Below is a list of essential eCommerce tips, tricks, and best practices to look at before you start your own eCommerce website:
1. Study your competitors and look at your market
A good place to start is by viewing a successful site that offers the same or similar product or service that you intend to. These sites will be your competitors. Look at how products are displayed and ordered. See what sort of engagement tactics – like tutorials, blogs, webinars, etc. – are being utilized.
Small-to-medium-businesses (SMBs) generally fair best when they can serve a niche market. Niche market may be a very unique product, or it may be a specialized service. What should be avoided are commodity products that are provided by the likes of Walmart and Amazon, as it is difficult to compete with the volume discount they receive from suppliers.
Make a list of the number of items or services you will offer. Consider how many options may exist for each product, in terms of color, size, quantity, or any other way an order may be customized. Determine what you think should be accomplished online, whether it will be complete order of product, setting of appointment, arrangement of shipping, billing, or any other component of the transaction that can be completed.
2. Choose a good merchant account & payment gateway
To accept payment online, you will need a merchant account and payment gateway. These are the tools used to process debit and credit cards. PayPal is a common a choice. You will want to shop rates, as they vary from one provider to another. Published rates by providers are oftentimes negotiable, so if the rate is higher than market, ask for a discount.
3. Use a good eCommerce platform
After you have a good idea of what you want your eCommerce site to look like and do, check to see if your current hosting provider offers any good eCommerce platforms. If not, find a good eCommerce hosting platform that can provide these features. There are several good options available that make it easy to set up and take care of all your eCommerce needs. Some website builders also provide a cheap and simple way to setup an eCommerce site.
4. Add & optimize your page’s meta tags
Add a unique meta tag for every page of your site. Meta tags are short descriptions of web pages and a list of keywords, which are used by search engines to find and rank relevant pages. Meta tags are easy to create and insert on pages, and most website building and eCommerce programs have a form to automatically insert them.
When composing meta tags, run a keyword search and perform the same type of test on your meta tag description. Once you know where meta tags are placed on a site, you can visit the most popular sites in your category, right-click on your mouse, and select view source to check out those tags. Use that information to help formulate meta tags of your own, using the same keywords and description style.
5. Use detailed product descriptions
Every product or service offered should have a detailed description. Include measurements, weights and specifications where appropriate. Any pictures or videos should be of the highest quality possible. Hiring a professional photographer, or investing in a good camera and some great lighting is money well spent. For small products, a professional photography box can be purchased for $20-30, that will really make your product standout. The image presented reflects your company and product and will affect the buying decision.
6. Create a strong call-to-action
Each page on your site should contain a strong call-to-action button. These buttons may be used to purchase the product, signup for an email list, or view a more detailed presentation. Whatever action you are trying to prod the visitor towards should be easily visible as that visitor scrolls through a page, because visitors are fickle you want to catch them the second they are hot.
7. Provide multiple payment & shipping options
Customers will want payment and delivery options. The more means of payment and shipping options provided, the higher the sales conversion rate will likely be.
Most of the payment options will be defined by what is provided with your merchant account. It is a given that you will want accept Visa and MasterCard, and maybe American Express, but check the fee for each, as American Express is typically higher. PayPal and Payoneer are other options you may want to consider. Both are easier to setup than merchant accounts, but rates tend to be higher for processing.
Shipping options should be balanced between what works for the customer and the business. Postal service is available most everywhere, and convenient for most everyone, and offers different delivery options. If offering delivery through a private carrier, like FedEx or UPS, you will want to make sure that pickup or drop-off will be convenient for you. All major carriers allow you to print your own shipping labels or use an account, which saves a lot of time.
8. Analyze your customer’s behavior on your site
Closely monitor the activity on your site to determine what is working and what is not. Google Analytics is a great way to easily evaluate who is visiting your site, when it is visited, the source of the traffic, what actions were taken (conversions to sale), and much more information about the visit and visitor to the site.
Implementing Google Analytics is easy and free. A small bit of code, referred to as a “Tag”, is placed on each page you wish to monitor. Every time a page is loaded, the transaction is reported to Google and may be viewed on the Analytics page of Google. This information is invaluable for determining what advertising campaigns may be working and what demographic should be targeted.
9. Test ads & displays
Split or A/B testing is a great way to determine what works in your segment. By using different ads for a product and different pages on a site, that sell the same product, you can determine what works best where. Google Analytics will show how much traffic was generated by each ad, and sale conversion rates of each display, so you will know what works well and what does not.
10. Optimize your site for search engines
Traffic to a site falls into two categories: organic and non-organic. In the broadest sense, organic traffic is not paid for, but came about as a result of a search engine, a referral, or a return visitor. Non-organic traffic is the result of paid advertising. Organic traffic may be won by having a vibrant site, an outstanding product or service, or a deal that cannot be beat.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is another way to win organic traffic. With relevant keywords, fresh content and heavy traffic, a site will appeal to Google and other search engines. A site should be reviewed regularly to assure that keywords used are still among the top and that content is fresh.
11. Provide customer engagement
Website customer engagement helps to keep folks coming back to a site and content fresh (which appeals to search engines). A board for questions, which are promptly answered, tutorials on products, blogs, and podcasts are all ways to keep a site relevant and appealing. One consideration, if blogs and podcasts are used, is that they should not be strictly commercials for the product, but rather provide information that is of interest to the audience in general.
12. Stay in touch with customers
This should be obvious, but an online business should also keep in touch with customers after the sale, or missed sale in some cases. Maintaining email addresses and delivering newsletters and special offers is a really cheap way to touch parties who have already expressed some level of interest in the product or service offered.
While some eCommerce deployments truly offer the owner a hands-free golden goose, the overwhelming majority require continuous maintenance and improvement to remain viable. With a little study and work though, most anyone can pick up the technology and when applied, it works.
This is a guest post by Miller Henley.