View Full Version : Designing an Effective Ecommerce Site

07-29-2009, 11:48 PM
A few posts have caught my attention this week on designing and building an effective ecommerce website. Most of shopping cart sites are poorly done. They're uninviting and try to get as many products as they can on every page, including the home page.

Quoting Steven Snell in one of the posts I'll link to below

Many e-commerce websites tend to get very cluttered and suffer from not being user friendly.

When it comes to small business ecommerce sites, most look to me like default ZenCart of osCommerce sites and suffer from sameness.

9 Characteristics of Well-Designed E-Commerce Websites (http://vandelaydesign.com/blog/design/well-designed-ecommerce-websites/) shows examples of sites that do ecommerce well and from those and other sites lists characteristics that make them effective.

1. Ease of Navigation
2. The Design Does Not Overpower the Products
3. Easy Checkout
4. Branded
5. The Design Style Matches the Products
6. Showcases the Most Popular Products
7. Promotes Related Products
8. Effective, Accurate Product Photos
9. Effective Site-Wide Search

You can find details and examples of sites doing each in the post. If you run an ecommerce site you should ask yourself how many of the above does your site do well.

Getting back to the typical cluttered shopping cart site have a look at some sites that go the opposite way and lean toward a cleaner and more minimalist design. They are much more inviting than the typical.

20 Inspirational, Clean E-Commerce Website Designs (http://vandelaydesign.com/blog/galleries/clean-ecommerce-designs/)

Designers take a look at these sites and use them as inspiration for your next product. Site owners look at them and ask yourself if you would prefer to shop on these sites or yours.

Also have a look at 35 Inspirational Shopping Cart Page Designs (http://www.noupe.com/design/shopping-cart-page-designs.html) that focus on the page that customers see after they have made their selection and before they enter the checkout process. Again compare these cart pages to your own or use them as inspiration for your next project.

Have you seen great examples of ecommerce sites? Are there sites you shop at more and if so why? Do those sites do some or all of the things on the list above well?

07-30-2009, 02:52 PM
Found another good post I thought I'd add to the mix

13 Tips For A Better E-Commerce Website (http://www.webresourcesdepot.com/13-tips-for-a-better-e-commerce-website/)

1. Use A Well-Tested Software
2. Have Scenarios In Case An Unexpected Thing Occurs

3. Adding To Cart Without Registering
4. Reaching To The Product With Less Clicks
5. There Is Never "Too Detailed Products"
6. More And High-Quality Photos
7. Show Related, Alternative And Complimentary Products Better
8. Use SSL In Every Page When Collecting Critical Data

Order Processing
9. Notify Users On Every Level
10. If Something Goes Wrong, Contact With Phone Besides E-mail

11. Detailed Knowledgebase
12. Provide Live Chat Support
13. Do Your Best To Prevent Support Calls But Have A Phone Number

07-30-2009, 04:07 PM
The problem I see is the mentioned sites in the links are all famous designers. They are heavy on images with little text to help with SEO and the ones where I looked at the code had poor on site seo. But these companies can afford to do that as people will search for them by name anyway and they have tons of good inbound links. They are also mostly are for artistic types of products such as designer handbags.

It does make me curious how versitle the wordpress ecommerse plugin is, as they are correct, most carts look pretty similar. It might be worth struggling through some of problems with the wp one if the presentation is more versatile.

07-30-2009, 08:09 PM
Not everything has to be about SEO. The two articles pointing to sites are more about inspirational designs. Naturally the sites will be more well known since the author of the post had to find the examples. I think the idea with the images is that images will help sell your products.

Some of the sites in the 20 inspirational designs are also Flash based sites and I wouldn't recommend that unless you're confident you can get traffic to the site and have a brand, but not all of them are. For example I clicked through the Victoria's Secret site (nope, it was just the first big name site I clicked that was html) and while the home is all images as you dig down to the product pages there is text on them. In fact those pages looked like your typical product page.

On the home page you and I would go with more text, but we could still use plenty of images on the home page and category pages. It's the product pages that are going to benefit the most by having text on them when it comes to seo. The home page and category pages are going to need links to rank.

