BY JULIE A. PALM
Have you refreshed your website lately?
Increase traffic to your site—and store—by following these best web practices for a robust online presence
What’s more important: How your store looks and functions, or how your website looks and functions?
It’s a trick question. Both are mandatory for success.
It’s easy to think of your store’s website as just one part of your marketing strategy. In fact, if you’re like most retailers, when you launched your site it was only one piece of an overall promotional effort—and likely one far less important at the time than newspaper ads and radio spots. How things have changed.
Today’s consumers—particularly millennials and Gen Zers—don’t see your store and your website as separate entities: The Best Mattress Store at 1234 Main St. and BestMattressStore.com are both simply the Best Mattress Store. Consumers now move so effortlessly and routinely between “in-store” and “online” that the line between the two has been all but obliterated.
According to the 2014 Omnichannel Shopping Preferences Study from global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, 55% of consumers “prefer to use both stores and online throughout the entire (shopping) journey.”
Research from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, has similar findings when it comes specifically to mattress shopping: “(Consumers) rely on a range of information sources to research and shop for a new mattress. … Some respondents start by extensively researching the mattress market, learning about different types, brands and construction materials, and then going back to a brick-and-mortar store to try out the models they like. Others start in their neighborhood stores, talk to salespeople, make their selection and then search for a better price online. Many people employ a combination of the two strategies.”
Sleep Savvy regularly checks out the websites of mattress retailers, and we’re happy to discover that many have attractive, informative sites where consumers can research and shop for bedding. But we still find far too many websites that are cluttered, confusing, incomplete and out-of-date both in terms of design and information.
Even if you have a strong website, if it hasn’t been renovated in the past year or two, it’s probably due for some freshening up, if not a complete makeover.
There are lots of do-it-yourself website services available; however, unless you have a lot of extra time and web expertise, Sleep Savvy recommends working with a web designer or firm that specializes in retail or commercial websites. Just make sure your site is built in a content management system that allows you to do basic updates, such as adding new products or posting a blog, without always having to go back to the designer. (WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are some of the most popular CMSs but there are dozens.)
“A poorly made site could turn off customers who see an unprofessional website as an indicator of an unreliable business,” says Danielle Legler, a content marketing specialist for G/O Digital, a provider of digital marketing solutions. “Spend a little extra by hiring an affordable professional web designer that will paint your company in the best light possible—making you more trustworthy in potential customers’ eyes.”
Even before you sit down with your web team to outline changes you want to make, there are a number of trends in web design and functionality you should consider.
Make a good first impression
Whether they type your store name directly into a search engine or search a broad category like “memory foam mattress,” many consumers’ introduction to your website will be on a results page. That means a results page, rather than your home page, is really where you make your first impression and “it’s crucial to consider this as a point to start building trust online,” says Jessica Bianchi, manager of online content at Canada Post. Writing in a blog for Shopify, she continues, “The higher you appear in search results, the more likely a customer will trust you. How do you rank higher? By creating thoughtful and compelling metadata and headings, producing quality content, and researching relevant keywords.”
Let’s start with page title tags. (We’re heading into the weeds but bear with us because it’s important.) In lay terms, a page title is the “headline” of blue text that shows up in search results. It also serves as the link you click to get to a website. “Use your page title to answer your customer’s question” or to emphasize key products and services you provide, Bianchi suggests.
To give you an idea of how different retailers use them, on a recent day, a Mattress Firm page title read: “Mattress Firm: Best Mattress Prices – Top Brands – Same Day Delivery,” while a US-Mattress title tag read: “US-Mattress: Mattresses from Sealy, Simmons, Serta, Stearns & Foster.”
You also should give thought to your meta description, which is the short description that appears under your title tag (or URL) in search results. “This is a key area to build trust with a potential customer by using human language, making it clear and concise, and setting the proper expectation of what’s to come if they click through to the next page,” Bianchi says.
Again, as an example, a rather lengthy Mattress Firm meta description recently read: “Save up to 70% on Famous Name Brand Mattresses at Mattress Firm. Extended 0% APR Financing. Sleep Better Tonight. 90 Day Payment Option. Brands: Simmons Beautyrest, Hampton & Rhodes, Serta, Eclipse, Classic Brands, Snuggle Home.” On the same day, the meta description for US-Mattress was “US-Mattress is the largest online mattress retailer in the world. With over 500,000 satisfied customers in America alone, you can be confident in the benefits of shopping with us.”
The look shoppers will love
Because your website is an extension of your brick-and-mortar store, it should match your physical location in terms of design, color palette and language. This seems obvious, and yet we can’t count the number of retail websites that have nothing but the logo in common with the physical store. In addition to sharing an aesthetic, your website and your store should share an attitude: Is your store fun and relaxed? Are you more high-end and reserved? That should come through online.
