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Magento is almost undoubtedly the world’s most used ecommerce platform, powering online stores of all levels from all over the globe. Magento was first introduced back in 2008 and has grown consistently since then, in terms of the number of users, the size of the merchants and, of course, it’s capabilities. That said, Magento, like any other ecommerce platform, does have some areas for improvement but these can be addressed without too much of an overhead, particularly with some of the third party extensions and integrations out there.

 

If you want to read more about actually running a Magento store, we recently launched a definitive guide to running a Magento store which provides a huge amount of detail on most of the core areas.

 

Never stop working on performance

The load time of a store is one our biggest focuses at Pinpoint and it’s something that we do lots of consulting around. Whilst Magento is very strong in other areas, performance has been a common problem area for merchants, which can have a direct impact on a store’s conversion rate.

Performance is something all merchants should be constantly looking at, as a slow website will frustrate your customers and lower your conversion rate. By removing complexity from your codebase, such as reducing the number of extentions you’re using, optimising your queries and correctly caching your site, you’ll be able to deliver the pages your users want to find quickly.

A small change such as moving your Javascript, Skin and Media assets to separate cookie-less domains previously reduced load time on one of our clients websites by ~50%. Other common areas for load time improvements are ensuring that you losslessly compress images and upload them at the correct sizes and also removing resource heavy features such as price sliders in your faceted navigation.

I also wrote this guide to Magento performance, which provides more detail on how Magento can be optimised further. Ben Lessani from Sonassi also wrote this piece on preparing for peak, which is a great read.

 

Replace / improve the search function

Magento’s built-in search function is one of the most criticised areas of the platform, however most of the other platforms also have a lot of the same issues, relying heavily on the product name and additional meta data to match products to queries.

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Magento Enterprise Edition’s search is slightly better than the Community Edition, as they use Solr, however for many it’s still not great. For this reason, we generally tend to use third party solutions (we’re partnered with Klevu) to power our clients’ search, as they facilitate for errors, have self-learning features and are much faster than the OOTB Magento search.

The main benefit of this has been the natural language processing capabilities, which essentially understands far more about the product and is able to match queries based on more than just the name and meta data. An example of this could be searching for “floral drapes” when products are named “flowered curtains” - this wouldn’t return the products that the user wanted to unless the products had been manually enriched, whereas an NLP-based solution like Klevu would understand that these products are the same.

Magento 2.1 Enterprise Edition is now based on Elastic Search, but their solution is still unlikely to compete with the enterprise-level third party solutions, which feature more advanced technology around things like self-learning capabilities, boosting / merchandising, natural language processing and various other things.

 

Personalise your product recommendations

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Magento doesn’t provide personalised product recommendations currently, unlike some of it’s competitor platforms like Demandware. Personalisation represents a big opportunity for online retailers to generate more revenue from existing customers, through increasing average order values and conversion rates. Solutions like Nosto essentially provide product recommendations based on how a user has interacted with your store, as well as various other features.

We always recommend that our clients use personalised product recommendations, as it also improves the overall customer experience, as well as driving more revenue. The more data we can use around this and our CRM activity the better.

In addition to excellent product recommendations, we also use Nosto’s exit popups and their cart abandonment emails.

 

Always be merchandising

Merchandising is a fundamentally important part of ecommerce – with a big part of it being focused on the products you’re serving on category / product list pages. Magento Enterprise has Visual Merchandiser built-in to the core now, which has improved its merchandising capabilities significantly, but it’s still a bit of a weakness for Magento Community Edition OOTB.

Visual Merchandiser is a great extension that allows for drag and drop ordering of products and various different types of roles for weighting different products. Another solution is Attraqt, which is a more of an enterprise-level solution that allows for more complex rules and covers more than just category-level merchandising. Attraqt is billed monthly, as opposed to Visual Merchandiser which is a one-off cost.

 

Simplify the checkout experience

Magento’s checkout process isn’t terrible, but it’s another area that can drive improvements in your online trade. We tend to use OneStepCheckout with our clients, just because we’ve seen great results historically – but there are lots of great third party options. We use OneStepCheckout because it’s easy to integrate and allows for lots of customisation.

