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How to get the most out of your retail website

There are many factors to consider when designing and developing a retail website. The list can seem endless, but in reality, if you look carefully, you’ll see there are certain elements more important than others—elements that are used consistently among the most successful retail websites.

Once you have completed the planning stages of your website, the rest of the elements fall into broad categories, ranging from user interface design to content creation to actual development. Of course, you also have to keep search engine optimization (SEO) in mind.

Here are nine elements that should be considered when embarking on a retail website project:

1.Good visual design and messaging. The site needs to be aesthetically pleasing and able to convey something extraordinary about your company in the first few seconds upon a consumer’s visit. Remember, for many of your website visitors, this will be their first impression of your business and there are many other websites one click away. This is not to say every top website needs an incredible visual design, but if a site looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1997, it’s just not going to be associated with other great websites or businesses.

A clean and simple design is usually all you need with one nice graphic that showcases your product or service. Bells and whistles are nice, but you don’t want your design to be overcrowded.

2.Thoughtful user interface. Along with good design comes a good user interface. This is the foundation of any functional website. When designing the site, you’ll need to take into consideration the average user. Who is going to be visiting your site? Who is your ideal customer? Is he or she tech-savvy?

If you are a regular visitor to the top retail sites on the web, you know the layout of these sites is very similar. This is because during the last few years, the best companies with the best website developers have greatly improved the shopping experience and the consumers of today now have high expectations when shopping and searching for products online.

3.Quick and easy navigation. Part of having an easy-to-navigate website is ensuring the primary means of navigation (links to the key areas of your site) are where the user expects to find them. As mentioned above, today’s consumers have become accustomed to key buttons being located in specific areas of retail websites. It is no longer advised to be overly clever or creative in placing the buttons on a retail website.

Elements to include here are your logo (which should link back to your home page throughout the site) as well as links to the main sections of your site. For example, place “Home| About| Services| FAQ| Contact Info” in a very easy-to-find location at the top of your site. You can place sub-links such as “Products” somewhere else, such as in the sidebar.

Consistency is key here; be sure to place your primary and sub-navigational links in the same spot throughout the various pages of your website.

4.Repeat navigation in the footer. If you use images for your main navigation, it’s especially important to offer a duplicate set of navigation links in your footer. Even if you use text links at the top, the duplication is still helpful. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to find the content they are seeking on your site.

5.Meaningful content. You have probably heard the saying, “Content is king,” and there is a reason for it. You may have a pretty website that will catch someone’s eye, but if the content is not good, he or she is not going to stick around. Also, the search engines will not give you as much attention.

When writing copy for your website, be sure to provide helpful, knowledgeable information about your company, products and services. A blog is a great place to feature informative articles related to your area of expertise.

6.Make the effort to create a good “About us” page. People are innately curious. They want to know who is behind a company as well as what the company is all about. Make sure to include information on the owner’s background and how it pertains to the business and expertise. The About page gives potential customers more information about you and can often create a more personal bond. More often than not, a customer will select a company with a “real” person behind it rather than a faceless organization that isn’t at all personal.

7.Supply multiple ways to “Contact us.” Nothing can turn off a prospective customer and send her to a competing website faster than not being able to easily find a way to contact you. Ideally, you want to give a consumer more than one method of contact. At the very least, a phone number and address are good, but including such things as store hours, an online conversion form and live chat would make it complete.

8.Search capabilities. If your store offers a large quantity of products from a wide variety of vendors, having a search field is incredibly helpful. For many consumers it is too frustrating to wade through hundreds of pages without being able to easily find what they are looking for.

9.Stats, tracking and analytics. Although this element is behind the scenes and not visible to a consumer, keeping up with the traffic and popularity of each section of your website is crucial. There are many services that offer tracking of website statistics which include information such as:

•How many visits your site receives

•How many of the hits are from new visitors

•How people are finding your web site

•The search terms they are using to find you

•The websites that link to your site

•The most popular pages on your site

•Where your visitors are coming from

Perhaps the most popular site for this is Google Analytics, which offers a very robust (and free) tracking solution. If you want to monitor your website’s performance and figure out how you can improve your site, keeping score is the key.

John Weller is vice president of marketing for FloorForce, a technology company focused exclusively on the floor covering industry. FloorForce offers websites and web marketing solutions and services to flooring retailers, distributors and manufacturers. Visit them at floorforce.com for more information.