Forget the Myths: What You Really Need to Consider When Selecting an eCommerce Platform

Full Disclosure: It’s no secret that we at Something Digital are fans of Magento. Our blog is filled with stories about the platform, we participate in the Magento Community, speak at their conferences, and we initiate and sponsor events around them. That said, about a year and a half ago we expanded our partnerships to include other platforms because, at the end of the day, we are focused on delivering the right solution for each client, and that goal trumps loyalty to any partnership.

However, we have experienced some unfair mud slinging toward Magento from their competitors which is creating confusion in the market, and we wanted to dispel a few myths so retailers can make the right choice for their businesses.

Myth #1: Magento is pulling the plug on Magento v.1, forcing all customers to upgrade whether they want to or not

Contrary to what you may have heard, Magento IS NOT pulling the plug on the first version of its platform and forcing retailers who are happy to migrate to version 2. The truth is, Magento has committed to fully support M1.x until the end of 2020 (and that includes any necessary security fixes). To be clear, since M2 launched in November 2016, merchants will have in total four full years of runway to upgrade.

Myth #2: You need an advanced engineering degree to implement Magento

We’ve been in this business for 14+ years and have worked with online retailers and ecommerce sites of all stripes and sizes and I have to say, we find the new Magento Enterprise Cloud offering removes many technology and security elements from the merchant’s plate.

That said, some retailers have more complicated selling models, customizable products, multi-warehouse delivery, multiple currencies, or want a shared shopping cart to work across multiple brands. These are functionalities that require additional engineering, which is where system integrators, like Something Digital, come in.

Myth #3: Once You Buy, Magento Waves Good-Bye

I’ve heard a lot of chatter that once you sign the contract for Magento, you’re on your own from a technical point of view.  But I can assure you that both Magento and its partners, such as Something Digital, are there for the long term, actively working with you to ensure your success.  Magento’s focus on its Enterprise Cloud product is the best indication of how the platform plans to support merchants in the long term. In fact, Magento has the largest market share of any ecommerce platform, and is still growing.

And no platform has an established developer community like Magento’s, which continuously provides core updates, innovative extensions and add-ons. The community offers a lot of brainpower and creativity for you to tap into.

Myth #4: Magento will Nickle & Dime Merchants

Be wary of claims regarding costs. There are many providers of cloud-based ecommerce platforms that tout a low cost, and that may be fine if you are a small retailer with simple needs. If you need extras, the costs can creep up. As for Magento nickling and diming its merchants, the company bundles its features into its basic packages that include robust business intelligence platform, Magento Social, which allows you to sell on social media, and a new performance monitoring tool called New Relic.

The bottom line, for all but the most simple needs, the “real cost” of a solution requires a detailed discussion with the provider.

Myth #5: Magento’s B2B/Enterprise Product is Overly Complex

B2B ecommerce itself is different than B2C. Enterprise class sellers require key features, such as omni-channel and order management capabilities. They also need to integrate seamlessly into other business systems. Additionally, enterprise-level sites often require a higher degree of customization, especially as it pertains to the customer experience. That level of customization isn’t easily accomplished with out-of-the box templates.

And again, Magento and its partners ecosystem are available to businesses to deliver solutions based on each customer’s unique needs.

Questions to Ask

Before you make a platform selection, Something Digital suggests you compile a list of questions that reflect your 5+ year strategy. These questions should factor in your plans for international expansion, new products, fulfillment options, future sales and marketing channels.

Something Digital’s team can provide a questionnaire to assist with this process. If you’d like more information contact us here.

Why You Need to Check Your Site Analytics Daily

Ecommerce managers have a lot on their plates, and you’re probably no exception to that rule. As someone who spends my days working with ecommerce teams, I know how stretched you are, and so I’m not quick to recommend that you take on new tasks. But there is an exception to this rule: If you don’t check your site analytics daily, start doing so immediately. Trust me, this small amount of extra work can (and probably will) save you an abundance of time, sales and frustrations later on.

Daily health checks are especially important if you’re doing any sort of digital marketing, running a social media campaign, or making any kind of tweak or technical change to your site. Since there’s little change that you’re NOT doing one of those things on a continuous basis, make a review of your site analytics part of your daily routine to ensure there’s nothing amiss with any of your initiatives.

Here’s why: Let’s say you make a small change to where your email signup button or link is located. That tiny tweak may end up causing numerous problems for your visitors, resulting in fewer signups (and consequently, fewer opportunities to market to new prospects). This isn’t just theoretical; I’ve worked with clients who’ve gone a long time without realizing they were missing new email signups.

