email program.
4. Testing. Use Google Website Optimizer to test any significant offer, merchandise selection, navigational or design element. You’ll not only prove that your ideas were awesome, you’ll quantify just how awesome they were. Or, as is often the case, you’ll prove some ideas just don’t move the needle. No worries. That’s valuable too. Imagine you find that a $10-off deal doesn’t lift conversion any better than a pitch that emphasizes five-star customer ratings, which doesn’t cost you a nickel. Cha-ching!
5. Customer retention. Far more important that how much search-engine traffic you can capture, is what do you do to convert visitors to customers — and to build a long-term relationship with those customers so they come back to buy again and again. Today’s best tool for retention is still a generous, creative, and smartly segmented email program. That’s been the case since the dawn of ecommerce, and some 89% of merchants still say email is their highest-ROI channel. But social media is fast becoming the new customer relationship channel. If you’re not active now on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon, and wherever else your customers are spending their online time, your customer retention efforts are behind the curve.
Full disclosure: I’m a Google shareholder. Yup, I have 10 bright, shiny Google shares. So I’ll totally be at the annual meeting in Mountain View, doing the secret handshake with Larry, Sergey, Eric, Matt, Marissa, and the rest of the gang.
But even with that massive financial conflict-of-interest, you can always count on me to be 100% objective in my assessment of Google.