When it comes to the conversion funnel, the best places to start optimizing are at the ends—your entry/landing pages and your checkout pages. From a merchandising standpoint, the inclusion of relevant information—such as product recommendations—on checkout pages tends to get a lot of attention. But it’s also smart to focus your merchandising efforts on web pages at the beginning of the conversion funnel, since it’s your first chance to make a great impression by helping visitors shop efficiently.

Beyond paying off the messages featured in your marketing efforts or referring sources, you can step it up a notch on your website entry points with the most powerful presentation of your products. Consider testing the following tactics for merchandising landing pages and entry pages to set your website above the rest of the ecommerce crowd:

1. As Seen in the Email.
When a product in an email prompts a visitor to click through to your website, follow up on that initial interest by making it easy for her to identify this item no matter where her clickpath takes her. One of the ways you can do this is by calling out the products from the email on your index pages and product detail pages via a badge that reads “featured in email.” And you can provide further support throughout the session by running a banner that displays these products, image mapping each product picture to its detail page. This tactic is especially good when you have a landing page with multiple products.

From this entry page, the visitor can jump immediately to product detail pages for any of the numerous bed or bedding items promoted.

2. One-Click Access to Product Details.
A good way to improve conversion is to cut down the “meat” of the conversion process by skipping interstitial pages with one click from the homepage or landing page to a product detail page. So, look for opportunities on your landing pages and entry pages to link directly to product information. An effective way to target your merchandising efforts in this area is to segment new versus returning visitors. For example, new visitors need more help navigating your website, and this group definitely benefits from entry pages with product images and/or product text that links directly to product detail pages.

With returning customers or visitors—especially if they enter via your homepage—consider showing them a few products that are relevant to their past purchase or browsing history. If someone showed an affinity for a certain category or brand, for example, then you could provide one-click access to product detail pages for the new arrivals in that category or brand.

3. Leave No Search Term Behind.
Semantics are important! Sometimes customer segments use different words to describe a product category. For example, an intimate apparel company groups its leggings, tights,  sheers, etc., under the term “legwear.” But the marketer noticed that its visitors from an older demographic still prefer to search using the term “pantyhose.” Rather than accepting a lackluster conversion rate for “pantyhose,” not to mention any brand impact fallout from confused visitors, the marketer can bridge the terminology gap by serving this group a banner on the “legwear” page that refers to “pantyhose” and explains the relationship between the two so visitors can find the type of apparel they want.

Other ways to make this connection for visitors are to serve a lightbox on the landing page with the same messaging from the previously mentioned banner (you could also link either of those to an information page, if you wanted to provide more in-depth content) or to swap out the hero image on the category landing page so that it matches the search term used by the visitor.

4. Get Efficient to Promote Ease of Navigation.
Always allow the visitor a one-click return to that initial landing page. Through Monetate, you can utilize a banner that follows visitors around the site for that session and allows for an easy, single click back to their entry page. It is important to do this because, after all, the landing page probably consists of the product or other information that originally motivated the shoppers to visit your site in the first place; this page should be the most persuasive at getting them to convert.

5.  Making the Most of Relationships.
Hit the right note with traffic directed to your website from affiliates, blogs, and other non-search referrers. You want to recognize the relationship these visitors have with the referrer, which might be a highly trusted source of information on lifestyles, trends, and product categories that relate to what you sell.

For example, if O magazine were to include a few of the items you sell on your website in its “O List” of products recommended by Oprah, then you could badge these items accordingly and highlight them on your entry page for visitors coming from the magazine’s website. You also want to badge the corresponding product detail pages, and can get even more mileage by offering a navigation menu link to a page that groups all like-badged products.

When visitors arrive from deal-oriented affiliate sites, consider throwing into the mix some products that have lower price points than average or that are on sale, on clearance, or part of a daily value promotion in order to tap into their interest in saving money.

If it’s not obvious by now, the underlying message of these tactics is to put the right product in front of the right visitor at the right time. And if you can do that starting with the entry page or landing page, you should see a strong lift in conversion.

Stay tuned for more in the Merchandising Matters series; I’ll be addressing ways to merchandise other areas of your website—like category pages and listing pages—to help you sell more product.