Exploring E-Commerce

Design and Navigation

Good websites begin with a good design that is simple to use. The graphic design and content on the homepage should grab the consumer's attention, and the interior pages should be easy to navigate. Information must be easily found and should be expressed in the "language" of the customer, rather than the company's internal lingo.

Here are 10 simple tips to consider when deciding on how the site will look and how customers will navigate through it:

  • Immediately tell visitors on the site what the company does.
  • Get users to the information they want in two clicks.
  • Consider including headers and links that give the store's name, and show a "tree" branching from the homepage to the current page. Visitors should know where they are within the website at all times.
  • Allow visitors to find answers to questions easily.
  • Incorporate sufficiently large fonts and images, as well as audio descriptions where appropriate, so that content is accessible to users with disabilities.
  • Pay special attention to the quality of information, and ensure that the text is written well and spelled correctly.
  • Use buzz words sparingly.
  • Include a link to the homepage on every page so that in one click, users can be led there.
  • Develop visuals that are useful, not flashy and distracting. Useful visuals include illustrations or photos of products, graphics that separate categories of products, or maps with directions.
  • Determine which technologies are appropriate and which are overkill. For example, developing a landing page in Macromedia's Flash technology--one that allows for complex animation and graphics--may be a nice design feature. It will become prohibitive, however, if users have dial-up, a traditionally slow internet connection speed.

Product Marketing on the Website

The most important step merchants can take to sell almost any product online is to include a lot of photos. Online shoppers expect to see what a product looks like, especially since they can't pick it up and examine it before making their purchases. Merchants should use photos showing their items from a variety of angles and, in some cases, position them next to something else to show the relative size (a cell phone the size of a lipstick, a bench that's knee-high).

When formulating a product marketing strategy, consider the following:

  • Avoid over-describing or over-selling offerings on the site. Information should be useful to the shopper, bringing out all the positive benefits of the product or service in a conversational tone.
  • Offer complementary products or partnerships to bolster a store's offerings. Businesses that don't carry a wide variety of products often partner with other merchants to offer complementary items.

Attracting New Customers Online

There are several methods to open up a site to new visitors--search engines and e-mail communications have become popular choices in an online marketer's arsenal.

Search engines. With hundreds or thousands of competitors, how can a business get its product upfront in online search engines? Gaining a listing in the first page or two of a search engine's results is often considered the "Holy Grail" of e-commerce. So, how do merchants get to the front of search results? There are two approaches to ensuring that links to your company's website appear high on a search engine page: "natural search" and "paid search."

To rank highly in natural search, the content on your company's website should include the keywords a consumer might type to search for what you offer. These keywords should also be included in the links to your website from other websites. For example, if you own an online jewelry store, you may want your company's website to show up when a consumer searches for the words "diamond earrings."

There are various strategies to improving your company's rank in natural search. Most are legitimate, but there are some vendors that don't comply with the rules and regulations that the search engines have in place to ensure honest marketing. If you decide to work with a third-party to implement a natural-search strategy, be sure to check references, look at other companies they've worked with, and make sure they are forthright about their policies on working within search engine service agreements.

For paid searches, companies get to the top of search listings the old fashioned way--they buy their way there! A company called Overture, for example, allows businesses to suggest keywords that relate to their products and services, to create a description and even to choose a geographic area that they want to reach. The company's listing appears high in the results of search engines like Yahoo! and Lycos, and the merchant is charged a fee each time a visitor clicks on the listing to get more information.

One of the most popular search engines, Google, also has a cost-per-click pricing plan based on keywords. Here, business listings (called Sponsored Links) with short descriptions appear next to the list of related search results, attracting attention and clicks.

Business owners should explore a variety of search engines to see which kind of program works best for their products or services.

E-Mail marketing. If done correctly, e-mail marketing can deepen customer relationships and add a personal touch to the sales process. Carried out improperly, an e-mail campaign can turn a customer off to your business forever.

E-mail newsletters for customers who "opt in" (request or otherwise sign up for them) are a terrific marketing tool for online businesses. Rather than being a hard-hitting price-and-product flyer, an online newsletter ideally provides useful information and/or news relating to the company's lines of business. A popular outdoor and camping-gear store, for example, sends its customers a newsletter with information on camping trips and outdoor activities. As an incentive for opting in on the company's website, the store offers new subscribers a coupon for 10 percent off their next order.

In fact, e-mail newsletters commonly are used to promote special offers or discounts to their subscribers. They are an inexpensive way to place a company's brand and products in front of a highly receptive customer base that already has demonstrated interest by signing up for the newsletter. And because it's in digital form, the business has no printing charges for an unlimited number of newsletters, a big advantage over paper publications.

1. Create a Site
How to Name Your Business
Securing a Domain Name
Creating a Content-Rich Website
A-Z of Legal Issues
A Site for Your Service Biz

2. Drive Traffic
Exploring E-Commerce
7 Ways to Turn a Profit Online
Payment Options
3 Ways to Boost Online Sales

3. Sell Products & Services
7 Deadly Sins of Online Marketing
New Ways to Market Online
Attracting Visitors to Your Site
21 Ways to Promote Your Site
Promote Your Biz With eBooks
Marketing Your Home-Based Biz

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