Don’t Overlook These 3 Things When Starting a New E-Commerce Business

We often get inquiries from people wanting to build a new e-commerce store. The idea sounds great on the surface (and can be an outstanding business if done right), but many seem to believe that if they throw a website up on the Internet, add some products, the sales will be there. That’s not how it works, typically.

New E-Commerce BusinessLaunching a brand new, e-commerce store should be viewed as starting a new business. That means you will need to invest capital to make your store successful. You’ll want a top quality website to cater to buyers on all types of devices: phones, tablets and desktops. Your new business will need good, desirable products – lots of them. A fledgling web store will also need a marketing strategy; otherwise, how will people find your company and its products?

There are many common mistakes people make when attempting to sell products online, but you might want to avoid these 3 biggies right out of the gate:

Don’t Go Cheap

An out-of-the-box or homemade e-store that doesn’t look good or perform well for visitors is a common mistake. A good e-commerce store needs to function well and look great if you want sales. People will be willing to make purchases if they are able find what they need, the prices and shipping rates are reasonable, and they feel they can trust you. Expect to spend 6 figures on high-quality web development and web marketing your first year in business.

Don’t Forgo Marketing Help

Not having a marketing strategy or knowing your competition is trouble. Selling products that nobody wants or items that everybody else is selling can pose a tremendous challenge to your new business. If the market you want to enter is highly-competitive, you’ll need a strategy to find visitors and your “niche” to enter the space. Great marketing is not cheap. It’s expensive. But, having a great marketing strategy will make your company money, and you’ll recoup your initial investment and become profitable.

Don’t Forget the Full-time Worker

Not having a dedicated person to operate your e-store business is often overlooked. It’s a full time commitment. You’ll want someone to manage adding products, shipping orders, handling returns, etc. It could be you. It could be someone that works for you.  To be successful, you have to have someone working full-time for your new, e-commerce business – period.

Cutting corners by trying to build something on your own and working your way up usually does not pan out. Just like starting a brick and mortar business, you’ll need real estate – a fantastic store out of the gate. And, equally important, you’ll also need a plan to attract customers and get them into your store. Without a hefty, initial investment, you just may end up spending more money, when all is said and done, and have little to no results to speak of – and that is good money down the drain.

Maximizing E-Commerce Checkout: How to Handle Guests

E-Commerce checkout presents customers with many decisions.  The more decisions that exist in the checkout experience, the more you’ll find customers either abandoning the checkout or calling in to place their orders.  Neither situation is particularly desired.  If we’re doing our jobs right, we’ve eliminated as many extra decisions as possible.  Studies show that providing fewer options to customers generally leads to a happier and more confident customer after they’ve made their decisions. Paradox of Choice

If we are doing our job correctly, we’ve eliminated as many options from our store’s checkout process as possible.  And if we’ve left any options on the table, we make assumptions for the customer based on data, then allow them to change that assumption if they need something different.

So what do I mean when I talk about options?  Here’s one of the checkout decisions typically presented to customers:  Should I create an account?

The step of asking a customer to log in can be a confusing one with more options than necessary.  What I often see are these questions:

  • Have an account?  Sign In
  • Don’t have an account? Sign up
  • Don’t want an account? Checkout as a guest

When a new customer sees these three options they’re going to hesitate.  Do I want an account?  Will I ever shop here again?  Do I get anything special for having an account?  Will this store spam me with promotions I won’t use?  Will it take much longer to sign up?

Meanwhile, we as store owners are chanting in the background “Siiign UP! Siiign UP! Siiign UP!”  But more important than wanting a customer to sign up, we should want our customers to enjoy the purchase experience and feel confident in what they’ve bought.  If these things are done well, the customer will prefer to create an account.

So while this step is extremely important to the checkout process, a less stressful way of proposing the question might be this:

  • Have an account?  Sign in
  • Don’t have an account?  Checkout Now  (If you want, you can create an account after you purchase)

Oh good, my decision is made for me – I don’t have an account so there’s nothing else to choose!  Continue on to checkout!

