Posts Tagged ‘Ecommerce’

Website Usability – Listen up you “revolutionary” designers!

I remember around 3 or 4 years ago, I picked up a big book dealing with Web Design Usability standards. I read through almost the entire one – 1000 pages or more! And I discovered that lots of what was mentioned, I had already figured out through online research, articles and forums I had read through, while trying to keep up to date as a freelance web designer. Nonetheless it convinced me further, that following certain simple rules, will help keep your visitors happy.

The designer in me, loves to see revolutionary design, different ways of dealing with the same concept, whether it’s an information based website, an online shop or god knows what. BUT: when creating our own websites, we must always consider the target audience. And in order to have an idea about what the average website user knows about techie stuff, I always use this rule of thumb:

“Would my mother know what to do on this website?”

My mother (64) , considered very “technical” in her generation; has been working with computers in her job for 30 years. Mind you – as a programmer for the better part of that, coding in COBOL. She is not very aware of online shopping, very wary of giving people her credit card number, in fact – she’s only had one for about 7 years now.

She knows about how to program, because this was taught to her in a course in the 1970s. She doesn’t know what HTML or CSS is. She has no clue how images are created in Photoshop. She will not know the difference between a Flash animation and an animated GIF. What she knows is, there’s a page called HOME, that’s the beginning of the site, and from there, it should be clear what this site has to offer.

So here are a few rules, when designing websites aimed at the “general public” (if you’re designing for the tech savvy elite of web designers and the like, you have a little more to play with though).

  1. Call your homepage “Home”. Don’t get too creative!
  2. The quickest way to get to the “Home” page is by clicking the logo on the top left corner of the website. Ensure that there is a logo there, it also says the name of the site, and it is clickable and sends you to the homepage!
  3. Navigation must be obvious, clearly placed towards the left or top of the site “above the fold”!
  4. Don’t get creative in naming links! My mother should know what you mean!
  5. If my mother cannot find what she’s looking for, there must be a Sitemap, and a Search “above the fold”!
  6. If you use a column based layout, 2 or 3 columns, the right hand column is for ads and secondary information. The first things the visitor will look at is the middle, the top and the left side of a website, if they cannot find what they’re looking for, then they will look at the right.
  7. If it’s an ad, it should look like an ad. (unless you want to trick people). Nothing is more frustrating than clicking on something expecting new information, and ending up on some advertising landing page.
  8. People love the back button. Ensure that it’s functional! Warnings about having to “resubmit forms” are scary to non-tech people and cause frustration
  9. Waiting is a pain. Most people will not enjoy waiting longer than 5 seconds, unless they are absolutely sure it will be worth it! So think twice about using that 1024x768pixel high quality photograph as a background!
  10. A website should NOT start with a flash intro! Many people are in a hurry and do not want a blinking “Loading” screen to welcome them to your site.
  11. Too many flashing and blinking things can give people epileptic seizures. (OK maybe I’m exaggerating, but they’re still annoying)
  12. Anything “below the fold” will be less obvious, and not viewed by a significant number of your visitors. Important stuff goes up top!
  13. Backwards compatibility is a must! My 64 year old mother doesn’t care that IE6 is an ancient monster which should have been slaughtered ages ago! Neither does she bother to buy a new pc with a 1280×960 resolution monitor. (after all, the old 15″ CRT monitor still works fine!), so make sure your site is viewable on smaller screens and older browsers, and at any cost avoid horizontal scroll bars from showing up!

Favicons – or: That little picture next to a website URL

A picture speaks a thousand words – Or at least that’s what people say. And you will have seen lots of websites, that after you’ve opened them, display a little tiny picture towards the left of the website address in most popular internet browsers in use today. And if you run your own site, you may have wondered, how do I get one of those?

Well wonder no more – The picture is called a “Favicon”. And you get one by creating an icon (.ico file) based on an image you design, and putting it in the root directory of your site. So that’s it in a nutshell. Below I’ll go through it step by step.

1. The image
Choose an image or create one from scratch which will look good even when displayed extremely small. If you’re creating this image from scratch, it helps to work on a small scale so you need not resize too much in order to use the icon. Make a new image sized 64×64 pixels. Once it is done, resize to 16×16 pixels and see if you like the look of it.