One caveat: A key trend in website design is toward cleaner looks with fewer elements. So, even if your store is chockablock with layered accessories and room vignettes, you might want to pare back your website a bit.
“As in many things in life, ‘less is more’ is an important rule in web design. The goal of good design is to provide guidance, focus and a content hierarchy. A page that is cluttered with dozens of elements vying for the attention of the viewer is exactly the opposite,” says Nick Schäferhoff, a blogger and content writer who contributes frequently to Torque magazine, a source for WordPress news and advice. In an article for Torque, he points to a Hubspot survey that shows 76% of people prefer “usability over fancy design.” “When visitors don’t know what to click on or look at, your web design has effectively failed and you have lost a visitor to the competition,” Schäferhoff says.
He recommends incorporating lots of white space around website elements, using consistent layouts and color schemes from page to page, and limiting auto-play videos, pop-ups and “other hoops visitors have to jump through before getting to the actual content.”
Emphasize your products
Perhaps it comes from a history of retailers carrying products exclusive to them, coupled with a long-held belief that mattresses couldn’t be sold online, but whatever the reason, a surprising number of retailers put little information about their sleep products online. You can’t get away with that any longer.
Consumers expect retailer websites to be comprehensive and informative—and you should be excited to show them all that you have to offer. Even if you aren’t selling directly online, post as much information as you can about your products, including components, constructions, benefits, sizes and, yes, prices. Include large, high-quality photos that show items at their best.
And entice visitors to buy right from the start. “In a consumer study by Oneupweb, 70.8% of shoppers said that having products displayed on the home page is an influential factor in purchasing,” says David Callaway, a content creator and editor for BigCommerce, an e-commerce platform for retailers. “When choosing images to feature, remember that it’s a proven best practice to display your most popular products. It may seem a little counterintuitive at first: After all, if they’re so popular, why not promote a product that doesn’t get as much love? It’s because you want to show off products that are proven crowd-pleasers so they help increase a shopper’s interest in your store.”
Speed matters more than ever
According to Kissmetrics, a behavioral analytics and customer engagement firm, 25% of visitors abandon a webpage if it takes just 4 seconds to load, and the abandonment rate only goes up from there. Abandoned pages mean lost visitors, lost customers and lost sales. Aim for pages that load in 2 to 3 seconds.
“Users just prefer faster websites. It’s as simple as that,” writes Tony Messer in an article for Business.com. That’s not the only reason a zippy site is important.
“Google includes load speed as one of its ranking factors,” says Messer, who is co-founder and chief executive officer of the web hosting company PickAWeb.co.uk. “Having a faster website will give you a slight advantage over slower competitors.”
Bianchi suggests using tools like Pingdom or Google’s PageSpeed Insights to test your site’s load times. If your load speeds are slow, there are a number of ways to rev them up, ranging from reducing the number of nonessential elements on your site to more technical solutions like optimizing your site’s code or moving to a hosting service that uses faster solid state drives, Messer says.
You’ve got to go mobile
Chances are your potential customers are viewing your website on mobile devices. In fact, a 2015 Adobe Mobile Consumer Report from Adobe Systems shows the overwhelming majority of millennials (92%) and Gen Xers (84%) consider their smartphones to be their primary device—far ahead of laptops or tablets.
If your website originally was created and designed to work well on desktop and laptop computers, it probably doesn’t function as well on smartphones, where such sites can be slow to load, hard to read and not fully functional. That leaves consumers frustrated: According to the Adobe study, fewer than half of consumers are satisfied with their experiences using retailers’ websites or apps on their mobile devices. And that’s if your customers can even find your site using their phone: Google gives higher rankings to mobile-friendly sites.
There are options for making sure your website works well on mobile devices. One is to use a mobile website builder to “create a basic, side-by-side version of your (original) website,” Messer says. “The results will be basic but at least it puts a tick in the mobile-friendly box.”
But, he says, the best option is to use responsive website design for your entire site. “RWD is a way of allowing one web design to be compatible with any type of browser screen, whether it be a desktop, laptop, mobile phone or tablet,” Messer says. “It just responds to the type of screen and presents it accordingly.”
And you’ve got to stay current
A promotion for a Fourth of July sale that’s still plastered across your home page on July 15—or, worse, Sept. 15—is the online equivalent of dirty store windows. It makes your business look neglected. When you post time-sensitive information about a sale or event, also schedule a date to remove or replace the promo.
Same goes with making sure your website accurately reflects the products you carry. Nothing will infuriate a consumer faster than seeing a mattress set on your website and then coming into the store or trying to order it online only to find you don’t carry that model anymore. It feels like a bait and switch, even if it’s a matter of being behind on website maintenance.