Now we’ve driven our customer right into checkout without a hitch.  But what do we do to finally create an account for our new customer?

One of the better ways I’ve seen to convert a guest into an account is to use a simple checkbox on the order review step.  The box can be titled something to the effect of “I want to create an account” and placed directly above the “Place Order” button.  Customers will be more likely to create an account at this point because they’ve enjoyed checkout (haven’t abandoned), and they know there aren’t any more steps to prolong the whole process.  We’ve already got all their information, so why not?  A customer then clicks the box and two password fields appear.  I know, I know – there’s no easy way to avoid requiring a password short of choosing a password for the customer, sending an authorization email to the email on file, and having the customer create a new password after clicking the link.  I can’t say which solution is less painful.  But look on the bright side – the customer not only placed an order but also created an account!  And the decision was pretty much made for them.  A win on both sides.

How does your store handle guests in checkout?

5 Things that Drive Shoppers Crazy on E-Commerce Sites

As a web development firm with some rather rabid online shoppers among us, we’ve learned a thing or two about what drives shoppers crazy when it comes to purchasing online. And we know that those things that drive shoppers crazy ultimately leads to less sales, so it’s important to know what they are and how to fix them. Great e-commerce web design makes a big difference when it comes to making an online sale. It’s not just about looking pretty (although that’s always nice to see), it’s about making it as easy as possible for customers to purchase your product online.

So without further ado, here are the top five worst e-commerce web design mistakes we’ve seen over and over again:

Poor product images.
Don’t you hate it when you want to make a purchase but can’t see product clearly? And then you find out that there isn’t even a good way to enlarge the image? Maddening. Why stay on a website that isn’t going to be helpful? Excellent product photos with a well designed interface for seeing them enlarged can make a world of difference for a potential customer. Don’t settle for good enough.

Buy now! buy now
Having a button that says “Buy” sounds simple enough. But believe it or not, a button that says “Buy” can be perceived as misleading and even have a negative connotation for shoppers and deter them from continuing.

add to cartDesigning the button to say “Add to cart” seems a lot less final to the buyer. A customer who isn’t quite sure yet likely won’t click on the “Buy” button, but is more likely to hit the “Add to Cart” button. “Add to Cart” tends to convert more browsers into buyers – and also allows them to purchase more. Adding one thing to your virtual shopping cart suggests that you might add more things to the cart. This seemingly small e-commerce design hint can make a big difference in your sales.

Going old school.
OK, so now that you have an “Add to Cart” button, what should it do? It used to be standard in e-commerce web design to have the cart button take a visitor directly to the cart every time it was clicked. This can still vary by site, but largely, you want to be able to keep your visitors shopping, rather than going straight to the checkout. Don’t make your site’s structure interfere with what the customer wants to do. The cart should be designed to allow your customers to decide if they want to continue with the purchase quickly or do some additional shopping.

Don’t display total charges.
Have you ever tried to check out of an e-commerce site that asked for your payment information before the total charges have been displayed? This is where a lot of sites lose customers who want to know exactly what they are spending before offering up their funds. Customers should have access to their total bill, including shipping and taxes, prior to giving payment information. It’s a simple fix in your e-commerce web design that can translate to more sales and happier customers.

So many choices.
However well-intended, too many categories to choose from will likely just overwhelm customers. This can become cumbersome and can be frustrating to online shoppers and make them stop browsing. They might not know exactly what they are searching for and just want to see what is available. Best practice is to show seven or fewer top-level categories and three or fewer secondary categories. Keep it simple and easy to navigate – that will always turn into more sales.

So those are some of the e-commerce web design things mistakes we see pretty regularly. What are your least favorite things about e-commerce sites? Do you have an online shopping horror story to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

This Week in Social Media: Facebook’s Organic Reach Decline

If you’ve been on Facebook at all recently, you’ve probably seen posts from pages asking if you can see their posts, to like or comment so they can tell who is seeing them, etc. They complain that Facebook has reduced the number of people they can reach organically and don’t understand why.

