So here goes – the six things you must do to give your ecommerce site a chance:

  1. Make sure it’s obvious what the site is about. On your home page you need to spell out what your business offers in the clearest, plainest English you can muster. Don’t write huge blocks of text. People just skip them. Don’t omit copy altogether, because copywriting is central to any successful sales strategy. Four or five sentences, right in your visitor’s line of sight, should do the job. If you can’t sum up your offer in that many words, it’s not a good offer. Top tip: focus on benefits, not features.
  1. Don’t be coy about cash. Once your prospects understand your offer they’ll want to know how much it costs. If you hide prices on an inner page it looks like you don’t have confidence in their value. If you’re offering a service and you can’t be precise about costs, at least try to give visitors a rough idea, maybe in the form of examples from previous projects. Prospects like to judge value at the same time as they judge quality.
  1. Focus on customer care. You can’t automate this. Top tip: encourage visitors to communicate with you. Even if they don’t, they’ll go away with the impression that you care. Top tip number two: if it’s practical, always list your phone number on your site. This is important if you’re selling services – talking on the phone is more efficient and personal than email.
  1. Have a site that looks good. Visitors respond less to the details of a site than to the professionalism of its design. If your site looks as if you’ve spent time and money on it, they’ll assume you’re running a serious, competent operation. A site that looks cheap will struggle to sell gold at a dollar a bar, because visitors won’t take it seriously. If in doubt, ask around for objective opinions from people who don’t know you personally: web design forums are great for this.
  1. Focus on user experience. Make sure your site is easy to navigate. All main sections should be clearly linked from the main page and the information architecture of the site should be logical. Look at your access logs. Are there any “dead end” pages which a lot of visitors are bailing out of? If so check to make sure they are clearly linked to the rest of the site. Top tip: plan the structure of your site on paper before you start the design, rather than doing it on the hoof. If you ran a construction firm you wouldn’t design buildings as you went along, would you?
  1. Give them a free lunch. We’re living with Web 2.0 now. Users expect something for nothing. A site that is purely mercenary may make sales but it won’t generate as much repeat business as a site that gives its readers something for free. Articles, a blog, product reviews, price comparisons, cool photos, cool links, Flash games – all make great freebies and keep visitors coming back for more.

OK: now it’s time to make sure your site checks out. If you’ve got a good product at a good price and you follow the advice above, then as long as people are actually arriving at your site you will make sales.

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