Design And Layout

Before we cover the basics of designing an ecommerce website, let me ask you a simple question: Which do you think is more likely to succeed? A website with a clear, simple and professional design, which is well targeted at the niche market? Or a website with flashy animation, graphics or audio that detracts from its primary purpose - to convert visitors to customers?

Obviously, a clear and professional design is better able to convert online visitors to paying customers. When designing your website, pay attention to the following:

  • Since the online community is generally impatient, your homepage must be able to capture the visitors' attention within the first few seconds, or they are likely to lose interest quickly and leave your website. In general, you should aim to capture the visitors' interest within the first ten seconds of their visit and persuade them to continue browsing your site. Thus, your headlines and sub-headlines should be well written to catch the visitors' attention and get them to continue reading.
  • Your salescopy are the words that capture your visitors' attention and compel them to make purchases. A good balance between salescopy and graphics on your website enables you to present the value of your products effectively. Do not focus solely on either aspect - a good balance of both gives you a sales process with the highest chance of sales.
  • Navigation must be consistent. Your navigation links must be named clearly, and your navigation menu should be placed consistently on a specific location of your web pages, like horizontally across the top or vertically on the left. As a rule of thumb, your visitor should be able to access any information they're looking for with a maximum of 3 additional clicks.
  • The opt-in offer is a web form that you can use to collect the visitors' email addresses. Apart from getting visitors to buy from you, the secondary purpose of your site should be to collect the visitors' email addresses, allowing you to send product promotions to them in future. Hence, your opt-in offer must be placed at a prominent spot on your website, e.g. on the top-left corner of your homepage, to yield the highest visitor opt-in rate.

When designing your website, there is one crucial point you need to keep in mind - your website serves as a platform to display your catalogue of products to your customers. The aim of your website is then to convert the visitors of your website into buyers.

Remember to focus on leading the visitor through the sales process step-by-step. Produce clear instructions and directions to tell the visitor what to do, and not leave the visitor to figure out how to make a purchase. This is an extremely important factor influencing the conversion rate of your website.


The images you display on your site should mainly comprise of photographs of your products. Do not include fanciful 'cartoon' graphics or animation - these make your site appear unprofessional, and drive your visitors away in a hurry!

With regards to the image file formats, all your photograph files should be in the JPG format. This is the best format to display your pictures with excellent quality and low file size at the same time. Don't forget - the time it takes for your webpage to load should be capped at a minimum.

On the other hand, images like your business logo and navigation buttons should be in GIF format. These pictures do not require resolution as high as your photographs - and the GIF format offers the lowest size for such files.

Keywords And Search Terms

Your business keywords and search terms are also critical considerations when designing your website. Deciding on your keywords beforehand optimizes your website for the major search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. Given below are the steps to take for proper search engine optimization.

Before writing your content and salescopy, first brainstorm a list of keywords related to your business. The Keyword Suggestion Tool from Yahoo! Search Marketing is very useful for producing a list of keywords. The exact number of keywords depends on the range of products you have.

When designing your website, include these keywords in the page titles, meta tags and heading tags. Doing so will definitely improve your search engine rankings for those particular keywords. Additionally, you should also sprinkle your keywords uniformly throughout the page when writing the page content.

Browser Compatibility

Apart from Internet Explorer, the online community also uses other internet browsers like Netscape Navigator. When designing your website, you need to ensure that it is compatible with other internet browsers, or your website will appear with a messy layout. Ensure that visitors using other browsers like Netscape can also view your product catalogue with ease.

Things To Avoid

  • Overuse of banners, graphics and color. Too many pictures or banners only distract the visitors from their purpose - to browse through your products and make a purchase. To reiterate, your website should have a simple, professional design that serves one purpose only - to get your visitors to buy from you.
  • Slow loading time. How many times have you left a website during the first few seconds of your visit, simply because you were too impatient to wait for the entire webpage to load? Remember to design your website such that it loads within the first 2-3 seconds for an average broadband user. Minimize the size of your graphics if possible.
  • Patterned, colorful backgrounds. Do professional websites use patterned or colorful backgrounds? Using a white background is a safe bet in most cases.
  • Poor spelling and grammar. The text on your website must be grammatically correct with accurate spelling. Nothing diminishes your credibility as quickly as poor spelling and grammar.

In conclusion, you need to pay attention to the design and navigation, the images, the keywords, and also the browser compatibility for your website. Avoid fanciful graphics, slow loading time and inaccurate spelling when designing your website. Remember - the single critical aim of your website is to convert your visitors into paying customers.

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