There are five things every business must know before building a website: What it’s for, what the budget is, who will create it, who will manage it and how customers are going to find it.
1. Why your catalogue is so important
When we shop in bricks-and-mortar stores, we all understand the importance of making things attractive to look at, and easy to find. If everything is lying in a heap, only those who are truly desperate for a bargain will bother searching through it. We’re far more likely to buy when things are clearly displayed, labelled and priced.
It’s exactly the same with an online store: As the seller, it’s your job to make sure your customers can find what they’re looking for, quickly and easily.
If they want to browse before buying, you want to make that a pleasant experience, not a series of frustrations. To get that right, you need to pay serious attention to the quality of your catalogue.
There are two elements to a good catalogue: How it’s displayed on the site, and what its actual content is. The first is your web developer’s job; the second is up to you.
2. There’s no substitute for hard work
Unfortunately, in most cases your regular product catalogue is nothing more than a good start when it comes to a web catalogue.
When there’s a physical shop, people can satisfy their curiosity by picking things up and asking questions. Online, you have to anticipate their questions by giving as much relevant information as possible.
You’ll need a spreadsheet for this, and for each item you’re selling it should list things like: Product name, product code, short and long descriptions, technical specifications (eg dimensions, weight, size, colour, voltage, materials, required accessories like batteries and whether they’re included or not - anything that’s relevant) and images.
If you’re reselling items you’ve ordered from someone else, their own catalogue is a good place to start - but you can almost certainly improve on it.
This is hard, hard work, but there’s no way around it. If you leave it to your developer, it will take a lot longer and cost a lot more. Besides, you’re the one who understands your products. But do check with your web developer early on that the information is in a format they can use, and ask for their suggestions about how to improve it.
3. Make it user friendly
If you’ve shopped online yourself, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of seeing shops list their products under names like ‘SPX7001 Mark II Widget (black)’.
Don’t do this to your customers. You may need a product code for your own admin purposes - but for displaying your wares, every product needs a clear name and description that will help customers find what they are looking for.
Don’t use names that don’t convey information: ‘Ariadne’ might mean lots to you, but it means nothing to your customer. If you must use a name you love, ‘Ariadne 3-strand Venetian glass bead necklace’ is more useful.
Test your names and descriptions out on friends and family members to see if they make sense. If there’s something that confuses people, find a way to answer the questions. For example, given the choice between a 20cm necklace and a 30cm necklace, most people would struggle to know the difference - show pictures of a model wearing each style and the problem is solved.
4. Yes, a picture does say a thousand words
Pictures sell - and better pictures sell more. If you have a big enough budget, consider hiring a professional photographer to take pictures of your goods - if not, do some research so that you can do a good enough DIY job.
For example: Take your pictures against a white background, make sure they are well lit by a white (not yellow) globe with no harsh shadows, make sure they’re in focus, use more than one angle and include a close up.
Ask your developer what size and format the pictures should be delivered in, and stick to that. (You will probably find they’re too big to email and you will need to use a service like DropBox or hand over a flash drive.)
5. Don’t forget other content
Your catalogue is an important piece of content for your site, but not the only one. Don’t leave it to your web developer to write your home page and other copy for you - design and writing are very different skills, and you can’t expect someone to be good at both.
There are at least two benefits to writing your own copy, or hiring a professional to do it.
- Firstly, it will do the job you need it to do.
- Secondly, you will probably find that writing down the story of your company and what you sell forces you to become clear about some things that were probably fuzzy about your own business. Use it as a learning opportunity.
If you can get these five things right, you are laying some of the most important foundations for a successful website.
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