Surprising Findings about the People Behind WooCommerce Stores

In early 2018, I became the first-ever product manager for the suite of 100+ WooCommerce extensions that are made and maintained by Automattic (the company that owns WooCommerce).

To shape a future for this catalog of extensions, I started by digging into the data. Collaborating with the designers that joined our fledgling extensions team, we spoke with the support team, analyzed purchase behavior, and looked through the Ideas Board, where customers request features.

Even with this research, we didn’t feel we had a clear, data-driven, wide-angle view on the landscape we were trying to serve, so I ran WooCommerce’s first-ever Customer Survey. Building on that data source, I worked with the data team to create the organization’s first customer profiles using a cluster analysis to find related traits.

Here’s the full post about what we found, over on the WooCommerce blog.

The Past, Present, and Future of WooCommerce

This year has been an exciting time for WooCommerce: we opened the Marketplace to new submissions, we launched our first Gutenberg blocks and we’ve started engaging in new ways with the WooCommerce community.

We’ve also had a lot going on behind the scenes, including our first-ever Customer Survey, which has given us new insights on who we’re serving, and a new initiative to reimagine the design of WooCommerce from top-to-bottom.

I joined Todd Wilkens, Head of WooCommerce, and Kelly Hoffman, Director of WooCommerce Design, to share more about the past, present and future of our platform for WooSesh, the online conference focused entirely on WooCommerce.

You can see the full video here, but you need a membership.

Here’s me speaking with Patrick Rauland leading up to the event:

On being a digital nomad

I’ve been location-independent for more than four years.

When I left my desk job, I was looking for a role that supported my development as a full person. I deeply value getting new perspectives by putting myself in someone else’s shoes, so I wanted a role that let me be in different locations.

I found that at Automattic, one of the world’s largest distributed companies.

For just over a year, I’ve been taking advantage of this to the fullest by splitting my time between Austin and Berlin. This year, I’ve been to eight countries and spent more than a third of my time away from “home” (Austin).

Beyond getting to be in different places myself, working in a distributed company means my coworkers are distributed as well. On a daily basis, I’m talking to folks in New Zealand, Poland, South Africa and San Francisco. I get the pleasure of hearing diverse perspectives in a way that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

Just a few of the tidbits I’ve learned:

  1. It feels drastically different to start your day with a meeting vs to end your day with it: Because of the time zone difference, my schedule in Berlin is quite different from Austin. My teams are global, so meetings are scheduled to maximize overlap between Europe/Africa and the US. In Austin, that means morning meetings. In Berlin, that means late night meetings. I am almost an entirely different person, because the time-of-day difference means a meaningfully different brain space. That gives me empathy for my colleagues who are in a different mental state because of their time zone.
  2. Different countries have different holidays: I knew this on an intellectual level, but until hitting the streets for May Day in Berlin, it didn’t fully sync in. Especially for times where round-the-clock coverage matters (customers support, marketing tech during sales), it’s important to check-in about these holidays, or you can accidentally put someone in a tough position of choosing between celebrating their culture and doing their job. (Thanks to @ValDeOro for pointing this out)
  3. *Everything* is backwards in the Southern Hemisphere: Summer is winter, school years run from January to December and so much more. Working with a team that included folks in South Africa and Australia helped me appreciate how much of our communications and planning ignores half the globe – ‘back to school sales’ in September don’t make sense for South Africans, for example. (Thanks to @JobTex for this)

Tortuga Backpacks is another fully-distributed company, and I recently spoke with Jennifer Sutherland-Miller from their team about my experience as a digital nomad. Read all about it.

Insights from the WooCommerce Marketplace: Successful Extensions are Built on Understanding Customers

In 2017, the WooCommerce Marketplace had been closed for more than a year. In that time, our team wasn’t accepting any new products for sale on the platform’s official marketplace, yet we were gathering more and more data about what customers wanted and seeing where developers had a chance to serve those needs.

As we started to think about re-opening the Marketplace, I analyzed our first-party data to define what we wanted to see launch. I presented that analysis at WooConf 2017, and via the WooCommerce blog.