Still even if your pages rank well and pull traffic, what's the point if the site can't convert visitor to buyer.

07-31-2009, 01:53 AM
One of the things that i think would make the issue of flexible design easier is a template engine like Wordpress. I mean the way that you can change the look of Wordpress so it is almost unrecognizable, is quite amazing.

Another key thing i imagine would work quite well is a plugin library like Wordpress where they can be installed directly to your website, without downloads or uploads. This could potentially make the actual install file much smaller, by having the ability to pick and choose languages, and which base features you really want to use.

07-31-2009, 03:47 AM
All good ideas. It's kind of surprising something like that hasn't been developed or if it has been hasn't been popularized as well as it might be. It seems like every time I see a shopping cart site it looks like a default view of ZenCart or osCommerce.

07-31-2009, 09:52 PM
On the home page you and I would go with more text, but we could still use plenty of images on the home page and category pages. It's the product pages that are going to benefit the most by having text on them when it comes to seo. The home page and category pages are going to need links to rank.

Still even if your pages rank well and pull traffic, what's the point if the site can't convert visitor to buyer.

This leads to a question. My home page sucks as does the site in general. I want to redo it with wp in the root and other pages. The thing is, my home page (which I wrote before I even understood the product) ranks 2 on google. Few if any inbound links, so I'm assuming its because of subordinate product pages.

My idea for the home page was to put a "good product image" and a 50 word or so description of that product in the index page and link to a subordinate page which is a full product description. I might put the product buy page in an iframe on that page.

I'd do this for my biggest money makers. Probably 7 products.

The thing is, since the page ranks 2, manufacturer is 1; I'm afraid to touch it. It doesn't rate 2 from inbound links. I've done no link building on the site. Just checked, G shows no incoming links.

So, do I redo the page? In general, for the index page or the product pages, I think customers just pick up a phone and call me anyway. One of the best things I did on the site is to make my phone on the site in a very prominent way. Its a technical product and orders mostly need to be handled by phone.

07-31-2009, 11:44 PM
First before I forget and in case you do want to use ZenCart here's a link to 30+ ZenCart templates (http://designm.ag/resources/30-zen-cart-templates/)

my home page ranks 2 on google

For what phrase? How many phrases is it not ranking #2 for? Ranking isn't really what you're looking for. It's traffic and even more targeted traffic. Every unique page on the web ranks #1 for something. Are you happy with the traffic the home page gets? If the answer is no then stop worrying about ranking #2 for some phrase. Don't get hung up on the rank of one page for a phrase or two.

It wouldn't be ranking #2 because of subordinate pages. More likely the phrase in question isn't that competitive and if you keep the page title as is, you'll probably still rank well for the same phrase.

Also checking Google for inbound links is kind of pointless. Unless you mean through webmaster tools. With a link: search Google never shows all the links they know about. Yahoo has always shown more, though that may go away with the new deal with Microsoft.

I'd have to see the page and know the phrase you're talking about, but my guess is if manufacturer is #1 and you're #2 without any link building it will be easy to maintain the #2 rank. Again though, rank by itself is meaningless. Ranking well is not the goal. Selling products is the goal. If you sold more by ranking #7 would you want to change things to go back to ranking #2?

If the page isn't working now the way you want, then it's probably a good idea to redo it. You could always save the current page too and if the new one ends up doing worse you can put the page back.

08-01-2009, 12:51 AM
Thing is its probably the best and most searched keyword possible. The pages are structured "manufacturer product" ie hp laserjet. In the case of the index its just HP. So I'm ranking number 1 for the best possible keyword. It will be in every search. I don't do so well for most page keywords ie HP laserjet model xxxx. I'm down around 20 for most of those but 1 to 3 for AdWords.

G shows 0 links. Y shows 196.

So, for another analogy, clairol.com ranks 1 for the term "clairol" and I rank two for the term.

So, following that analogy, that search term accounts for 38% of my traffic. About half of those visitors leave right away, the others go elsewhere on the site.