WHBC Facebook TestFacebook claims to be showing users stories they wouldn’t see if their feed was clogged with just posts from pages they has “liked” and followed.

Facebook has made a number of comments on this decline, but the most prevalent assumption is that Facebook has what is being referred to as a “Pay for Play” attitude. They want to sell more advertising, so they are suppressing posts so that marketers and others have to pay to be seen. The graph below, done by Social@Ogilvy, shows the average decline of the organic reach of content published on Facebook pages over the last several months. As you can see, most pages are reaching only 2-6% of the audience following or liking their page. As of last week, that number was closer to 1-2%.

Ogilvy Facebook Reach Graph

Matt Kapko from www.cio.com shares a quote from Marshall Manson, managing director of Social @Ogilvy for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, in his article on the topic:

“The proper response to these changes, according to both analysts and marketers, is to develop a wider social media strategy. The capability to build large communities of engaged fans was a critical aspect of Facebook’s early appeal to marketers and many brands have invested millions toward that objective. Facebook Zero is a reality now facing every brand and business with a presence on the platform. Action is required, and specific decisions will need to be made with regard to content planning, paid support for social media activities, audience targeting and much more.”

So what does that mean for you, in regards to your brand and social media? Diversify. You can’t keep all your eggs in the Facebook basket anymore. Social media will continue to evolve, and this is just one stage in the evolution. I think we can assume all the social media platforms will one day do the same, unless someone can come up with a way to eliminate users who don’t interact with your brand from seeing your posts in a regulated way – allowing brands to trim dead weight from their followers, and marketing to a very targeted audience. Even then, social media platforms are going want and need to cash in on your use of their platform. Be ready to spend some money, but you will also need to be ready with unique content and the ability to change things up, grow your presence on the most useful platforms when necessary.

Have you noticed a big decline of your page’s reach on Facebook? Has that in any way impacted your sales or other marketing goals? We’d love to hear from you in the comments – tell us your Facebook Zero story!

Darla Brown Recently Promoted to Senior Content Strategist

We’re happy to announce the promotion of Darla Brown to Senior Content Strategist!Darla Brown

Brown graduated from GlenOak High School and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from Bowling Green State University. In her new role, Brown will lead our content team. She will also set content strategy for clients while generating and managing website and social media copy. Darla joined TKG in late 2013, bringing an extensive writing, editing and marketing background.

The industry is seeing a growing need for effective content strategy – and it’s only going to continue to grow. Darla will help us plan, manage and execute great content for our clients to help them achieve measurable results. We’re excited to have her leading the content team.

Help us congratulate Darla by sharing a message in the comments.

Windows XP is Dead

Windows XP is DeadDid you survive?  Is your computer OK? How did your office make it through? What am I talking about? In case you haven’t heard, Windows XP is dead.

On April 8th, coincidentally also my birthday (thanks for the present), Microsoft officially ended support for the 12 year old operating system.  This doesn’t mean that your computer will not turn on any more, it just means you are on your own for support.  It is now you verses the thousands of hackers eagerly awaiting to exploit vulnerabilities that simply won’t be fixed.

Microsoft 2001Without a doubt the computer landscape has drastically changed in the last 12 years. Mobile, always connected, devices now rule the roost. Desktop PC sales continue to decline in favor of lightweight functional tablets. Fresh and clean interfaces get out of the way for users to accomplish their goals. The cloud reigns supreme in keeping you together with email, social media, browser favorites, and music.

It easy to forget that in 2001 Microsoft thought you wanted a cute cartoon puppy and 3 boxes to input choices to help you find files on your computer. Or how the icons seem too cutesy as an effort to hide gory technical features behind bright colors and cartoons to make a computer friendlier.