Big Data: why it matters and how to get started

In the past year, while remodeling my house, I’ve spent approximately 80 percent of my time and 140 percent of my patience dealing with a home improvement store. As one example of this journey, when I called to check the status on my windows order, I was told they weren’t sure where in the US it was.

During the two week process of locating the order, I had to call and re-explain the situation to nearly everyone in the windows department. I even tweeted their corporate office, who told me to email them, and they then provided incorrect information via email. The process convinced me that this business truly did not care about my experience with their brand.

But the truth is that it’s not really the company’s fault. Here’s how information and data would have had to flow for me to get the experience I wanted:

Customers expectations about how companies will treat them are ever higher, while companies struggle to get their technology to meet those expectations. Here’s my full post about this over on the WooCommerce blog.

Your customers read the web in Google’s language – be ready

Google Customer Experience

We’re used to thinking of Amazon as a best-practice-setting e-Commerce giant, but customers are learning and re-learning the language of the web on every site they visit – and one juggernaut is teaching them how to engage with the web in a big way.

Google doesn’t just rule search, we use Google products to manage our email, help us find where we’re going and store our documents.

Because customers are so exposed to Google products, Google has built users’ expectations for how the web works – so when they arrive on your site, potential customers expect to be spoken to in a language crafted by Google.

By speaking to customers in the language they expect, marketers can optimize customer experience to increase revenue and create happier customers.

 

Example 1: “I need to find something… where’s the search box?”

What Google did:

More than a decade ago, before Google reigned supreme over all other search engines, there was another option: Yahoo! Comparing the two site’s home pages from the year 2000 gives you a pretty clear understanding of their different strategies:

Google Vs Yahoo

Where Yahoo! prioritized categories – attempting to guess how users would group topics – Google allowed the user to drive their own experience by prioritizing search.

Building on that all-important search supremacy, Google changed the way we use email by prioritizing search and providing unlimited storage in Gmail. It followed a similar strategy with Google Drive, prioritizing search as a way to find documents rather than depending on remembering the path of folders. 

What users want as a result:

Users expect to navigate sites using search and filtering, not categories.

How to give the people what they want:

This means you can’t neglect your internal search. Make sure your site search looks at titles, tags and descriptions of products.

Additionally, track your search box (which you can do with Google Analytics!) and regularly look at what customers are searching for – these can serve as keywords to optimize your product descriptions.

 BONUS: Google now includes a search box in Google search results – meaning when customers search on Google and find your site, they have the option to search your site directly from the search engine results page. By adding a bit of code, you can redirect customers who use this sitelinks search to results on your own site.

 

Example 2: “I’ve been to this site before – where’s that product I considered?” 

What Google did:

Five years ago, Google rolled out personalized search – meaning your search results page is customized based on your previous searches.

Google later expanded personalized search to include results from Gmail and Google Drive, to make search results even more useful.

Then, last year, Google shifted to not providing what keywords were driving traffic to your site and increased emphasis on ‘semantic search,’ which considers searcher intent and context to create relevant, personal results.

What users want as a result:

Users expect sites to serve personalized, customized content that is uniquely relevant to their particular circumstances.

How to give the people what they want:

Take what you know about user behavior and serve different web experiences based on that data:

  1. Calculate shipping based on user location before they get to the shipping page
    A lack of transparency around shipping costs or confusing terms can lose sales – the earlier you can get this information to customers, the less likely they are to be dissuaded by a price hike at the end. Since the users’ location is available in Google Analytics, you can add estimates to their shopping cart before they enter their address.
     
  2. Change the homepage based on the number of times they’ve visited your site
    The first time a user comes to the site, they may just be browsing. They’ll land on a few product pages but won’t make a decision. The second or third time, they likely already know what they want.
    To building on this idea, prioritize featured products or seasonal offerings on first visit and then switch to search for their later visits, when they already have something in mind.
     
  3. Feature products they’ve considered on previous visits
    If a customer visits your site a few days after their first visit but has still not made a purchase, they might be looking for the product they left behind a few days ago. By featuring that product on the homepage, you’ll reduce friction and make it more likely that they buy.

