Take Your eCommerce Website to the Next Level
By Vanessa Salvia, 9/5/09
Are you ready to take your website and your business to the next level? If you’ve been a small business owner for a few years, it’s very likely your website may not be performing as well for you as it should. Many small businesses that created their websites when their businesses were new have websites that are outdated, unchanged since they were created, with poor design, content and features. While the site owners may have intended to update them regularly, the demands of being a business owner may have gotten in the way. Your website could benefit from redesign if it doesn’t create a professional image, if it isn’t leading to the sales or conversions that you expect it to, and if there are areas in which it is not user friendly or search engine friendly.
Taking a close look at the overall performance of your website, from the visual design and usability to understanding your analytics data, can take your site and your web business to the next level. Your website is typically the first way that a potential customer discovers you. In today’s online marketplace, a well-designed and user-friendly site is a must for gaining a competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive landscape,
Your website may attract people who just land on it by coincidence or who are actually shopping for your product, but without a website that has “stickiness,” people are unlikely to shop with you or come back to your site. Some changes to usability and content structure could bring your site more in line with today’s expectations. This could help your business reap big benefits, as users visit your website and view it as modern, fresh, and trustworthy rather than boring, hard-to-navigate or outdated.
Does the visual design of your website really reflect the main message and selling points of your business? You believe in the quality of your products and your website should convey an image of professionalism that matches the quality of the work you produce.
Visually, the norms for websites have changed significantly over the past decade and even past five years. Bright, neon colors, flashing animations, and multicolored fonts are no longer considered visually appealing in most cases.
Visual design is not the most important factor in a website’s performance, but a satisfactory user experience begins the moment your page loads. A first impression that provides potential customers with a compelling reason to stick around, shop your site, and trust you with their hard earned money goes a long way in establishing lasting customer relationships. An amateurish, animated, neon-colored site no longer conveys these important qualities. A professionally designed website with features that meet the needs of your business and your customer’s expectations, can help your site stand out above the crowd and make the impression you really want to make.
Product Presentation / Ease of Shopping
When a prospective customer or client lands on your site, they should immediately be able to navigate through the site to make a complete purchase, or know where they’ve been and where they want to go if they are just browsing. For most industries, there is a lot of competition, so a site that is poorly organized or confusing immediately loses out.
If you have an eCommerce site, the most important factor could well be the ease of shopping and "usability". A streamlined shopping experience allows the shopper to easily navigate the levels of product organization, and in fact have the content and flow on the site make sense to them. Shoppers should be able to easily add and remove items to the shopping cart, and find important information such as taxes, shipping rates and arrival times. The most important overall factor is ease, and a structure that moves a shopper along from the first product page to the finalization of the sale.
Your home page should provide an immediate glimpse of what your site has to offer and quick ways to get to it. After all, they came to your site for a reason, whether they are seeking information or a product or service, so give it to them quickly and easily. Don’t assume that your customers know how to navigate your site.
Many older sites have confusing or elaborate navigation that makes it difficult for users to shop, to know what is in their cart, and to make changes to their selections and check out with their purchases. Rather than stick it out and make a sale, most users in this situation will simply click away and go to another site.
Pricing Specials / Incentives / Shipping Discounts
Once you have their attention through appealing design and usability, keep shoppers on your side through some sort of incentive. Online shoppers are looking for bargains, and discounts and deals on shipping are ideal profit boosting incentives. They want to save money as well as time, so making it easy for them to do both will ensure that shoppers keep you on their list.
The easiest way to accomplish this is through shipping discounts and traditional pricing promotions such as coupons, buy one get one free offers, and free gift with purchase offers that leave customers feeling like they’ve gotten a little something extra for their time and money.
It is important to be thoughtful about how and when to put these tools into action. If used too soon into a holiday shopping season, for instance, you might miss out on many full-price sales you might otherwise have gotten; if employed too late, you may miss out on sales as shoppers find other places to buy from. Last minute shoppers still want deals, so if you can fulfill their needs and offer a discount that ensures their packages arrive at their destination on time, you may have found a customer for life.
The new norm on the web is to have some sort of social component on your site. Social Media technologies are very popular and growing exponentially. Customers expect to see a website with a blog presence, and increasingly, a Twitter and even Facebook profile. Blogs are no longer an oddity, and just about every type of business can benefit from one. Blogging allows you to build community and engage your customers in an ongoing conversation about the expertise you have in your field. Your company will appear more authoritative and accessible, because you will be inviting comments and following up with your own responses. Adding a blog is also a low-cost way to increase your search engine friendly content, and build a greater web presence online. A blog is easy to set up and the technology is easy to use. Maintaining a blog does take some time but it does not have to be a huge time commitment; posts don’t have to be long, but regular updating of at least once a week is recommended.
Social media technology allows shoppers to keep up with businesses without constantly visiting a website to find more information. For instance, you may post notice of a sale on your website, but unless a potential customer happens to visit your site, they won’t see the update. A Facebook or Twitter profile allows a business owner to quickly and easily post notices of sales, discounts, new products, or any other type of update, and everyone who is “friends” with the business can instantly see it.
Social platforms, especially Twitter, provide you with up-to-the-minute access to what people are saying, about you, your products and services, and anything that may be going on in your industry and the world in general. Twitter and Facebook also allow you to make contacts and network with other industry and thought leaders you might never actually meet in person. Social media is a powerful tool, if used appropriately, to grow your business, respond to any potentially negative or embarrassing customer service issue, and engage customers in a much deeper and more meaningful way than is possible with a typical one-dimensional website.
Unfortunately, growing your business is not as simple as creating a website and waiting for the customers to show up. If you don’t understand where your traffic is coming from and who is represented in those numbers, you cannot effectively promote yourself and understand the effect of your marketing dollars.
Many powerful analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, are free, and can help you analyze where your traffic comes, what your site visitors search for to find you, and what your potential customers do once they get to your site. You can track visitor interaction with your site at a very detailed level, such as traffic sources associated with revenue and keywords associated with revenue amounts.
Tracking your website activity will make sure that the efforts in the above categories, such as changes you’ve made to your website’s appearance and order process, product presentation, incentives and social media, are paying off. If these efforts are paying off, by how much, and what is the best performer?
Ask your friends, family and coworkers to take a look at your website and tell you honestly what they think. If it is within your budget, seek out a professional web strategist to help you assess your current site. The comments you receive may go a long way to letting you know if you have an effective or an outdated website. The norms of what make a successful website have changed in recent years, as consumers become much more tech savvy at younger and younger ages and have higher expectations.
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