The Shopping Basket Analogy

Isn't it nice when an analogy seems to suit its analogue? In this case, it doesn't get much better than using a shopping basket as an analogy for eCommerce best-practice.

When I say 'shopping basket', I mean your bog-standard, real-world, handheld shopping basket, like this one from Reading-based Arrow Wire Products:

Take a look at it, and wonder at how such thin strands of metal manage to support as much weight as you can manage to load on to them on your way to the checkout...

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the strength of these baskets lies in the criss-crossing of the wires - and that's where this analogy comes from.

Strength in Numbers

Symmetry can be found in all sorts of places in Nature, but there's nothing natural about the internet. That makes examples of online symmetry all the more important.

When you come across symmetry online - or, in particular, an aspect of web design or promotion that can be approached in two different ways - look for a solution that makes the best of both opportunities, rather than sacrificing one for the other.

A Tail of Two Queries

It's not a case of using either short-tail or long-tail keywords - you can have both.

Start with your main short-tail keywords - phrases of just a couple of words that you'd love to rank highly for, but which are hotly competed for among your main industry area or your local rivals.

Now begin to extend them. Add adjectives to the front, or locations to the end. Think of whether your customers will be searching for 'cheap' or 'luxury'. Create longer sequences of text that could feasibly show up in people's searches, and incorporate them into your website text.

By doing this without removing those primary short-tail terms from your site, you optimise your content for:

  • the best possible ranking on highly competitive but desirable short-tail terms
  • the best possible ranking on less competitive but highly relevant long-tail terms

As with any surface-level SEO efforts, it's all about improving your ranking; conversion comes later.

Style over Substance

This one really is more of a compromise, but it's one worth making.

You can go all-out for a search-visible website, with plain text, very few graphics and paragraphs crammed with keywords.

I prefer a lean layout myself where graphics are concerned - as you may have noticed from the paucity of pictures on this site - but you'll need a few structural elements to signpost visitors around your site.

Get your navigational structure laid out from day one, with clear links to your main pages, and make sure people can get to the page they want within one or two clicks.

The polar opposite is to go for a graphics-heavy, multimedia-rich, Flash-based website, which is likely to have slow loading times (particularly on non-broadband connections or, yikes, mobile devices) and poor search visibility - remember, text encoded into a video or Flash presentation is much, much harder (if it's even possible at all) for Google to crawl and index.

So, create yourself a template that presents your products or services in a compelling and easily navigable format, but which leaves plenty of room for search-visible text on each page.

If users with a smaller screen resolution have to scroll past your logo, navigation bar and homepage slideshow before they get to any 'real' content, you're doing it wrong.

Power in Pairs

Once your eCommerce site is set up, it's usually pretty easy to add more pages to it - just use the same template as your other pages, and it's likely that you'll only have to fill in the text content.

Much of what I do involves writing multiple pages on ostensibly the same subject, but changing the wording, word order and overall structure of the piece so it's not 'duplicate content' in the way Google defines that term.

Multiple pages, each optimised for a target keyword or phrase, can outperform a single page laden down with desirable words, while frequent updates of numerous pages of content are viewed favourably by Google in its definition of what constitutes a fresh and up-to-date website - with a corresponding boost for search result rankings.

Take a tasty example: you want to rank highly as a retailer of sparkling wines.

You can easily write a page of content about your sparkling wines. You can probably get away with keywording 'champagne' in the same body of text, and improve your ranking for that too.

But they're very competitive terms, so you need to do some long-tail keywording in there as well. Soon you've got all of those multi-word phrases in predominant positions, and you're repeating them like the SEO handbook says you should.

Now you decide to add a few phrases relating to cava. And some about prosecco. And suddenly everything's keywords and your page isn't selling your product properly any more.

The power of pairs - and triplets and above, in fact - of pages on similar (but, importantly, not identical subjects) is that it gives you separate, individual pages on which to keyword each of your target terms, while also giving your website as a whole an entire batch of content on the broader topic into which those pages fall.

The Aeroplane Rule

I'm not sure of the origins of the Aeroplane Rule, which addresses the added load and fuel demands of redundant systems (particularly backup engines) on aircraft, but it goes like this:

"The best solution is to put all your eggs in one basket - just make sure it's a really good basket."

It sounds American, doesn't it? But then I'd expect it to be called the Airplane Rule, and it usually isn't, so who knows.

The important thing is that it sums up the Shopping Basket Analogy perfectly - make your one website as good as it possibly can be across all the different criteria, and you'll maximise your sales and profit as a natural consequence.

It seems straightforward, but you and I both know that it's not - websites dominated by Flash, or graphics-based navigation, or non-intuitive interfaces, or massive logos that take up two thirds of your screen, or checkout processes that fail, or shopping cart software that forgets what you've selected if you log in halfway through, or text too small to read, or text too faint to read, or text too keyword-crammed to read, or text too poorly translated to read, or text that doesn't wrap properly around images, or background images that render text illegible, or eye-wateringly bright colour schemes, or no contact details, or unclear product specifications, or product catalogues that are 90% out of stock, or no delivery information, or prohibitively imposing order forms (I once had to scan my passport and driving licence in order to buy a home projector)... well, those websites simply aren't going to do very well in eCommerce terms, are they?

Look at the market leaders - eBay with its 'buy it now' options and virtual shopfronts for its heavier users, Amazon with its range of delivery options, product recommendations and 'new or used' backup for out-of-stock items.

They're not graphics-dominated, they're easy to navigate, with decent search functions on-site and good visibility to standalone search engines. They are, in every sense, the best baskets they can be.

Make your own eCommerce site the best it can be - even if it's not big enough to rival the global leaders - and you can sleep soundly, knowing you have done all that's in your power to help your online business to success.