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Most of these ideas have been discovered first hand and are the result of several years of accumlated knowledge and of learning things the hard way! This is not a definitive list of techniques to improve your e-commerce website but it will hopefully cover some of the main bases.

1. Pictures Sell Products

An online store cannot replicate the experience of walking into a shop and touching and seeing a range of products. You need to do as much as possible to compensate for this and having one or two tiny images is unlikely to ‘sell’ anything. Aim to have large, well photographed products – ideally you want to be able to zoom into details of the pictures and to see items from more than one angle. Although it won’t apply to all products, it can be a good idea to make a short video; it doesn’t have to be expensively produced, just show the product in a good light. Even if most customers don’t view the video, just having this option makes your website seem professional and credible.

2. The Product Page is Key

Although a picture can ‘paint a thousand words’ you may need as many as a thousand words as well. Ok, perhaps a bit less, but you certainly must have well written bullet points followed by good product descriptions plus any detailed technical information that a user could possibly want to know. This can be quite hard to do with some products so try thinking about questions such as: Who uses this? Where and how can it be used? What is it made of or other specifications? Are there any good case studies or examples of where the product has been used? Although a high word count won’t make the page itself more beautiful it will increase the chances of it being ‘found’ by search engines.

Customer reviews have the potential to add further good quality information to the page and also over time they build up trust. Although you shouldn’t allow users to add reviews ‘live’ to the site (i.e. without an approvals process) you don’t always have to block negative reviews. Some less enthusiastic comments can enhance the integrity of the website – a long list of devotion to your product might not be believable. You can always comment and respond to a negative review if you feel it has not done the product justice.

3. Good Landing Pages and Clear Navigation

For most good e-commerce websites the majority of traffic will not come through the home page but via product pages referred by a search engine. There is a strong chance that the potential customer has not hit the exact page they want but they may be quite close, so it is important that they can easily find similar items via navigation. Don’t worry too much about placing lots of similar products on a long category page because if people think they are in the right area of the website they will have no problem about scrolling down the page. These long group or category sections are called ‘landing’ pages because you want people to land on that page so they can see everything in that particular category. They are also useful if you are doing a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign and you want visitors to land on a page which displays a complete range of similar products. There is an excellent article on the PPC.org website on optimising PPC landing pages.

Time spent planning the navigation structure is always time well spent and having a look at how successful rivals have organised things is very worthwhile. Make sure that your ‘top level’ categories have room to accommodate future products so that you are not having to break your navigation structure to add new ranges.

4. Improve your Site Search Engine

Large websites struggle with ‘site search’ often giving far too many irrelevant results. If you are getting lots of traffic directly to your home page then it is worth investing time in this. People will type a word or phrase into the site search and if they don’t get the result they want first time, then you are very likely to lose them. There are plenty of ‘site search’ or ‘enterprise search’ solutions on the market, ranging from free packages to high-end commercial products.

5. Informative and Immediate Confirmation Emails

At least if you get this wrong then you’ve probably already had an order, although the likelihood is that you won’t get any more. It is best practice and good customer service that an email is sent straight away and it summarizes the product, price, delivery date, delivery address and the store’s contact details. The confirmation email is a great opportunity to get your customer communications right and provide a good, efficient service.

6. Be up-front with you Contact Details

Nothing erodes confidence in an e-commerce site more than an ‘About us’ or ‘Contact us’ page that turns out to be an anonymous form. If people are going to give you personal and financial data they want to know who you are, where you are and what telephone number to call if there is a problem. Don’t just give people one email address or phone number, give them several – a sales email address, a technical support email, a returns email etc. It all adds up to you appearing a credible organisation

7. A Well-designed Shopping Cart

Avoid treating your shopping cart as an opportunity to get masses of information for some future glorious marketing campaigns – it is there to take a sale. If you feel you simply must make customers register then don’t present people with a long list of mandatory fields. Your marketing team may demand to have a fields for a home telephone number, a work number and a mobile phone number and you will get this kind of ‘field inflation’ which will proceed onto multiple email addresses, date of birthday, age (yes ‘age’ even when you have asked them their date of birth!), partners details, where did you hear about us, ‘can we email you about…’ and so it goes on and on. It’s not that you shouldn’t ask anything ‘extra’ but the more intrusive you are the more likely the customer will just close that browser window.

A final thing to mention about the shopping cart is to ensure that when an item has been added to the cart that it is easy to return to the original page – by doing this you are much more likely to get additional add-on sales.

8. Keyword Research

Keyword research should be at the heart of planning a new e-commerce website, but shouldn’t be forgotten about once a site goes live. Although the Google Keyword Tool is very helpful for research it won’t pick up everything – customer inquiries often throw up best ideas for keywords. Also Google Analytics and PPC campaigns can also pinpoint keywords that work for you better than those you thought would work for you. This therefore means returning to some of your product pages and incorporating new keywords. All e-commerce sites are never finished and should always evolve and improve.

Richard Bloomfield is the website editor at www.theworkplacedepot.co.uk and has over 10 years experience in managing e-commerce websites.