How to Choose the Right E-Commerce Optimization Tool
Published: Aug 4, 2017
Not every one is worth your time – choose wisely
The e-commerce doctrine has shifted. Gone are the days when you drove as much traffic to your site as possible, sat with your fingers crossed and prayed enough visitors would convert that you’d hit your targets. Instead, you’re optimizing your onsite offering, improving your customer experience and increasing your conversion rates in the process.
This more measured approach means you make the most of every visitor browsing your site. And it’s this improved customer journey that means more of your browsers are becoming loyal returning visitors — increasing that key customer lifetime value metric.
Of course, your optimized site also means that any increase in traffic you drive will mean more conversions and more revenue. But, as you know, an optimized website isn’t achieved with a single swoosh of a magic high-converting wand. It’s an ongoing process — and one that most businesses need help with. This is where this guide, on finding the right e-commerce conversion tool for your business, comes in handy.
As you’d expect, along with the acknowledgment that onsite optimization is vital for the future of any e-commerce business, in the last few years a host of onsite e-commerce tools have emerged to cater for this need.
But with so many tools, all of which are offering different approaches to optimization, it’s not easy to pick which one is right for your business. This guide will give you an overview and cover the essential attributes you should look for in an e-commerce optimization tool and, in doing so, help you decide upon the type of tool that will work best for your business.
Will the tool complement your existing strategy?
You need to ensure a tool will make your existing strategy stronger, or help to actualize your future plans. If using your potential new provider requires a large deviation from the strategy you’ve drawn up, is the tool actually taking you where you want to go with your optimization efforts? And is it worth the risk, not to mention the extra time you’ll need to produce a new plan.
You probably only started considering a certain tool in the first place as you believed it could help you achieve your strategy and goals. Make sure you don’t lose sight of the very strategy you wanted to execute by trying to work around a tool that isn’t as applicable to your needs as it first appeared. The tool you chose should be able to wrap around your e-commerce strategy, not the otherway around.
Key strategic considerations
1. Can the tool integrate with – and be used alongside – your current tools?
Marketing technology tools are meant to make your life easier. The last thing you want to worry about is a new tool completely disrupting your current marketing ecosystem. Be meticulous in your research and ensure any tools you assess can be deployed without interrupting your current setup.
We’re well aware most businesses yearn for a seamless integration, that’s why we’ve always worked hard to ensure that our tech works via a single tag that can be integrated in minutes and we provide further flexibility by facilitating setup via Magento and Google Tag Manager.
2. Can it help you to realize the full value of your other tools?
Data has become the lifeblood of every successful e-commerce business. Any new tool needs to firstly offer data-backed insights, and secondly be malleable enough that you can use it alongside your other data streams. With so many marketing tools in use by the average team — and all of them collecting data — to keep up with customer expectation you need to leverage as much of your data as possible.
This means both analyzing the data captured by each tool and also using it to enable campaigns that deploy based on the insights your data has provided.
Don’t choose a tool that isn’t going to help you build upon your current strategies and data streams. You don’t want to lose valuable time reassessing strategies or spend too long reworking all your current tools to fit in a new one.
Any potential tool should be able to get up to speed, and work alongside, the tech you’re already using with little lag time or reprogramming. Seek out innovative tools that offer different solutions around your data — ultimately, that’s what is key for your optimization efforts.
Does the potential ROI align with your goals?
When assessing a tool, make sure your primary goals align with whatever the provider’s specialism is. If you want to increase your conversion rate, find a tool that’s dedicated to that. You want experts who can fully appreciate your setup and assist you in achieving your goals.
If you use a company who offers your desired end goal as just one of a long list of feature options, you may find you won’t get the same level of support you’d receive from a tool that’s very raison d’être is your goal.
One way to ensure your goals align is by defining the key metrics you’d like to improve and ensuring any potential tool can provide a measurably positive impact on that goal. Be wary of any tools that can’t provide the following:
1. Ease of measurement of ROI
From a product perspective, does the tool allow you to easily obtain ROI metrics, analyze and optimize based on that data?
2. A consistent means by which to prove the value of your investment to your peers
Does the tool not only provide the right metrics but in a way that is easily communicated to your peers or colleagues? For example, does it provide increases in AOV for products or revenue metrics in simple, understandable terms. Ideally, you want a tool’s reporting to align with your KPIs and provide simple reports that prove it’s impact upon them.
Always be on the hunt for a mutually valuable partnership. In other words, seek out a tool that will partner with you under a pricing model that aligns interests. You don’t want to be stuck paying the subscription for a tool that isn’t lifting your performance. Any tech provider who is confident in their ability to get results will be willing to work in this kind of relationship. If a tool can’t concretely demonstrate how they’d drive a return on investment for your business, don’t even consider them.
How easily can the tool be deployed?
There are few things more frustrating than finding a fantastic tool that seems to solve all your problems, before finding that the technical logistics just aren’t going to work.
As a result, the first thing worth considering when assessing an e-commerce optimization tool is all the technical aspects that surround it. Technical considerations might range from the initial setup and integration of any tool, to whether your team already has the expertise to use the tool to its maximum potential without any further training.