Fortunately, checking your site analytics doesn’t have to be a burden. I highly recommend to all clients setting up a custom report in your analytics program, whether that’s Google Analytics, Magento Business Intelligence or Adobe Analytics. All of these solutions will generate and email the reports to you automatically, so you don’t even need to sign in to your analytics console.

Types of Analytics to Check

Obviously, the metrics included in your report should be those that are most important to your brand. That said, I do recommend that all ecommerce managers get a top level report of all your channels, and include top KPIs such as traffic, conversion rate, number of transactions, revenue, social sign ups, etc).

Additional reports for specific channels are also warranted. For instance, if you spend a lot of money for paid search, you’ll definitely want to receive a dedicated paid search report that provides additional metrics, such as your cost per click, competitor percentage, and so on.

Avoid Unpleasant Surprises

Here’s a promise I can make: checking your site analytics daily will help you avoid rather unpleasant surprises. At Something Digital we’ve seen numerous instances where a client launched a new site and then monitored sales by looking at their Magento dashboards. At first glance the site looks as if it’s performing as planned, as evidenced by new sales coming in. A few days later they check Google Analytics only to discover that their GA tracking code wasn’t setup correctly and is reporting 0% revenue for those past few days. This is critical site data that should be used to optimize the site but is lost forever.

We’ve also seen costly surprises crop as a result of changes made to critical processes, such as the checkout page. Ecommerce managers, eager to boost conversion rates, optimize their checkout pages without realizing that a technical issue is causing problems for users at a specific stage.

But a glance at the site analytics will clearly show that visitors are encountering problems at a specific stage in the checkout funnel, and you’ll know exactly where to focus your efforts. I remember a client coming to me after spending an enormous amount of time trying to identify why sales were falling, when the answer was waiting in his Google Analytics all along.

Checking your site analytics is the first place to go when troubleshooting technical issues on your site. I’ve seen clients waste a lot of time digging into other areas when they could have looked into their analytics platform and instantly seen what the problem was.

Setting Up Custom Report in GA

Most clients use Google Analytics and it’s incredibly easy to create a custom report for your site analytics. To begin, Google offers an online tutorial that walks you through the process. Google’s new Data Studio turns your site data into dashboards and reports that are easy to read, easy to share, and fully customizable, and offers a gallery of reports to choose from.

Moreover, other ecommerce managers have created and shared their custom reports which you may be able to use as a starting point for your own. In other words, creating a custom report may be as easy as finding a report template to import into your profile.

I hope I’ve convinced you to begin checking your site analytics on a daily basis. It’s the single most effective way to ensure your site and marketing initiatives are performing as planned, and to identify and resolve issues if they’re not. If you’re having issues with you analytics or want more information reach out to us, we’d love to help!

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Digital Strategist

How Being Available on GitHub Has Changed Magento Development (for the better) at SD

Magento has always been an open source platform. If you ask me, this fundamental tenant of the software is likely the biggest contributor to the platform’s success.

With Magento 2, however, this open source ethos has been taken to the next level. Now, the source code for the software is hosted on GitHub, where a dedicated “Community Engineering” team is responsible for triaging issues and pull requests contributed by the Magento community.

In this post, I’ll discuss how being available on GitHub has changed the Magento development experience at Something Digital, for the better.

A New Approach To Implementing New Features / Platform Improvements

In the Magento 1 days, if you wanted to add a new feature to the Magento platform, the approach was simple. Build a module to implement the desired functionality and install it on the code base in question. At Something Digital, we’ve done that countless times. In fact, we have made many of those publicly available on our GitHub page, and there are even more that we’ve decided to keep private.

With the Magento 2 code base being available on GitHub, however, things have changed. Now we’re presented with a few options…

1. Custom build and install a module as we would have done in the pre-GitHub days

2. Contribute the changes back to the Magento code base via a pull request and upgrade when the changes become available

The main benefit of the latter option is that the code we write and submit via a pull request becomes an official part of the Magento code base. As such, we do not have to worry (hopefully 😀) that future changes to the Magento code base will break our customizations. Further our changes are now available to and will be used by the Magento community, meaning Magento core developers or Magento community contributors can enhance or bugfix the changes we introduce.

The main downside to the second approach is that going through the code review / release process adds some additional time to the overall turnaround of the change which may or may not be tolerable. However, while the changes are going through review, we can generate patch files to apply to our client’s sites, prior to upgrades being available through official Magento releases.

As you can imagine, we typically favor the latter option whenever possible.

