42 Ways to Sell More Online – An IIMA Event with Jason Billingsley

By Ava Naves, Principal


This was my first for-ray into live blogging. As such, forgive me in advance for typos, grammar errors or otherwise discombobulated sentences. The text below details Jason Billingsley presentation for the International Internet Marketing Association, covering the topic: 42 ways to sell more online.

Jason Billingsley is the founder of Flip Retail, co-founder of Elastic Path and the blog Get Elastic. He co-founded Elastic Path Software in November 2000 and held the position of VP Marketing where he helped the company attract over 200 customers. Global brands such as Google, Aeroplan, Nike, Time Inc., Avis, Samsonite, United Health Group, Telus, Garmin, and Sony. Most impressively, this was done with no outside equity financing.

Flip Retail’s mandate is to consult with online retailers on how to execute e-commerce best practices.

Ean Jackson is introducing Jason.

Don’t miss the events coming up in February, March and April. For more information, visit the IIMA website.

Jason got into e-commerce when he was 17 years, and his girlfriend asked him to developed a web page. From then on, he started Elastic Path. Right now, 140 people work at Elastic Path – one of the biggest success stories in the tech field in Vancouver. After 9 years, he retired from Elastic Path and is now a professional speaker and e-commerce coach.

Jason loves to travel and decided with his wife to go to a half-year cruise.

Jason is now talking and about to start presenting his presentation deck and the Elastic Path story.

Some of the clients in the Elastic Path roster right now are Virgin, Google, etc. For now, he’ll talk about e-Commerce.

Jason’s favourite e-commerce site of all times is Arngren.net – a Norwegian site. The moral is: no matter how bad the site is that you’re working with – Arngren is worse!

He’s now working on a checkout optimization for an international shoe retailer.

He’s starting with a math equation: c=4m+3v+2(i-f)-2a.

Jason is now taking a poll to see who’s selling products online, etc.

The variables in the equation are:


M=motivation (one element that we don’t have any control over). It comes in 2 forms: user is a hunter or a browser. Hunter knows what they’re looking for. A browser doesn’t have intent on buying yet. However, we have control over value proposition. More importantly, we have control over value proposition.

i = promotions, offers

a = last element of the equation, stands for anxiety

Jason uses this to look at any project, web site. Is this tactic addressing any one of these variables?

Jason is asking who’s got a base domain set up. A www domain is not the same as non-www domain. The proper way to do this is by setting a 301 redirect. By default, Jason uses a 301 redirect to set up a base domain.

Jason is a firm believer in placing products as close to the base domain as possible. They should live one level deep. E.g.: www.domain.com/product vs. www.domain.com/category/sub-category/product

The big thing, though is duplicate content issue, which acts as a filter in the eyes of Google. When someone searches for a product, Google may not display one page because the product is already showing on another page.

Now, to a chart about spidering, from seomoz.org/blog/diagrams-for-solving-crawl-priority-indexation-issues


Link Deep, Link Often

– Use top ranked products lists on home and cat pages
– Cross-sell from entry points URLs
– Create anchor content

Important to get critical content deep into the site or identify key pages in hierarchy to lever links in the web site.

Q. from the audience: you have a product page. At the bottom of the page where the explanation of the product is, do you cross-link to the category about generic cough medicine?

Moving onto PPC – favourite hack that made lots of $ for a client really quickly!!!

– Duplicate “broad match” campaigns to “exact match”

– Bid “exact match” campaigns slightly higher


Higher CTR, lower CPC, lower bounce rate, higher per visit value

Q: Google penalizes your ad position if it under performs due to broad match:

A: You’ll need to pay more if it isn’t relevant, if page takes too long to load, etc.

Secondly, Jason separates content ads from the other ads: Rationale: Different motivation

– Use a different landing page

– Target ads by site. Create an offer: everyone from x store – click here to save 10%.

Now, moving onto emails. Ask for them!

– Site wide. Ask for it in a footer!

-Incent: get 10% off!