Oh, and then there’s the Google factor again: “Not only does out-of-date information look bad to a consumer, it also prevents your site from staying relevant in Google searches,” Legler of G/O Digital says. “A website that is constantly producing fresh content is more likely to rank higher in organic search than one that hasn’t been updated in months.”
Which brings us to blogging
Because search engines prefer new content, you need to find ways to regularly post fresh information, and a blog is an easy way to do it. You can talk about sleep tips, new products, upcoming events, decorating ideas, how to rest-test a mattress, etc. Encourage your staff to brainstorm and even help with the writing. (And you always can write about content you read in Sleep Savvy, with credit to the magazine, of course.)
Then commit to a schedule. “If you can do one post a week then that’s fine. Just stick to it. Try to aim for 500 words minimum; if you can do 1,000 words then even better,” Messer says in the Business.com piece.
He continues: “Be absolutely sure to optimize all your blog content so that you get maximum search engine optimization benefit from them. That means keywords, meta tags, headings, URLs and internal linking to other content on your blog for starters. Also use your favorite social media tools to promote your content and ideally keep promoting it long after the publish date. Remember that content has a long afterlife.”
5 ways to improve online sales
Mattress retailers are embracing the idea of omnichannel selling, finding ways to sell in-store and online that best suit them and their customers.
On one end of the spectrum are companies like Casper and Tuft & Needle, which made their names selling boxed bedding online but who venture in-store through limited showrooms and partnerships with more traditional retailers. (For instance, Casper products are available at West Elm locations, and now that Target has made a big investment in the company, Casper items will be sold at those stores, too.)
At the other end are traditional brick-and-mortar stores that offer some products online, mostly to customers in their area and delivered using their regular service. In between are retailers like Nest Bedding, US-Mattress and Sweet Dreamzzz, which started in one realm or the other but now have robust in-store and e-commerce operations.
Whatever your e-commerce model, there are things you can do to improve your online sales.
1. Be upfront about pricing.
Online shoppers are especially price conscious. In fact, in a study from digital marketing agency Oneupweb “95.5% of respondents cited ‘clearly stated pricing and shipping information’ as an influential factor in making a purchase decision,” says David Callaway, a content creator and editor for the e-commerce platform BigCommerce. And don’t lose a sale because, at the last second, a shopper discovers unexpected shipping or delivery costs. Callaway points to another research study, this one from Forrester, that shows 44% of online shopping carts are abandoned because of high shipping costs. “The same study showed that 25% were abandoned because the product cost more than expected and 22% because shipping costs were listed too late in the process,” he says.
2. Offer deals.
This is one of the rare instances when Sleep Savvy encourages you to offer sales and discounts, and we do so because online shoppers demand them. Promote deals on your home page and even through page title tags and metadata so they can be seen in search results. “Everybody loves a deal, and when you offer a percentage off certain items or discounted/free shipping, a new customer is more likely to give you a try,” Callaway says.
3. Invest in a virtual sales team.
If you’re serious about e-commerce, you need to provide online shoppers with the same level of customer service you offer in-store. “By providing real-time customer service to your current and potential customers, you can significantly increase your conversion rate by addressing their questions and concerns in the moment,” writes digital lifestyle expert Cosette Jarrett in an article for Tech.Co, an online resource for tech startups. “The standard live chat feature that uses a bot to interact with consumers is a solid first step, but as you grow… you will want to consider building a sales team of specialized agents who can actually speak with your customers in a real conversation.”
4. Accommodate mobile wallets.
Online shoppers are increasingly comfortable with mobile wallets like PayPal, Google Wallet and Apple Pay, and, Cosette says, your e-commerce site needs to accommodate them—if not now, then soon.
5. Provide security.
With near-daily reports of hackers stealing credit card and other information in massive data breaches, consumers are right to be concerned about online security. There are many steps you can take to secure your site, but one way to give shoppers confidence is to use a Secure Socket Layer to encrypt data. An SSL certificate, as well as verification of your site’s security and good business practices from groups like Norton, Google Trusted Store, VeriSign, TRUSTe and the Better Business Bureau, go a long way toward building consumer confidence, Callaway says. “Then display their logos prominently in your site’s header or footer. It’s also a good idea to add logos of the major credit cards and other payment methods you accept,” he says. For more on basic web security for e-commerce sites, check out “Safety First: The Basics of Website Security for Ecommerce Retailers” at HubSpot.
Getting website basics right
How extensive your website needs to be depends on a host of factors, including how many stores you operate, how wide a product line you carry and whether you sell in-store, online or both. But all mattress retailers’ sites should contain the basics.
