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10 Tips for Building a Good Ecommerce Site

Published on April 8, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

An ecommerce website is a really good way of managing a business’s online operations and, if it’s done properly, it can boost trade, make your business more efficient, and bring more customers your way. For the uninitiated, an ecommerce site is one that allows things to be bought – displaying products and accepting payments (Amazon is probably the most famous example of this). Read on for 10 of our top tips on building a good ecommerce site.

1. Sort out your web hosting

As with any website, when you’re building an ecommerce site, you need to have web hosting. If you are employing a web designer to build your site for you, this is more than likely something they will be able to sort out on your behalf. It ensures that your site will actually be there to view when people search for it and stores all of your content. Make sure your hosting is in the country where you intend to do the most business, and try to use a domain name that has the country’s extension too (for example, .co.uk for a UK-focussed site). You should also make sure the hosting is fast and reliable (at least 99.98% uptime on a regular basis), and you can check this using sites such as Web Page Test and Web Hosting Stuff.

2. Get a good web design

If you are trying to sell something through an ecommerce site, then your site needs to appear worthy and trusted enough for people to part with their money. This means spending time getting the perfect site design, one that reflects quality, trustworthiness and your brand. Again, this is something a good web designer will be ideal for helping you with, as they know what works and what doesn’t and will be able to capture your vision in a quality design. Whatever you do, unless you’re already a really good designer don’t try this at home! Internet consumers are highly experienced now and can spot the difference between a company that’s invested in their web site with a professional design and build, and one that hasn’t. And good design conveys a far higher level of trust in a company than one that has poor design.

3. Make sure the site is easy to navigate

You also need to make sure it’s easy to get around your site; if you’re trying to encourage people to buy things from you, then they need to be able to do it with a few clicks of the mouse. If you’re building a large site, then you could incorporate a search engine to make it easier for web users to navigate, but no matter what sort of site you’re building, all the pertinent information needs to be accessible within a couple of clicks from the home page with the ability to move around the site without having to use the Back button on the browser.

4. Focus on your target market

Your target market is where a lot of your business is going to be coming from, so making sure your ecommerce site caters to them is vital. It’s a good idea to talk to your web site developer about the type of people you’re hoping to target with your site, so their needs and preferences can be built into the website design. Whatever you do, don’t try and build a ‘one size fits all’ site; first focus in on a specific market and build the design and navigation to that market’s requirements then if that’s successful, look to expand your brand and offering.

5. Find the right shopping cart software

Obviously, with an ecommerce site, the ‘commerce’ part is extremely important. You need to integrate shopping cart software into the site early on. This works to process orders, issue invoices, and calculate VAT. There are several off the shelf packages to choose from although they do cater for all needs so can sometimes be unwieldy and difficult to manage. Some are also not suitable for gaining good search engine positions. Additionally, if you’ve got specific requirements for your product display or checkout process, you may find that they are lacking or too inflexible to cater for your needs. That’s where a custom ecommerce site comes in to fill the gap where off-the-shelf online stores cannot work as you need them to.

6. Know how your payments work

Linked to your shopping cart software is the matter of payments. The focus and size of your website will probably play a part in how you handle payments received through your site, but you need to have an understanding of how it all works no matter what type of site you’re building. There are two basic concepts; an online payment provider that integrates direct with the site such as PayPal or Google Checkout or a bank and payment gateway arrangement where the bank provide you with a merchant number, this is integrated with payment gateway system, that in turn integrates with the web site. The most common UK system right now for this approach is SagePay (linked to any bank’s merchant number), followed by Barclays ePDQ (naturally, linked to a Barclays merchant number). Each of the two approaches comes with different costs which will be dependant on your business model, so it is worthwhile investigating both routes to decide which is most appropriate for you.

7. Write appropriate, catchy content

As with any website, it’s important that your ecommerce site is populated with appropriate, catchy content, as it is this that will help to sell your products and bring in businesses. Remember that you are writing for the web so you should also consider search engine optimisation when writing content in order to maximise your chances of ranking highly in search engine results. Bear in mind that Google doesn’t like lack of content or repetition, so if you simply use short product descriptions or copy description from other sites, such as the manufacturers’ sites, you are unlikely to do well on Google. Unique content of at least a couple of hundred words per product is the ideal.

8. Know how to market online

Linked to the point above is knowing how to market your ecommerce site online. SEO (search engine optimisation) plays a big part in this, so think carefully about the keywords you want to promote in each article or blog post, and on each product and information page. You also need to think about how you intend to attract business to your site, particularly from beyond your target group. You could, for instance, think about affiliate programmes, linking with blogs and developing your social media presence to disseminate your message, or possibly looking at paid advertising such as Google AdWords pay-per-click marketing. All of this is part of building a strong, identifiable, trustworthy brand that consumers instantly associate with you and your business.

9. Expand your networks

In order for your ecommerce site to be a success, you need to know how it fits into the wider market. Before you begin building the site, research your competition and investigate how they do things. Think about what works well and what you’d like to change, as well as where your site could fit into existing services. It can also be a good idea to network with other sites, as suggested above, in order to boost your publicity and, hopefully, your traffic.

10. Grow your business

Finally, when you’re building your ecommerce site, it’s not quite enough to think about where your business is at present; you also need to think about where you want to go in the future. Your ecommerce site is something that you should build into your wider business plan so that it can be expanded upon and developed as time goes by. Having a vision for your site is important, as this can make all the difference between a growing, dynamic website and one that just stays still.

By Chelsey Evans

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