GitHub Issues

Another major improvement that has come with GitHub hosting is GitHub issues. While there are many channels for “Googling” Magento (StackExchange, Magento Forums, various blogs), GitHub issues provide a unique environment that is unparalleled by any other.

Among other things, issues on GitHub provide references to specific lines of code, labels and responses from Magento core engineers, and workarounds identified by community members. They’ve been invaluable for our team to get to the bottom of issues reported by our clients.

Git Blame / Pull Request Audit Trails

Finally, by being on GitHub, we are able to use the powerful Git tools such as git blame to understand the code archeology of any and all code in the Magento code base. We can then review commit messages and conversations about the changes that happened via a GitHub pull request. Again, this has come in handy more times than I can remember.

Conclusion

All in all, being available on GitHub has been very beneficial to our development process at Something Digital. If you’d like to continue the conversation feel free to hit us up @SomethingDigitl on Twitter or on our contact form!

Written by: Max Chadwick, Senior Programmer

The Many Shades of Website Personalization

Imagine if you could have a real-time greeter on your website, ready to ask visitors about their interests and directing them to the right set of products. No doubt your conversions and average-order value would go up.

Obviously that’s not possible, so e-commerce sites must rely on technology to gauge visitor interest, suggest products, and even make personal recommendations based on a consumer’s demonstrated preference.

Personalization can be as simple as A/B testing, or as sophisticated as conversational marketing fueled by artificial intelligence. The more sophisticated the higher the costs, but those costs are likely to be offset by an increase in conversions and higher average order values (AOV).

The right solution will depend on your budget, size of product category, schedule and skillset. You can always upgrade to a more advanced form of personalization as your website grows.

Segmentation vs. Personalization

Vendors in the field of website personalization are particular about the distinction between segmentation and personalization.

Segmentation is a rules-based approach of discovering groups of customers with a common, yet broad set of characteristics, such as geo-location, IP address, time of visit, mobile operating system, and so on, and groups them into segments. Next, marketers analyze the shopping behaviors of each segment (e.g. people in New England purchase winter boots in December). These insights are used to create a custom homepage featuring winter boots for website visits with an IP address that indicates they live New England.

This is distinct from real-time personalization, which delivers content based on the unique characteristics and behaviors of each website visitor (if the customer has a history of purchasing pink clothes, the website will present pink snow boot options). The more the website owner knows about the individual shopper, the more personalized the content.

Types of Website Personalization

A/B Testing

A/B testing is making decisions on what the new baseline should be based on personalization tests. Sometimes tests are based on random selections, but more likely they’re based on other factors that are driven by customer segments. For instance, if you identify your high value customers and push specific only to them, that’s personalization.

A/B testing can deliver stronger conversions and higher average order value (AOV), especially when used with audience segmentation. You can A/B test your homepage and product category pages to see which delivers the most clicks, conversions and higher AOV among your customer segments.

A/B testing is relatively easy to implement, especially if you use a solution like Optimizely, which automates the entire process. These solutions automatically divide the traffic, and stop a test once you’ve reached a statistically significant result. They also make it very easy to compare results side-by-side.

Product Recommendation Engines

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to product recommendation: collaborative filtering and content-based filtering.

Collaborative filtering recommends products based on what similar items consumers looked at or purchased previously. It assumes that consumers who’ve liked or purchased similar products in the past will like similar products in the future, and that those purchase patterns will be relevant in the future. It’s algorithms collect and analyze behavior and predict the products most likely to be of interest to a consumer based on that consumer’s similarity to other users in his or her cohort. These predictions are specific to the consumer, but are based on information gathered from many consumers. A benefit of collaborative filtering is that it can be applied broadly and can recommend a wide range of products accurately.

Content-based filtering is built on product descriptions as well as user profiles.  Algorithms recommend items to individual consumers that are similar to those they purchased previously. The product information can come from the product description (e.g. women’s waterproof winter boots). User profiles are developed based on items they’ve searched, viewed or purchased. Because they’re based on measured interests of each consumer, content-based filtering systems are highly accurate.

In reality, most engines offer offer a hybrid of both approaches.

1:1 Website Personalization

Website personalization customizes every aspect of a consumer’s website experience based on the unique visitor, from the homepage, product category pages, and even real-time promotion messages delivered to the user while onsite. Recommendations aren’t static, as real-time behavior is used to inform the website experience. For instance, a consumer may have a long history of purchasing red shoes, but if she is currently viewing black dresses, the personalization platform will recommend black shoes from a preferred brand, rather than red ones.

