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How to diagnose weak positioning

How to diagnose weak positioning (part one)

It’s something we’ve all heard before, but that’s because it’s almost always true – the first step to resolving any problem is understanding that you have one in the first place. 

In recent months, we’ve been talking extensively about positioning and categorisation regarding DTC businesses. There’s no doubt that getting both right can be transformative – not just for SEO and PPC campaigns – but how can businesses go about understanding whether or not this is really the issue in the first place? After all, could the solution be something as simple as improving a lousy checkout experience? Or maybe one-click purchasing could be the answer instead?

In our experience though, there are usually some pretty clear signs that positioning and categorisation are the main issue, rather than the nitty gritty execution of any given project.

For this reason, we’ve developed a process that we typically work through to get to the bottom of what can be a thorny subject. It’s not intended to be exhaustive, but rather, a practical starting point that will usually signal whether or not you and your business are on the right track in terms of understanding the real roots of any major difficulties you might be experiencing.

Using the example of a few eCommerce businesses along the way, we’ll go through the critical questions you’ll need to ask yourself to figure out whether or not your positioning is holding your business back. They involve both validating signs that point to faulty positioning and categorisation and eliminating other factors as the possible culprit – check these key questions out below, plus details on how to start turning things around.

Question #1: Are you disappointed by the results?

Chances are, the answer to this initial question is a very strong “yes”. Underperforming campaigns are typically the trigger for examining positioning in the first place, although it can take a while to step back and understand that it’s not execution that’s the problem.

Here are a few examples of the kind of problems that signal there’s a cause for concern:

eCommerce problems

A few years ago, we encountered a luxury brand that was very obviously experiencing negative repercussions as a result of their poor positioning. 

It was apparent very early on that they weren’t achieving the results they desired. Their ROAS across paid channels had been as low as one, while a number of campaigns were turned off for being unprofitable. Overall revenue in a month where no campaigns had been running sat at around £5-6k, with no signs of growth at the desired rate.

While this in and of itself doesn’t explicitly signal there’s a problem with positioning or categorisation, it’s undoubtedly a very early red flag.

Question #2: Is the problem happening across all inbound channels?

Here’s where we start looking at Google Analytics. 

A basic Channels report over a 30-day and full year period is the best place to start. What we’re looking for primarily is weak conversion rates across the Organic Search, Direct and Paid Search channels.

What a weak conversion rate looks like is obviously up for debate, especially when broken down across channels. According to VWO, the average conversion rate for an eCommerce store is 2.58%, while other sources place it a touch higher.

It’s also worth noting that conversion rates differ considerably by industry. According to the report above, here are some examples:

  • Consumer goods – 2.74%
  • Fashion, accessories and apparel – 3.25%
  • Multi-brand retail – 1.3%
  • Beauty and personal care – 4.07%
  • Food and beverage – 5.77%
  • Home and furniture – 1.61%
  • Pet care and veterinary services – 3.8%

Of course, it should be made clear here that these are broad figures, and are for illustrative purposes only. In practice, we see stores that have positioning and categorisation properly defined achieving much higher numbers.

In the case of another beauty brand whose positioning we suspected might be holding them back, we found their conversion rates were typically around the 2.5% mark both over a 30-day and 12-month period:

Beauty brand conversion rate

In theory, this figure should be around double what they were reporting, which ultimately helped confirm our suspicions.

Question #3: Is demographic targeting (broadly) right?

Let’s be clear – the issues your business experiences could just be a case of targeting the wrong kind of traffic. For that reason, it’s worth validating that roughly the right people are coming to your site.

Again, using demographic targeting in Analytics, let’s make sure we’ve got the basics (age, gender and location) right. These reports are far from accurate, but if they’re wildly different from what’s expected, it can be a signal that something is amiss from an execution point of view.

For both of those beauty brands we mentioned earlier, they were generally targeting women ages 25-44. And when we dug further into their traffic, we found that those were the people visiting their sites.

Target audience stats

While this might not be that interesting, Affinity Categories can offer a bit more insight. These are a kind of rough user persona based on GA data, and again, while they may not be 100% accurate, they can be a useful indicator about whether or not the right people are looking at your site.