The time and effort involved in the setup of optimization tools can vary greatly — from mere minutes to multiple months. When deciding which tool is right for your business, explore whether or not you have the engineering and tech skills needed in-house to set up. If not, will the tech provider take care of the process (without any extra charge)?
Many optimization tools that claim to require minimal setup realistically need either the point of contact to be tech savvy or require another internal or third party team’s time and resources to get setup. A lack of involvement from within your business during the setup of a tool opens up the distinct possibility that every time there are any minor bugs or queries you’ll need to rely on external help. If this complexity, and the resultant lack of control, worries you put a tool with flexibility and a simple setup at the top of your list.
1. Are add-ons required to reach full capabilities?
There are plenty of tools out there that present you with an impressive list of capabilities. Frustratingly, upon closer inspection, most of these benefits aren’t available ‘out of the box’. Instead, you need to either continually buy expensive add ons or heavily customize the tool to get the features you originally purchased the tool for to work.
2. Time required to set up on the vendor side
Can the service provider get their tool set up and running immediately? Look for a provider who can move quickly when you’re ready, not when it suits them. Many vendors will be quick to progress you through their sales funnel but when it’s time to get started and put the tool in your hands, you could find that there’s an onboarding period of several weeks as you wait for the implementation team to get around to fully activating your new account.
Look for tools with simple integrations and quick set-ups. The quicker and easier your setup, the faster you can start optimizing your site. You don’t want to spend 18 months on a complex backend integration, or on an entire re-platform project only to find your new tech has already fallen behind your ever-evolving customers’ behaviour.
A tech company who is fast and flexible from the first step is more likely to create a mutually valuable partnership with your brand. Also be wary of tools that can’t perform to the advertised standard without add ons and customization, they could end up being costly, frustrating and time-consuming investments.
Are there hidden resource requirements?
Just as e-commerce optimization tools often require additional purchases to get the best out of them, many tools also have hidden resource requirements.
What exactly do we mean by ‘hidden resource requirements’? These aren’t just elements like the technical requirements necessary to install and use a tool, but the kind of things you often only realize once you begin to use a programme.
These requirements may seem minor at a first glance, but could well be key factors that actually convert your customers. Alternatively, they may not need specialist skills but are incredibly time consuming to manage and optimize. Here are a couple of common examples:
Design and copywriting
Accurate copywriting and slick, on-brand design are both huge factors in persuading your customers to convert. If you don’t have these skills in house, it’s tricky to replicate the real deal without coming off as unprofessional. Plenty of tools don’t offer any help on these areas other than the odd ‘how to’ blog or support article. That’s not enough. You need to get these elements spot on, find a tool that helps you do that.
Launching and managing campaigns
Accurately launching and managing campaigns on a new tool is akin to being in a foreign place without a map or guide — you’re going to get lost. It takes time to learn how to launch and manage a campaign across any tool and you’ll probably make mistakes learning how. You want a tool that provides plenty of support and guidance in this learning stage. It’s even better if you find one that takes away the problem by doing the work for you.
Time needed to optimize the tool
What’s the amount of time required by your team to manage and optimize the tool? A new tool is a potential black hole for productivity, especially in a small team. Not only will the initial learning phase make you less likely to get a tool to work fully, the frustration during this period could mean you’ll stop using it entirely.
You don’t just want a tool that provides assistance during the setup period and with initial optimization efforts. You also need to consider whether the support any vendor provides will be enduring and flexible over longer periods.
For example, some vendors offer additional client success services such as ongoing campaign optimization consultancy and best practice benchmarking as a part of their overall service. That way, as your business grows the tool can evolve alongside you and continue to provide results in the long term.
Time needed to learn to use the tool
You need a smart tool that’s simple to use. If it takes your main point of contact weeks to even understand (even if they don’t need anyone else) it may not be worth it. Seek simplicity on the user side.
Realistically, your team is way too busy to take on a tool which makes life more difficult, rather than simpler. Unfortunately, the majority of tools aren’t going to openly advertise the time it takes to actually make their tech work. With any tool, make sure you’re clear on how much support the subscription you’re assessing offers.
If the tool doesn’t give you much support, can your team afford the extra man hours you’ll need to get the best out of the tech? Particularly if your team doesn’t have masses of optimization experience, a tool that offers high levels of support will save you hours of stress — and give you a better end outcome. Any tool with a fully managed service is worth its weight in gold. This isn’t just down to the time it will save your team, but because of the instant access it gives you to expert knowledge.
Is it future-proof?
The technical considerations section earlier touched upon show how it’s best to avoid any tool that involves a lengthy integration and setup. The rapid evolution of customer behavior means you can’t risk pausing your business without falling behind.
In a similar vein, there’s also nothing to gain from considering tools that are either not up to date with current industry advancements — or unable to evolve along with them. It’s important any tool you chose doesn’t have its technical expiration date coming up in the foreseeable future. Otherwise you’ll be saddled with a predominantly useless tool and the onerous task of finding another one (again).
