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Website Workshop: Are You Ready to Go Live?

29th July 2009

Website Workshop: Are You Ready to Go Live?

to-do-listI have to admit that when it comes to our web presence, I’m a perfectionist.  I want every t crossed and every i dotted.  I want pictures for everything.  I want every link to work perfectly and all the text to be descriptive, sparkling and present.  In a perfect world, I’d get what I want, but in the real world such things don’t always happen.  A web site is a complicated thing and a perfectionist like myself could tinker with one forever in a quest to get everything working and looking exactly right.  At some point you need to let go and let the site go live, if only because people can’t buy from a site they can’t access.

If you’re like me, and a bit of a perfectionist about your websites, I thought I’d share the checklist that I use before a site goes live.  This checklist, divided into the “must haves” and the “would be nice” categories,  gives me the assurance that all the necessary stuff is on the site while also reminding me that the “would be nice” stuff can be added later without the site or our customers suffering.

“Must Have” List

Easy to follow and understand navigation

Contact information

Clearly stated policies regarding orders, returns, shipping, privacy and security

Descriptions and pictures at the category level

Pricing for every item

A shopping cart that has been tested and is known to work

“Would Be Nice” List

Pictures and descriptive text for every item

Information and educational pages – usually PDF links

Crosslinks between relevant products and pages

Featured products or specials page

Let’s face it, a website is always a work in progress.  Good websites are always being updated and changing to better meet the needs of the people who visit the site.  Quality and attention to detail are always necessary when creating a website, just don’t let your desire for perfection stop you from allowing your site to do what it was designed to do.

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18th June 2009

Website Workshop: Names and Domains

domain-nameIn my time with Ensign Emblem (EnMart’s parent company) I’ve named three or four companies and a wide variety of products.  Picking a name is never a simple or easy process.  You want a name that fits the product.  The name should be something that resonates with your target customer base.  It also has to be a name that no one else has trademarked, and it shouldn’t be too close to a well known name that another company already uses.  Naming a company or a product requires a lot of time and thought.

When you add creating a website into the mix, things get a bit more complicated.  Now, in addition to making sure your prospective name isn’t being used elsewhere, you also have to make sure the domain that incorporates that particular name isn’t taken.   This requires going to a domain registrar, like GoDaddy, and finding out which names are available.   If you’re just starting your search for a domain name, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Your domain name should be close to your company name – It is true that not every company does this, but you stand a better chance of people being able to find you if your domain name is close to your company name.   Say your company name is “Joe’s Designs”.  People who want to find you online would be more likely to type in “JoesDesigns.com” than they would “Myperfectembroidery”.

2. Brevity is the soul of domain names – Keep your domain name short.  It is also preferable that it not be hyphenated if you can avoid it.  You want to create a domain name that people can easily remember, and easily type into a menu bar.  Unless you have a ton of advertising dollars to spend on publicizing your domain name, shorter is generally better and easier to remember.

3. Always try for .com – Whether we like it or not , www.mywebsite.com is what people will default to when typing in a URL.  If you can, get the .com version of your domain name.  .Net or .org can work in certain situations, as can country specific domain names, but most people will default to .com.

4. Plan for growth – If you think you might want to offer more products in the future then make sure your domain and company names can accomodate that.   “Susie’s Designs” has a larger range of options than “Susie’s Embroidery”.   Make sure your company name and your domain allow you to change direction or expand your horizons if you’re inclined to do so.

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12th June 2009

Website Workshop: If You Want to Sell, Make it Easy to Buy

moneyI’ve had it happen to me more than once.  I’ll see a product I like in a Twitter feed or mentioned on someone’s blog and I follow the link to make a purchase.  The only problem is that when I get to where the link leads it is impossible to figure out how to buy or in some cases even what I’m buying.  Prices aren’t easily available.  Descriptions are lacking.  There aren’t any pictures and no indication that pictures are coming.  The site doesn’t carry information that lets me know it is secure and safe to make a purchase.  I can’t even find the product.  It doesn’t take long before I decide I don’t really want the product that much after all.  In that split second, another online merchant loses a sale.

When you sell online, your main goal is to get money for the products you list.  Anything that stands in the way of that goal needs to be eliminated or repaired.  Here is a checklist of some items you should make sure are in good working order before you try to sell through your website.

1.  Have good product pictures – They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of selling online, they’re right.  Get the best pictures you can get and use them liberally.  This can be particularly important if you’re selling colorful goods.  A picture can show those colors in a way that words cannot.