Traffic stats

As you can see above, traffic for beauty brands often comes from those in the Beauty Maven category. On the whole, these people typically look like:

Beauty Maven profile

So if your site is attracting the right kind of traffic with the right kind of audience but they’re not converting, why not? In many cases, this again points to a problem with positioning and categorisation.

Question #4: Is the user journey actually usable?

At this point, it’s worth checking that nothing is fundamentally stopping conversions. 

We’re not suggesting a full UX review – this is something that can be revisited when the strategic stuff has been figured out properly. This is more a case of answering questions like:

  • Is the product information correct?
  • Can I add a product to cart and checkout?
  • Are sales being recorded properly?

This is because if the site itself isn’t the problem, this leads us to think fundamental brand issues like positioning and categorisation could be at fault.

Question #5: Is it clear what keywords you should be targeting?

Keyword research is a big subject, and it’s one that’ll be covered in much more detail during the later phases of any given project. However, as a starting point, it can be a good indicator that something is not quite right from a positioning or categorisation point of view.

Our initial keyword research is often based on USPs – if this process is relatively straightforward, you’re generally on the right track. Being able to pull out your product’s unique selling points means you likely already know where you fit in terms of categorisation.

But if this is a difficult process in which you have a hard time identifying the right top level phrases, that can be an indication that your positioning/categorisation is unclear. Because ultimately if your target audience doesn’t know what to search for in order to find you (or worse, doesn’t know that your position/category exists), the likelihood of them landing on your website is very low.

Question #6: Is the site visible (at least a little bit) for the right keywords?

The next step is to see what Google thinks your site is relevant for. 

By using a tool like Ahrefs, we can see a sample of ranking keywords. It’s not important here to focus on positioning – instead, we need to look for terms that show the right intent, preferably to buy.

For both of the beauty brands we mentioned earlier, we found that most phrases that resulted in people finding their sites were around informational searches, the data for which was backed up by that on Search Console. 

And while that traffic is no doubt valuable and useful from a brand awareness point of view, we could see in Google Analytics that there are no direct sales over the last 30 days from a user arriving on content related to these keywords.

Question #7: What do users really think?

At this point, it’s time to start asking questions of some real people. This should additionally be done in much more detail later on in the project, but the purpose of doing it lightly at this stage is not to get all the answers, but instead to confirm that positioning or categorisation are the problem.

A great tool for gaining this insight is Conversion Crimes.

Conversion Crimes

We generally use this tool in depth at a later stage in a given project, but for now their free Scout video is enough to get us started. It includes one user test with the following questions:

  1. What is your first impression of the site? What do they sell and who is it for?
  2. Browse around in the store and find something that interests you. What questions do you have about the products or the company? Can you find the answers?
  3. Closing thoughts: What did you like or dislike about the experience?

These reviews can often be frustrating, but an important part of the process is understanding what is useful insight, and trying to decode the comments that might appear confusing or show a lack of understanding. 

When we recently carried out user testing through Conversion Crimes for one of our clients, the word “dull” was used by a user to describe the site:

Conversion Crimes results

This is a great example of what could be an initially confusing result for a brand. But when we dig a little deeper, we see that these results mean the user didn’t understand what’s different or special about this site. They thought it was high quality and in the luxury space, but they couldn’t identify anything that sets it apart. 

Really, this is the strongest possible sign that positioning is at fault.

By the end of this process, it should start to become pretty clear whether or not poor positioning and/or categorisation are negatively affecting your sales. If you discover that they are, next up comes exploring the reasons why the current framework isn’t working effectively.

If these problems sound familiar, there’s a pretty good chance your business’s positioning and categorisation aren’t where they should be. For more information on how you can not only arrive at this diagnosis but understand it clearly, we’ve launched a follow-up video to this post that’ll walk you through this process in more detail and with further helpful examples.

We’ll also begin our discussion on how you can work to resolve these positioning/categorisation issues so your business can start generating better results. You can expect it here in the next few weeks!

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