The page went from outside the top 100 to 2 overnight and my traffic and orders went way up. I was told I probably had a manual review by google on a webmaster forum at that time. Thats possible. I can see a competitor complaining to google about the site forcing a manual review which actually helped me.

08-03-2009, 01:59 AM
If you search just on the manufacturer's name how many results are there? If your site jumped so quickly in the results without links I wouldn't think it's too competitive a name. Now just because G shows 0 links it doesn't mean they don't see any links pointing to your site. They probably see just as many as Yahoo does. They just don't let you know.

If it's the links that are resulting in the rank then those links are still going to be in place if you change the design. I would think as long as you keep the same page title and have some text on the home page you'll still rank well and pull traffic. Hard to know without the specific. Feel free to PM me a link if you want me to take a look.

You yourself mentioned you don't like the site now. That to me says you know it needs to change, but what's stopping you is where the home page ranks in Google. That rank isn't your end goal. It's a means to an end. If you think the site needs improvement then improve it. If you don't want to lose the ranking save the current file for the home page. Then make any changes you think you need and see what happens. If you lose all your traffic and aren't making any more sales, put the old home page back. Your ranking would come right back if they're the result of what's currently on the home page.

08-03-2009, 03:34 PM
There are only two major companies in the industry. Customers standardize on one of the two. It's OSHA regulated stuff, so you can't mix and match products and comply with OSHA.

In AdWords the term has 5 times the impressions of the next term and a CTR of 40% which is by far the highest as well. Site stats show that as well. Its also confirmed a bit by customer phone call when I asked them what they searched for.

Except in rare searches, the customer search will either contain the Manufacturer name or Trademark product names. Every single AdWords ad that you see will have their company name in the ad.

The site has several major problems. The descriptions are in gibberish provided by the manufacturer. All kinds of misspellings, acronyms etc. for technical products. Mind you there are 2000 products online. The descriptions are being rewritten.

For the last year, the manufacturer has been improving their images, however only about 60% of the products have images. The manufacturer has been adding better images in the last year. They don't tell you or send you new images so I have to hunt through their site for new images or better images. I'm working on that to improve images although a lot will still be missing.

Its a very difficult product for navigation. categories and subcategories isn't really to workable because customers frequently don't really understand what they are looking for. The search function works quite well, but customers try to use the navigation without understanding the product which is quite technical.

I don't have very much supplemental pages with things like product manuals etc. Thats why I want to use wp at the root level. To make it easy to add informational pages outside the shopping cart.

Color scheme and design isn't the best, but I don't think that hurts sales in my market.

The success is through SERP placement and AdWords.

I haven't been able to work on the site much because it gives me enough traffic to generate 12 hour sales days frequently. I'm outsourcing much of the work that needs to be done to improve the site or I'll never get it redone. There is probably 200 hours or so of work to get it presentable. Rewriting the descriptions alone was 100 hours and that was just for the short description.

Oh, and a search for the manufacturers name generates 155K results. Bare in mind its a fairly small niche of a product and is unknown at the consumer level. A more generic search has much higher numbers but the ctr is lousy.

08-04-2009, 11:13 AM
There are only two major companies in the industry.

Which suggests low competition and that it won't be too hard to maintain your rank or get it back after a few changes.

Thats why I want to use wp at the root level.

You can install WP anywhere and still have pages show up with any directory structure you like. Most of the time I install WP in a subfolder, just to keep the root clean, yet the pages of the site still show as being in the root.

a search for the manufacturers name generates 155K results

That's not an indication of how often their name is searched for and may not even be any indication of the competition. Depends on the name. However any time I see less than a million results for a keyword I figure it's not going to be too hard to rank for.

09-10-2009, 11:56 PM
....any time I see less than a million results for a keyword I figure it's not going to be too hard to rank for.

You got it. Now when I put links:www(dot)competitorsdomainname(dot)com into Google and I see a million? I cry like a baby :p

09-11-2009, 12:13 AM
Funny. You should make a video of yourself crying and upload it to YouTube. You'll be an internet sensation and you can collect your 15 seconds of fame. Think of all the links you'll get.

09-11-2009, 02:03 AM
Good idea! Like that "leave Britney alone" video...

<starts planning video>