I was talking to a friend last week who wanted to set up her own e-commerce site, and like most people in the “thinking about it stage” they have a mental picture of what the site will look like and how it will function, but hadn’t quite figured out how to bring it all together. The traditional method is usually to build the site, then come up with content to fill it out, then market it. And if you take this approach, you’re likely to fail.
If you want to get ahead, you need more than a site – you need a complete plan. In this article, I’ll reveal the five steps I use whenever I launch a new site.
Step 1: Plan The Site Content
This is the hardest part. For right now, don’t think about how your site will look or how you’re going to market it. Think only about what purpose it serves. What exactly do you want your site to do and what kind of content will be on it? Think about why people would come to your site – what are they going to be looking for that leads them there and what are they going to get out of their visit. Get your products, SKU’s/UPC’s, and written descriptions into a spreadsheet so you can import or copy/paste into a shopping cart easily later. Take good pictures. Compose any written content that’s going to be used on the site and save it into Word or Google Docs (don’t worry about the HTML yet, that’s for your web designer).
Step 2: Design
When you’ve finished gathering up your products and written content, it’s time to organize it and come up with the most logical layout. Don’t crack open that HTML editor just yet – import your products into the shopping cart first, then start designing the site. Keep your site simple and don’t try to dazzle viewers with trendy web techniques – it doesn’t help you sell products. Your goal is to get people to buy something, not wow them with your web design skills. Don’t worry about SEO or META tags yet, we’ll get to that part later.
Step 3: Test, then Launch
Make sure all of your links work and that there aren’t any “coming soon” or “under construction” pages. Would you buy a product from a site that didn’t look like it was finished? Probably not… and neither will your customers. Put the Google analytics code on it so you can start monitoring your traffic. TEST your site – click every link, add a product to your cart, and BUY IT with your real credit card. Make sure everything is functioning the way it’s supposed to. When the site is done – and only when it’s done – make it live.
Step 4: 30 Days of Pay-Per-Click Marketing
DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Even if your margins are so thin there is no way you can ever profit with PPC, and it’s specifically not part of your overall marketing plan, in this first 30 days you still need to do it. Commit $3,000 to this test – that’s just $100 per day – because it will teach you what keywords convert into sales and test your site’s navigation and overall effectiveness among targeted buyers. You did put on the Google Analytics code, right?
Step 5: Review and Adjust Your Site
Once you’ve given it a good 30 days, turn off your PPC marketing campaign and spend some time reviewing your stats. The 30 day marketing test should have shown you a few important things:
- Which keywords brought a lot of TRAFFIC but no BUYERS
- Which keywords brought in SALES
- Which navigational paths are visitors taking through your site.
- Which pages are visitors LEAVING your site from
Armed with this information, you can now tweak your website to provide a better experience for your visitors. Now you see why I said don’t worry about SEO and META Tags earlier – optimize your site for the keywords that CONVERTED, because that’s what people who are ready to spend money are searching for. Adjust the pages most frequently visited to push buyers toward the products they’re likely to buy when they click those links. Look at the pages where you’re LOSING visitors – someone clicked that link, didn’t find what they wanted, and left. Did they click to that page because they were looking for something and it wasn’t there, or did they just not like what they read? Either revise the content, put it somewhere “off the beaten path” so visitors don’t go there accidentally when they really mean to go somewhere else, or get rid of it entirely.
So there you have it, the five steps I recommend to our clients and the method I use whenever we launch a new site of our own. I also recommend you read the article 11 E-Commerce Tips for 2011, as this will give you some more specific pointers about how to more effectively design your e-commerce website.