Sunday, January 23, 2011

What would you like to read about next?

I've been pondering what next to write about and thought - why not ask the readers? So here's your chance!

Turns out that most people visiting / watching this blog fall into four camps (in no order of priority):

* Want to know more about Enterprise Java architecture / software architecture in general

* Want to know more about the Oracle Certified Enterprise Architect exam for the Java platform (I'm a co-author of the study guide for this exam as well as a co-lead assessor)

* Want to know more about .NET (especially running Umbraco on Windows Azure and / or MVC 3)

* Want to know more about ecommerce tracking (measuring, then improving online conversions)

At least, that's what the web tracking software gods say! There's a great mix of visitors too from all corners of the globe, but the next post will be in english I'm afraid.

So if there's a specific topic relating to the categories above that you'd really like to see covered, drop me a note at and I'll do my best to - and may the best suggestion win!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Ecommerce: online conversion - simple model and toolset

Readers of this blog can wax lyrical on how to build a great B2C ecommerce site - either in JEE or .NET. First we get the technology stack right, then frameworks using that technology stack, comprehensive functional and technical specs, testing plans, coding standards + reviews with daily scrum meetings, hardware / cloud estimation and then load / penetration testing - this is bread and butter to the software architect.

What a lot of software architects don't understand (or underestimate) is what needs to happen to their site after it goes live. After the go-live of a B2C ecommerce site, a whole other team (which is fairly non-technical) takes it over. This team is really exercised by and focused on three core goals:

1. Get qualified visitors to the site as cost-effectively as possible

2. Enable those visitors to find the product they want quickly and easily

3. Convert the visitor into a customer - convince them to buy on your site

These goals are completely measurable in monetary terms, and hence you will find senior management taking a serious interest in them as well.

I work in leisure travel, and there are some very specific nuances to achieving these goals in my industry sector (every industry sector will have their own nuances). But there is also a generic model to be found and some very useful (and free!) tools that you can use to put the model in place.

Turns out the model is pretty simple. Essentially it consists of three components:

1. Analytics - where we measure what's happening on our target site - how is the user interacting with the site and can we infer what they do and don't like based on measuring and studying those interactions

2. Hypothesis testing (aka A/B and / or multivariate testing) - Analytics will give us lots of data to generate ideas on how to improve interactions, therefore we need a mechanism to test out hypotheses in a semi-automated way (if I change X, I bet the conversion rate will increase by Y%)

3. Efficient prospect capture - we want the best native SEO score possible on all of the search engines and when we spend money on ad campaigns, we want the best return for that investment.

So that's the high-level model - it's pretty simple.

Many companies (and especially Google), make an awful lot of money around online ecommerce. And that's where the "free!" I noted above comes in. It makes sense for Google to give away the tools enabling Analytics (1) and Hypothesis testing (2) for free, as they make so much revenue on selling ad campaigns in Efficient Prospect Capture (3). Unkind souls might claim that if you spend any kind of money with Google AdWords at all, then you're not really getting (1) or (2) for free, but you won't find a nefarious cheap shot like that on this blog.

Let's look at how we can implement the model then:

1. Analytics - use Google Analytics. Brian Clifton's book is an excellent treatise on the application, and the online training videos are of a high standard as well. It's well worth having a couple of developers on your team get Analytics certified to understand what the tool can do - it really is very powerful

2. Hypothesis (A/B, multivariate) testing - use Google Website Optimizer. There's less information about this tool, I guess because it's a bit simpler than Analytics, but a good overview is available. Being able to change content and see the impact on the fly is a key part of the model - that's why we use a CMS like Umbraco!

3. Efficient prospect capture - SEO, SEO and more SEO. The Art of SEO is a great read. My opinion here is that as long as you're doing a great job on your own SEO, you should begrudge a search engine every penny. By using tagging in conjunction with Google Analytics (make sure you associate your AdWords account with your Analytics account to get all this done for you automagically), you can continually check that your ROI on ad campaigns is worth the spend, and stop buying terms that don't make money.

And that's pretty much it. A three-component generic model for online ecommerce, followed by the simplest (with zero cost) way to implement that model for your B2C site. I intimated that each industry sector has its own quirks and foibles above and beyond this base model, and I'll focus on the leisure travel industry in more detail in a future post or two. For now, enjoy!