When you are setting up an online shop the most important consideration is converting your visitors into sales so never underestimate the impact of your website design; it is one of the most fundamental aspects of your online store.
You must realize and accept that what your customers will find appealing may not necessarily match your own taste. It is rather like opening a bricks and mortar shop; if you were to decorate a high street shop in heavy primary colours or hung lots of wind chimes everywhere you would probably drive away the more conservative buyers. So it is with a website. For not only is the overall look of the site important there are also many structural guidelines that should be taken into consideration
Remember people are coming to your website to buy, not to be impressed with over-the-top-technology. Try to avoid making obvious mistakes with your website that are going to annoy your customers right from the start. For example busy, gaudy backgrounds are hard on the eye and distracting as is too much flashing text, it looks cheap and smacks of desperation.
Also unsolicited music or a hard sales pitch will drive usually customers away before they’ve even had time to look at your products. People don’t like to be forced to listen.
They may be “arty” or graphically smart but black pages with huge blocks of small white text, or worse still dark grey text, are an absolute nightmare to read and assimilate; especially for older customers with poor eyesight. Try to keep your text pages plain white or pale cream and NEVER have a repeated small image or logo as the background for text pages. Even if the images are very faint and in the same colour tone as the page they are going to distract from the text that your customer is struggling to read.
Don’t mix and match too many different fonts and font sizes, the result almost always ends up as a cluttered, unprofessional looking mess. Your website should be consistent and elegant. Don’t overdo the large fonts either, if you want to place emphasis on certain items or points, use bold or italics instead but not in excess.
Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes don’t look professional or inspire confidence to those buying products from your site. Everyone makes mistakes writing content so you should always have a third party proofread your website content and product descriptions.
Keep the size of all pictures and graphics on your site to a minimum. Overlarge images on your pages can take a long time to download, which may drive people to click off your site before it loads properly. This means you could be losing potential customers just because of the functionality of your site, not on your products.
Do check regularly for broken links and missing pictures on your website. Both will indicate that the website or online store is incomplete and therefore probably not well maintained. Seeing a broken link or a missing picture can make customers question the overall integrity and security of the store. Regularly browse your own website to make sure everything is working and up to speed.
Avoid cute animated pictures on your website. You may think they are cute and innovative, but the truth is they both distract and annoy customers. The emphasis of your online store should always be on the products themselves. The rule is keep your site simple and non-intrusive.
Plenty of good quality, relevant content on your site can provide information about your products and product use. This builds your credibility and thus customer’s confidence in your site, which in turn will result in more sales. In addition Google simply loves original content and will automatically rank your site higher than competitor sites with very little or no content. DON’T steal content from other sites or your site will be penalised and possibly dumped!
It is important to remember that the majority of people searching on the web for something have a short attention span and will probably not look at more than 3 or 4 pages before they leave your site. So it is vital to make it as simple as possible for someone to get to checkout. As a good rule of thumb, there should be no more than 3 clicks from coming to your site to buying a product. It has been proved that the higher the number of clicks the lower the number of sales.
Always use a proper, professional ecommerce hosting company to ensure that your site will have as few problems as possible and be viewable 99% of the time (no server can guarantee 100% uptime). Don’t go with a company that can’t offer 24-hour support unless you are prepared to fully accept that there may be times when you just can’t get any help with a crashed site or pages not showing.
Slow loading sites, it must be said, are a real turn-off for customers. If you want to know more about a potential hosting company run a Google search on the web and see what people write about them in forums. Some comments will inevitably be bad, but if they are worth hosting with the good comments should far outweigh the bad.
If your site’s pages take 10 seconds or more to load, there is definitely something wrong. It could be overly large photos on your website or a fault in the database. It may of course be a poor quality server, especially if you can’t see anything amiss on your site. If this is the case change your server as soon as possible – be wary of cheap deals you usually get what you pay for in this life.
Many people searching for an item on your site will be coming direct from a search engine and therefore will probably not arrive at your home page but at the product page instead. This means you must ensure that your site navigation is totally clear to follow so immediately they know where they are and what choices they have. Be sure to include a search box, preferably in the menu bar, so that people can easily look for what they want on your site.
Do use a reliable e-commerce merchant account for payments so that you can ensure everything is secure and that all the payments go through and beware of an overly complicated checkout process. If there is anything that should be made as simple as possible on your online store, it should, without question, be the checkout process.
Your customers shouldn’t have to go through a multitude of pages to actually buy an item. Every step of the way, you are at risk of losing customers, so it’s vital to get customers to check out as fast as possible. Avoid trying to garner any information that isn’t essential – you will only annoy the customer.
Don’t deluge visitors to your site with extra items and options every step of the way or again you are in real danger of making your customers feel overwhelmed and impatient to leave.
Choose a central theme for your store and don’t deviate. Avoid selling items in your store that are unrelated. For example, don’t sell bed linens and towels on a site that specializes in garden tools. It may be tempting to add another line of products but random items will only confuse your customers.
A hard to find “Contact” page’, or a non-existant phone number, is a not very subtle way of saying to the customer ‘buy my stuff – but don’t bother me with any problems!’ New visitors to your site will look for the Contact page to make sure that they have a way to contact a human being should anything go wrong with the transaction. Many people who can’t find a Contact page will often automatically leave your store.
An unprofessional site will probably destroy a potential customer ’s confidence in your company and cause most people to think that you cannot be trusted to buy products from. Indeed the vast majority of homemade websites come across as extremely amateur, so if you are serious about making good money it is always best to get your ecommerce site designed by a proper web design company, to ensure that polished look.
If you are having your store built for you do make sure the designer follows your brief to the letter and doesn’t put in lots of expensive and pointless animation or Flash. Take charge and let it be known that it’s your site – so you call the shots; a good company should be aware of this and respect your viewpoint. If they try to override you or ignore your instructions they are not doing the job you commissioned.
Finally before you even begin to approach any web design company, take a look at lots of different ecommerce sites and try to pin-point what exactly makes the appealing ones stand out from the crowd. You can always learn a lot from other people’s success, as well as their mistakes.