Microsoft XPWindows XP was the result of an effort to end the “95/98/ME” and “NT” versions of Windows by combining the consumer and business OS’s into a common architecture. It had to be welcoming enough for parents, and powerful enough for IT admins. Microsoft got neither 100% right.

But in typical Microsoft fashion, the parade of hotfixes and service packs transformed this raw and generally hated OS into a complete and well-loved piece of computer history. Just how well loved is apparent in that about 25% of desktops, close to 300 million, still run it despite 3 other major versions of Windows being available. Or that April 8th was Microsoft 3rd attempt to end XP and previously bowed to the demand of loyal XP users due to the sheer number of XP users.

ATM Windows XPThe concern now is falling on those devices that you never thought about what the underlying OS was. A whopping 95% of all ATM machines for example are still using this OS to dispense cash. If you think “wouldn’t hackers be tempated to take advantage of this?”you’d be right.

This doesn’t mean withdraw your cash, close your accounts, and stuff piles of money under the mattress. It just means that although Microsoft is closing the chapter, Windows XP will continue to be part of our lives for months, if not years, to come in a variety of locations.

In fact, as governments are realizing that this April 8th cutoff date is real, they are now striking deals with Microsoft by paying millions for an additional year of support. Without sounding political, it’s absurd that these governments have known about this deadline for at least 6 years and now are paying this money unnecessarily. If they had just acted sooner by moving to a more modern platform.

For all the ups and downs that Windows XP has given us, it’s finally time for mainstream developers, end users, and media to put it to rest. I wish the remaining holdouts good luck.

The Best Ways to Optimize Your Videos for YouTube

If you’re thinking about using video content on your site, the next thing you’ll need to do after creating them is market them. We typically recommend publishing your videos on YouTube – after all, it is the biggest search engine after Google and typically the go-to place for anyone who wants to access the world’s largest library of video content. YouTube videos are also very well indexed within Google search results.youtube

But, how do you make your video stand out in a sea of cat montages? You optimize it, just like you do you website’s content.

The YouTube algorithm relies on several signals when ranking videos within YouTube’s search results, including:

  • Text in titles
  • Text in descriptions
  • Tagging
  • Number of views and recent trending
  • Ratings

Titles

While it is tempting to use creative or cute titles, it is actually more difficult for your videos to be found organically in search with titles that convey ideas other than the actual content of the video. Keep it simple, describing only what the video is actually about.

Descriptions

Your video descriptions should be compelling, but should also be simple and true to the topic of the video. Make sure to include links to your site near the front of the copy so that it appears above the “Show More” line.

Tagging

While tags are not visible to the viewer anymore, they are still an important part of optimizing your videos because they are used by search engines to position your video in organic searches, and by YouTube to associate your videos with others containing similar content. Choose relevant tags only, but think bigger than just your company. For example, a local business might want to tag their video with their city or state.

Number of Views

Using the right titles, descriptions and tagging with help boost your views, but you can also do that by sharing your videos with your audience across all of your social networks, embedding in your site where relevant or linking to it via newsletters, etc. Keep in mind that it doesn’t count as a view until it’s played for 8 seconds – so make sure your video is compelling enough to get someone past 8 seconds. (Actually – make it compelling enough that they want to watch the whole thing!)

Ratings

If your content is compelling, ratings are generally pretty easy to get. It’s also OK when you share your videos to ask your audience to give your video a “thumbs up”! Often the best way to get visitors to convert is simply to ask them.

Have you had success with videos on YouTube? Tell me in the comments!

4 E-Commerce Web Design Tips to Increase Sales

You’ve made it through half of the battle (and for some the hardest part): A visitor arrived at your e-commerce website. Now you need to get them to buy. There are a lot of things that go into increasing conversions but design is perhaps the most important.

Most of us would agree that we buy things that look great. Many times the design of a website is the first impression that we receive of a company. Good or bad, the design can influence your subconscious opinion of the product or service you’re considering purchasing. So, how can you ensure that the opinion formed is a good one and how can you use your design to help convert visitors to customers?