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Things like predictive post-code lookup, siloeing the checkout, social sign-on and performance improvements have all lead to reduced cart abandonment for us in the past, but we’ve also found that in a lot of cases the best checkout experience depends on the client and their customers.

Here are a few pieces that are worth reading for further tips in this  area:

 

Be vigilant with what you’re allowing search engines to crawl and index for SEO benefit

SEO is another area that can be an issue for Magento merchants and the crawling and indexing of lots of valueless pages is something that’s very common. We’d generally recommend using the canonical tag to prevent search engines from indexing things like layered navigation pages, but it’s not always effective. Other options are to use the robots.txt file (which prevents search engines from crawling the pages), noindex directives or parameter handling in Google Search Console.

Other types of pages that we’d recommend trying to prevent search engines from crawling include search pages, aggregated review pages (which just collate review content) and some sort / ordering parameters.

This can be quite a costly issue, so I’d suggest making sure you’re covering this one off - we generally use the MageWorx SEO Suite for this, which allows merchants to handle things like changing canonical logics and assign meta robots rules directly from the back-end of Magento, but there are plenty of other modules available.

 

Make sure the structure of your store is focused on both SEO and UX

When you’re working on your Magento category tree, either for an existing Magento store or a new one, you should be thinking about two key things – how it allows for users to navigate through the website and how it allows you to target different keywords.

We’ve done lots of structural reviews with clients and have seen some great improvements to conversion rates and organic traffic levels as a result. For example, if you’re a jewellery retailer and you’ve got core categories for wedding rings, cocktail rings and engagement rings – it’s important to think about the opportunities beyond the more generic keywords and target some of the less obvious terms, which could be related to style, material, carat size etc. Keywords like “24ct vintage engagement rings” or “modern engagement rings” are still likely to get a lot of search volume and they’re more specific terms, meaning they’re more likely to convert. So, with examples like these, you might want to create static children category pages and build them into the navigation.

From a UX perspective – creating these category pages means you can make them more of a core part of your navigation, as opposed to using dynamic filter pages. Ands long as these pages are well merchandised, you can promote them as part of your core user journeys throughout your site.

 

Automate as much of your email strategy as possible

Automated emails are really important for online retailers and it’s a really hot topic in ecommerce at the moment, primarily due to the innovative email solutions available which are breaking boundaries in terms of automation features and capabilities.

Both of these tools allow for automated emails and programs based on how a user has interacted with your website and their purchase history, which allows for a far more data-lead strategy. This is something that we’ve been working on a lot with our clients and it can drive really positive improvements in revenue per customer metrics.

We try to ensure that our clients are at least using the more basic automated programs, such as welcome emails, birthday emails, cart abandonment emails and re-engage emails (to regain users who are no longer engaging with emails / visiting the website). 

 

Use as much structured data as possible

Structured data isn’t new, but Google’s improvements in how they use it in search results has made it a really important part of running a store. There are various different types of data that can be marked up in order to highlight information – such as product name, description, price, currency, product reviews, availability, brand etc.

Lots of these types of structured data are now being pulled into the results pages, with key examples being product reviews and price. This can drive some good improvements in click-through rate and it’s something that all merchants should be looking at.

Another one that’s worth looking at is the sitelinks search box – which can result in a search box being displayed for branded searches, enticing users to search earlier in their purchase journey.

You can use the MageWorx extension (as well as various more specific modules) to manage your structured data, or you could add the markup directly into the page templates.

 

Conclusion

Magento is a robust and scalable ecommerce platform, but it can be made a lot stronger by extending some of the core functionality, which applies to all ecommerce platforms. Magento 2 also has a strong roadmap with lots of new features being released all the time. Magento 2.1 saw improvements to CMS, search and further performance improvements, which represents a good move forward for them, addressing some of the main painpoints.

Lewis Sellers is the Managing Director of Pinpoint, a leading Magento ecommerce partner based in Harrogate, UK. Pinpoint work with a wide range of successful online retailers, ranging from startups to household names. Lewis has been working in ecommerce for several years, working merchant-side before starting Pinpoint in 2010.