Artificial Intelligence: Conversational Marketing

Conversational marketing is a futuristic approach to personalization. It’s a solution based on artificial intelligence that can simulate human-like conversations. Chatbots are leveraged to automate conversations between a website and a visitor, and every conversation is recorded and analyzed. AI can also detect patterns that aren’t easy for human beings to detect, and then use those patterns to personalize the website to each visitor.

Interesting Vendors

There are a variety of vendors with platforms that offer a range of personalization, from A/B testing, to product recommendation and conversion-rate optimization. The vendor you choose will depend on your budget, of course. We recommend selecting a vendor that offers a wide array of options, so that it may evolve with as your revenues grow.

  • Adobe Marketing Cloud: Most mature product and highly suited to enterprise-class sites. Its personalization suite is the de facto standard. The product leverages Omniture Sitecatalyst product, the original high-end analytics suite.
  • Monetate: Monetate Intelligent Personalization Engine has a strong focus on 1:1 personalization, across all consumer touchpoints.
  • Optimizely: Optimizely allows you to customize your entire website experience. It started out as a platform for A/B testing, and has expended from there.
  • Evergage: A real-time personalization platform, using machine learning.
  • HiConversion: Started out in the multivariate space, and do a lot of work with demandware. This company is interesting because its products integrate with Magento.

Have questions? Liked what you read? Let us know!

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

 

 

 

The Year in Ecommerce: Trends and Predictions

Black Friday/Cyber Monday 2017 came and went, signaling that the year is almost over. Did we handle what occurred in 2017, and will we be ready for 2018? As we ask this, it’s the opportune moment to reflect on the trends we just saw and offer some predictions for next year.

I randomly asked a few colleagues for their perspectives, and here’s what they said:

Mickey Winter, Creative Director:

  • 2017 Top Trend(s): The rise of Niche brands (Casper, Brooklinen, AllBirds)
  • 2018 Predicted Top Trend(s): Paid Social and Social Commerce!! No doubt!

 

Leland Clemmons, Front-End Developer:

  • 2017 Top Trend(s): Ad blockers and ensuing ad innovation. Ad-blocking technology continued to saturate the market, and the ad tech world paid attention. Advertising had to become craftier and more engaging.
  • 2018 Predicted Top Trend(s): A rise in machine-driven/AI-based A/B testing. There are many micro-optimizations sites can use, but they are too small to reasonably discover. Tests driven by machines can resolve the difficulty and improve the digital space.

 

Greg Steinberg, Principal & Founder:

  • 2017 Top Trend(s): Influence of paid social advertising.
  • 2018 Predicted Top Trend(s): Deeper personalization and segmentation in advertising, niche (almost micro) products and markets, greater ownership of customer relationship (B2C v wholesale/marketplace).

 

Ethan Messenger, Project Manager:

  • 2017 Top Trend(s): The mobile wallet (Apple Pay, Paypal, etc.). I think brands are recognizied the value of the mobile wallet to help create more seamless shopping experiences for customers.
  • 2018 Predicted Top Trend(s): New development kits like ARCore and ARKit will enable more than 600 million phones to render interactive augmented reality experiences. Mobile AR technology allows consumers to understand how a product will mesh with their physical spatial surroundings.

 

Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist:

  • 2017 Top Trend(s): A growing awareness that “omnichannel” means we must keep evolving. It’s not enough to be present in every customer channel. We must adapt our operations and brand voice to legitimize why we’re on that channel.
  • 2018 Predicted Top Trend(s):  We’ll be rethinking marketplace partnerships. Wal-Mart is cool, and Amazon is no longer our enemy. As organic search continues losing to marketplace-direct searches, we’ll create clear strategies to meet customers where they are.

 

We don’t claim to read the tea leaves at Something Digital, but we live ecommerce every day.  Hopefully, you’ll find this insight helpful.

Let us know!

Written by: Jon Klonsky, Principal

 

2017 Black Friday – Cyber Monday Recap

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

As many others have noted, Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) was kind of insane (in a good way) this year. Adobe reports $2.87 billion on Thanksgiving Day, $5.03 billion on Black Friday, and a whopping $6.59 billion on Cyber Monday.

And this year, sales actually started as early as the Monday before Thanksgiving, turning BFCM into a true Cyber Week. Here are some quick stats that I found most compelling:

  • Digital Commerce 360 reports, “mobile devices accounted for more than 61% of traffic to retail sites Black Friday morning and more than 46% of sales.”
    • Next time a client tries to tell me that no one wants to shop on mobile, I’m going to remind them of this metric.
  • According to Adweek, retailers sent nearly three billion emails on Black Friday alone, along with 82 million SMS push notifications.
    • Shopify reports a 4.29% average conversion rate for email during BFCM, with the next best channel coming in at 3.04%.

