Let’s start by looking at the most common mistakes made by ecommerce websites and ecommerce businesses and why they fail. Read the quick guide below as your first step to avoid falling into the same traps. We’ll delve deeper into each point in subsequent areas of the book…
1) You Don’t Have to Get it Right, You Just Have to Get it Going.
This is critical for an online activity as the internet and technology changes so fast. Too many businesses waste time analyzing, planning and thinking without taking action. These three areas are obviously important, however as soon as the Research, Numbers and Exit Strategy (or goal) is established and make financial sense, then get started. The perfect time will never come, so take action now.
When building a new website, I always push to get it live within 7 days from the date the development starts. This enables me to test the website in a live working environment. Google’s spiders can start to index my site immediately, setting me up with an assertive approach and on the front foot. Because customers won’t be on the website yet, it doesn’t matter if it is not complete.
2) Poor Planning, Forecasting & Accounts.
Planning is essential to establish that your new ecommerce website can and will make money. You need to find out:
- If there is a demand for your product online?
- Are the products you intend to sell actually selling online and in what numbers?
- What are your competitors’ prices like? Are they charging less than you can buy the product for at trade price? This can happen online.
- Will your ecommerce website be profitable?
When your site is trading you must monitor key accounting areas at least weekly – especially your sales and costs, and the resulting net profit (bottom line).
3) Trying to be all Things to all People.
Once you have completed your research, decide on the number of products you will sell – a few products, a hundred products or thousands of products? It’s your decision, but weigh up the time to order products, add the products to the site, process orders, stock, ship, provide support, etc.
The more pages on a website, the better for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) reasons. However, many product pages will mean you need to do lots of product management. So be honest with yourself before you begin this project and determine if you can actually afford the time spent on the above processes.
You could even split your products into separate websites for each niche or main product category. This would focus your positioning and optimization for each specific product range. Customers will consider you an expert if they see you specializing in one product range. More on this in Step 1.
Customer sales usually also means customer support. Over time, you will find and set your own boundaries and limits concerning customer demands and requests. Stick to your principles and run a tight ship. Offer value for money in your business transactions, but do not become a slave to your customers or suppliers. You are in business to make money, not to make friends with everyone, and to provide exceptional ‘value-for-money.
4) Poor Quality Ecommerce Software.
Using poor quality ecommerce software will affect usability for you and for your customer. Problems include; a slow load time in your user’s browser, poorly laid out products, inferior search engine optimization features, all leading ultimately to an arduous ecommerce experience.
Good ecommerce software loads fast, has a great structure for the user so they can find products easily, and is built so Google can find and index your products with ease.
Flexible ecommerce software that can grow and adapt with your business is essential to automate laborious processes. This will free you up to work on your business and avoid working in it as previously mentioned.
5) Poor Design.
Design is the first visual element that new and existing customers notice on your website when they enter your site. As these processes are subconscious—and adding to the challenge, you only have approx 5–7 seconds to capture your visitor’s attention—your design has to be right or your visitor will leave, also known as bounce. Bounce Rate is an online measurement that expresses the percentage of visitors who only see a single page on your website before leaving.
This all starts with hiring the right web designer for your project needs. Most designers simply do not have the innate ability to design good websites, which is why so many websites die a slow death in cyberspace. You will learn how to hire a great designer in Step 3.
Avoid using Flash (a tool for presenting images and text in a graphical format) if it is not required. Flash has no place on an ecommerce website as it’s big, clumsy, loads slowly and can’t be indexed by Google. This in turn means it is bad for SEO. Flash shows off the design skills of the Flash designer but is next to useless when designing a site for profits. There is one exception to this comment: product demo videos produced in Flash can be very useful, but ensure they are compressed using FLV format, so they are quick to load.
Ultimately, your website has to load Fast, be Functional and be Familiar; this is the 3 F Strategy. Keep the colors clean and pertinent to your positioning and product ranges, and use clean uncluttered text and font styles. Make it easy to read by using lots of background white space, with text headers and items grouped in small boxes or small sizes for quick page scanning.
6) Poor Usability & Conversion.
