Migrating To Kubernetes

Migrating To Kubernetes

Quarter 4 2016 saw us embark on the first stage of our migration to the cloud, starting with planning out the migration of our eCommerce websites to the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) Container Engine.

Firstly, a bit of background to our previous infrastructure: Each client website had at least two compute instances, of varying spec depending on the levels of traffic we were expecting, which were added to a load balancer utilising a static IP. Each compute instance was sat on the GCP Compute Engine.

Our websites don’t connect to a persistence layer, nor do they connect directly with a back-end platform. Instead, they all utilise Venditan Commerce API (VC-API) to obtain all the data it requires to display the website to the end-user. This abstraction removes an element of the complexity of this migration and also allows us to focus primarily on the website itself and control the migration implementation by switching DNS.

The previous infrastructure made it difficult to scale with demand

The previous infrastructure made it difficult to scale with demand, as adding another instance would require several steps before you could add it to the load balancer.

Using the GCP Container Engine removes this headache, as you effectively instruct the Container Engine to manage the instances for you instead by creating a container cluster. A container cluster is a managed group of uniform VM instances for running Kubernetes. GCP Container Engine allows you to select how powerful you want the machine to be, which will directly impact the resources available to each deployment. It’s fine to be fairly conservative with the machine specification at this point as you can always increase the number of nodes in your cluster as required.

GCP Container Engine recently released the ability to have your clusters automatically upgrade and repair. We have disabled both of these options to provide more control over when the upgrades happen. The upgrades themselves are easy to do, but we have noticed a few minutes of intermittent downtime during the upgrade process so we like to do it during the early hours (GMT) to reduce the impact the upgrade has on our clients.

Within the container cluster there are node pools, that you can easily find within the GCP console. A new feature can also be seen here which is ‘Autoscaling’, but currently, this is considered to be still in beta and does not yet provide the optimum number of nodes so we have it turned off for the time being until the bugs are ironed out.

Cluster setup is dependent on your requirements, so the spec of your cluster and its nodes will differ dependent on your clients needs and what you are hosting (traffic, type of application, etc.). Clusters are useless without services and deployments, which allow you to create external services such as a web service, or internal services such as memcache that are used by your other services and deployments. We created services for ‘web’, Redis and memcache.

Since the move to Kubernetes, we have not had any issues with any of the memcache services

The memcache service is a step forward for us, as with our previous infrastructure we had one instance in Compute Engine running memcache to service all of our websites. With the move to Kubernetes, each website has its own memcache service, improving resilience and delivering a robust solution for our clients. Since the move to Kubernetes, we have not had any issues with any of the memcache services, whereas on the previous infrastructure it was a regular occurrence (mainly running out of memory).

One usual area of concern is the deployment process, but with Kubernetes we have seen a big improvement. We create images that are pushed to a GCP bucket and then used by the containers. The image is the environment for each website including all apache configuration and SSL certification, and the application itself. This has meant that the deployment and rollback processes are a case of swapping out the image tag version that is currently being used by the containers.

Kubernetes will then fan down the old deployments that used the old image and fan up the new deployments that use the new image. This removes the potential for users to see an issue and instead acts as a seamless switch between two versions of the application you’re deploying.

Although Kubernetes has given us the opportunity to improve our infrastructure, it had numerous dependencies on other technology to allow us to actually do the migration.

We utilise docker heavily to build the server environment based on alpine packages, setting up the apache/nginx web service and configuration files that have numerous environment settings that our front-end applications use. The use of docker also provides a stable, production-like environment in which our development team can work on in all scenarios but on their local machines.

With the migration to Kubernetes we upgraded our front-end application to PHP 7, and have seen marginal performance improvements as a result. Add nginx into the mix and you start to make a bigger performance improvement collectively. With nginx we have seen average server connection time go up a little, average page download time half but no difference in the average server response time. From this you can determine that the end user will see a benefit and with every upgrade and every change in technology we put the end user first, to ensure we are delivering the most performant solution possible.

As a whole, we’ve definitely had a successful migration to Kubernetes. The process has delivered a better service to our clients and as developers we have more trust in the infrastructure. Developments that have occurred since the migration have been easier, such as the migration from apache to nginx and moving towards HTTP2 and HTTPS across all of our websites. We’re only six months into this journey with Kubernetes, and as it continues to develop we are expecting to be delivering an even better solution to our clients.

Michael Simcoe
31st March 2017

25 Ways To Optimise Your eCommerce Product Pages

25 Ways To Optimise Your eCommerce Product Pages

Spring has finally sprung!

With temperatures forecast to reach 20 degrees later this week, there is no doubt that spring has finally sprung! Hopefully you’ll have now have taken delivery of lots of new spring/summer stock ready for the longer and warmer days to come. With this in mind, we thought it would be a good time to run through a few ways that you can optimise your product pages for the new season.