This includes your telephone number and physical addresses for each of your locations.
Putting your phone number prominently on every webpage, preferably in the site header, not only makes it easy for people to reach you, but it increases your credibility, says David Callaway, a content creator and editor for BigCommerce, an e-commerce platform for retailers.
“This lets people know you’re not a fly-by-night operation and that they can buy from you with confidence. It also gives them the sense that if they have any issues with your products or your store, help is just a phone call away,” he says. If you have just one or two store locations, their addresses should be at the top of each web page, too.
It’s nice to include a “Contact Us” form that people can use to ask questions or request additional information, as well. It also helps you capture visitor information. (For more about contact information, see page 56.)
Don’t make people hunt to find out when you are open.
Include both a map that enables people to instantly see where your stores are, as well as a link that gives them driving directions.
The “About” section of your site “is an opportunity to show some personality and let your customer know you’re human,” writes Jessica Bianchi, manager of online content at Canada Post, in a blog for Shopify. In your “About” section, you might want to play up your store’s history and ties to the community or provide short bios of the management team. This is a good place to explain your company’s mission in a way that relates to consumers.
Calls to action
Good marketing materials contain strong calls to action and websites are no different.
“First, you need to decide what you want the goal action of your website visitors to be. Do you want them to buy a product, contact you or subscribe to your newsletter? Once you determine this, you need to create … obvious links or buttons on your site,” says Danielle Legler, content marketing specialist at G/O Digital, a provider of digital marketing solutions. “Good calls to action typically use a larger font, a contrasting color … and obvious positioning (top right corner) to stand out to the visitor, making it easy for them to follow through on the desired action.” Strong calls to action for mattress websites include “Contact Us,” “Add to Cart,” “Learn More” and “Sign Up.”
Social media links
Make it easy for consumers to follow you on social media by including buttons linking them to your feeds on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube.
You also should encourage visitors to share your content on social media sites. “Social media networks have become alternative search engines that can bring in thousands of visitors. However, only if your content actually gets spread on there,” says Nick Schäferhoff, a blogger and content writer who contributes frequently to the WordPress-geared Torque magazine. Add prominent social media buttons and calls to action to the web content most likely to be shared, such as blog posts, Schäferhoff recommends.
Reviews and testimonials
When it comes to buying a new mattress, about one in five consumers looks to recommendations from family and friends, according to 2016 consumer research from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association. About the same number look to independent rating/review websites. It’s a concept called “social proof.” “It’s that interesting psychological phenomena that dictates you’ll pick the food truck with the longest line for lunch because you assume it’s the best,” Bianchi says. According to the 2015 Adobe Mobile Consumer Report from Adobe Systems, millennials and Gen Xers are reliant on reviews and recommendations when making a purchasing decision. So, pepper your site with testimonials and include people’s full names (at least first name and last initial), hometowns and photos, if possible.
Videos are a great way to engage consumers. Use them in your “About” section to introduce people to your store and staff or post explainers that show the advantages of products like adjustable bases. Keep videos short (2 to 3 minutes tops) and have fun with them. But be judicious—lots of high-resolution videos can slow page load times.
Retail websites worth a look—and a click
For inspiration, check out these retail websites, all lauded for their design and function in the shopping category of the 2017 Webby Awards.
See’s Candies (Sees.com): Century-old seller of candy and confections started by the See family. Webby winner.
Beats by Dre (BeatsByDre.com): Purveyor of headphones, speakers and other audio equipment founded by rap superstar Dr. Dre and music/film producer Jimmy Iovine. Winner of the People’s Voice award.
The Black Market (Mpls.Agency/Webby/Bacon-Shopping): Mobile-based, virtual reality experience, including scratch-and-sniff goggles, created to sell Hormel’s Black Label Bacon. Webby nominee.
Milk Makeup (MilkMakeup.com): Cosmetics company specializing in multiuse products for “on-the-go” users. Webby nominee.
Rijksmuseum Shop (Rijksmuseumshop.nl): Online store for the Rijksmuseum, a national institute of Dutch art and history in Amsterdam. Webby nominee.
What consumers want to know
In figuring out what information you need to include on your store’s website, it’s helpful to look at it from another perspective—the shopper’s. In other words, more important than what you want to tell consumers is what they want to know.
According to 2016 research from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, consumers have a laundry list of info they seek when researching a new mattress.
- 65% of respondents compare prices
- 54% look for promotions and sales
- 46% compare product features
- 45% read consumer reviews
- 41% study mattress features
- 38% compare mattress types
- 33% study mattress brands
- 30% search for store locations
- 24% want information about bed bases
- 23% look for warranty information
Your website should be a source of information on as many of these topics as possible.
Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.