For this example, I have taken part of a photograph of sunflowers, and selected a square of the original to create this small picture: (64x64pixels)

sunflowers1

Resized to 16×16 to see if it looks acceptable:

sunflowers16

Well it ain’t perfect, but it’ll do for my example.

Next – we need this image to be saved as an .ico file (Windows Icon File). Depending on what software you have access to, you may be able to do it from your graphics program directly (For this example I used The Gimp, which can directly save as .ico, if you’re using Photoshop, you may need to install a plug in). OR: You can simply convert your .png file to .ico using This Very Handy Website. Then rename your file to “favicon.ico”.

2. Your Website

Now that we’ve got the icon, we need to include it in our website. In order to do this, upload it to the root directory of your website. Now most browsers will automatically recognise it. But in order to make sure, include the following code on all pages, within the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags towards the top of the page:

<link rel=”shortcut icon” href=”http://www.mysite.com/favicon.ico&#8221; type=”image/vnd.microsoft.icon”>
<link rel=”icon” href=”http://www.mysite.com/favicon.ico&#8221; type=”image/vnd.microsoft.icon”>

And done! Now everyone who visits your site (provided their browser supports it) will see your favicon next to the url, next to the title of each page in tabbed browsers (IE7, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc), as well as next to bookmarks.

NOTE (Thank you Odzer for reminding me) : if you’ve done all the above and your favicon is not showing up, empty your cache (temporary internet files), or the change won’t show up. This is because your browser is basically still looking at the files it had previously saved on your hard drive, not the ones you just updated.

Zen Cart & Google Analytics

If you’re running an E-commerce website, and you are building it yourself, chances are you would be using one of the more popular open source shopping cart scripts; one of which is Zen Cart. Based on the osCommerce framework, it offers a LOT of functionality, as well as a vast selection of third party add ons to suit the needs of most small businesses.

Although to most Zen Cart powerusers, this topic is probably hardly a big deal, however, for all you newbies out there I would like to talk about an add on for Zen Cart that is very valuable indeed. The Google Analytics addon. We all know it is absolutely vital to know what is happening with our online businesses. We need to keep track of how profitable it is, and whether our (if any) advertising efforts are paying off. By signing up to Google Analytics, and linking your Google Adwords account with your Analytics account, you can trace what your paid traffic is doing. But in order to make the most of Analytics, you should implement Ecommerce tracking. Doing this is a pain, especially if you do not have much programming experience. Even more so if you’re using a shopping cart like Zen Cart.

But this Google Analytics add on, which is fairly straightforward to install, will do exactly what you want. Having just installed it on my two websites; www.alteregouk.com and www.aelingerie.com ; I managed to test it and must say it works brilliantly. It tracks transactions completed through your website; depending on what payment modules you are using, it will be fairly accurate. Obviously if you accept COD or any other form of offline payments, it will be impossible for Analytics to find out whether or not the transaction was actually completed – therefore I would suggest using this data only if your transactions are just online (such as through PayPal, Nochex or some other credit card processor).

To promote or not to promote – that is the question…

I’m bored. Bored with as I optimistically call it “steady sales” – bored with the fact that that automatically means when I open my mailbox in the morning, I don’t get many pleasant surprises …

I’m also bored with the fact that I’m roughly on page 50 of google search results for lots of things I would like to rank better in. And I’m bored with an – although steady – not very high number of visitors every day.

Now – newcomers (or those who missed my post from 11 November 2008 – You sell WHAT?! Sex Toys>! *GASP*) may be a little confused regarding what I’m aiming the above remarks at. Well read that post, visit my site AlterEgoUK.com and be confused no more….

So I’ve been thinking about different ways of promoting myself. Being too lazy to fully take online marketing as seriously as I should – considering the adult toy industry is an extremely crowded and competitive one – I decided I’d have to take my efforts offline. It’s not the type of shop, for which people would appreciate leaflets being shoved into their mailboxes at home… (Just imagine, the average Joe of suburbia, picking up the mail from the doormat “Mmm 15% off Butt Plugs and Bondage Gear! Yeah! That’s what I want!”) – In fact I think I’d probably get sued or something.