 Customized experiences are not limited to the web – you can also create a personalized, relevant experience by including the user’s name in an email, sending an email to customers who have left items in their cart or emailing recommendations based on previous purchases.

 

While e-commerce sites shape users expectations of other e-commerce sites, it’s important to keep in mind that most of a user’s time online is spent talking to friends and family or looking for interesting content. The conventions of those platforms shape the way potential customers view the web and what they expect from your site – so speak to them in their own language.

When Conversion Optimization Best Practices Fail

Conversion Optimization Best Practices FAIL

There are many, many, many lists of conversion optimization best practices. Some are sacrosanct:

These practices often come from broad trends observed over many experiments and they highlight what usually and typically works. Often, they’re tapping into a kernel of  persuasion wisdom.

But there’s a problem: just because it usually and typically works, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Websites have different target audiences, different marketing, positioning, pricing, product selection, seasonality. Your industry may be atypical.

I recently wrote about eight times that conversion optimization gospel failed to deliver and why for ConversionXL, read the full post.

Black Friday is dead – long live delightful customer experiences

Holiday Shopping Day Sales

Traditionally, Black Friday is the start of the holiday shopping season – a landmark to jump start the busiest buying time of the year. But with more screens and devices, increased consumer expectations and more competition between retailers driving earlier and earlier sales, retailers should call time of death on this out-of-date tradition.

This year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that overall traffic for Black Friday was down 3.6 percent from last year’s traffic. While comScore data (also shown above) shows online sales are up, that in-store traffic slump amounts to nearly $7 billion less spent over the holiday shopping weekend this year versus last year.

Yet despite this slump, NRF projected a total 4.1 percent growth in overall holiday shopping this year. Taken together, these facts suggest that holiday shopping isn’t slowing down, but rather shifting away from traditional holiday door-busters to instead reward retailers with more well-rounded plans.

 

Retailers are taking the punch out of Black Friday

Retail deals site DealNews reported that Thanksgiving day had 30 percent more Editor’s Choice deals (sales that offered all-time price lows or best-of-the-year discount) than Black Friday for the second year in a row. Similarly, Adobe reported that online shopping on Thanksgiving (or ‘Grey Thursday’) instead of Black Friday yielded average savings of 24 percent.

By offering bigger discounts at earlier times, retailers are competing to get to holiday budgets before each other and, as a result, Black Friday is less important.

Google saw this reflected in search trends as well – with “a shift away from “tentpole” events such as Black Friday” but earlier searches for terms around Black Friday associated with deals:

Black Friday Searches - Google

 

Via Google.

This year, deals started rolling out as early as the first Saturday after Halloween – now dubbed “Orange Saturday” – marking a potential new start of the season. Store traffic and revenue are projected to steadily continue and spike on Super Saturday – the last Saturday before Christmas.

 

Consumers are moving out of stores, off of devices and into multi-screen shopping experiences

As Black Friday falls by the wayside, so does its more tech-savvy iteration Cyber Monday – but not because users are moving offline or off-devices.

First written about in 2005, Cyber Monday started when workers returned to offices on the Monday after Thanksgiving and continued shopping while taking advantage of their business’s better Internet connectivity. Since 70 percent of Americans now have high-speed Internet at home, the factors that led to Cyber Monday are no longer relevant and shoppers are behaving differently.

Tracking online sales on holiday shopping days, IBM found that online traffic on Cyber Monday is highest between 5:30 and 8 p.m., meaning after work hours.

cm-report-graph-2014

 

Via IBM.

In the same report, IBM also found that 41.2 percent of all online traffic was mobile, up 30.1 percent over 2013, amounted to 22 percent of total Cyber Monday online sales, also an increase. This is consistent with estimates that between 30 and 50 percent of e-commerce traffic comes from a mobile device.

But more than just shopping and exploring products on devices, shoppers are moving between mobile, web and in-store in seamless but meaningful ways. Research from Google in 2012 found that 90 percent of shoppers moved from one device to another during a purchase process. Today, nearly 50 percent of 25–34-year-olds use their phone to shop online while standing in line at a store.