Stand Out Against The Competition

1. Make sure that your title tags and meta descriptions provide users with an indication of the page’s content. This will allow the users to choose the most relevant result for their needs and prevent them from clicking through only to bounce straight back to the SERPs again. If your page is for a specific colourway, make sure you mention this in the title tag – if you stock the product in several different colours mention this too.

2. Make sure that your title tags are within the 50-60 character range (or 512 pixels wide) and your meta descriptions are between 150 – 160 characters. This will ensure your entire meta content is displayed in the SERPs rather than being cut off or discarded. Use key phrases at the start of your title tag to ensure that they are the first thing the user sees.

Your meta content is an advert so make sure you shout about your USPs!

3. Your meta content is an advert so make sure you shout about your USPs! Chances are there are a number of other retailers stocking exactly the same products as you. You need to tell the user why they should order from you over your competitors – Can you get the product to them faster? Do you offer free shipping or returns? Do you have a price match policy? Try, when possible, to include your brand name in your title tag – even if the user doesn’t click through it will encourage them to associate your brand with the product they are searching for.

4. Make sure that your meta content is unique for all pages. Your site shouldn’t contain any duplicate pages so naturally your meta content should not be duplicate. You can find details of any duplicate title tags and meta descriptions in the HTML Improvements section in Google Search Console. Identifying duplicate meta content can often help you to highlight areas of your site that have duplicate content issues. Pages that are targeting the same phrases without any unique content will be competing with each other in the SERPs. More often than not Google will choose not to index one of the pages meaning any value from optimising that page is lost.

5. Optimise your meta content to improve your click through rate. Check Google Analytics to see if you are receiving a high number of impressions for certain queries but low click throughs. Take a look at the search results yourself to identify the reasons why you might be missing out. Where relevant make sure you include the query in your title tag as this will encourage users to click through and can help you to rank in a higher position for the query. Any use of the query in the meta description or URL will be bolded in the search results and can also encourage users to click through.also encourage users to click through.

Provide Clear Information About The Product To Potential Customers & Search Engine Robots

6. When writing your product titles and descriptions make sure that you are using phrases that your target market might use when searching for the product. Make sure that you mention what the product is in the title. For example, if it’s a pair of trainers make sure you use the word trainers. You may think that it’s obvious what the product is but your potential customers and search engine robots may not. If the product is designed for a gender or age range mention this in the title. Include the year or model where applicable.

7. If you sell products that come in different colours or finishes and these variants have their own unique URLs make sure that each variant has it’s own description. This will prevent search engines from seeing them as duplicate. Include the name of the variant in the meta content and heading tag. In the description talk about the specific colour or finish – is it part of a trend/ look, does it have different complementary items, would it suit different uses?

Always use your product description as a place to highlight the features and benefits of the product.

8. Always use your product description as a place to highlight the features and benefits of the product. Make sure that you are using positive and persuasive language. Use adjectives that are appealing to your target market and tell the reader why they should buy the product. Suggest uses and tips for the product to create the impression that the product offers value.

9. Upsell by talking about complimentary items and then provide links to these items on the product page. If items go well together provide the option to buy them as a package deal.

10. Use structured data markup to provide search engine robots with more information and help them to understand what your page is about.

Optimise Your Images

11. Make sure that your product images have descriptive alt text so that search engine robots and people using screen readers know what the image is of. Include the entire product name with additional information when offering close up shots of key features e.g. The Samsonite Aeris Suitcase includes 2 internal zipper pockets. This will mean that your image is more likely to be returned in the Google image results for long tail queries such as interior of the Samsonite Aeris

12. Make sure that your images are optimised so that they don’t slow down the loading of your product pages. Use a CMS that compresses your images before displaying them on your site. There are ways of compressing images without losing any of the quality – make sure that your CMS provider is using one of
these methods.

13. Always provide the ability to zoom in to product details. Offer close up shots of key features. The more detail you provide the less likely the customer will order the wrong item and end up returning it.

14. Upsell by including complimentary products in the lifestyle shots. Lifestyle shots can also help to provide scale so that customers can grasp the size of the product.

15. Show people how they can make use of the product by showing it in action. For example if you’re selling a mountain bike show them a picture of someone cycling in the hills.

Ensure Users Can Continue Their Journey & Complete Their End Goal!

16. Your product page should be aiming to convert and so your primary call to action should always be getting people to the next step in the conversion path. More often than not this primary call to action will be ‘Add To Basket’. This should always be clear and easy to find – it should be positioned above all other secondary calls to action such as social sharing icons and ‘Save For Later’. Make sure that other elements of the page aren’t distracting from your primary call to action – avoid making promotion banners stand out more than your primary call to action.