Less than one person in every 100 visitors to the average ecommerce website will buy! Increasing this visitor-to-sale conversion rate is all about usability and a simple conversion path. This includes everything from the way the graphics, images, text, navigation menus are used on the website. Prospects (potential customers) need a simple, clean path from entry (entering your website) to exit (having bought your product) without resistance or site elements that make them have to think or work out what to do.
7) Too Busy & Cluttered.
How many websites have you visited where they hit you with too much content too soon, whether it’s graphics, images and options, and where you have no idea where to start? There is no clear entry to the products, no sales funnel, and no clear path through to the checkout. This equals failure!
So keep your design clean and clear, keep it simple, keep it direct and to the point, and give your site visitors what they want in an organized layout from the second they enter to the second they leave. This is about guiding them through your sales funnel.
8) Poor Keyword/Key Phrase Selection.
Many websites fail to match their site content with the search terms that their prospects search for in Google. This critical component to driving lots of free organic—also known as natural—search engine traffic to your website starts with detailed Keyword research.
When writing content for your website, especially on your home page, category and product pages, you need to target these specific keywords and key phrases—which your prospect will type in the Google search box—in order to get this traffic on to your website.
9) Poor Content.
The use of poor content including headlines, product descriptions, font styles, colors, etc on a website can massively reduce sales. Incorrect spelling (typos), poor grammar, uninspired and feature focused product descriptions all written in a boring style determine whether a customer stays (sticks) or leaves your website. You have approximately 5–7 seconds (maximum) to capture your prospect’s attention, when they enter any page of your website. So make your web pages sticky.
Your content needs to captivate, educate and inspire your prospects to want to take action and buy your products, read your blog or sign up to your email newsletter. Use emotional triggers by focusing on benefits, experiences and results that your products will give your prospects and future customers.
10) Zero or Poor Quality Traffic.
Traffic simply means visitors to your website. Low traffic or traffic that is not targeted to your products will result in zero or poor sales. This is one of the main reasons that so many websites fail. Starting with the right ecommerce software, good design, a strong on-site (also known as on-page) and an explosive off-site (off-page) SEO strategy will give you a solid foundation for ecommerce success. Add the back-end customer communication strategy for your site, and your success is guaranteed.
11) Not Analyzing User Data & Testing.
The internet, user behavior and buying habits are in constant change. Most websites owners do not use the free—and very detailed—statistics available to analyze their customer behavior, preferences and the products they buy. Using this free data such as your ecommerce admin statistics, your server logs (hosting account stats) and Google Analytics will present you with key information enabling you to refine your website, resulting in a big increase in sales and profits.
Successful websites including Amazon.com often run multiple tests on their website daily to gather data and respond to the results. They test everything from a simple image placement on their homepage, product layout, add-to-cart buttons, to the messages and products you see when you have placed an order—the order confirmation page.
Further to this, testing allows you to see which areas of your website are performing or where the leaks are that need repairing. When you make changes, ask your family, friends or colleagues to see if your site and its functions are seamless and easy to order. The less experienced the tester, the better, as you will get a realistic view from their responses.
12) Unaware of the 80/20 Rule (Pareto’s Principle).
Give or take, most web actions and results work out at 80/20 and this simply means 80% of your results (effects) will come from 20% of your actions, products or processes (causes).
As an example, you will find approximately 80% of your sales come from 20% of your product range and 80% of customer service issues will come from 20% of your products, etc.
Once you have data to work with you can start a ‘Best Sellers’ page and promote your top sellers. You can automate and extract your top selling products and display these on the live site. Apply this where you can throughout your ecommerce business and it will help efficiency, productivity, sales and profits.
13) No Back-End Marketing.
The majority of website owners—including most ecommerce websites—do not know how, or just cannot be bothered to contact their prospects, once they are sold a product and become customers. Big Mistake! Once you have customers, it’s essential to communicate with them regularly via email newsletters, RSS, social and video sites or by traditional mail and offer them more products. Because you have now built a relationship with them—and they have your trust and experience— they are more likely to buy from you, again and again.