– Demonstrate

– Assure

– Capitalize w/ effective welcome email

Next item: Get In in the Inbox – Deliverability is Hard

– Test accounts

– Check your SPF (sender policy framework)

– Domain keys & DKIM (domainkeysidentifiedemail). Yahoo looks at these. Once these are in place, Google starts to recognize messages as non-spam.

– Bounce suppression. When an email address dies, when mail box is full, you get a bounce. If you get 1000 people on Yahoo, but 100 of those addresses are dead, Yahoo labels the rest as spam.

– Feedback Loops

Deliverability.com is a great resource to check these factors out.

Now, the right sender name:

– Do not user a generic info, such as info, customer service, order. Put a real name into it.

Format for success:

– Image only vs. HTML/image hybrid emails. Deliverability goes way up if you go into hybrid format:

Deliverability: 78% vs 98%

Open rate: 10% vs 13%

CTR: 3% vs 5%

Conversion: 0.4% vs. 1.5%

Next tip: capitalize on pre-headers. They show up in messages.

E.g.: Papa John says: Get an XL pizza with up to 3 toppings for only $145.99

Q: In Aweber, where’s the pre-header?

A: It’s in the first line in the content.

Q: Is there an email distribution service that you recommend?

A: If you’re a large retailer, work with a provider who’s used to issues. Aweber is best for small guys. VerticalResponse has also worked well for other projects.

Next: leverage transactional emails

– First touch = simplify

– Request white-listing

– Track! Orders, Support, Account Creation, Tracking, Newsletter sign-up.

Go to Jakob Nielsen’s site for some great resources.

Next: WIIFM (what’s in it for me? What does this mean?)

Support claim with testimonials, etc. It’ll give more weight to your claim. Jason rarely sees an example that he can use. But one great resource is GetElastic.com – a blog started @ Elastic Path.

Next: communicate a clear value proposition. Why should I buy? Give me some incentives. E.g.: ClassicCloseouts answered all these questions: can you solve my problem? Why should I buy? What incentives do you offer? “We’ve got your holiday shopping all wrapped up”!

Resource: Marketing Experiments and Marketing Sherpa.

Now, the homepage is just guiding people to the page where the product is. Get them closer to the goal, fast. Give people images in the homepage, not just text.

Capture attention w/ products & prices in homepage. Show them. Period.

Arden B’s homepage is an example of what not to do: image is huge, model distracts you. Be careful of using hero images. Be mindful of size. Actually sell something. Powerful images can hurt conversion.

Another thing: your logo is meaningless. If it’s too big, shrink your logo! Reduce vertical space! If you have a big image, make sure to link to something!

Jason is a bigger proponent of click-tracking that eye-tracking. When you use a model, make sure she/he is looking at the product, not you.

Category pages: best right now is Crutchfield. People want guidance.

Total pet-peeve: when you’re listing products, don’t list alphabetically or by price. Do it by merchandise assortment. You need to do this on your site. Do sort manually. Do sort by Top Sellers.

Most people don’t use drop-down menus. Don’t depend on this.

Show lots of products (min/ 50 per page)

Use large pagination i.e. Google. For example, if you go to Google, you’ll see large number of page search results at the bottom (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…)

Jason is not a big proponent of using WordPress for e-commerce sites. Maybe as a platform that is supported by an e-commerce site, but not as the main platform for the site.

Jason says not to worry about below-the-fold. If people can tell that there’s more content below the fold, they will scroll.

Best example of visual & multi-sku items: Lands’ End. Show more SKUs available. Toggle front/back view on hover.

Product Pages is the key. Let’s go to it:

Image size and image context is more important than you know when you have crappy descriptions. The image can still sell. Make it as big as possible. Use 500 px by default. Show as many looks as possible -e.g.: open bag, closed bag, stitches. If using zoom, go from 500 px to 2000!

Show product in use. Show SKU options. Don’t skimp! Set up a great photo studio! It’s worth it, and easy.

Quick tip: instead of just having product name, have a headline to the product. E.g.: Kid Inc. Toy of the Year Monkey Blaster 9000.

The Price Structure is Right:

– Create a mental baseline: MSRP, List, Compare At.