Consumers already view purchasing as a multi-screen experience, which makes dedicated deal days for different purchase behaviors, like online versus in store, irrelevant.

 

Retailers can build on success and remix the parts of Black Friday that work

While Black Friday as we knew it may be on the decline, the importance of the holiday shopping season for commerce is here to stay. To better drive sales in the future, retailers can build on what works with current shopping holidays but adjust to emerging shopping behaviors.

 

Instead of broad trends, target segments based on unique behaviors

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were built on the knowledge that consumers need holiday gifts, employers have high-speed internet, etc. Today’s marketers have the luxury to tap into big data to drive targeted, personalized holiday offers rather than directing marketing initiatives based on broad-sweeping trends.

Instead of thinking about when a customer might go online versus in-store, think about the different jobs that different devices fill in the sales process. For example, customers turn to cell phones to improve in-store shopping (by finding the store or storing a coupon) once they’ve decided on a purchase. Tablets, on the other hand, fill the job of research ahead of a purchase decision:

Mobile Shopping Activity from Nielson

Via Nielson.

Customers are turning to mobile to simplify their purchase process more and more – 30 percent of revenue on Black Friday came from mobile, a nearly 50 percent jump over last year. For Cyber Monday, mobile held 41 percent share of traffic.

Customers are turning to mobile devices to fill specific niche roles within the sales process, and by considering how these jobs fit into the path to purchase, marketers can improve the customer experience and drive more sales.

Email traffic has largely shifted to mobile, so device usage should also be a consideration for the tried-and-true email offer. Email continues to do the job of informing customers about deals and offers, but marketers may be missing out on additional revenue by not optimizing what offer they send when to the device customers are accessing at that time of day:

eMarketer research on email timingVia eMarketer.

Taken together, marketers can consider these shopping and email trends to send relevant offers at particular times of day, rather than general offers on certain days of year.

Specifically, customers may find mobile-optimized email offer with coupons useful during commute times while ‘gift-guide’ type emails may work better during work hours or later in the evening, when they’re viewing on their desktop or tablet.

 

Give customers incentives, but don’t limit yourself to discounts

As retailers battle each other to send out the biggest discount the earliest – often not publicizing all of their deals so they can undercut competitors at the last minute – they are limiting themselves to competing only on price. Deals increase the motivation for shopping, but competing on price ignores what’s unique about a brand.

Apple, for example, offered customers an extra gift card rather than slashing prices, giving a higher value product rather than devaluing their existing product. Since Apple customers are buying into a high-performance brand, a deal that increases value makes more sense.

Outside of monetary value, retailers can add value in the form of utility – helping customers more easily find the product they’re looking for, discover related products or even save on bundled products. By analysing what different customers buy and even looking at what products customers buy together, retailers can send more relevant offers rather than blindly hoping a lower price will be relevant.

At the same time, non-profits and charities are leveraging Giving Tuesday, their own holiday day, to get donors to spend more by tying it into a bigger, united movement on the day. Rather than offering gifts, which can cheapen the giving process in the same way discounts cheapen goods, they are using the day as a rallying cry, proving the added value of unity.

 

Conclusion: win the holiday shopping season by knowing your customer

Ultimately, Black Friday is dwindling because it has stopped being a useful tool for customers and retailers alike. By leveraging data to drive holiday marketing initiatives, retailers can build new and relevant holiday shopping experiences.

Today, you’ll find everything from wine to cars on sale on Black Friday, but luxury retailers treat the day a bit differently.  Where most big box and low-end retailers open on Thanksgiving and offer a plethora of dirt-cheap deals, luxury retailers will open at a reasonable hour and offer a sprinkling of deals.

Luxury retailers are tailoring the holiday to their customers, and more retailers can adopt the same practice.  One game company even got customers to spend “$5 more” on Black Friday by knowing their customer.

With the right data, marketers can send relevant offers to customers and turn the holiday season from an onslaught of cheap deals to a season of helpful gift guides and meaningful purchases.

Background photo for featured image from Alan Carter via Flickr Creative Commons.

