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E-Commerce: Web Store Mistakes

Over the past seven years, many companies have erected web stores only to fail miserably. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the companies behind these failed efforts have concluded that there must be little or no market for e-commerce web stores. I believe that they are wrong - dead wrong. I believe that their failures can be chalked up to a multitude of mistakes, missteps, and misconceptions regarding web stores. This article discusses some of the more common mistakes I've seen. Am I right? Am I wrong? You be the judge.

Poor Web Design

  • Too Much Clicking - I am amazed by how poorly some web sites are designed. In many cases users must click five, six, or even eight clicks deep into the web site to find what they are looking for. My rule is to build web sites in which the entire contents of the web site are only one click away from the web page - unless you have hundreds of pages on a given topic and then I will allow two clicks deep, but no more. 

  • Hidden Contact Info - Contact information should be linked from every page in the web site. You never know when that reader will want to shoot off a quick e-mail or pick up the phone and call you. 

  • No Pictures - At a minimum, all items offered for sale should include a picture, if not multiple pictures. People like to touch and feel stuff before they buy, and a web store does not offer this. We've all seen the boom box stereo system promoted on television for just $9.95. It looks great on television but when it arrives at your door you discover that it is only 3.5 inches high. Hey, I got one - check it out. I think that most people just want to make sure that they know what they are ordering. A picture helps tremendously. Multiple pictures, diagrams, schematics, blueprints, dimensions, and VRML's all help the shopper understand the item before they purchase.

  • Weak Descriptions - Web stores should provide detailed descriptions of their products. You would think that this would be obvious, but evidently it is not. Some web sites do not even attempt to describe their products or provide a picture. You have to wonder what they are thinking? For an example, check out this web page which compares the descriptions provided by two separate web stores for the same exact product.

  • No Prices - Most importantly, web stores should always provide pricing information. When I encounter a web store without prices - I leave immediately, so do you. Often we leave because we usually shop during non-business hours and; therefore, the web store's instructions to "call for a price quote" at 11:00pm doesn't cut it. In most cases we conclude that because there are no prices listed, they must be high prices - or else why wouldn't they list them? In any event, I am not willing to go through extra efforts to determine the price - whether it be an additional phone call, or e-mail.

  • No Competitive Information - Most web sites do not include detailed lists of competitive products. What a mistake. You have an interested shopper reading your web site, but because you don't inform that shopper about all of their alternatives, and the pros and cons of those alternatives - you force them to go elsewhere on the web to find the answers they seek. To do this, they must leave your web site and visit your competitor's web site. Now they have them - and you don't. Look, people want to be informed shoppers. If all you sell on your web store is a toaster, that's fine. But you still should consider providing the shopper with a list of every toaster available - along with their prices, descriptions, and pros and cons. By doing this, you've squelched the need for the shopper to visit any further web sites. They now have all of the information they need to make their decision, and they are now on your web site (a web site in which you control the content) - doesn't this sound like a good thing? Savvy shoppers will shop around if necessary, but if you provide all of the information they need, you will attract more shoppers, and generate more sales. Yeah, I know - creating deep content is tough. But it's easier for you to dig up this information than your customers. 

Can't Get Found- Another common mistake web stores make is they can't get found. You may have a good web site, but nobody can find you. Search for tennis racquets and you will find more than 109,000 results. What good is it to be number 457 on this list, not to mention being number 45,757? It's useless. To yield top results, your customers must be able to find you. In my opinion, here are the common mistakes web stores make which prevent them from being found.

  • Lack of Understanding How Search Engines Work - Search tools like Google, iWon, and Wisenut visit billions of web pages and index every word on each web page, including the file name, title, and embedded keywords. When readers use these search engines to search for say "toasters", the search engines quickly find every web page that remotely mentions the word "toasters", and then scores each web page on its relevance to the word "toasters". A web page that contained the word "toasters" in its key word list, its title, and in the body of the web page, would score higher, and therefore would be ranked higher than another web page that simply mentioned the words "toasters" in the body of the page. Based on what I've seen, it appears that many web stores don't understand this simple concept.

  • Lack of Keywords - To rank high, you must add keywords to your web store. Doing so is very easy, here is an example of the line of html code you add to your web page: 

    <meta name="keywords" content="tennis, tennis elbow, racket, racquet> 

    Adding this line of code will not ensure that you rank high, but omitting it will almost always assure that you don't. If you are an astute individual, you may have noticed a slight problem here. If a web store sells hundreds of items, wouldn't they need hundreds or even thousands of key words in their web page? The answer is yes, they would. Unfortunately, many top search engines actually penalize web pages with a lower score for excessive key word use. (To learn how to mitigate this problem, please refer to my article entitled Web Impressions.)

  • Improper Page Title - Most search engines award "brownie points" to your web page when the search term is part of the page title. For example, if the person is searching for "toasters", then Billy Bob's Toaster Museum page will receive more "brownie points" than the Wal-Mart web site. Herein lies a fundamental problem with large web sites that offer thousands of products - they can't include all of the product names in their keywords and page titles. In this case, the advantage goes to the little guy. Like the keywords, the title of a page is embedded into the page's programming code via a command line as follows:

                                 <TITLE>Accounting Software: []</TITLE> 

  • Failure to Submit - Once you've built your web site and included all of the key parameters, the next step is to visit each search engine and submit your web pages. The process is fairly easy, but submitting to multiple search engines takes time. There are services out there that will submit your web pages for you for a fee. Personally, I find that that you can simply submit your web page on your own to the top ten or twelve search engines and obtain good results. Here is my list of search engine submission pages:

    Quick Links to Search Engine Submission Sites

    Google - http://www.google.com/addurl.html
    Wisenut - http://www.wisenut.com/submitsite.html 
    AltaVista - http://addurl.altavista.com/sites/addurl/newurl 
    Direct Hit - http://www.directhit.com/util/addurl.html 
    HotBot - http://hotbot.lycos.com/addurl.asp 
    Askjeeves - send e-mail to url@askjeeves.com 
    Lasoo - http://add.lasoo.com/ 
    Vivisimo - nowhere to submit
    Lycos - http://searchservices.lycos.com/searchservices/pro_overview.asp ($189/month)
    Teoma - http://www.teoma.com/index.asp
    Yahoo! - $299
    Dogpile - $79
    iWon - ???
    AOL - ???

  • Failure to Submit All Pages - Some companies simply submit their home page to the popular search engines, and fail to submit all of their relevant sub pages.

  • Lack of Good, Deep Content - A lack of good, deep content can hurt you plenty. The top search engines usually award brownie points to those web sites that are frequently linked to by other web sites. If your web site has little or no content, then others will not link to you. If others do not link to you, you won't score as high on a typical search. The only real way to get others to link to your web site, is to provide good content that others will find useful. Few people will link to a "cyber sales pitch". 

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