17. Be clear on your offering and avoid making users leave the product page to find decision making information such as delivery, returns and contact details. Using concertina details on the product page is a good way of providing this key information without making the page look cluttered. Display the delivery information applicable to the product – if it goes over the weight threshold for free standard delivery don’t show them the cost of standard delivery.

18. Use breadcrumbs to show the user where they are on the site. Where possible breadcrumbs should be dynamic and follow the user’s journey. This will provide them with easy access to their previous page.

19. Check your Google Search Console account for broken links. Make sure that you are fixing and redirecting them where possible. The last thing you want is for an external site to be sending lots of valuable visitors to a broken page due to a typo in their content or because there is an issue with your site.

20. We are in the age of cross-device commerce. Users might want to browse your products on their mobile and then return via an iPad or visit one of your stores to purchase. Make this process as simple as possible for your customer – offer a ‘Save For Later’ feature so that products can be saved to a customer’s account. Offer a ‘reserve and collect’ option for customers that prefer to collect in store.

Make Sure Search Engines & Potential Customers Know About Your New Products

21. Make sure that any new product pages are automatically included in your sitemap with the correct priority. If you want Google to crawl your page immediately, you can use the ‘Fetch as Google’ tool in Google Search Console. Once Google has crawled your page you will be provided with a response and given the option to submit it to the index.

22. Share your new products with existing customers using email marketing and social. Create content that complements your ranges and promote this to create noise and conversation surrounding your products. Content doesn’t just need to be a blog post, it can be resources, guides, competitions, quizzes, events and so on…

23. Get in touch with relevant bloggers and influencers to let them know about your new product ranges. Offer their readers exclusive discounts and ask them to test and review your products. The opinions of these people matter so good or bad this is valuable feedback.

24. If you don’t already, add a new arrivals section to your site – this will give people easy access to your latest products and prevent the need for them to sift through products that they have already seen.

25. Google Shopping can drive a high number of direct and assisted conversions. Its prominence in the Google SERPs makes it a must for retailers in many industries. Make sure that you have Google Shopping set up and that you are sending all the required attributes so that your products are eligible.

 

Get in touch to find out more about how you can make this spring/summer your most successful season to date!
Please call John or Chris on: +44(0)161 826 3098 or email us at: startyourjourney@venditan.com

Stephanie Fenton
28th March 2017

eCommerce Replatforming: 3 Considerations

eCommerce Replatforming: 3 Considerations

Replatforming is sometimes essential to enable an eCommerce business to grow.

As customer expectations increase, retailers must keep up with trends in website functionality and the experience they provide. Many retailers are put off their ecommerce replatforming as it’s a daunting task with a lot of areas and details to carefully consider. With detailed planning and preparation, the majority of issues can be avoided and there’s no reason why a retailer shouldn’t go ahead and make the move. Here are three considerations for retailers who are looking to take the step and replatform.

1. Data Migration

Failure to migrate the correct customer data can have a huge impact on an existing customer’s experience.

As a minimum, customer account details should be migrated to the new system with the exception of passwords, which should be updated for security reasons. Retailers should alert their customers about any changes to their website functionality, highlighting any enhanced features or customer-facing benefits such as faster, cheaper delivery services. You also need to make sure that customers are provided with a seamless way to update their passwords.

Ideally customer order histories should be migrated so that the new platform has knowledge of previous purchases. Often this is not the case and so refunds and exchanges are manually managed within the old system for a period of time. If customer order history is being used for any marketing or loyalty programs then the migration of this data should be specified as a requirement.

2. SEO

The revenue generated from organic sessions often accounts for a huge portion of a retailer’s overall online income. This means that SEO should be one of the key considerations when deciding to replatform. The last thing you want is to spend thousands of pounds replatforming if you then see your sales drop off a cliff. You will hear many vendors saying that their platform is “SEO friendly”, however this means nothing without some manual considerations and a certain amount of custom work.

If, like most retailers, your organic revenue is critical to your business, make sure that you or your new provider makes a full list of SEO considerations and that these are all being addressed. If your URLs are going to be changing with the migration it’s important that you have a thorough redirect strategy in place. This should include the migration of any existing redirects stored in your live database.

A migration to a new platform is also a good time to review your meta content and make sure that it’s optimised for the new/migrated content. Often the data used to build product page meta content is pulled from product data within your installation so make sure you know which fields need to be optimised for search engines.

