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Web Design Considerations

Building your own website can save you money, but can also be a false economy - if you get it wrong, you will lose sales.

We can't teach you everything about building websites, but we can cover some of the basic DOs and DON'Ts of web design. Good structure and navigation will help shoppers find your products. Well thought out page layouts will help shoppers see the important information on each page. Clear product pricing and descriptions will help shoppers buy the right products and reduce after-sales problems. Use a graphic design that looks nice but doesn't distract shoppers. And finally, we discuss valid HTML, standards compliance and accessibility, all of which can help generate more sales.

The Basics

You don't need a fantastic graphic design to make sales, nor do you need to spend thousands of pounds on web designers. What you do need is:
- clear and consistent navigation (links)
- a clear and logical layout for each web page
- clear and accurate descriptions and prices for all products and services
- clearly visible links and "Add to Cart" buttons
and so on.

The easier it is for people to find your products and buy them, the more likely you are to make sales.

Web Site Structure and Navigation

A well structured web site will help shoppers to find the information they want quickly and easily and increase the chances of making sales. If shoppers can't find the information they want or they get lost in your site, they might give up and buy from another web site instead.

How you structure your web site is entirely up to you - there is no "one size fits all" solution. Spend a bit of time thinking about the structure and navigation of your website. A few tips you might like to consider:
  • every page of your site should include clearly visible links (navigation) to other sections or pages of your web site, without forcing the shopper to scroll down or click the back button
  • navigation links should be separate from the information on the web page. Consider using navigation links across the top of the page or in the left or right hand columns on every page
  • where possible, the navigation should be consistent on all pages. The shopper can then find your terms / contact details / FAQs from every products page and vice versa.
Look at some of the sites in the FastCart Showcase to see how other site owners have structured their web sites. Some of them are very well thought out.

Web Page Layout, Links and Buttons

Your individual web pages should have a clear and consistent style and layout. Again, don't make users scroll up and down for information or links - put important information "above the fold" (visible in the browser window without the user having to scroll down).

Each web page should use clear headings to say what the page is about. Your products should be clearly laid out with the images, description, price and "Add to Cart" buttons "together" and clearly visible.

Make sure every page has links / button to View Cart and Checkout clearly visible above the fold - shoppers don't want to click the back button to find the shopping cart again, nor do they want to scroll down to look for the checkout button.

Also include credit / debit card logos above the fold on every product page - it's a clear, visual sign that you accept online payments by credit card.

Products, Prices, Descriptions and Information

Good, clear and accurate product information is essential for good sales and for avoiding problems after making sales. UK and EU retailers have a legal obligation under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 to accurately describe products or services. Poor or insufficient information can lead to poor sales, goods being returned and to customer complaints.

All products should have pictures, descriptions, prices and BUY NOW buttons clearly visible above the fold. Keep these elements together - avoid displaying the price and button in different places on the page. If your products pages have lengthy descriptions, use a short text summary plus picture plus price and BUY NOW button above the fold, followed by the lengthy description. Add the price and BUY NOW button at the bottom of the page as well - this gives shoppers more opportunities to buy the product.

Search engines like text content - content is king. Adding more content (by better / longer descriptions) can help your products be found in search engines and can bring in more visitors to your website and generate more sales. Adding more information is normally quite easy, but don't do it just for the search engines - make it useful for the visitors as well. Does "big blue widget" accurately describe your product? Probably not. How big is it? What shade of blue is it? What does it do? How does it do it? What makes this widget better than anyone elses widget? Also, check what information your competitors are providing - that could give you some good ideas for new content for your site.

Graphic Design

In the past, many people used slow dial-up connections to access the Internet. Web sites with strong graphic designs would take ages to load and people would be put off. The advent of broadband means that people can now visit graphically intensive websites without having to wait 2 or 3 minutes for the web pages to load. Don't be afraid to use a professional graphic design, but don't go overboard.

A good graphic design on it's own doesn't make sales. A good graphic design with poor navigation, poor layout, a small amount of text content etc will lose you sales. Make sure the design works for your site.

Don't distract the shopper. You need the shopper to focus on the products and BUY NOW buttons, not a bright flashing image or red text on the other side of the page. Get some feedback and comments from other people. Show someone a web page for a few seconds and ask them what they saw - if they saw the product and BUY NOW button then great - even better if they're able to describe the product and tell you how much it is - but if they saw something else, you may need to rethink your design (try this with several people to get more accurate feedback!).

Avoid building your website entirely in Flash. Search engines cannot read the text you use in Flash based websites, so fewer people will find your site from search engines. Likewise, don't use Flash for navigation - search engines may not be able to follow the links. Using Flash for certain images / logos inside standard HTML web pages is generally fine and can look extremely good.

Other Considerations

Valid HTML and Standards Compliance
If your HTML code is not valid, it may prevent search engines from spidering your site properly. Just because your browser displays the page, doesn't mean that your HTML is valid. Standards compliance helps to ensure that your code will be accessible to as many users as possible and that it will continue to be accessible in the future when new browsers are released. Check HTML validity and standards compliance using the HTML Validator from W3.org

Cross Browser Compatibility
This used to be a major issue back in the days of Netscape vs Internet Explorer, but these days, Internet Explorer is used by well over 90% of all Internet users. However, it's worth making sure your site displays correctly for the other 8% - 10% of Internet users. Don't worry about really old browsers like Netscape 4 - their days are over. Check your site with a couple of newer and more popular browsers like Opera and FireFox.

Accessibility
You may be required under the Disability Discrimination Act to make your web site accessible to blind and partially sighted people. The requirements are quite complex, but the law is the law. Try a search on Google or Yahoo for more information about accessibility.
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