Selling products or services online with your own website has never been easier. Anybody can do it nowadays. However, many who try eventually fail because they don't use common sense business practices when they create their website. We want to see everyone who tries to sell online be successful, so we have compiled this little tutorial to help guide you through the do's and don'ts of successful site design for making sales.
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The first thing you should do before you even start building your site is go to a few of the big online retailers, like Amazon.com, Buy.com, and others to see what they are doing. Why is this important? Because those big companies spend millions of dollars a year on research to make sure that their sites are appealing and effective at selling online to the average Internet user. You can benefit from their multi-million dollar research by studying what they all do and finding the common design techniques they all use and then applying those same techniques to your own site.
The most important thing you should notice is that they all display at least some of their products right on their home page for immediate purchase. It is a well documented fact that you will sell more online the faster you can get the product in front of the customer. Obviously, you can't put 50 products on the home page of your site because then it wouldn't look very appealing and it would probably take too long to download. 5 - 10 products is sufficient to pique any shopper's interest into looking deeper into your site. Also, stay away from using the Flash animations and intros that are available in your account. For reasons why, be sure to read the Flash Designs page.
The second most important thing is to make it easy for the visitor to understand how to navigate through the rest of your site. Always categorize your products and name the categories with simple and short names. Then list those categories either in the main menu or in the site-wide side bar of your site so that they are always accessible no matter where the customer is in the site. If you have more than 25 products in your site then be sure to include the integrated search engine upgrade.
When you sell online, you have to do more to earn the trust of the customer before they will consider buying from you. By using the same design techniques as the big boys you increase the chances of making the sale. Your site looks professional and makes the customer feel comfortable because it is organized in a manner that they are probably familiar with since they have most likely been to one of the big retail sites before.
Your site can look great and make the customer feel very comfortable doing business with you. But if you make it difficult for them to place their order then you'll never sell enough online to stay there very long. 90% of online shoppers who are ready to buy will want to pay for their order with a credit card. If you can't process credit card transactions in real time through your site then you may as well not even bother trying to sell online.
Having your own merchant account and payment gateway is the best solution by far for taking credit card orders. It shows the customer that you are serious about your business. That you were financially evaluated by the provider bank and determined to be worthy of the capability. You will sell 5 - 10 times more by accepting credit card payments with your own merchant account than with any other payment method.
Use good grammar and spelling on every page of your site. Nothing will turn off a customer faster if they find a site that reads like it was written by a second grader. Use the spell checker tool included in all of the text editors of your site to check for spelling errors and have several other people whom you trust proof-read the site to look for errors.
If you model your site design after other successful online retail sites like Amazon.com and Buy.com then you have a much better chance of successfully selling online just about anything you want. However, don't try to be the next Amazon.com or Buy.com by selling anything and everything under the sun. You can't compete in that market. Instead, try to find an under served niche and fill it. You'll have much less competition and your site will be much more cost effective and easy to manage. Remember, when looking at other sites you are looking for widely used design techniques like colors, layouts, product placement, etc.
Finally, be realistic in the budgeting for your website. Being able to sell online costs a heck of alot less than it does anywhere in the offline world. A fully ecommerce enabled site will cost a minimum of $100 per month to operate and can potentially generate an unlimited amount of revenue from around the world. A typical and comparative offline business would cost a minimum of 10 times more to operate and be limited in how much revenue it could generate by its location.
The difference between the 2 types of businesses is clear and that is precisely why so many people are trying to sell online. But if you try to run an ecommerce website on the cheap you will ultimately limit its potential. If you use a free website service or use PayPal for your credit card processing then you are signaling to the customer that you are unsure and uncommitted to a long term operation. A person who wants to buy something from you doesn't like to see signs like that.
Short term success stories are a rarity online. It typically takes at least 6 months of consistent effort to determine whether or not a site can ever be profitable. 12 full months would be even better. During that time, your budget should also include some amount for targeted, pay-per-click search engine advertising. It takes anywhere from 6 weeks - 6 months to get any decent free listings in the major search engines. Advertising your site ensures that you'll at least get some vistors to the site while you are learning the ropes on how to get good free listings. Check our Marketing Tips section for more information about advertising online and search engines.
By following the tips listed here and on other pages of our site you are not guaranteed to have a successful website. There are many other factors that come into play which will ultimately determine that. Everything we share with you is based on our own experiences in running our own business online and helping others setup their websites as well. In every case, every website created that followed all of the above principles was able to become successfully profitable to the owner. You too can successfully sell online. All it takes is a committment, common sense, and a willingness to learn from others to make it happen.
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