Make Sure Your Design Enhances Rather than Distract

Create a clean design with simple lines that does not distract away from the products you are selling. A great example of this is www.restorationhardware.com. You will notice in the image below that the website design is clean and simple. Some would even argue boring. The site design however accentuates the products they are selling.

Clean Design Example

In contract, the image below is of a complex design that in most cases people would see as a great design. However, it distracts your eye from the products they sell.

Busy Design Example

Utilize Large Hi-Resolution Images

Apple has implemented this beautifully over the past few years and now other e-commerce retailers have started to follow suite.  With that said Apple has a limited number of products so it works. A company that has 10,000 products should not try to display products like apple.com.

Apple Design Example

Still, even if you have many products, there is something to be learned from Apple’s approach. Apple teaches us that displaying your products using large hi-resolution photos increases audience engagement. Gone are the days when a straight on, blurry shot of your product will do. Your customers want the photography to put them in front of the product. They want to feel an experience. Product photography can often times be over looked in an effort to make a great looking site.  Don’t let that happen to you.

Incorporate Testimonials & Trust Factors into Your Design

Along with the need for a clean website that enhances your products. It is important for you to convey the experience and service that sets you apart from your competition. Using testimonials and trust factors such as phone number, business hours, social media icons, customer service guarantees, etc. is an effective way to gain your customers confidence and trust.

customer testimonial

Add Value Elements in the Header

These elements are anything that adds value to the customer’s purchase. They can be Promotional Deals, Free Shipping or anything else considered to be a perk or add-on. Even if everything else is right, the promise of something for free or something a little extra, when used strategically and when it’s affordable for your company, can go a long way to helping convert a visitor. Just make sure that this isn’t the only tactic you rely on. Free shipping is only great if, when the product gets there, it’s great too. Otherwise it’s just a gimmick.

musicians friend

What other ideas do you have for improving sales through your e-commerce web design? Tell me in the comments!

The Importance of Google+ Local Reviews

Google ReviewIt is no secret that having an active Google+ page helps to increase your local search rankings. A high, positive review rating increases those rankings even further, but you have to be careful how you go about soliciting reviews to your Google+ page. Here is a quick list of things to try out and things to avoid as you navigate through the Google+ Local review process.

Effective Ways to Increase Customer Reviews

  • Ask – it is that simple
  • Review your partners – if you work with contractors or other businesses on a regular basis, post a review to their Google+ page, they might just reciprocate
  • Add a “Write a Google+ Review” tag to the bottom of your invoice or receipt
  • Promote your Google+ presence by adding the G+ icon to your website.
  • Add the G+ tag to the bottom of your email signature and ask for reviews
  • Send out a weekly or bi-weekly “How did we do?” email – you can ask customers to respond by writing a review on your Google+ page
  • Respond to reviews – both positive and negative
    • A simple “Thank you” goes a long way
    • Address a negative review by acknowledging the input and let the customer know that the issue has either been resolved or is being addressed

Playing Nice in the Google Sandbox

Google is smart, so any attempt to circumvent their rules is going to eventually come back to haunt you. Adhere to Google’s written policy for reviews. Here is a high-level summary of reviews that will be removed:

  • Inappropriate content – Keep it PG
  • Off-topic reviews
  • Reviews that appear to be ads or spam, this includes links to other websites
  • Be a good sport – don’t write negative reviews of your competitors
  • Don’t re-write past reviews or testimonials and post them on behalf of someone else
  • Avoid placing a public computer or kiosk in your lobby designated for reviews
  • Avoid conflicts of interest – this includes the following:
    • Paying or incenting customers for reviews
    • Reviewing your own business
    • Asking employees to review your business

When it comes to reviews, slow and steady wins the race. A few quality reviews from your loyal customers will greatly outweigh brief and sloppy one-off posts.
photo credit