  • Retention Science states, “48% of the entire U.S. online apparel retail market was discounted by an average of 45% off. This is compared to 44% of the market with an average of 36% off last year.
    • This year, I personally noticed better, deeper discounts offered by luxury brands. Matt Benson, MatchesFashion, The Outnet, and SAKS OFF 5th all offered up to 50% off over BFCM.

 

SD CLIENTS

Looking specifically at SD’s clients, I noticed some general trends worth noting. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways:

  • Thanksgiving was the biggest YoY growth day this year. Last year, many clients waited until Black Friday to kick off deals; this year, sales started as early as November 20 and ran as late as December 5. Only a small handful of our clients opted to wait until Black Friday to kick off sales in 2017.
  • This year, I saw more specific deals – i.e., discounts on designated Cyber Week categories and tiered promotions. Clients that offered a flat % off deal with no strings attached saw nearly 50% more YoY growth than clients that didn’t.
  • Triggered emails saw average conversion rates in the double digits over BFCM. Email in general (including transactional, marketing, and triggered emails) was the best performing channel for most clients.

 

COOLEST STRATEGIES

Digital campaigns didn’t wow me this year, but there were a few that stood out:

  • For the third year in a row, REI pushed customers to #optoutside (and give them great, user generated content) on the biggest shopping day of the year. They closed brick and mortar locations and encouraged customers to shop sales before and after BF.

 

  • Brands like Everlane and Catbird donated proceeds from sales to charity. Everlane had a stated donation goal for the day and their website included a countdown meter:

 

  • Sephora’s model is also genius. Every year, they mark many items down to $10 or $15 and release a preview of the sale beforehand to create hype. Free shipping at Sephora starts at $50, so they ensure users spend at least that much (and likely significantly more). This isn’t Sephora’s first time at the rodeo.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
  • Respond to customers on social media! If someone complains, reach out to them directly and on your social feed and do your best to rectify the situation. BFCM likely drives many new users to your site and it’s important to retain them instead of making an enemy for life. Over BFCM, I saw many brands that just couldn’t keep up with feedback on social. Consider hiring a community manager or freelancer to help with the workload over the holidays.
  • Offer additional incentives to top customers. If you have these customers segmented out in your email list, offer them an additional discount, free gift, or store gift card as a thank you (and an incentive to buy more). Several brands used to do this (I’m looking at you, Madewell) but didn’t this year.
  • Increase your email sign-up discount or offer additional promos (like free gifts or gift cards with purchase) during BFCM for users that opt-in to marketing emails for the first time. I can’t think of a single brand that offered this type of incentive and it feels like a real miss. As we previously stated, email had the highest average conversion rate over all channels for our clients and building that list throughout the year is absolutely crucial to long-term success.
  • Create more Instagram stories. If you’re still struggling with the algorithm change, this is the best way to increase engagement and ensure that your posts don’t get buried. If you have a verified account, utilize stories to tout specific deals with links. Oh, and please don’t just post static product images. Be creative! If your content sucks, it doesn’t matter how great the deal is… users aren’t going to click.

 

If BCFM wasn’t great for you this year and you’re looking to make some changes in 2018, get in touch with us. For more marketing ideas and ecommerce strategy tips, check out these previous blog posts:

A Checklist for Uncovering Ranking Issues in SERPs

Dark Social Webinar Recap

Magento BI and Why You Need It

The Case for Email Marketing

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Digital Strategist

7 Must-Have Extensions for Your Magento eCommerce Site

Getting ready to launch a Magento store? Congratulations! With 2 billion online shoppers worldwide, online commerce is a great way to build or expand your business.

Succeeding in the online space requires more than building a nicely branded Magento store. You’ll need to map out the entire selling cycle, so that customers can find what they need or get new ideas, and you can create a positive experience for all involved.

That lifecycle includes:

  • Merchandising your store and populating your catalog with product descriptions and images
  • Building your pages and managing content
  • Integrating products and sales into your ERP system so they can be invoiced, tracked and delivered, and keeping tabs on your inventory so you don’t accidentally sell products you don’t actually have in stock.
  • Creating a robust search tool to help customers find relevant products
  • Nurturing your customers through email campaigns and sales promotions
    Paying your taxes

 

We like building sites in Magento Commerce Cloud because the company bundles a lot of features into it, which means you ultimately pay less than with a traditional web-hosting route. That said, there are seven extensions you’ll still need to support the full customer life cycle.

