The Retail Industry Make sure your retail website contains this list of essentials, avoids easy-to-make mistakes and is visible in the right places.

By Elizabeth Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When potential customers check out a retailer's website, they want to find products as quickly as possible. They're looking for product information and secure, easy-to-navigate checkout.

The Essentials
A retail website should offer easy access to products and information (including manufacturers) and preferably include a search feature so customers can find what they're looking for quickly. Update your site to keep current not only with new products, but also with new strategies that shift each quarter, such as web marketing on Facebook and e-mail marketing. As a rule of thumb, update the look and feel of your site every one to two years.

Your site should be aesthetically pleasing. If there's a brick-and-mortar location, the site should echo the design elements of the physical location, giving potential customers a glimpse of your business's aesthetics and customer service.

A retail website needs some essential pages. The history of the business, how long you've been in business and a clean layout of service offerings broken down by type are all important. Testimonials should be used properly, embedded within pages. A full page of testimonials is not going to draw traffic. Pull out a strong sentence and attribute the quote on various pages of your website. Another option is to include a longer quote in a truncated frame scroll. Provide information on your company's principals and their backgrounds. If applicable to your business, publish case studies of success stories, making sure to protect clients' interests. Provide a page on policies, terms of use and privacy. Your site needs to be secured for transactions, and it's important to promote that it's secure throughout your site. Outline shipping policies. Provide a hard copy, printable version of your product.

Provide a clear and easy way for visitors to your site to get a quote or estimate. A plus: client log-in areas where they can manage information related to their account.

Hire a search engine optimization (SEO) professional who can not only optimize your business's name and keywords related to your business and its location(s), but also aid your business's search engine marketing. Google Ad Words and search engine marketing banner strategies are something to ask your web professional to set up.

Mistakes to Avoid
Bad site design. This causes visitors to your site to back-click away. Remember, your site is the first glimpse a potential customer gets of not only your business's services, but also its ease of use and customer service. If your business's website isn't driving results, find out what design flaws could be contributing to this problem. It could be ill-placed text and the treatment around it. For example, if you want to drive traffic to a fee quote, change the text and color around it. Measure your site before any change and after to determine what worked and what didn't.

Hard-to-find-products. Make sure your products are divided into categories and include a search feature if possible. Remember, if something is located too far down on the page, people might miss it.

Lack of product information. A customer generally knows what he wants, so not providing enough information on that product is the cardinal sin of retail websites. Photo and price are not enough. You want to give the customer the reassurance that he's getting the top-of-the-line product along with customer service backing the product. Emphasize the benefits first; then describe the features. Customers want to know what they can get out of a product before they care about the details of it.

Thinking "if I build it, they will come." Make sure you have a good web marketing plan in place that includes access to web traffic statistics so you can determine what's driving traffic to your site, and what's not.

Unsecured check-out. Many factors go into a streamlined check-out experience. Your web consultant should help you improve this area of your website. Anything from having too many fields to fill out before placing an order, to confusing design, to an absent certificate of security at check-out can prevent a customer from placing an order.

Places to Be
Take an active part in social networking. Write blogs without sounding like you're pushing or advertising your business and post to message boards related to your industry or products. Be certain to add something significant and of interest to readers when posting on to message boards so you're not perceived as trying to spam the board by advertising your business.

YouTube: Publish lower-cost videos to YouTube. For example, if you sell art supplies, post videos demonstrating various art projects using your business's tools. Again, be sure your videos are informative and interesting and discretely plug your business's name so you come across as genuine to your audience.

Get listed on specialized directories. Determine whether pay-per-click advertising is a worthwhile investment. If you're selling items low in margin, such as pens that cost 15 cents and sell for 17 cents, it's not worth it, but if you sell a product and make $200 on each item, it may be worth it to purchase pay-per-click ads. Costs of pay-per-click vary depending on how many people are competing in the industry.

Customers' inboxes: Use a third party to send out HTML e-mails with graphics and design similar to your website's. The third party has the ability to track who opens them and who clicks on provided links. Have an employee follow up with that person. Avoid being creepy and big brother-like, saying, "I saw you opened our e-mail." Simply say something like, "I recommend you attend our trade show," or discuss a product and promote a discount or sale you're currently having on likely products of interest.

Researched and written by Elizabeth Wilson. Information provided by: WebConnection, a leading web consultation, design, application development and online marketing firm.

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