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13 ecommerce spring cleaning tips

Ah spring, a time of renewal. A time to take stock and get rid of the things that you no longer need or use and replace them with things that you now do. This applies not just to your home but to your business. And if you own or manage a Web or ecommerce site, doing a bit of spring cleaning is critical – for search-engine optimization (SEO) and to attract new customers. So here are 13 tips for getting rid of the clutter and freshening up your Web pages.

[ Related: 8 ecommerce categories that will be hot in 2016 ]

1. Do a content audit of your site and figure out which pages are performing well and which ones are not. “A content audit is a great website spring cleaning project,” says Gretchen Roberts, CEO & chief inbound strategist, Smoky Labs, a B2B inbound marketing firm. “Most websites are a goldmine of old, forgotten content that can be consolidated, updated, repurposed or even deleted to create a better user experience and actually boost your SEO rankings and on-site conversions.”

If you have the time, “download a database of your entire website and get to work labeling each page as Keep, Discard, Update, Repurpose or Consolidate,” she says. “If time is an issue, go straight to your Web analytics program and find the top 10 pieces of content,” as well the 10 worst.

“If a page is getting close to zero views per month, that's a clear sign you've got a problem,” says Marc Prosser, cofounder & managing partner, Fit Small Business, which provides product and service reviews for small business owners. “Maybe the page is dated. Maybe people just can't find it. Maybe it needs a serious revision. In any case, you can spot your problem pages and determine how you want to fix them.”

One way to do that is by taking a look at successful pages (ones that are getting clicks and have low bounce/exit rates), he says, and trying to duplicate what works.

2. Do an image inventory – and clean up, optimize and refresh your images. “Images can date your website faster than words, so new images can make your site feel fresh and new,” says Chad Jaggers, product manager, LightCMS, a website builder and content management system provider. “Your sales could also benefit from new product shots showing the product in action.”

However, before you start adding new images, take the time to inventory the ones you have.

“Most people tend to neglect cleaning [i.e., deleting or replacing] product imagery that is no longer in use,” says David Attard, founder, DART Creations, a provider of Web design tutorials and tips. “Large ecommerce or web sites tend to accumulate thousands of images that have been superseded. [Smaller businesses have this problem, too.] Besides hogging disk space, it makes it longer and more frustrating to find and add the images you actually need to use.”

To fix this problem, “implement a naming convention for images,[putting images in] folders by year or by product line,” he says. “This will make it easier both for image everyday use and for cleaning up.” Then go through your folders and figure out “what stuff can go and what needs to stay.”

While you are at it, take the time to optimize images. “The most effective way, by far, to speed up the loading time of your website is to compress your images,” says Robert Brandl, founder, WebsiteToolTester.com. “TinyPNG is a free tool that does a lossless compression for Web images. For WordPress there is even a plugin that will do the compression automatically.”

3. Fix your broken links. “They hurt your Google rankings, but even worse, visitors and potential customers that click on a broken link will usually bounce,” says Brandl. “There are several tools, e.g., brokenlinkcheck.com (Web-based, free) and Integrity (Mac), that let you find broken links.”

“Broken links are terrible from a usability point of view (and can have bad SEO implications), but on a large ecommerce store they inevitability happen,” says David Heacock, CEO, FilterBuy.com. “We periodically use the Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool to crawl our site and show us any pages with a ‘404 not found error.’ Once we get this list, we can easily redirect that page to the correct resource. Run this on your site, and I guarantee you that you will be surprised what you find.”

4. Delete old style sheets. “Review your code and remove unused CSS and JS [JavaScript],” says Emily Lord, front end developer, BrainJocks. “You can be as detailed as you want with this task, but going into the weeds will significantly help your performance (for improved speed) and organization (ensuring other team members can pitch in without being lost). You can also run your CSS file through a linter, like http://csslint.net, to catch errors or issues.”

5. Review your SEO strategy and freshen up product descriptions.“Product descriptions and related content that have not been refreshed in a long time can lower search traffic and directly impacts the bottom line,” says Vishwanath Jayashankar, assistant vice president of content solutions, Ugam, a retail analytics provider. Replace canned, manufacturer-generated product descriptions with your own descriptions. And review keywords.

“Quite often, keyword terms that shoppers use to search for [an item] can change over time,” he says. And “not updating [your] content with the latest search keywords can result in losing out on demand.” However, “an easy way to find out which search terms shoppers are using is by using Google Trends.”

6. Check to see if you can improve your site navigation. “Have you surveyed your customers to find out how easy or difficult it is to find products? Or have you picked a few customers and asked them for feedback on your drop-down categories?” asks Robert Gilbreath, vice president of marketing, ShipStation.com, a provider of ecommerce shipping and fulfillment software. “Even talking to a handful of customers will generally yield some ideas for positive site navigation changes.”

7. Update or unplug old plugins. “Take a good hard look at every plugin you have installed,” says Seth Patel, marketing analytics manager, Main Path Marketing. “There is a good chance that you installed some while developing the site that may have made sense then, but now, 3 years post launch, you are wondering what exactly they do, and if you use them at all. Uninstalling these plugins can greatly increase site performance,” as well as make your site less vulnerable to hackers.

8. Evaluate your product offerings. “At least one time per year, we go through every product in our product catalog and look at the sales history and recent trends,” says Heacock. “We discontinue items that don’t seem to resonate with customers and redirect that product focus to the items our customer base seems to prefer. Not only does it offer a better customer experience, but [it] frees up time to focus on building up the traffic to the products that move the needle.” 

[ Related: 5 ways ecommerce business can improve customer service ]

9. Review links to your social media pages. Did your business add any new social media channels in the past year? If so, add links to them on your home page and/or in your header or footer. And check that existing links are correct.

Did you delete any social media accounts? If so, delete links to them on your site. The last thing you want is a customer trying to reach you via social media, on a channel you no longer check or use.

10. Clear the cobwebs from your FAQs and About Us pages. “Are the answers [on your FAQ page] still accurate?” asks consultant Mark Alves. And when was the last time you updated your About Us page? “It’s easy to forget these [pages], but they are often among the first places that a visitor will look. Tidy them up so they don’t sound [out of date].”

11. Make sure your Contact Us form still works. Few things are more embarrassing than finding out customers can’t contact you, because your Contact Us form doesn’t work or is going to someone no longer with the company. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, “fill out the form, hit submit and see what happens,” says Alves. Did you receive the form? If so, “is the confirmation message [still] relevant or does it requiring some tidying?” If not, identify who received the form and determine if that is still the right person to respond.

Even better, get rid of that Contact Us form and give people a more direct way to interact with you – via email, text, phone or live chat.

[ Related: 9 ways mobile and social tech improves the retail shopping experience ]

12. Streamline checkout – and make sure it’s mobile friendly. “Remove excess form fields from your checkout,” suggests Patel. “It's 2016. You don't need someone’s fax number. Besides, reducing form fields is shown to improve conversion rates.”

Similarly, make it easy for smartphone users to purchase from you by optimizing your checkout page for mobile.

13. Change your passwords. “Changing your passwords is something everybody knows should be done regularly, but never quite makes the top of the to-do list,” says Joe Siegrist, vice president & general manager, LastPass. “Eliminating password reuse and regularly changing your passwords are the best ways to avoid having your Web or ecommerce site hacked. When you use the same login information for multiple sites, hackers can access all of your accounts,” he says.

To eliminate this problem, “use a password manager that allows you to create strong, unique passwords and store them in a single [secure] location.” That way “you don’t have to remember them.”

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