2. Write good descriptions – Make sure you include all the details.  How big the item is, what it is made of, what it can be used for and so on.  You want your descriptions to be concise, but you also want to include all the information the average customer would need to decide if they wanted to buy.

3. Don’t make customers hunt for products – Flash pages can be cool.  I’m a big fan of About Us pages and allowing customers to learn more about the company.  Additional content can be good and helpful, but it should never get in the way of the main function of your site, which is to sell.  Don’t make customers hunt for your products or wade through tons of content before they get to the part of the site that sells.  Most customers won’t be willing to spend the time, and if they won’t spend time they definitely won’t spend money.

4. Pricing should be easy to find – Pricing should never be hidden.  Customers want to know up front what they’re going to have to pay for the product, as well as information about shipping and any additional fees.  Don’t make them hunt for pricing.  Make it easily accessible and easy to understand.

5. A secure site is a site that sells – If you’re sellling online you need to make it very obvious that your site is secure.  At minimum, you should have an SSL certificate.  You should also have a small disclaimer on your shopping cart page that tells customers how you keep their information secure.   People won’t input their credit card information if they’re worried it might be stolen.

Selling online can be a great way to expand beyond your local market, and can be very profitable.  Just keep in mind that a web site that sells is always a work in progress, and that monitoring sales and conversion rates is part of the job.

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2nd June 2009

Website Workshop: The First Decision

CB022158When you begin building your web site you will be faced with a lot of decisions.  You’ll have to decide what your site will look like, what sort of information it will impart and under what URL it will be listed.  There will be a thousand decisions that will have to be made,  but the most important decision is the one that must be made first, and it’s very simple.  Do you want to sell things on your web site, or do you want it to be strictly informational?

The answer to that decision will strongly influence the rest of what you do.  Strictly informational sites will generally have a different design flow, different navigation and vastly different goals than an e-c0mmerce site.  If you goal is to sell, your site must be built so that there are no obstacles for those who want to buy.  An e-commerce site must still inform and must still convince visitors that your business is one from which they want to make a purchase, but the ultimate goal is getting money from your customer’s pockets into yours.  The site must be planned from day one to meet that goal.

I can give you a good illustration by using the current EnMart site.   The front end of the site is strictly information.  It is designed to educate people about EnMart and the products we offer.  This is where the MSDS sheets are, where we list our locations, and where we talk about our products in general terms.  The aim here is to help people learn more about EnMart and why they might want to do business with us.  You’ll notice there are no prices here and only general product shots.

By contrast, the actual storefront is all about selling.   Prices are clearly displayed.  Product pictures and descriptions and included for every product.   There’s a big “Add to Cart” button right next to every product.   Clearly, this is the place where we want to encourage people to spend their money.  In order to do that, we attempt to make it as easy as possible for customers to make a purchase.  Anything that might be an obstacle to us achieving that goal has to be eliminated.

If you’re in the process of building a web site, or if you, like us, are upgrading your web site, the first thing you need to consider is whether or not you’ll be selling things.  The answer to that question will have an impact on all the other decisions you make down the road.

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26th May 2009

New Category: Website Workshop

website-designOne of the things that we work hard to do here at EnMart is to educate.  We have over 30 years of embroidery experience and we work to share that with you through this blog, through our web site and even through the products that we offer for sale.  We also attempt to share with you all the lessons we have learned as we’ve built companies from the ground up.  Just like a lot of you, we have started companies from scratch and worked to make them grow.  Over the years we’ve learned a lot of lessons about the right way to build a company, and a few of the wrong ways as well.

In the past I have also occasionally written about what we’ve learned about online marketing or selling with a web site as part of our educational  posts. I’ve never, however,  sat down and done a series on the subject.  Today a lovely friend from Twitter, RetailMinded, made a suggestion that I do just that.  I thought it was a great suggestion, and decided to take her up on it.

I’ve created a new category for this blog, Website Workshop.  In this category will go all the posts about how to build a website, how online retail works, and what you need to consider before and after you build a website of your own.  I will also be soliciting guest posts from our IT Director,  and from other experts in web site design.  My goal is to create a sort of how to section for people who are starting from scratch with creating a web site, and for people who have a site but want some ideas about how to make it better.

If you have questions about any aspect of web design, please leave them for us here in the comments, or leave a comment for us on the EnMart Twitter feed.   I’m looking forward to this series, I think it will be helpful and educational and that we all will learn some things we didn’t know.   Stay tuned, the first post in this series, “Research” will appear later this week.

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