Section 1 — Why Online?
After reflecting on my 10 years of consulting with small businesses on their digital needs, I began to see a pattern emerge. Many small business owners are not tech savvy. This can potentially result in a crippling fear of all things “Online”, not to mention the loss of revenue.
Some “old school” business owners either don’t bother with eCommerce or their online presence is minimal. I have also worked with owners who are of the “I will do it myself” mentality. Other business owners have had negative experiences with developers in the past, which can result in ongoing distrust and lost opportunity.Regardless of these management choices, the end result is always the same: zero to minimal online-driven revenue.
It does NOT have to be this way. Everyone should reap in the benefits of an online presence–be it a website, an app or both!
Section 2 — The User Experience
To all the small business owners out there, remember that you know your business and product. New users do not. The cornerstone of every successful online store/website lies in user experience. This element alone could be the deciding factor of how successful your online business will be. Choosing the right content and how you display it determines part of the user experience.
When designing your online presence, you must divorce yourself from all subjectivity. And since it is not always possible to disregard your own natural bias, getting feedback (and lots of it) is imperative. I have found that colleagues provide the most valuable feedback. Family or friends tend to be less objective. It’s still valuable, but less than ideal.
When looking at your page, bear in mind that the attention span of the average user is just a few seconds. Failure to engage them within that time runs the risk of them abandoning your site or app. Wherever appropriate, opt for imagery in lieu of text. Try your best to have aesthetically pleasing, crisp, colorful images.It isn’t possible for your online users to physically interact with the object you’re selling firsthand. Instead, your images should provide your users with the next best thing: to ignite their wish to interact with the product you’re selling.
Since budget is a big issue when it comes to building a website or app, people tend to do just enough “to have something up and running”. This is simply a lost opportunity.
For example, I have noticed a lot of people simply snap pictures with their camera phone, and use the results to sell their products. I cannot stress how wrong that is! If you do not care about how your products look online, the customer won’t care to buy them. Use a professional camera and lighting if you can do so yourself. If not, hire a professional that won’t break the bank. If you can’t find a good photographer within your budget, offer your products or services in return for their services. Most people are willing to work something out.
Invest some money in creating content. Remember, you can always reuse professional images in other marketing tools, from presentation decks to flyers and catalogs.
When it comes to your text/copy make sure it is coherent, well-written, and concise.Come up with creative one liners to capture the essence of your business. Make sure you reflect core values of your brand in a simple manner–which will also help you with search engine optimization later on.
A website or app should always have easy accessibility to crucial information. Some key elements to keep in mind throughout the development process:
● Ease of navigation
● Responsiveness (i.e., the content automatically adjusts for different desktop, tablet and mobile screen sizes)
● Clear messaging on every page/screen
● No abandoned/empty links or dead end paths
● Call-to-action availability (i.e., make sure you’re directing your users to use your app in a way that leads to greater sales or revenue for you)
● Minimum amount of clicks/taps/swipes from the start page to purchase (or conversion)
● Load time for every page should be as fast as possible (i.e., edit your content as needed)
These basic elements are only the tip of the iceberg, but it is a solid framework to follow. There are many more elements that could be implemented and checked against, but this core set will help shape your product into what you had envisioned.
Easy and simple navigation will allow your user quickly shift from page-to -page and screen-to-screen without getting lost. Do not rely heavily on a browser or app back button.
When building the website make sure that it is built on a solid responsive framework. When speaking with your developers, make sure you make that message very clear. Additionally, be sure to convey that the site must be tested on different devices before the deployment. A growing percentage of your website visits will come from either a phone or a tablet. Do not neglect those users.
Just like a physical store shouldn’t have empty shelves, your site/app should not have dead links, empty pages or dead ends. It is a waste of space and breaks down the dynamic of your website/app, not to mention it looks terrible, so be weary of this throughout and make sure to test all use patterns before deployment.
As I mentioned earlier, each page/screen should contain a clear call- to-action. Regardless of whether it prompts users to complete an email form, provide a phone number or hit the buy button, it’s important to engage your users and lead them down the path you want.
Time is the most important factor. Therefore, if you can get your customer from the landing page/home screen to the checkout as fast as possible and your customer is happy with this effortless process, you can suspect that the client will become a returning customer and a walking ad for your business. At the end of the day, you want to sell them something or provide a service. Make sure it is easy to do so.
Section 3 — Thinking about Content
So, you finally have decided to take the next step. Whether you have been in business for years or just opened up, the process of launching your business in the online world is strikingly similar to how you set up your business in the real world. In other words, treat your homepage/app store listing as your window display, ensuring that it states clearly what your business sells or service it provides. A clear message and beautifully edited photos will engage a user and will prompt them to explore further.
Most small businesses make the fatal mistake of dumping content on the user without clearly defining what it means to the user. Do not overcrowd the homepage/homescreen. Make it clear and simple. Treat every secondary page/screen as either the aisles of your store or sections of the store. Each section carries its own significance. Your checkout process will provide an opportunity for an up-sell, similar to the display of small, low priced items near your register–like that candy bar you really didn’t need in the first place.
Every page/screen must contain a call-to-action pushing the user to take an action of some sort.
Section 4 — Conclusion
It may be a lot to take in, but hopefully you will find the right design and development shop that can guide you along the way. These days, there are tons of resources that will expedite the process and make it cost effective. It almost always better to pay a little bit more and get someone who is knowledgeable and is able to deliver a final result that will make you happy and proud to present to your clientele.
At the end of the day, invest as much of your heart, your time and your money, as you would want to to see returned to you. It is a great ROI for yourself! Providing a well-designed platform will not only solidify your standing as a reputable business, it will make it a pleasant experience for your customers, as well.