Merchandising: Unirgy uRapidflow Pro

This extension makes quick work of merchandising your store, especially if you have a large product catalog. It provides advanced cataloging and high-speed data import and export, so you can upload and manage product descriptions and product images on your site. We’ve been working with it for years, and can attest to its power.

Building Pages: BlueFoot

BlueFoot is a page builder tool, now owned by Magento, that offers a robust set of tools for creating and managing content on your Magento store. You can use it for your product descriptions as well as your blog. Featuring a drag-and-drop approach, it  makes it easy to design and create web pages according to your vision.

ERP Integration: Xtento Tracking Import

This extension makes it easy to import orders from a CSV or XML files into Magento and process it from end to end. It captures the payment (charges the credit card), notifies your customer when an order is received, ships the order, adds the tracking number, notifies the customer when his or her order has been shipped, as well as changes the order status after the order has been imported. All of this happens automatically.

ERP Integration: Xtento Order Export

This extension provides a fast and convenient way to export your orders, invoices, shipments, credit memos, customers to any third-party system. You can export all sales related data in any file format (Text/TXT, Tabbed, CSV, XML, ASCII/Fixed-Length-Files) and connect your Magento store to almost any ERP, CRM, warehouse, drop-shipping or shipping system.

Elastic Search

Magento Commerce Cloud offers elastic search capabilities, and makes it easy for you to adjust keyword priority and manage word exclusions. We highly recommend it, but it does require some infrastructure set-up and ongoing maintenance. It’s worth the effort, however, because a bad search is worse than no search at all.

Customer Communications: Email Service Provider

An email service provider (ESP) is essential for sending marketing emails and sales promotions, and to allow customers and prospects to sign up for your promotions directly from your website.

There are four we work with frequently and feel confident in recommending:

Enterprise Level

  • Listrak – Offers email and SMS capabilities on one platform. We like it because it allows you to send transactional messages, as well as newsletters.
  • Bronto – A fully fledged marketing automation suite, allowing you to manage email, as well as your Google Adwords campaigns and social media engagements. It’s more complex, which means it’s also more expensive.

 

Mid-Tier

  • Dotmailer – Dotmailer offers the best integration with Magento, which means you can access a lot of its features from within your Magento store. It offers a nice feature in which it can generate an email to a customer with product recommendations based on searches they’ve performed on your site.

 

Small Sites

  • MailChimp – MailChimp is extremely powerful, and is a ubiquitous product for marketing. It’s also free for users who have up to 2,000 subscribers. You can also manage a handful of Google Adwords and Facebook campaigns from within MailChimp.

 

Calculating Taxes

There are two extensions we recommend, based on the size of your ecommerce operations and tax liability:

TaxJar is well suited for SMB customers, and like MailChimp, offers a free tier for smaller users. It prepares your state taxes, and can autofile them for you if you choose.

Avalara is an enterprise tax solution, and can do the tax nexus calculation for your and your accountants. In fact, Avalara has a professional services team that help you determine all of the jurisdictions in which you have a tax liability. Like TaxJar, it will prepare and autofile state taxes.

Bringing it All Together: Something Digital Commerce Accelerator

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. Something Digital’s Commerce Accelerator offering for Magento Commerce Cloud lets merchants to go live with an operational online store faster and at a lower cost to market. Our standard offering includes all of the integrations described in this post.

Customer Lifetime Value: What is it and Why Can’t Google Analytics Offer it?

Not all customers offer the same level of value to your business. Some may purchase once, never to return to your site again. Others will purchase intermittently, but only if prompted with an ad. Still others may be quite loyal, returning to your site regularly to purchase.

Now, you might be inclined to say, a sale is a sale, and in that respect, all sales deliver equal value. But it is rare for consumers to find your site and make purchases without any effort (read: expense) on your part. In all likelihood they arrive on your site as a result of a Google Adwords, Facebook, display or affiliate campaigns you run. Since it costs you real money to attract visitors to your site, it makes sense to hone in on customers who are most likely to return to your site regularly.

In other words, you’ll want to focus on customers who offer the highest lifetime value (LTV) to your business.

You can use your LTV to drive ROI in your marketing initiatives. Take Google Adwords as an example. Google offers a bidding option that lets you target by the cost of acquisition. If you know the amount of revenue a consumer will deliver over his or her lifetime, then you can calculate how much you can afford to pay for that consumer and still be profitable.

