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19:33 on Tuesday
28 October 2003

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Top ten tips for a successful e-commerce site


  1. Make it interesting and relevant. Content is King, not flashy graphics and animations that take ages to download. Make the content unique and interesting for your visitors. Make your site attractive to look at and easy to navigate. Avoid large, flashy graphics unless your site depends on them for its very purpose and you are sure your visitors won't mind the wait. Make sure the images you do use are optimised for smallest file size. Web Surfers are impatient. If your site takes too long to load they will hit the "stop" button and go elsewhere. 

  2. Make sure you are hosted on a quality web server and that you have your own domain name. Again, a quality pay web server will increase your site's speed (particularly if you are successful in attracting lots of visitors which is what we all want, isn't it?). Anyone who doesn't understand why anyone who is serious about their site needs their own domain name should ask themselves what looks more professional: a website address like http://www.miserlymeanfreepages.com/members/misers/~mybusinessstorefrontto the world.html or http://www.mybusiness.com?

  3. Exchange links with other sites. 50% of website visitors arrive from links from other sites, rather than directly from Search Engines. Don't be loathed to link to sites with similar content to yours for fear of "losing" customers. Big mistake! We actually all benefit by linking to sites with similar content, particularly if we can persuade the owners of the other sites to link back to us. It's a big world-wide web out there. Spread it around a bit and you will be rewarded. Contact competitors who have effective Web businesses. Praise them for their sites, and wish them well. Many "competitors" have their own problems and challenges, and you sometimes end up with a trusted friend and colleague. And often they have slightly different niches, and you end up referring and endorsing each other. 

  4. You don't want customers to leave your site because of an error-prone ordering process. Test your site frequently to see what sort of experience your customers are having. Test your order form and view your pages while using different versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Cancel and restart an order to see what happens in both the customer's browser and your order-processing software. 

  5. Update your content periodically. Customers are put off by outdated content, which gives the impression that your site is stale and no one's "minding the store." Always have up-to-date information on your products and their availability and delivery times. 

  6. Create a descriptive signature file and use it at the end of every email, giving at the very least name, URL, email address, and a brief description of service(s) and/or product. Sometimes called the USP (Unique Selling Proposition), this description is a vital part of your sig line. It describes the product, service, organisation or person crisply and clearly. Once you have that sig line/tag line, consider the following two steps: 

  7. Join interactive newsgroups and discussion forums that cover areas of interest to you. Print out and save the guidelines and stick to them. Participate in some groups by, at the least, introducing yourself. Some sites welcome new member introductions, other groups prefer that members post a message only when they want to address a need, ask a question, or respond to existing messages. Contact list members privately when you discover something they've said that will help you, a client, or a colleague. Thank them for taking time to post to the group. Contact list members if you've clicked on their URLs, visited their sites, and been impressed with that site/business. Let them know why their site impresses you. Offer to help others when you think you've read a legitimate plea for help, if you have both the time and ability to follow through. Pro bono. No one ever knows except the two of you 

  8. Create your own opt-in newsletter. The best way I have found to build loyalty, trust and return visits to your site. Never "spam" to try to drum up business. Always make your newsletter "opt-in" and always include details with each newsletter of how to "opt out." Make sure the information is useful and not a blatant attempt at self-promotion. (That's not to say you shouldn't give yourself a plug, but make sure it's useful and relevant to your subscribers, and make sure it answers the question of "what's in it for them"). . 

  9. Offer a support and/or frequently asked questions page which is easily accessible from your main page; if possible, also offer free phone support for your product or service. Provide an opportunity for your customer to request to have you call them directly, especially for product inquiries. Offer your customer the opportunity to be notified of new products via email and/or phone. Personalise statements and correspondence to your clients - even if you communicate via plain text email. 

  10. Take time to say "thank you" when people make the effort to write you, asking questions, making comments, placing an order . . . whatever. "Thanks" is one of the most neglected words in the English language. After the completion of each sale, it is imperative you display a screen thanking your customer. Do not place a random advertisement on your thank you screen; it will have the effect of appearing as though the thank you screen is a tool for advertising, rather than a vehicle for a genuine thank-you. Follow this up with a personal e-mail confirming that you have received the order and keep your customer informed of any delay in the delivery process.

Adhering to these basic but important principles will help you create a sound, trusting relationship with your customers and potential customers and increase the likelihood of your website being a success.

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