– Current price most prominent + color

– Show savings: $ and %

What Jason Hates:

Pages that don’t focus on the product. Don’t give too many options! Focus on the product! E.g.: Timberland is bad at this. Good example: Heels.com. Put a “take me to” other options above the product to give option.

American Eagle is great e.g. of how to gateway to other items

Next Tip: Create Urgency. E.g.: on overstock.com, they’ve put “sell out risk very high”.

Next: Build Confidence (the “A” variable in the equation).

– Consider a third-party security badge

– Add geographic reminder. In a Canadian site, put that it’s a Canadian site.

– Eliminate fears, uncertainties, and doubts. For e.g. say that you’ve got plenty of customers, been around a long time, ships from Canada (if site is Canadian), price guarantee, hassle-free returns. But, use modal windows so people don’t get distracted from page.

Investigate this possibility: Eliminate Uncertainties ASAP. For e.g., let them know right away how much it’ll cost for the product for shipping. It’ll affect your abandonment rates, but you’re looking at the end result.

Another issue people have is when the product will arrive. If you can say that it’ll arrive on Jan. 14, for e.g., people ar more comfortable ordering from you. Apple does a good job at this. Jason acknowledges that this is tough to do.

Avoid the Coupon Dance. The biggest rise in search term this year on Google is for coupons.

– Prominent field can reduce conversion. Reduce prominent.

– Legit holders will seek where to put the coupon on your site. So it doesn’t have to be prominent. Jason uses a Javascript link that says “have a promo code”? Or use it in the checkout, where people can’t find it easily. Officemax actually had something interesting where it said “have a promo code? Give us your email address?)

– Use click-to-open

– Deeper in checkout

Enclose your check out. Don’t put the navigation bar at the top, because it will reduce people from focusing on other areas of the site.

Eliminate interruptions: no need for a sign-in/sign-up cut-off page.

Push Some Buttons!

– If you’re using red throughout your site, use a different colour for the button!

– Increase button size

– Add icons to buttons

– Add depth to buttons

– Describe what the button does. For example, make that the button says “proceed to delivery options”

Don’t Stop Selling – Receipt Pages:

– Yes breeds more Yes’es. Ask to refer a friend, ask them to share via Twitter, etc, give whitelist instructions, tell what’s next in the process (e.g. will be receiving call from Purolator, etc).

Speed Counts! If your site loads in 8 seconds, it won’t perform as well as site that loads in 2 secs!

– Reduce HTTP requests

– Use image sprites

– Combine external files

– Perceptual speed

– Much more…

– Check Webmaster Tools

Check out: http://code.google.com/speed/ and http://www.compuware.com/fastcalc. This last one will tell you how much $ you’re losing by having a slow site.

Get Critical Elements Higher

– Reduce size of header

– Move add to cart to header or higher on page

– Duplicate checkout CTA

Optimize for Brand and Coupon!

Overstock is a good e.g. of this.

Another great tip: focus on the solution that you’re providing, not on the product that you’re selling.

Q: What’s Jason’s opinions on blogs?

A: Use a separate URL for blog. That was done intentionally, so as to not confuse people. But he says its 6 of one, half-dozen of the other.

Q: Do you have specific experiences in going after people who have abandoned shopping process? E.g. abandoned shopping cart.

A: That works primarily with people who have logged in. There’s a success rate of between 5% to 10%. His suggestion is to test, ask customers how they feel about it. If it’s a product that they’re highly sensitive about, maybe that’s not a good idea.

Another tip: use customer reviews. Use as many third-party reviews as possible. If you don’t have any, look at the content at other sites where you can get 3rd party reviews from (BUT DON’T USE THEM! That would be illegal!). Make sure it’s in text. Use testimonials. It’s an underused tactic. This helps to reduce anxiety before the shopping cart stage.

Jason is available during the next little while to work with some e-commerce clients in his coaching practice. You may contact him through Twitter.

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One Response to “42 Ways to Sell More Online – An IIMA Event with Jason Billingsley”

  1. Hello there, just stopped by doing some research for my Samsonite website. Can’t believe the amount of information out there. Not what I was looking for, but nice site. Take care.