3. A Single Ecosystem

Customers interact with your business across multiple touch points, so integration is key. Your ecommerce platform should give you a single view off all the data your retail business owns. It should be the master of all customer, inventory and order information. Only by having a full understanding of how users are interacting with your business will you be able to make the data-driven decisions required to grow revenue. When replatforming, make sure that you map out your business’s eco-system to ensure all data is flowing back into your ecommerce platform. This will allow you to provide a frictionless shopping experience whether your customers are shopping with you in-store, on your website or on a third-party marketplace.

Replatforming is a complex process that requires agility and strong project management. Core business processes and requirements need carefully mapping out to ensure the new platform meets your business goals. If you’ve outgrown the capabilities of your current platform and would like to find out if Venditan Commerce is the right ecommerce platform for you, get in touch.

Stephanie Fenton
20th March 2017

Amazon Marketplace Management: Increasing Sales & Improving Customer Experience

Amazon Marketplace Management: Increasing Sales & Improving Customer Experience

The opportunity presented by the Amazon marketplace is huge – access to millions of customers across the globe

However, many retailers who have listed their products on the marketplace are failing to see as many sales as they hoped for. Competition on Amazon is high, especially for the resellers of branded products that are sold by multiple retailers at any one time. To succeed on Amazon you really need to stand out from the crowd. So here are our 5 tips on how you can set yourself apart from the competition by improving your product listings and customer experience…

Visibility

First of all, to succeed you need to be found. Most shoppers on Amazon start their journey by using the search bar, so if you aren’t showing up in the search results for the relevant customer queries then you’re unlikely to be found. To encourage Amazon to list your products in the search results, make sure that you are:

  • Composing your product names and descriptions with keywords in mind. Be as detailed as possible and think about the phrases Amazon customers might use when searching for your products. If the product is designed for a certain gender or age range mention this. Include the year or model where applicable. Avoid abbreviations – unless widely and commonly used by your target audience.
  • Populating all 5 search terms. This is a great place to add phrases or keywords that don’t fit naturally into your product names and descriptions. It’s also a place to add common misspellings of your products without them showing on your product listing.
  • Stick to Amazon’s product guidelines and provide all the required and recommended attributes you can. Regularly check and fix any issues causing suppressed or failed inventory.

Winning the Buy Box will further increase your visibility. Amazon awards the Buy Box to sellers who they see as providing a great buying experience. This means that you need to be considering things like:

  • How competitive your prices are.
  • How positive your seller and product reviews are.
  • The shipping options you offer, including cost and timescales.

Customer Expectations

To better set customer expectations and reduce your level of returns, make sure that your product descriptions are as detailed as possible. Provide high-quality, professional photography including close-ups of all key details and features so that the customer can confirm that they have found the correct product and knows exactly what they will receive.

Pay attention to any reviews where customers say that the item they received is not as described. You may need to review your description and photography to provide more precise information.

Product & Seller Reviews

As mentioned, the product and seller reviews you receive are crucial to your visibility and performance on Amazon. They increase trust in you as a seller and allow the user to determine whether the product is the right one for them.

They also provide you with valuable insight into how customers perceive your listings and highlight any missing or misleading information.

To increase the number of reviews you receive make sure that you’re requesting reviews from customers on any post-purchase emails you send out.

Always reply to negative reviews. If possible, it’s good to do this publicly to show customers that you read all reviews and are willing to put any issues right. Be careful not to respond emotionally but be clear that you’ve taken on board the customer’s feedback. Provide details of what you plan to do to rectify issues and prevent them from occurring again.

Marketplace Management

Make sure that you have a robust system in place to manage your Amazon marketplace orders and stock levels. This can prevent many customer service issues such as overselling or delayed dispatch. Issues which could cause cancelled orders, poor reviews and poor performance metrics.

Our marketplace management software, M3, integrates directly with retailers’ Venditan Commerce installations to create a truly omni-channel experience. Fluctuations in stock levels as a result of sales, returns and deliveries across all marketplaces are updated in real-time so that stock levels on Amazon are as accurate as possible. Depending on the size of the retailer and their stock-holding, stock level buffers are often put in place to prevent overselling.

M3 marketplace management software ensures that all orders flow down from Amazon Seller Central into a retailer’s Venditan Commerce installation. Amazon orders can then be processed alongside orders from the client’s website and all other marketplaces. Returns, refunds and exchanges are also processed in this one central location.

Fulfilment By Amazon

Using Fulfilment By Amazon (FBA) significantly improves customer service as it means customers have access to support directly from Amazon 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This includes support in local languages across Europe.

Products fulfilled by Amazon are also automatically eligible for Amazon Prime. This is a huge competitive selling point, improving convenience and customer satisfaction.

 

Get in touch to discuss how our M3 Marketplace Management software could help you to streamline your operation and improve your customer service. Please call John or Chris on: +44(0)161 826 3090 or email us at: startyourjourney@venditan.com

Stephanie Fenton
8th March 2017