E-commerce retailers face the constant challenge of standing apart in a vast, churning sea of online competition. It’s not enough to simply stay afloat; the real goal is to own the waters. In other words, while you’d like to stand out enough to grab online visitors’ attention, what you really want is to ferry them through to their final destination: making a purchase.

So what does it take to motivate consumers to drop anchor on your site, click through to internal pages, and buy? The optimal mix of featured products, images, copy and offers that achieve a clear path to purchase, with as little confusion or distraction as possible. After all, increasing conversion rates and revenue is the number one goal of a testing and site optimization program.

Sure, your marketing team and designers have good instincts for beautifully designed content, but their instincts are no match for factual data gleaned from hundreds of tests on thousands of variations of that content -- which is really what your audience likes and what inspires them to take action.

The wealth of collected data allows for a nuanced understanding of what really drives desired click-throughs and where they take place. With content that’s been developed and tested, then tweaked and improved upon through an ongoing program of testing and optimization, you’ll ensure that everything speaks to your audience -- not just on the homepage, but across your site.

It’s no secret that better serving your customers with a great online experience has a direct impact on your bottom line. Testing and optimization boosts conversion rates and significantly increases revenue for online retailers while also helping to reel in more loyal brand followers.

By focusing on content at each phase of the conversion funnel, you’ll chart a clear course to increased ROI.

1. Homepage

First impressions count. If visitors are confused, frustrated, bored or otherwise fail to see content that’s applicable to them on your homepage, they’ll simply drift away. There’s only a brief window of time -- on average, four to seven seconds -- to catch their attention, and the right content plays a pivotal role in capturing interest.

Prominent hero imagery, special offers and other audience-specific CTAs on your homepage help customers latch onto relevant categories and products as they move through your site. It should immediately be clear to the customer which products or services you offer. Visitors should never have to move beyond the homepage to get a basic understanding of what you are actually offering on your site.

Not to mention, these elements should work in tandem with navigation and search functionality to give visitors multiple ways to connect with pertinent categories and products, and start their journey on the path to purchase.

2. Category Pages

As soon as visitors land on a category page, they should see an appealing array of product images that give insight into category-specific offerings, and increase the chance that particular product(s) will catch their eyes. Most retailers have a range of different styles, colors and options for each of those products; category pages should convey the breadth and depth of offerings.

Additionally, search functionality should enable visitors to easily locate product(s) based on certain parameters within the category, leading them down the path to purchasing exactly what they are looking for (or getting inspired for something new!).

Visitors must be able to easily explore all the available products, understand what their choices are and know that a site has what they want. A successful display will entice consumers to click though to product pages -- the final necessary step for them to add items to their cart.

3. Product Pages

Needless to say, the star of each product page is the featured product itself. Clear, large, high-resolution images taken from various angles and showing every aspect of the item will grab consumers’ attention, while prominently displayed pricing and product descriptions allow for informed shopping.

A zoom feature should give visitors the ability to “hover over” the product for a closer inspection, mimicking an in-store experience, while bold, eye-catching CTAs (above the fold!) encourage desired behavior.

Incorporating ratings and reviews from fellow customers is a great way to not only encourage the purchase, but keep the visitor on your site, instead of bouncing off to research elsewhere. Rankings by number or star system offers immediate value judgment from peers, and more detailed reviews can be invaluable in customer decision-making. It’s also smart to provide cross-sell and upsell opportunities by including recommendations for similar items, or of products bought by other customers who purchased the original item.

4. Shopping Cart

Visitors who reach the shopping cart are poised to buy -- but all too often a sale is dashed upon the rocks of a cumbersome, distracting or confusing checkout process. In fact, nearly 65 percent of online carts go unclaimed. With an optimized approach that removes guessing and uncertainty, you can increase the odds that your customer will finalize the purchase.

Above all, the shopping cart funnel should be clean and clear, with as few distractions as possible. Include a progress indicator so customers know exactly where they are in the checkout process, and ensure that essential information about product add-ons, shipping fees and delivery timeframes are integrated into the process.

Finally, emphasize site security at every step of the process to reassure shoppers. Visual cues, such as locks or seals, along with supporting language, let customers know their financial information is secure.

With optimized content across your site, you’ll ensure that you efficiently and effectively deliver customers to their final shopping destination.

Editor's Note: Think your website can use a little more attention? Why not read Mark's Stop Before You Overhaul: 5 Ways Testing Can Maximize Impact with Minimal Changes