Calculating LTV

So what is lifetime value exactly? It is the projected revenue a particular customer will generate for your business over the course of their lifetime. Calculating LTV requires you to pull together a set of variables and constants — KPIs that are specific to your business.

Variables

  • Customer expenditures per visit
  • Number of visits per purchase cycle
  • Average customer value per week

 

Constants

  • Average customer lifespan
  • Customer retention rate
  • Profit margin
  • Rate of discount
  • Average gross margin per customer lifespan

 

+ Source: Kissmetrics How to Calculate Lifetime Value

Once you have those two datasets in hand, you can calculate your LTV in multiple ways, which Kissmetrics shows nicely in this Starbucks case study infographic.

Why it’s Difficult to Calculate LTV with Google Analytics

There are several challenges to calculating LTV with Google Analytics. The first is that Google Analytics doesn’t tie specific data to specific customers, which means you can’t create customer segments very easily. In other words, you can’t identify customers who come to your site X number of times during a purchase cycle, and tie those visits to purchase frequency and purchase value.

That means you will have little choice but to organize the data manually so that you can identify all of the constants and variables (see above) you’ll need to calculate your LTV. This is inherently a time-consuming and error-prone process. And it requires a lot of guesswork on your part.

These challenges are compounded in that LTV can be iterative, as new competitors enter or leave the market, making customers more (or less) loyal to your store.

LTV Made Easy

But there’s good news to merchants with a Magento store: Magento BI makes quick work of calculating your LTV, because all of the data and insight you need for variables and constants are already in the platform (which means it’s also error free). Getting your LTV is simply a matter of setting up your dashboard correctly.

Magento BI lets you see your LTV from many different viewpoints with minimal effort on your part:

Need more information? Check out Magento’s webinars on calculating LTV with its BI tool.

Ranking poorly in SERPs? A Checklist for Uncovering the Underlying Issues

There’s nothing more frustrating than creating great content that’s never read by the people you wrote it for. How do you find more readers? The best strategy is to make it easier for people to find, and that means focusing on the search engine results page (SERP).

The science of SEO is designed to do just that by reverse engineering how people look for answers on the web (i.e. “search”). It encompasses:

  • Content analysis, and persona development to ensure you write for the person most likely to search for and read your content
  • Keywords and related keywords that will raise your content higher in the search engine results page
  • Site taxonomy, to ensure your pages don’t compete against one another, and preventing your content from “surfacing” (i.e. get a high ranking in the search engine results)

 

Why Content Ranks Poorly

If you’re not getting the traffic you hoped for, begin by pinpointing the problem areas.

1. Identify the problems – Begin by understanding how your pages actually perform using your website analytics tool. Are they getting good traffic? Do visitors spend time on them, or do they leave just as soon as they land? Prioritize the specific pages that are underperforming.

2. Perform a keyword analysis – Once you’ve identified the pages with the best performance identify the keywords that are driving prospects to it. A keyword analytics platform, such as the Magento SEO extension, or SEO Centro, will streamline this process, allowing you to compare the performance of two pages with the same keyword in a single view. Consider deleting the page with the weaker performance.  If you want to keep pages with weaker performance, consider using a related keyword or LSI term in its URL, title tag or H1 tag.

3. Look for duplicate content – Duplicate content is the enemy of SEO. The goal of a search engine is to identify the page that is most relevant to the user who performed the query, and search engines don’t respond well when multiple pages target the same keyword. How does they know which is the most important, and should be served up to the user? In many cases, the search engine responds to that confusion by lowering your site in the search results rankings. To combat this challenge, identify pages that compete with one another by using the same keyword in the URL, title tag or H1 tag.

4. Use Backlinking – Search engines need to look at a variety of signals to determine if a how a page should rank. Backlinks, which occur when another website references your webpage via a hyperlink, is an important metric for Google. In a sense, they’re popularity signals for the search engine, so you should try to get as many backlinks from as many quality sources or related bloggers from within your industry as possible. Social sharing will boost your backlinking profile, so be sure to make it easy for your users to share your webpages on social media.

Fixing Underperforming Pages

1. Republish content for freshness – Your web page may have great content, but if it hasn’t been updated in a few years, search engines will see it as old.

2. Add new content, or update your page – It’s a good idea to review your content on a regular basis and update as needed. For instance, your industry may have adopted new business terms, and refreshing your page to reflect them will boost your rankings.