Unfortunately, unlike your local supermarket, tools aren’t sold with an expiration date. However, there are some key industry developments any new tool should already cater for or at least have the functionality to do so in the future:
Does the tool enable or complement a cross-device strategy? With your customers shopping across an ever-growing spectrum of devices, you need a tool that can help you deliver a coherent experience across multiple platforms.
Can the tool cater for an omnichannel strategy? Your customers see your brand as a single entity, not in channels. Even if you don’t deem yourself an omnichannel brand, any tech providers should be able to help you get a clearer picture of your customers, across every channel, enabling you to improve their customer journey.
Personalized experiences yield greater returns for your business. Giving your customers personalized and relevant content and experiences is a must. Can the tool help you provide personalized experiences right now to help you stay ahead of your competitors?
The takeaway here is clear. You don’t want to end up paying for a tool that seems dated as soon as you’ve gone through the setup process and learnt how to use it properly. Look at where the industry and your customers’ behaviour is heading. If a tool doesn’t provide you with the ability to excel in any of these areas, it’s probably not worth investing in.
As a result, if a tech provider can’t give you a clear roadmap of how they can help you excel with the likes of personalization, mobile experiences or data-led insights it’s probably wise to give them a wide berth and continue your search elsewhere. Seek out tools with smart tech that can be developed gradually over time.
Making the decision
Once you’ve found a tool, or a number of tools, that have the attributes you’re looking for it’s time to delve a little deeper to ensure the tech will suit your organization before you take the plunge. Here are a few ways you can go about gathering the right information and ensuring you make the right decision.
Let your users decide
Every team which will be involved in the setup and usage of the tool should have some input on a potential tool. Get opinions and feedback from those who will actually use the technology on a day to day basis. They’re also more likely to have used similar tools in the past and will be able to help you make a well rounded judgement. Key teams to consult include IT from the tech side, marketing for the day to day use and design to ensure there are no major obstacles lurking below the surface.
Have a demo
Fairly obvious one here, but very worthwhile. Actually seeing a tool in action can highlight factors you’ve overlooked in the initial decision phase. If you’re deciding between a number of tools, the capabilities they show within a demo also make it far easier to decide between them than reading their various attributes does.
Review pricing tiers
It’s smart to check pricing tiers to gauge not just the price level you’re at today — but the level it will be in line with where your business is likely to go in the coming months. Many pricing models seem reasonable at first, but take a huge jump if you exceed modest usage limits. At this point you may already be committed to the product and could be hit with huge costs. If you have a tight budget and are concerned the price of a product could go up in the future, have a quick look at the tool’s archives on wayback machine (https://archive.org/web/).
Check out their old pricing pages over time to see how regularly they’re increasing. If the price is regularly going up and you’re looking at paying a monthly rolling subscription then seek contractual assurances or at least budget for an increase.
Ask a developer
Do some research into whether there’s a developer community around a tool. Developers will have an in depth knowledge you can tap. Is it easy to customize the tool? What potential is there for the tech provider to build upon the tool? Developers will offer invaluable insights on these kinds of questions.
Ask about their integrations
Talk to the team and ask them about their partner integrations. Support teams (if they’re good) will usually be happy to at least hint towards the integrations that they’re working towards. As well as getting insight into how your own capabilities with the product may grow in the near future, you’ll get a sense of how hungry that vendor is to accommodate the needs of the customer and how in tune they are with market demands.
Talk to other customers
The most honest feedback you’ll find comes from other users. Customer testimonials are a good place to start, but delve a little deeper and ask for references of other customers in your industry. You can then do your own investigative work and get an invaluable even-handed view of your potential tool from someone in a similar position to yourself.
Which one’s your favorite?
Finally, less technically sound, but perhaps more important. If after considering all of the above, you’ve narrowed down your shortlist but can’t decide, choose the tool that you like the most! If you’re going to using the tool for hours on end in your day to day role you’d be better off picking the one you enjoy using.
Your checklist for choosing the right tool
- Will the tool complement your existing strategy?
- Can the tool be integrated with and be used alongside your current tools?
- Can the tool help to realize the full value of your other tools?
- Can the tool be integrated with and be used alongside your current tools?
- Can the tool be integrated with and be used alongside your current tools?
- Does the potential ROI align with your goals?
- Does the tool allow for easy measurement of ROI?
- Does the tool offer a simple means and format by which to prove ROI and share with peers?
- How easily can the tool be deployed?
- Can you setup the tool without technical skills or resources?
- Can you get the full benefits you need from the tool without buying add-ons or upgrades?
- Is the vendor-side setup quick and simple (can it be done in an afternoon)?
- Are there hidden resource requirements?
- Can you start building and optimizing campaigns without design or copywriting resources?
- Can you launch campaigns that are optimized from day one?
- Can you become comfortable with using the tool from day one?
- Is it future-proof?
- Does the tool enable or complement a cross device strategy?
- Can the tool cater for an omnichannel strategy? Can the tool help you provide personalized experiences right now?
- Does the tool integrate with key partner software?
- Have you had a demo of the tool?