Creating the right user experience for your personal brand:
why & how I changed my site

Site Redesign Comparison

Working to help companies connect to audiences with digital tools, I regularly preach that your website is your home online. A site offers a lot for you and your users: it’s a one-stop-shop for all the content you are ideally producing, it allows users to connect to you directly via comments and contact pages AND (hopefully) it communicates your brand through a dynamic and delightful experience.

With that in mind, I recently spent a lot of time clearing out the cobwebs, installing new features and just generally sprucing up my digital home to do more work for me. Here’s the why & how, so you can do it too and do it faster.

 

Step 1: Align content to long-term brand goals

I first built this site a few months ago as a digital resume to showcase my work to prospective employers. After months of professional development, I’m now thinking of how to develop my career well beyond this job search, to position myself as a top-notch digital strategist and industry expert (girl’s gotta have goals!), so the site needed to evolve.

Based on my experience, the roles that appeal to me now and the ways I hope to continue growing as a professional, I laid out a set of goals for my personal brand and then developed the site based on those goals.

Brand Goal #1: Be known for my writing skills  > Strategy: Showcase writing through blog posts

For me, writing is a core competency and integral to my personal brand, so I wanted to make sure my writing had as much opportunity to shine on this site as anywhere else.  If your content is special, it should get to dress up in special clothes, right?

To make my content stand out, I added a few features:

  • Featured image – The large image at the top makes posts more visual and compelling, it draws readers in. We process visual content XX faster than written text, and that’s an insight I regularly employ in my professional work, so I wanted to use it here too.
  • Full width everythingReaders just don’t look at sidebars… they just don’t. So I took them out.
  • Better styling for headlines – It’s a cliche today to say that users don’t read, they scan. Well-styled headlines make it easier to create scannable posts.
  • Author Bio’s – While I intend to be the only writer on this blog, I also want to brand myself as a writer which means making my bio visible on every post.

For more inspiration, HubSpot recently relaunched their blog to prioritize discoverability and integrate different sections.

Brand Goal #2: Become an industry expert > Strategy: Highlight expertise on site

Thinking long-term, I hope to some day be an industry expert who speaks on panels and so on, which means my digital home need to reflect all of who I am, not just my full-time work experience.

I prioritized my unique selling proposition (data drive funnel optimization + delightful execution in one package) and highlighted both my overall expertise and key results, alongside examples of my work in leading blogs:

Layout Options

Special thanks to Michelle Nickolaisen for the expertise & results design and how to highlight guest blog posts.

Brand Goal #3: Be an accessible resource > Strategy: Add friendly contact CTAs everywhere

Though I am an introvert at heart, I’ve been blown away by how welcoming and helpful others have been as I look for the next step in my career. With that in mind, I want to be accessible to anyone who may have an interest – from those who can help me (like employers and guest posting opportunities) to those that I can help (like anyone looking to build their personal brand in digital marketing).

Add in contact buttons everywhere

With that in mind, I added calls-to-action everywhere to contact me, because if you don’t ask, you can’t blame people for not doing it.

[vc_row]

[vc_column width=”1/2″]

Motion draws the eye

Powered by AppSumo, the scroll box is the only contact form that jumps on to the screen, the idea is that motion draws the eye.

[/vc_column]

[vc_column width=”1/2″]

Subtle email button

This was built in to the theme and I just think it looks classy

[/vc_column][/vc_row]

Special thanks to Paul O’Brien, who inspired the “Let’s Get Coffee” language and overall friendly tone.

 

Step 2: Make the site sustainable to further growth

Working on a project basis, you learn quickly that your time is the most valuable asset you have, so you have to prioritize spending time on activities that generate revenue and automate as much of the rest as you can.

With a website, that means thinking critically about what you are and aren’t good at. I, for example, am not a developer, but my brand is about delightful user experience, so I knew a site that was responsive and ran quickly was important.

Time saving priority #1: Flexible WYSIWYG page layouts to save you time debugging

While I really liked the homepage of my old site, it was the only option available in my theme. That tied my hands if I wanted to create any more pages. My new theme includes Visual Composer, which I’m a big fan of. It’s an easy-to-use, visual way to edit page layouts that adds a ton of options.

