So You Want to be a Shop Owner Part 5 of 5

Welcome to PRO-Webs “So You Want to be a Shop Owner” Series conclusion # 5 Got My Store in Development, Now What? If you are just stopping by the first time today then you may want to catch up on the previous Shopping Cart Development Guide posts in this series. To sum it up, we have been stepping through the development decisions, processes and shopping cart software options involved in building an online store.

So you want to be a Shop Owner Series Conclusion

By this point your new ecommerce store is in the final development stages and you will soon be able to add products and begin to sell your products. No doubt this is an exciting prospect, but the final development stages and adding your products and categories is by far the most crucial piece of any e-commerce store’s development.  The decisions you make now regarding the category structure, navigation and layout tweaking for your online store can easily make or break any shopping cart project’s success.

Lets get started with adding products and categories.  Whether you or a store development company is adding your products and categories to your store matters little… There are some extremely important decisions to be made in categorization and product grouping.  The biggest problem with this organizational stage of development is the “lack of forgiveness” for mistakes.  You see, once your category structure in laid out and indexed by the search engines, you really do NOT want to change the structure.  Not only do changes of this magnitude cause “flux” for your site’s search rank in Google, but MANY times changing a product category, name or group will cause the page’s url to change.  This can be VERY bad, especially on a large scale and can cause your site to be temporarily pulled from Google’s index or sandboxed.  This sandboxing period in which Google attempts to digest your content and determine if it is trusted can last a very long time. The longest sandboxing I have seen was 90 days.

About the sandbox: While in the sandbox, all or some, of your store’s pages will be pulled from Google’s index.  This “Sandbox effect” seems to be occurring less and less, but for new and low authority site’s the danger still exists. They are not only not search-able, but not in the index at all.  Large scale content and page changes can easily cause this and there is no clear way to remedy it.  The length of time in the sandbox is directly related to many factors within Google’s ranking algorithm.  I believe the most weighted ranking conditions are related to the site’s index score and TrustRank.  In a nutshell, does Google trust your site?

If you happen to get yourself sandboxed, again little can be done but wait.  However, you might build some strong, organic, one way links to the sandboxed pages.  Build and submit a new sitemap to Google and check that you have good PCI compliance type metrics in place, such as privacy page and a proper SSL.  If you are not accepting credit cards, shame on you, but… You do not need an SSL.  However, IF you are going to use one, DO NOT use a crappy shared SSL… This only hurts you in the long run.  Many times, shoppers are presented with the broken lock or a pop up regarding your SSL, which genuinely disrupts that shopper’s desire to checkout… No SSL would be better, as at least they are not alerted to the site’s inadequacies.

So while naming your products, sorting the category structure and making url re-writing and dynamic content choices… Please make well thought out choices from the beginning to avoid headaches later.  Some quick notes to consider when setting up product page titles and navigation….

  1. Do not include YOUR product number in your product titles and urls, as this is garbage content for the search engines and has ZERO search volume.
  2. Do not include the price in your urls and product titles… While this may have its merits, the ability for it to bite you in the ass is far greater as search engines don’t update the search results as quickly as you would like and for many days/weeks searchers will get the wrong price in the search results.  Lets just say for example your distributor raised your prices 5% and you will have to obviously follow suit… Hopefully you have a nice administration tool like quick updates to make this change site wide, so you make the change easily…. But you have now changed every single product page title for your entire site!  See Google flux and sandbox above!
  3. Try to keep your product purchase or add to cart page within 3 clicks of your main page.  Now, shopping cart software has really evolved in this area, and I will update this long time rule of thumb to say…. Keep your buy or add to cart page within 3 clicks of its landing page.  So what I mean is, gadget 3 shares many attributes and information in common with gadgets 1, 2, and 4, so they will ideally have a sub-category page which has great content to promote all 4 gadgets in the group.  Very likely, since this content is specifically targeted for gadgets 1-4, searches will be presented the sub-category page and are not likely to draw your main page as its content for gadgets 1-4, as it is far broader.
  4. Kill the next button! This is really simple stupid, but shoppers are not going to click through a broad category page after page using the “Next” button.  If you CANNOT get the product for a category or sub-category on one presentation page, then break them in to subcategories as shoppers just DO NOT click through page after page of broad category content searching for their widget!
  5. As we mentioned before use good, logical navigation to your products. This is often a big boo-boo area for new shop owners as well, they tend to either over categorize or use category and navigation language that only they understand. Unless you plan to do the shopping for your customers use language that is common, easy to understand and logical in your navigation.  Best practice here is, if a 12 year old can understand the navigation then you’re good… If not, back to the drawing board.
  6. Take care not to disrupt your menu style with excessively long category names that cause the line to drop down or hang off the edge of the menu.  Remember… Confused, lost and frustrated shoppers do not buy things often.

While your new store may be small now, you must leave yourself room to grow and add additional products in your navigation and category structure now… or pay with a headache later. Just like any other business, to get big you must think big! Couple of notes below from my buddy Tim Nash after his read of this post….

  1. Never use a “under construction” or “coming soon” page on a live site.  Just don’t.
  2. A newsletter or email list on your site can help you promote your site better and Google likes the fact that you are providing an opportunity for users to interact.

Before you launch your new online store I want you to click through your product pages and checkout process quite a few times and get a feel for your site’s flow.  Ideally, you will either employ or invite some others to do so as well.  This is called usability testing and can open your eyes to issues and problems in your store, you would have never identified otherwise.  When choosing testers, try to pick a few different statistical groups to really get a full understanding.  A woman, a man, a 12 year old, another business owner, your buddy who just learned how to turn on his PC and an older adult is a nice combination for a test group. Assign them a product to buy and develop a list of questions to ask them AFTER their visit, things like…

  1. How did you locate the product?
  2. Did the pages load fast enough?
  3. Do you like the colors?
  4. Was there enough product information?
  5. Did you find the add to cart button quickly and easily?
  6. Was the checkout fast and easy?
  7. Did you receive your order confirmation and receipt emails?

These things and more will really help you drill down in to your site’s usability and more importantly its ability to convert shoppers to sales.

When you are getting close to your launch date you must start thinking about how you will promote your new store initially.  Many avenues can be very effective and will not only help your store gain popularity, but help Google to find and index it as well.

  1. If you have an email list of previous customers, send them an invitation with a coupon and solicit their feedback.
  2. Have a marketing company or you yourself do a nice “Grand Opening” type press release.
  3. Have a blogging friend or related company blog about your store opening.
  4. List your store with the local directories for Google, MSN and Yahoo.
  5. List your store with free business directories.
  6. Write an article about one of your products or services and submit it to article directories with a link back to your store.
  7. Submit your products to Google Shopping, which is free.
  8. Submit a coupon to some free coupon portals.

Are you curious about where to find free product listing, coupon directories and local business listing opportunities? I will be sending our “start up” list of these promotional opportunities to all of our Zen Cart Tips & Tricks newsletter subscribers on Friday August 22cnd… So drop your email address in the newsletter box in the right column to get your free copy as well!

Good luck with your new store, and remember, any successful business requires hard work and dedication!