Essential January Ecommerce Maintenance Tasks

januaryThe weather may certainly not be Spring-like, but January certainly is the perfect month to Spring-clean your ecommerce store. One particularly good reason is that you’ll be full of New Year resolutions and likely to have the motivation to do the mundane tasks that you simply have no desire for during the rest of the year. So, if you run an ecommerce store here are a few actions you would be wise doing (or getting someone else to do) in January.

Out of Stock Products
This is one of the biggest headaches many store owners have – not least because of the SEO implications. You may have products that you simply have no desire to restock. For these you are typically best advised to 301 redirect to similar products or a category page. If the products have a significant of links or social traffic then you could keep them and amend the text to recommend other products.

For products with no social traction or inbound links and you definitely won’t be stocking in the next few months then the 301 redirect is the best bet. For products that will return leave them as ‘out of stock’ but consider removing them from category pages.

Spelling mistakes aren’t only a distraction for customers but they’re also a negative search engine optimisation signal. Using a tool such as Check Dog can certainly help with fixing ‘typos’ – it shouldn’t take too long either. If there are a few errors then you can just work down the list produced in their user-interface. If there are many then you can export the list and send to somebody else to remedy.

Review Your Seasonal Content
The last thing you want as you progress through January is to still have Christmas-themed pages which are prominently displayed in your website. If you’ve added new content to specifically target Christmas-related keywords then you should be able to easily find them and either remove the links to them or alter the pages to focus on the next events such as Valentine’s Day.

If you’ve been pro-active and tweaked some <title> tags on products, category pages etc. then you may want to use something like Screaming Frog and set the custom filters to include words such as ‘Christmas’, ‘Xmas’ and ‘Santa etc. This will then allow you to locate all the pages that have these keywords present.

Be sure to remove any of these words from your navigation menus and boiler-plates as Screaming Frog would simply just list every page on your site as being one to fix.

Speed Up Your Website
Your technical team may need some tasks and a good one is to request they find ways to make your website run more quickly. There are many plugins that allow you to highlight ways to do this – not least the Developer Tools offered by the Chrome browser.

Within Google Analytics you can also find a list of pages that load the slowest. You should work through that list and establish why they’re running slower. Another interesting consideration is that Google is likely to be rewarding pages that load faster on mobile devices. Having large images may be harming your search engine performance on mobile devices.

Look for duplication
One of the most problematic, and easiest to resolve issues is that of duplicated <title> tags and meta descriptions. They often arise from using one product as a template for other products – especially if there are common elements (such as tables) between them. Screaming Frog will also help you find these – at the same time look for ‘short title tags’ as extending them often provides and additional SEO opportunity.

Look for empty pages
Often your sitemap will produce category pages you just don’t know exist. They may not be linked to from the navigation, but if they’re in an xml sitemap then Google will know about it. The issue is that have many of these pages with no useful content and perhaps one, two, three or no products listed then Google are likely to downgrade the entire section – even those ones with useful content.

We would suggest going through your sitemap and reviewing each category, tag or filter page to make sure you are publishing pages that you actually want Google to know about and ensure that those that remain have useful content.

Revisit your marketing plan
This is likely to be a large project. But begin by looking back at your Google Analytics (or other software) and establish what type of websites convert to sales for you. If bloggers are adept at sending you traffic that deliver sales then consider how you can better work for them. Look at whether social sharing sites (technically micro-blogging) such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter etc. are good sources of sales and build upon that.

Go back over and refine your paid search campaigns. Are you paying for traffic that doesn’t convert or being sent to products that are out-of-stock?

You’re more than likely to establish that many sources of traffic you’ve been told over and over should be converting. But as your business is unique as your products and your approach then those channels may simply not be suitable – build on what has worked, but don’t be afraid to try a few things.

Also do some good, solid, research for content marketing. Have a look at which pages work for your competitors. You can use the Social Analytics Chrome plugin to see which pages on your competitors’ sites get a lot of social traction.  You can also use a similar approach to see which pages on your competitors’ sites get the most links (using Majestic SEO)

Check your sales data
Find out what sold well when and what didn’t sell all that well. If you’ve got a lot of stock left of a particular product do you need to liquidate it or are you happy just ‘leaving it on the shelves’ to sell at its own pace. Could you slowly reduce prices to clear the stock?

Your Fulfilment Processes
Have a look back at your customer service emails, social communications and other forms of customer feedback to establish if there are any particular themes. Often the most common customer complaints relate to fulfilment in one way or another. The last Christmas saw issues with backlogs of parcels being delivered and a courier network going into administration. Have a look at how well your current courier provider and fulfilment processes in general faired during the Christmas peak and consider if any improvements could be made. Did the speed of delivery meet your customers’ requirements? How many orders arrived damaged or incorrectly picked? Consider how much the fulfilment process costed per order. Are you losing money on each, breaking even or actually making a ‘profit’?

Are you free delivery values correct? Are you striking the right balance between losing money on free delivery with encouraging customers to purchase more per order? Assigning the potential loss per sale as marketing cost and then comparing it to other forms of marketing is a good place to start the process of establishing whether that free delivery basket value is correct.

Back Up Your Data
Not only should you conduct an extra, ad hoc, back up of your corporate information but you should back up data with a view to using it next Christmas. If you back-up all the customer orders for October to December then you can re-use it to retarget customers on Facebook and elsewhere for the next Christmas period.

Plan for the year ahead
If you have particular sales cycles then make sure you’ve noted what you need to do by when to maximise sales. Don’t take last year’s performance for granted as Google just doesn’t like that.

January is a great time to build for the rest of the year. By analysing the last few months of trading you can make great strides making 2015 a very profitable year. You’ve just got to get a good amount of tedious work done as early as possible.