Ecommerce professionals understand how unpredictable the digital marketplace can be. As if navigating shifting consumer priorities was not enough, they must also contend with an ever-evolving search environment where a Google algorithm update could alter their business overnight. To complicate matters, these updates often are not well-understood, leaving many feeling powerless in the face of a mysterious algorithm that determines their success or failure.
Fortunately, ecommerce professionals have much more power over their online destiny than they realize. And by taking considered actions, they can insulate their ecommerce businesses from the often-stormy search seas.
A critical business asset
In a recent article for the B2B eCommerce Association, I wrote about Google’s history of core algorithm updates and how these search changes can impact an online business’s site traffic for better or for worse. I also examined how a company’s ecommerce platform can make them able to respond to shifting search priorities. In short, those with flexible platforms will have an easier time adjusting to Google’s ever-evolving search priorities than those with rigid platforms. But the story does not end there.
In a digital-first world, a business’s ecommerce platform has become a critical piece of technology that deserves the same consideration as real estate property acquisitions, lease agreements or a chosen technology stack. As a result, decision makers must develop a holistic strategy for protecting their assets against future search changes. This process requires adopting a future-focused mindset that should carry them through every phase of website development.
Selecting an ecommerce platform
The first piece of this puzzle is the most important: selecting the right ecommerce platform. In the past, companies would pick a platform and make it fit their business model using plugins, or they built their business operations around their platform’s existing functionalities. This approach does not work in a rapidly changing search environment.
Today’s internet will not be tomorrow’s internet. That is why decision makers must choose ecommerce platforms that will be flexible enough to adapt to whatever comes next, both for the business and for the consumer. The right platform will also be future focused by constantly updating and building new features to make its products more effective and valuable for users.
One way to judge a platform’s flexibility is by looking at its partnerships. If developers and core ecommerce services choose to partner with a platform, it is a good sign that they believe that platform is headed in the right direction. If the opposite is true, and a platform is having difficulty attracting partners, they will not be capable of providing the robust support ecommerce sellers will need.
While flexibility is most important, businesses may have other considerations when selecting an ecommerce platform:
- Platform capabilities: If a business plans to expand into marketplace opportunities on Walmart.com, eBay or the like, selecting a platform that easily integrates orders with its existing fulfillment system is extremely important.
- Maintenance costs: Some platforms are more expensive than others. If current economic challenges persist, selecting a platform with a more reasonable cost structure could be advantageous.
Once the right ecommerce platform is in place, it is time to build ongoing practices to ensure it performs well regardless of changing search conditions.
Five ways to future-proof your website
It is impossible to predict precisely how search will change in the future. The only guarantee is that it will change. Fortunately, there are strategies businesses can implement that will insulate their ecommerce operations from suffering in the wake of an unexpected algorithm update.
1. Develop a SEO strategy
Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial for every ecommerce company. This work makes a website more visible by amplifying the signals search engines deem most valuable. The best SEO strategists always track the latest changes in the search world and work proactively to keep sites up to date. Businesses can often avoid being penalized by core update changes because their SEO team has been working in advance to make the required changes.
Not every company is large enough to justify an in-house SEO team, and in those instances, it is wise to outsource SEO strategy execution to external experts. Regardless, eCommerce professionals should not overlook ongoing SEO work. Because if they do, a future search update will inevitably impact their site, forcing them to make the necessary updates anyway at a potentially higher cost.
2. Diversify site traffic
It is never good for ecommerce businesses to be overly reliant on a single source of traffic because their sales funnel could be negatively impacted if something changes with that traffic source. A recent example of this is Facebook advertising. After Apple implemented its new privacy guidelines in 2021, Facebook’s ability to target users suffered dramatically. As a result, companies that relied solely on Facebook to drive all their new traffic scrambled to make up the difference — and that did not happen overnight.
If a business finds itself doing well on a particular channel, that is great. But they should not allow their traffic acquisition strategy to grow stagnantly. Instead, they must diversify by engaging with other high-quality channels. This new traffic could come through email, paid search, or a host of other options. Professionals should not be afraid to think outside the box, either. Driving new traffic is critical for every eCommerce organization, so it is critical to make that influx as robust — and creative — as possible.
3. Invest in paid search
Implementing a robust paid search strategy is another effective method for insulating an ecommerce business against future search changes because it injects a level of control into the process. While organic search will always be subjected to the evolving priorities of the algorithms, paid search removes chance from the equation by enabling businesses to strategically target potential buyers via their search results page. Google is the market leader in paid search. However, Microsoft Advertising also generates solid results and is often underutilized in a marketing strategy.
It is common for businesses to struggle with setting appropriate budgets to support their paid search strategies. Many organizations start by budgeting 10% of their online revenue towards digital advertising. But if a paid advertising program delivers a positive return on ad spend (ROAS), consider moving to an unlimited budget if current operations and inventory levels allow for additional sales. With an effective strategy, every dollar spent on paid advertising drives revenue and captures additional market share. In those instances, it makes sense to continue spending as much as possible.
4. Create a compelling content strategy
These days, content is the engine that drives most marketing efforts. Brands that want to stay relevant and protected against search engine changes must create a content strategy that lets potential customers know who they are and what they do. Content also plays an essential role in the purchasing cycle by giving buyers the information they need to make a purchasing decision.
Of course, creating relevant and compelling content is only one part of the process. Marketers also need to build strategies that match the right content with their audiences and deploy it in a way people will find it. When done correctly, a content strategy creates avenues for discovery that exist outside of the search ecosystem, making it immune from that potential volatility.
5. Cultivate a trusted team
Ideally, no single person should make these critical decisions in a vacuum. That is why decision makers must cultivate a competent team that can provide the information and expertise they need to make the smartest moves possible. If those resources do not exist internally, it is wise to seek help from external advisors who can check assumptions and provide a different point of view.
Build an incredible business asset.
Google will undoubtedly continue tinkering with its algorithm in its ongoing effort to deliver the best search results for its users. ecommerce businesses can avoid falling on the losing side of these updates by choosing a flexible ecommerce platform that can adjust to changing conditions. Professionals must also work proactively to support their platforms by building a diversified marketing strategy encompassing SEO, paid digital advertising and content creation. When all those pieces fall into place, they will have built a robust ecommerce vessel that will carry them through even the most uncertain online storms.