Making a Better Ecommerce Shopping Cart

Michael Gray
Michael Gray
April 17, 2012
2 min read
Making a Better Ecommerce Shopping Cart

In this article

In previous articles we've talked about making your online ecommerce shopping module more search engine friendly. Topics included optimized product pages and category pages, getting rich snippets and mobile SEO.

Now let's talk about the actual checkout process and how you can make it better and easier for your customers.

Shopping Cart Data in the Masthead

Consumers have been trained by most successful ecommerce websites to look for shopping cart data or icons in the upper right hand corner of web-pages. While your avant-garde hipster designer may bemoan the fact that it's so typical and uncreative, that's the point. Shopping cart functionality should be familiar and simple, not an experiment mystery meat navigation.

The bare minimum you should settle for is a cart icon and the word "cart" or "shopping cart" next to it. Clothing and fashion stores are fond of "shopping bag", which is fine because it's a term commonly used by their demographic and not an internal buzzword that might not be clear to customers.

The point here is don't ever confuse your customers with overly technical terms or internal company language & terminology. Don't make them have a "Don't Make Me Think Moment." More advanced shopping carts will show you the number of items you have in your cart; some will even show the total price of all the items in your cart.

Shopping Cart Page Information

The actual shopping cart page should be a simple, easy to understand part of your overall ecommerce package. This is not the place to introduce complexity or confusion; it's the place to "close the deal."

  • Have buttons to add/subtract/change/edit or delete items entirely.
  • Using simple icons like "+" or "-" symbols and leave little to no room for interpretation.
  • Boxes showing the quantity or the word "edit" also solve the problem easily.
  • Using a clearly understood garbage pail, trash can icon, or the words delete/remove is fairly transparent as well.

It's also common to use the words "update" or "refresh" somewhere so customers can make sure any adjustments they tried to make actually occurred.

Shipping and Taxes

In my many years of dealing with programmers and developers, one of the areas that's always a battle is displaying shipping and tax information on the shopping cart page. The programmers usually protest with something like "I need to know the shipping destination" before I can calculate and show that information, which is true. However the technology and programming is fairly simple, and it's possible to make an educated guess, based on a few simple factors:

  • Is this a returning customer (based on cookie or login data)? If so use their default shipping destination or last shipping destination.
  • If this isn't a returning customer, invest in IP geolocation detection software to "guess" at the customer's location.

Is this a 100% fool proof solution? No. But it's better than not showing anything. Using this information will display the "best guess" tax and shipping costs. Be sure to include informational text to indicate that it's an estimate.

This gives you the ability to "up sell" expedited or priority shipping.

Registered Customers or Anonymous Customers

Almost every merchant I've ever dealt with wants to require customers to register BEFORE CHECKOUT so they can add them to their database and market to them in the future. However, as a consumer, I know there are many cases where I don't want to register because this is a "one of" purchase. So my suggestion is to let the customers choose whether they want to register or not.

If you can tell by using cookies that this is a brand new customer, offer them an incentive for registering, like a discount they can use in an offer box on this or a future purchase. The key point here is to incentivize the behavior you want, but to ultimately let the customer choose their own path.

Checkout Pages

Many studies have shown that reducing the number of pages in the checkout process has a significant effect on shopping cart abandonment. One of the first ecommerce projects I was involved in had a 7 step checkout process. We reduced it down to 3 and shopping cart abandonment was reduced by 40%. Keep your checkout as simple as you need it to be.

Page One - for the customer to enter their billing information, shipping information, shipping method, payment information, and gifting instructions, and everything else YOU NEED to complete the transaction. Don't impede the checkout with needless obstacles with requests for information or business processes that you want or that it would be nice to have.

Page Two - a review page that lets the customer see everything they entered on page one, the items in their cart, and accurately computed tax and shipping information. Allow them to go back and edit specific sections on page one with direct anchor links. Don't force them to scroll. Don't require them to re-enter credit card, CVV2, or password information. Just obfuscate the information with stars. As a customer, I can tell you this is an annoyance that has made me abandon more than one shopping cart. Include a prominent checkout button. I like to see a checkout button at the top and bottom of the page.

Page Three - Once the checkout is done, send them to a page letting them know the process is complete. Send an email with all the pertinent order information and confirmation numbers. Make this screen as tight, uncluttered, and printer friendly as possible. Not only do one page printouts make customers happy, they are good for the planet and don't waste paper and trees.

If the customer is a new customer, give them the ability to create and save a profile at the end once they are done completing their transaction. Too many stores have this process in the middle and lose the customer because they can't create a username that isn't taken, or create a password that meets your often arbitrary security requirements (like requiring a symbol, number, upper case character, and be a minimum of 8 or more characters). Make them a customer first, then make them register as an add on.

Two final points: if you are using an analytics package such as Google, learn how to use goal tracking to get a better understanding of what's going on in the shopping process. From an SEO perspective, block search engines from the entire "shopping cart." This data is different for every user, adds no value to the search index, and will never rank for any keywords of commercial importance or intent.

So let's review what can you take away from this post:

  • Put as much shopping cart data as possible in your masthead, preferably where your customer expects to see it: in the upper right corner
  • If possible try to include item counts and price data
  • Use language and names familiar to your customers
  • On your cart page, use editing language and symbols your customers will understand, are familiar with, and will not be confused by
  • Reduce the number of pages and required information to complete a transaction to only what you really need--not what you or your marketing team wants
  • Incentivize and include the registration process AFTER the transaction is complete. Don't complicate the checkout process because it will only increase shopping cart abandonment
  • Set up goal tracking in your analytics to better understand what's happening during checkout
  • Block the search engines from the checkout process and cart entirely: there's no data in there that will help you rank for anything competitive or of commercial intent
  • Follow-up with confirmation and shipping information and status updates as that information changes
  • Don't pass up the opportunity to get review data from real customers


Check out the rest of our SEO for Ecommerce blogposts.

Michael Gray
Michael Gray

Michael Gray is an SEO specialist. Sometimes he feels like a bot, sometimes he doesn't.

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