3. Quick fixes – If you truly have nothing new to add, consider turning headers into questions searchers ask (e.g. When is Tom Brady’s birthday)?

Tips for Getting Your Content Found: Before You Write

1. Research Keywords & Latent Semantic Indexing – The first step is to gain a better understand the current level of interest (or demand) for that topic in the market. Keywords help you gain that understanding. Let’s say your company has introduced a line of meal kits. The first step is to assess the demand (i.e. or number of times) people enter “meal kits” into a search engine.

If the keyword generates a lot of volume, you’ll know it’s a hot topic. The same holds true for latent semantic indexing (LSI) terms. LSI terms are keywords that are semantically related to your primary keyword (e.g. vegetarian meal kits, farm-to-table meal kits, etc.).

LSI terms provide important insight into the direction the market is going. If they’re popular enough, you’ll want to include them in the content you create. You can also use these terms for future blog posts or other content, as well as to inform your company’s product roadmap.

2. Create a Taxonomy and Keyword Strategy Before You Write – Taxonomy refers to how your company classifies the main topics that relate to your business, products and services, so that users can easily find them via a search. For instance, let’s say you have many styles of mobile phones on your site. Your taxonomy will include  mobile phones, and within that folder you may have separate pages for Samsung, Motorola and so on. This is taxonomy.

The trick to successful taxonomy lies in identifying the main topics to emphasize, as well as the relevant sub-topics for each main topic. If your site only sells mobile phones, then “Samsung Galaxy” and “Google Pixel” may be appropriate main topics. If your site offers a broad range of devices, than these terms will be better suited as sub-topics to “smartphones.”

From a URL standpoint, it’s important to give each page a name that describes the content it contains. For instance, if you create a page about portable smartphone charges, don’t simply call it “smartphone.” Doing so will result in attracting traffic that isn’t relevant to your products.

3. Use Buying-Journey Personas to Drive Content – What do keyword searches reveal about the consumer’s intent? Some keywords are used when people are just beginning to research a topic; others indicate a more mature understanding of the topic. By continuously tracking keywords and user online behavior, the SEO industry has learned how to use keywords to develop buying journey personas.

Once you’ve created a list of appropriate keywords and LSI terms for your company, you will be in a position to assess where likely readers of your content are in their buying journeys. This insight will help you craft highly relevant content for the reader.

For instance, if the keyword indicates the consumer is in the early stages of the buying journey, you will want to cover basic information on the topic. If they’re later in the later stages, you can assume they have a solid grounding, and can dive straight into the nuances or complexities they’ll need to consider.

Content marketing is a great way to attract new prospects to your brand — as well as establish your company as a leader in your space. But it only works if people who are important to you can find it. This isn’t a matter of luck, it’s straightforward science. With a bit of upfront planning and thought into the taxonomy, keywords and LSIs you use, you can turbocharge your content marketing.

SD Office Hours: Ask Us About Magento, Ep. 2

If you follow SD, Mr. Phillip Jackson, or resident West Coaster Brian Lange on Twitter then you’ve heard of SD Office Hours. Now if you don’t follow us and haven’t heard about SD Office Hours I suggest you stay on this page a little bit longer just to see how amazing it is and what you’ve been missing. We launched SD Office Hours just about a month ago and are ecstatic about the input and participation we’ve received from both retailers and the Magento Community. This series gives retailers, technology partners, and fellow developers the opportunity to ask questions about integration suggestions, Magento training, UX design, or any issues they’ve had or are currently having with the Magento platform. I highly recommend that you check out episode 2 of our office hours, you won’t regret it.

 

Want to know the questions and timestamps without watching the whole video? Check out the cheat sheet below!

  • What is a good point-of-sale solution for SMB merchants on Magento? – 01:40-06:30
  • What is the best way to audit Magento code for performance? – 06:55-11:25
  • What is a solution for multi-warehouse and inventory in Magento? – 11:40-18:57
  • What is the date that Magento is extending support for M1? – 19:20-21:50
  • Do you have any recommendations for image type or formatting to improve the look of graphics on phone and desktop? – 22:18-29:24
  • Is “web push notification” an anti-pattern or just the new popup of 2017? – 29:35-32:12
  • What are some tips on local development environments? – 32:25-39:55
  • What are you seeing in the M1 to M2 migration rate? –  40:35-43:35
  • Where can we find M2 training materials? – 43:38-47:45
  • What is your advice on the best way to make small design tweaks to Magento CSS? – 47:54-54:43

 

If you really want to know everything we talked about there’s even a transcript you can download. Enjoy!