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On line business news & marketing tips.

Doing business on the NBN Part 2: What makes e-commerce sites work?

Many more businesses will soon be able to take advantage of the new National Broadband Network (NBN) to start doing business on line. This post covers the first steps of web marketing and site design–competitive positioning and website objectives.

Competitive Positioning – your reason to exist

Many new business owners are surprised to find out that the first thing you need to get your business off the ground is not a letterhead or a business card or a website, but a reason to exist.

What does that mean? Simply that you have to think out and deliver a product or service difference that is not only meaningful to prospective customers, but also distinguishes you from the competition – whether the competition is situated across the road or around the world.

Think about it for a moment. Whether you are a dentist, a jeweler, a lawyer or a dog walker, you and your competitors all provide the same range of basic services … so why should a new client or customer choose you rather than the next supplier? The answer is because you supply a good reason for him or her to do so – a reason for you to exist – a reason for the customer to come to you instead of someone else to place an order, make a booking or obtain a cost estimate.

There are many reasons to exist – price, location, convenience, experience, a special type of customer service, etc, etc. You can even invent a new reason to exist if you are smart enough. Reasons to exist can be simple or complicated, easy or hard to deliver, but they always have to be meaningful and valuable to the customer. And the good news is that if your reason to exist is sufficiently attractive to the prospect and well communicated, and as long as you keep your promise to deliver it, it won’t matter that you are competing with longer established competitors and well known companies, you should still make a living.

What kind of website are you building?

Before you start designing your website, or pay someone to design it for you, it is vitally important to think about what future customers would expect to find on it and how they would use it.

There are basically three kinds of site on the internet today:

Social sites like Facebook or YouTube, where people still surf the net mainly for fun and to discover the latest scandal or five-minute wonder or share news about themselves. This is a form of recreation and time is no object here.
Independent info sites such as maps, phone directories, medical information, weather forecasts, on line newspapers, world time zones, currency converters, recipes etc. etc. etc. Everyone has their favourite info sites, ranked by usefulness and ease of use, and these are the ones we bookmark.
Commercial sites like yours and mine are the workhorses of the internet and there are millions of them, all calling out “click me, click me” as they compete for the potential visitor’s attention. Unfortunately, when it comes to attracting prospective visitors, most site owners do not have a clue what a prospect looking for on line, and this makes their sites a lot less effective.

What do prospects expect from your website

If yours is a commercial site, these are the benefits prospects usually want from it:

They want to be better informed so that they can make better decisions about their health, holidays, shopping, investments etc. This includes information about product features and benefits, product comparisons, pricing, convenience of purchase and delivery and many other features.They want to find their way to the information they need quickly and easily. If the website even looks complicated, or hard to get around, or if the presentation of content is not interesting and enticing, they won’t waste any time trying to work your site out.

They want to be in control of the decision making process – they decide whether to click off or not and whether to buy or not. You have to work hard keep them there. This is the key difference between the internet and pre-internet worlds of marketing. The internet empowers consumers as they have never been empowered before

Choosing the right website designer.

There are thousands of freelance web designers and website design companies out there – and it isn’t always easy to choose the right one. So here are a few basic guidelines that might help:

1 Keep it simple. Unless you are running a big online store or have a dozen complicated products, you can probably get away with a pretty simple and inexpensive site. The most basic site consists of:

A ‘Home’ page that spells out your name and reason to exist very loudly (but briefly)
An ‘About Us” page or company backgrounder detailing the business history, owner expertise, etc – but remember it’s not about “you”, it’s actually about why you can help the prospect!
A page or two about your products or services and what they cost
A contact us email/ order form

2 A good website starts with a good plan. There is a cheap way to avoid expensive mistakes during the website design process – approve a site plan, map or diagram of the site before you do anything else. This site plan should provide:

An exact knowledge of the number of pages and sub pages that constitute the site
A formal diagram of the relationships between pages – a map of which pages are linked to one another by live links – ensuring that the navigation path makes sense and there are no dead ends or orphan links
The exact functionality you need – shopping trolleys check outs, automated newsletter enrolments, etc. – check them out on other people’s sites before spending your own money.

3 Get a written quote. Write down what you want on your website and ask the designer to submit a detailed written quote to deliver it. Try and make any changes before building starts and without incurring expense and do listen to any suggestions from the designer (it’s a learning track). Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions – if you’re a newbie, you can’t be expected to get it exactly right first time. Finally, make sure the quote includes any revisions made before the site goes live.

4 Make sure you can update your site yourself. Make sure you are not tied to the website designer for ever – don’t accept a proprietary design programme which you have to license or pay a fee for – unless you want to pay someone each time you change your site. Instead, specify open source programming. Open source means that the software is in the public domain and anyone can use it (just like Wikipedia), so you are not tied down and can change designers any time you feel you need to. The website you are visiting now is programmed in WordPress, which can be downloaded for free and which I can modify at any time in plain English – no HTML needed.

Will your home page pass the “two-second test”?

Here’s a scary thought. The average site visitor who clicks onto your site for the first time decides in less than two seconds whether to investigate it further or click onto the next site on the search results list.

This is why the most important element on the home page should be a single, dominant stand out message – your reason to exist – which should come across loud and clear, even if it shares the page with other messages, or shares it with offers of free cost estimates or information and other enticements.

Your reason to exist is the reason you are in business and you must communicate it in less than two seconds if you want the prospect to stay on your site long enough for you to get the rest of your message across and clinch a sale.

Speed of loading is also of the absolute essence. No visitor is going to hang around for 30 or 40 seconds (forever in internet time) while your home page comes up – so avoid intrusive video, loud music, long and complicated flash animation, slide shows and annoying jump pages.

It also helps if your website does not look like all your competitors – why look at a website that looks just like everybody else’s?