Many e-commerce websites focus on the same thing: the homepage. They A/B test images and messaging and layout and tweak the user experience so it's clear and compelling.

There's one problem with that approach: There is no single user experience.

A quick look at any site's analytics will reveal that:

  1. The majority of people coming to your site are landing on pages other than your home page.
  2. Referral sources are varied: from search engines to social media shares to press articles and beyond.

Therefore, there are possibly endless combinations of how and why people come to your site. How on earth can you ever determine what messaging will suit their inquiries and fulfill their needs? The user experience was the topic of a panel at Inc.'s recent GrowCo conference in New Orleans where I spoke about what it means for e-commerce companies.

It's is very different challenge for a brick-and-mortar store. The other guest on the panel, Laura Thom of Fleurty Girl—a t-shirt and local goods store in New Orleans—makes sure her staff is trained to anticipate the needs of each customer as she walks in the door. With experience they learn how to read the look on a person's face (excited or exasperated?) or detect when a customer is about to leave because of the long line to the cash register. The staff can use this information to ensure customers are engaged and happy—and intervene if they're not.

You don't have body language or other physical cues to help you when a customer comes to your website. But there are a few simple things you can do to anticipate customer questions and needs.

Know your sources

Figure out where your traffic is coming from and why. Look at the search terms that sending people your way and then make sure you feed them back relevant information. At Buyosphere, for example, we know a lot of people find us by searching for "vintage Mad Men Style dress." Armed with that information, we can make sure that when they land on our site we show them 50′s-era vintage dresses that our customers have recommended. We also direct them to similar queries on the site. If all else fails, we always direct them to our search box: "Not what you are looking for? You can ask for search help here for free!" This has increased conversions from search engines quite a bit.

Create unique landing pages for special campaigns

Personalize these pages, if you can. For example, when a user hits your site from a tweet or a Facebook post, show them that their friends are using your site too. Of course, this only works if you have public social components to your site. If you don't, you can still show the friend but with a more generic message like, "Shanna is using Buyosphere to get help finding unique and interesting products from people like you and me. You looking for anything? Just ask. It's free."

Obviously this is easier said than done and, unlike a brick and mortar experience, you can't ask everyone why they are there and provide them with exactly what they want. But you can anticipate certain needs based on where the user comes from. Implementing personalized experiences isn't that difficult to do and will make a huge difference in the user experience. Or rather, the user experiences.