Page flexibility

 

Time saving priority #3: Balance quantity and quality of plugins

WordPress is great because there are countless resources from themes to plugins to forums. However, adding too many can plugins slow down the load time of your site, and that makes users bounce, so it’s important to find balance. Site speed comes down to more than plugins and not all plugins are created equally, but finding a balance and being thoughtful about your plugins is still important.

Because it focused on the resume template, my previous theme did not include nearly any UI shortcodes like buttons, accordions, etc. Those types of elements are critical to the look of the site, so they should be baked into the theme.

On the other hand, my new theme includes Google Analytics tracking and social sharing integrations, as well as some SEO options, but I’m not using them. In both cases, I want more measurement options on the back end, and that extra functionality is worth it to me to use a plugin.

By balancing the quantity and quality of plugins, I’m balancing the delightful experience my users deserve with my functionality needs. 

(I use the Google Analytics by Yoast, SEO by Yoast and Easy Social Sharing plugins)

 

Time saving priority #2: Find a credible theme author to get quick support

With my previous theme, there were some strange bugs when adding in new plugins, so I contacted the author. Four months later, not a peep from them.

As a non-developer, it was important to me to have access to someone who could answer my questions and debug.

I purchased my previous theme and this one on Themeforest, which is a great storehouse of design and code starting points. To make sure I didn’t repeat the same negative experience, I looked for the ‘Elite Author’ badge on any theme I considered. I had an answer to a support ticket question within 12 hours.

(Fellow freelancers also suggested looking through an author’s support feed on ThemeForest or buying from reputable theme shops, like WooThemes.)

 

As with everything, process is key

I find figuring out how to something to occasionally take as long as actually doing it, so here’s my website process for reference: 

Begin with the end in mind

  • Define your target audience – Like you would with any campaign or communications product, narrowly define who you’re doing this for. I wrote up a one-page brand guideline document for myself including target audience, value proposition, key messaging and keywords.
  • Look for inspiration – Once you have a sense of what you want to do, find others who do it well. I reached out to the Austin Freelance Gigs Facebook group for feedback and spent a while Googling.

Pick a theme

  • Look at LOTS of themes! – As much as other websites can be an inspiration, I find that theme stores can give you a lot of ideas, so I browse for a long while and bookmark my favorites for review later.
  • Make a matrix – Once I have a collection of lots of themes, I try to figure out what I like between them and how important each of those things is. Then I grade each theme based on that criteria and with a little Excel magic get a numeric value for how good a fit each one is.
  • Leave it up to your gut Ultimately, a theme is more than a list of features, it’s a big part of a user’s experience on a site and that, for me, comes down to gut feel. I try to narrow it down to about five themes with the matrix analysis and then consider them individually (research shows humans need limited options) 

Implement

  • Create a sitemap & wireframe sketches – If I worked with a developer, a sitemap would be the first thing on my list after research, but in this case, I knew I couldn’t necessarily get everything I wanted in a purchased theme. With that in mind, I waited until I knew the boundaries of my options to create a site map & sketches of wireframes.
  • Collect & copy all of your theme-specific content – While changing your theme won’t make your blog posts disappear, anything stored in custom objects created by your theme will go away. To save heartache and time, copy all of this stuff into a document for later use.
  • Write copy & create images – If there are extra or new pages, I would write all of the content and images at this point.
  • Go! – Once all the elements are in place, it’s just plug-and-chug till it’s all done, including ad-hoc testing throughout. Word of warning: have coffee and something comforting on-hand, this is the stressful part.

How to make your confirmation emails not suck

ConversionXL blog post

Confirmation emails may be the least developed customer touchpoint. These standard, expected emails are often as delightful as your typical in-store receipt (read: not at all delightful).

Still, confirmation emails come at critical stages in the customer lifecycle and are triggered by the user, meaning you have fresh, relevant data on your customer that you can act on.

Lifecycle & confirmation emails

I recently wrote about this for ConversionXL, read the full post.