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Many of the fundamental rules for e-commerce web design are fairly straightforward, yet it's still fairly common to see businesses making basic errors.

While design faults often appear to be negligible, they can have a huge impact on conversion rates and profitability.

QuBit, which was established in 2010 by four ex-Googlers, offers a range of customer analytics and tag management products can help identify and iron out these mistakes.

Managing director Graham Cooke used to work on Google Analytics, so I spoke to him to find out the common mistakes websites still make that impact their conversion rates and if there is any way around Google's encrypted search data.

What are the most common design errors you see websites making?

We think there’s $200bn between Europe and the US lost due to inefficient websites. And it’s often things that can be fixed fairly easily. Website speed is a big issue,  for every one second delay there’s a 7% drop in conversions.

And then when you look at the checkout, forced registration causes a 23% drop out rate.

The other common issues are poor image quality on product pages, lack of product information, too many products on one page and pricing discrepancies.

Having too many products on the page is like the equivalent of going into a shop and squeezing all the clothes as close together as possible to save on space in the store. It means that nobody has a positive experience.

In luxury stores they space everything out massively so you get a better experience, the same thing exists online.

So we see mistake after mistake causing these inefficiencies, but the big challenge is working out how to identify them.

And once these issues are fixed, then you get into the next realm which is actually understanding the user’s motivation and the stage they are in buying something. So what kind of user are you, and how ready are you to buy.

Do you find that consumer behaviour is changing over time?

The thing that we see is that it adapts on both macro and micro-level cycles, so users leave different kind of feedback at different times of the year.

For example, they are more price sensitive at certain times of the month depending on whether they have been paid or not. And actually, when we were at Google it was predicted that a recession would happen in the UK a year before it actually took place.

We could see in the search data the way people were bidding on keywords and the way search behaviour had changed, so you can track how consumer behaviour is changing, but to do that you need to understand the best ways to use the data we have.

Google has started to encrypt referral data when a user is logged into a Google account. Is there any way to get around it?

What they’ve decided is that there’s a lot of information given away when you run a search, and from a marketers context there’s obviously a lot of value in understanding what somebody was searching on before they came to your site.

But Google is very focused on privacy, and this is a move to protect user privacy. They are in control of the data that gets sent, so there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Is it definitely a privacy issue? Google isn't just going to sell the data as a premium service at a later date?

Being ex-Google, I would almost certainly think that this is done purely for privacy, they would never sell that as extra value data.

And there’s really no way that we can get around it?

No. I would eat a hat if you could get round it, or if Google decided to sell that data. It would be very un-Google to do that, but there are still ways to understand what is going on.

Google hasn’t encrypted the AdWords data so you can still see the query and the keyword the user typed if they click on an ad so you can still understand the data from paid search.

But that may only be 3% of your traffic, although it could be as much as 10%-15% for big brands, so you still get a good feel that way.

Also, using our technology we can understand the landing page you arrived at and the words on the landing page and infer the topic of what you may have been searching on so indirectly we can understand that, although we can’t find out the specific query.

Google uses SSL encryption which is very, very secure, and there’s just no way around it. The ceiling that it will reach in terms of users is 200m, as that’s the number of Google logged in accounts.

So at the moment it will reach a maximum of 30%-40%, unless Google defaults all searches to SSL.

What are the limitations of Google analytics?

It’s a great product, we are Google Analytics partners and massive advocates.

Any client that says they are replacing their analytics product we advise them to use Google Analytics. You can do almost everything a major enterprise analytics product can do but the limitation is that you can’t look at session behaviour – it is against the terms and conditions.

Even if you wanted to set it up and hack it so it could do user based tracking, you are breaking the rules of the product so it’s very much about aggregated, sample data.

If you want to get in and discover what different users are doing, you need to use something that is session-based.

Also, it doesn’t diagnose the problem for you, it just gives you the data and it’s up to marketers to work out what to do with it.

But it’s still a great product, and we still plan to build our products alongside GA.

How is social changing the way people shop online?

We see that Facebook is obviously a big influencer, but interestingly new sites like Pinterest and ShopStyle having a significant impact on the way people buy things.

Pinterest is the one to watch, it is really driving sales for businesses. It’s great for discovery, and not only do they have a lot of users but they have highly monetisable content.

As it gains more users it could become a bit like Google in that a lot of people will use it mainly for information and only a small percentage of the traffic is actual commercial queries.

However, that small amount of commercial queries is extremely lucrative.

How will your analytic software be affected by the new EU cookie law?

We have always been about transparency, and we only use first-party tracking so it is the website that has the relationship with the customer and we are simply there providing a service layer.

The data exchange and everything stays between the site and the customer.

We are in the same category as an analytics platform – we are not tracking users across the web, we just allow companies to monitor user behaviour on their sites.

We’ve also built our own technology within OpenTag to help businesses become compliant with the law. 

David Moth

Published 28 May, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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