Designing an E-commerce Web site is not as simple as having a "pretty" site that is a pleasure to visit. While it is important to have an attractive site, as much thought must be given to functionality as to appearance.
Many Web designers seem to focus more on appearance than functionality, and while an attractive site is helpful, visitors that become frustrated by the inability of a site to function well, will leave almost immediately, never to return!
Just as important in designing an e-commerce-style Web site, is a somewhat basic knowledge of Web site design, with some simple design skills included. While a thorough knowledge of design and functionality is not important, designing an e-commerce site does have some requirements, or else you'll always find yourself going back relentlessly and changing the features and functionality in a vain effort to stay abreast of your site visitor's needs.
E-commerce sites need to focus on some main areas of functionality in order to ensure maximum sales:
1. Load time, page size, and navigability. Slowly loading pages, overly large or small pages, and difficult navigation will only frustrate visitors. Visitors should never have to "wait" for a page to load, should never have to scroll back and forth in order to read a page, nor should they have to "search" relentlessly for the information they want in order to purchase. Clean, simple lines, with fast loading, well laid out pages, make the most sales.
Here's a great service to check your Web site load time:
This one actually pings your Web site from different locations worldwide and returns the average load time for your site, instead of simply returning a theoretical value based on the size of your Web page.
2. Less use of graphics. While graphics are pleasant and intriguing, they don't necessarily achieve more sales. The opposite may be true if too many graphics are used. A page that is graphics heavy loads more slowly and the graphics themselves may take the visitors' minds off the main purpose of the site, i. e. "sales". If graphics are used at all, they should be optimized for Web placement, and reduced to the smallest size possible for viewing. Most graphics can easily be reduced by approximately twenty percent without affecting the quality of the graphics.
Here's a neat tool for optimizing your Web site graphics if you are not very familiar with graphics software:
3. The use of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). CSS effectively eliminates the need of entering repetitive tags like FONT, reducing your page size significantly. Such tags can consume up to 5-7% of your page size. Imagine how much bandwidth you'll save if your Web site has more than 100 pages!
4. Breaking the site up into smaller tables as opposed to enclosing the entire body of a site in one large table. This technique enables the page to load in progression rather than make your visitor stare at a blank screen until the page is fully loaded. This is an often overlooked aspect.
5. Use of sitemaps. Sitemaps not only increase rankings and placement within the Search Engines, they effectively give visitors a "guide" by which to view the site, and eliminate confusion on larger sites, such as e-commerce sites. A site map is what its name implies, a road map for your visitors to follow while they are on your site. It's also a road map for the Search Engines, so a site map serves two very important purposes on an e-commerce site.
6. Content that is keyword rich and well-written will aid in placement within the Search Engines, and keep visitors on a site long enough to purchase. Horribly written sites drive visitors away, while the lack of keywords negatively affects placement and rankings. The writing on any site is the FIRST IMPRESSION potential customers have of you and your products or services, so paying strict attention to the content usually engenders additional sales.
7. Keyword rich title tags will increase traffic overall, and more traffic, of course, means more sales. Title tags help with placement and rankings. Appropriate keywords should also be used for linking internal pages, as this also helps with rankings. Since e-commerce sites are for the most part, larger than personal pages, or other types of sites, the internal linking does lead to more effective initial indexing by the Search Engines also. Care should also be given to the "alt" tags that surround all pictures of products, as non-optimized "alt" tags can lead to poor rankings and placement.
8. E-commerce databases and purchasing procedures that are user friendly. Nothing is more frustrating to future buyers than databases or purchase procedures, that are difficult to use, or that keep going down throughout the process of purchase. A database and purchase procedure, should be easy to use, yet reliable enough to prevent lost sales, or lost monies from sales.
9. A security feature that ensures visitors that personal information is "safe and secure" within the confines of the Web site and that reassures them that their personal information will not be shared nor sold. This is a major concern of online visitors, as the Web is such an "anonymous" type of medium, so any "assurances" as to safety and security will benefit sales.
10. A thank-you page that is presented immediately upon ordering. This ensures "return purchases" as being courteous and polite is always in style and does leave an overall good impression on visitors!
All in all, an e-commerce Web site is significantly different than a personal Home page, or pages of a non-profit organization. The focus of the design and navigation, as well as all other aspects need to focus on the primary purpose of the site, and that of course, is the SALES!
Vishal P. Rao is the editor of http://www.home-based-business-opportunities.com - A website dedicated to opportunities, ideas and resources for starting a home based business. He is also the owner of the http://www.work-at-home-forum.com - an online community of folks who work at home.