Neither is it possible for me to do marketing amongst “friends and family”. My family, being mostly abroad, is not my target audience. And my friends… well quite the same problem really. Also, colleagues are not an option, I wouldn’t want that kind of attention in the office… “Oh it’s the dildo girl!”

With the impending launch of my newest website – AELingerie.com – just around the corner, I would like to emphasize further what I’m trying to do here. Not only do I want my sites to sell (reasonably well). I am building a brand here. My second site showing my intentions a bit; I am in the process of launching a whole network of sites, all following the same AE theme. Recognizable through similar logos (incorporating the AE initials – which obviously stand for Alter Ego) and similar graphics (the flower and swirly accents that both my sites use in their design) as well as the use of models dressed up in Black Lingerie, boots, angel wings and Pink hair.

Marketing Strategy #1

The low budget variant – Do I attend every single adult themed exhibition and fair I can find, giving out discount coupons (with the logo, the pink haired angel girl and website URL) to the passing public – knowing that they would not be offended by my website’s topic? (Dressed up in AE style; with a pink wig, black angel wings, slutty boots with high stiletto heels and black mini dress.)

Marketing Strategy #2

More investment necessary – Do I set up an adult themed party service which – just like Tupperware parties used to – allows people to book me for a hen night or whatever to come over with a bunch of naughty products, and allow attendees to place orders for whatever they want. However; keep in mind that people would still have to find out about my service somehow, this would take time and effort doing SEO and offline networking – for which at the moment I have absolutely no starting point.

Please people – give me your insights. Leave a comment with the strategy you think I should follow, or if you can think of a better idea, please go ahead!

The demise of offline shopping

Well in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past 6 months or so, we’re in a recession, and it seems a big one! People I hear are staying away from watching the news, just afraid of what more bad news it may bring… Every time I go out to do some shopping, I’m reminded of the fact by the ever increasing numbers of shops displaying “closing down sale!” banners. With Woolworth being the first of the lot, more and more stores are facing closure due to decreased demand for anything  really; household goods, clothes, shoes etc.  People have diminished confidence when it comes to spending money; and that is what this economy really needs at the moment. If everybody hoards their money, it will be worthless. Money only has value when it is exchanged for goods or services.

So I did my bit today, going out to buy some clothes. Even though I don’t REALLY need any (according to what my mother would think – if it’s still in one piece and you can physically fit into it, it doesn’t need replacing!) and my bank balance is lower than it should be at this point during the month… But hey, the economy needs me! And I’m happy to oblige.

Although I’m a child of the “internet age” and very comfortable making online transactions, I do enjoy the activity of going out and browsing through physical stuff. Things I can touch and try on, before making a decision. Ironically, being an online entrepreneur as well, I still cannot imagine replacing the offline shopping experience with an online one. Sure you can order clothes and return them in exchange for a different size. But you still have to rely on usually fairly small pictures, in order to make your choice. And especially for girls, trying clothes on is a hugely important part of the decision making process.

But that being said, online shopping has its purpose. When trying on is not an issue (or not desirable due to hygiene considerations) I’m the first to check eBay and whatnot to see what the best deals are. And I’m not the only one. In fact many people, eager to save a few bucks, have started shopping for more and more items online. As the Telegraph writes, last year a 34% increase in online shopping was reported. As pretty much every internet-savvy person out there is aware of: online shops usually keep smaller profit margins, to pay for their much smaller overhead costs. Therefore, the real deals can be found online, no longer on the High Street. Even while I’ve known this for a while, I do catch myself getting outraged sometimes, when I’m looking for something and wander over to an actual shop, only to discover that the item costs twice as much as on some websites I’ve seen…
But to make a long story short, I believe the following – which many successful business people seem to agree with: This is a challenging time, which could open up interesting opportunities for those willing to pursue them. The number of people surfing the net, looking for various products, from clothing to shoes, electronics, CDs/DVDs etc. is set to increase further. Perhaps we will be facing a world in a few years where offline shopping has become outdated. The Ecommerce market is a crowded one to enter as a new player. But with low start up and overhead costs, what do you really have to lose. When 1000 people can survive already, what’s 1001?

And that is why, my new business is about to be launched – www.aelingerie.com –  For exclusive Lingerie, Swim wear, Club wear and fetish/alternative shoes!