By: William Tran on 08-01-2013 in CRO, Online Marketing, SEO

Bob in the bacon suitHave you ever had a sudden but powerful and persistent urge to buy something? Think about the number of times you experience that when online shopping. With everything just a click away, it’s even easier to make a quick purchase.

What is impulse buying?

Francis Piron of the University of Texas defines the term impulse buying as “a purchase that is unplanned, the result of an exposure to a stimulus, and decided on the spot”. This phenomenon plays a major role in shopping:

  • It accounts for 30-50% of retail sales.
  • 60% of female shoppers admitted that they engaged in unplanned buying.
  • In 40% of all store visits, shoppers make an average of 3 impulse purchases.

Why is it important for e-commerce sites?

Research shows that 39% of the money spent by online-shoppers is on unplanned purchases. Despite the common belief that impulse buys are heavily dependent on price, recent studies have revealed solid evidence that the quality of websites, rather than simply the products on the site, can influence consumers into making unplanned decisions.

Website Quality vs Unplanned Purchase

Re-illustrated from Well’s research, this chart shows a consistent upward movement in the number of unplanned purchases when website quality is improved. As depicted by the red line, more impulsive consumers are more influenced by increased website quality.

How can SEO help?

In Wells’ study, the team inspected website quality based on three characteristics categories: structural firmness, representational delight and functional convenience. With a proper SEO strategy, e-commerce sites can be improved in each of those categories.

Here are a few ways in which SEO can improve website quality and as a result, increase impulse purchases:

First impressions:

Getting new customers is as important as retaining old ones, especially when customer loyalty is ever-decreasing. It is very likely that your potential customers come to your site through a search engine. Consider this example:

Would you click on this?

Example of a webpage with poor title and meta description

Or this

Example of a webpage with improved title and meta description

They say, it only takes 7 seconds to judge another person – I believe it takes less than 2 seconds to judge a website. SEO not only improves the chances of your website being seen, it also helps create better first impressions.


87% of impulse purchases are from customers browsing the site’s categories, so it is very important to have clear, distinct category links that offer customers more product lines. Through keyword research, SEO can suggest relevant and profitable keywords so you can match your categories with what shoppers are actually looking for.

It is also very likely that potential customers come to an e-commerce site on a landing page via SERP. Through various conversion rate optimisation (CRO) techniques, you can create high quality landing pages that guide users through what your site offers, thereby increasing the website’s sales, especially through unplanned purchases.

User Experience

There is nothing more discouraging than clicking on a broken link. It gives an impression that your site is low quality, which directly influences impulse buying behaviour. It’s important to have a robust site that consistently takes potential customers to engaging content.

Mobile and tablet platforms

A survey by Rackspace shows that about one-fifth of respondents admitted that mobile devices have increased their impulse purchases. Through SEO audits it’s possible to test various aspects of a website on mobile devices, including:

  • Loading speed test
  • Display compatibility
  • Functional compatibility

By optimising these functions, you can create a faster and more satisfying mobile experience for users of your site.

Final bacon cut

Impulse purchases account for a large percentage of retail sales, both offline and online. With a direct connection between website quality and impulse buying, SEO can help improve website quality and get people engaged.

  • David Iwanow

    I think that’s why Pinterest as a platform can do well for online retail as you can see the product and if there is a link click to buy there and then… the addition of the ability to add a price always you qualify the visitor before they visit your website. I’ve found the better you present your meta description the better the conversion rates and engagement which does relate back to the first impression idea

  • William Tran

    I agree, Pinterest is a great example. As an impulsive buyer, I think Ebay is another good website that is optimized to encourage impulsive buying behaviour.

  • Jasmine Yow

    If I’m doing a quick scan, I’m actually more likely to click on Bob’s Bacon Bits (BBB)! The name tells me everything I need to know about the biz, and the ad is cleaner and shorter. The long heading puts me off the second one. My opinion.