Amazon – design a 4 year old can use was recently using Amazon at home and my 4 year old son joined me. After I’d completed my ordering he asked me if he could have a go. To put this in context he’s at the stage where he can recognise brands (e.g. Tesco, M&S, etc.), his own name and a few letters but can’t actually read other words.

I found it fascinating to observe how he managed to use the site easily despite not being able to read.

Add to Shopping BasketHe clicked the logo taking him back to the home page. On there he saw a product image he liked (Star Wars video game), clicked it. On this page he clicked a play icon to watch a video preview of the game. When that ended he clicked the yellow button with a shopping basket icon to buy it. He then looked further down the screen where Amazon displays other related products – items other customers bought or viewed – and found some Star Wars toys. By following this process of clicking on related products and adding them to the basket he soon had over £300 of toys and video games in the basket. He even seemed to understand the product star rating system.

This speaks volumes about how good the design of this site is.

It can be navigated without any need for reading text. Amazon‘s use of images and dynamically generating related images is superb. The human brain processes and recognises images and icons much faster than it can read text.

It’s obvious how to buy something even to someone with almost no previous internet experience. A clear button which stands out from the rest of the page bearing a shopping basket icon leaves no doubt about how you proceed to buy the product.

One final tip – if you’ve got young children make sure you don’t leave yourself logged in to Amazon or Father Christmas might be back sooner than you’d expect.

I want an ecommerce site. Maybe you don’t?

Taking a chance?I often get invited to quote for designing ecommerce sites or online stores and more often than not I actually decline the invitation. I don’t feel it’s morally right to invest my time and a customer’s money in something that is doomed to failure.

It’s not that people have bad ideas, it’s just that they don’t have a business plan. I think most of us know that most new businesses fail in their first year and online businesses are no different. All too often people see having a website as the answer when it’s only part of a larger process. I get the feeling that people still believe that they can spend money on a new website and then sit back and wait for the orders to come in.

Whilst having your own ecommerce site or online business is appealing it is a big initial investment for a new business and you should consider how many sales you’d need to cover the cost. If you can’t be sure that you can recover this cost within a reasonable timescale you shouldn’t take the risk.

There are other ways. I often advise people starting out on a new venture to start off selling through eBay. You pay a nominal amount to list your products and have to give eBay a percentage of your revenue but this is a lot cheaper and less risky than shelling out for a website. After a time, if you feel that there is a proven market and that you can make a profit then you can look at running your own site. Hopefully, if things have gone well, you’ll have a bit of money in the bank to invest too.

The Information Hungry Search Box

lionWe’re all used to the idea of search boxes on websites. The visitor types in a word or series of words which are then used to filter database results or web pages and return a list of matching results. It’s a quick and easy way of finding something without having to drill down through endless options.

From the web developer‘s point of view it’s a great tool which increases a website’s usability. From the web marketer‘s point of view it can do more.

By capturing the text typed into the search box the website owner can see what his/her visitors are searching for. This may be for existing products or it could be that they are searching for something not offered. Capturing and analysing this information can help have several benefits.

It can show where perhaps the wrong keywords are being used. It’s unwise to advertise the services of a “Heating Engineer” when everybody is searching for a “plumber”. Finding the right keywords allows you to change your text and tags and bring you closer to your potential customers.

It can help to shape a website’s navigation. If a particular area is of far greater interest than others it can be made more prominent on the site. You may even notice seasonal trends.

Where the search text is for products or services not offered by the website it brings the opportunity of developing the product/service range or working with partners to deliver these to the website visitor.

To effectively capture this kind of data you need to not only log the text eneterd into the search box but also the time, date and the user’s IP address. This additional information allows you to spot any duplicate results – there’s a big difference between one person searching for something ten times and ten people searching for something once. The date and time data allows you to see any seasonal trends or possible responses to any other marketing campaigns.

Even on a small website, which wouldn’t normally merit a search box, using this tool can provide you quickly and easily with details of what your website visitors want.

Basic Website Integration

Offline communicationIntegration is, in simple terms, making your website fit in with the rest of your business. At a basic level it’s about making everything consistent and not leaving any holes.

Consistent Information

Make sure that whatever information you have on your website is consistent with any offline information. Anything like details of a product or service should really be a word for word match as any anomalies could create confusion. Customers who are not sure what they’re getting won’t buy. Don’t kid yourself that they’ll phone and check; they’ll find the next website.

Customer Contact

Unlike a physical business your website is accessible 24 hours a day. Therefore, if you provide a phone number on your site you should make it clear when people can use it. If it just rings and rings they may not call back. You should either put clear calling hours against it, offer an answering service or offer a callback facility. This last option has advantages for both you and your potential customer – the customer doesn’t pay for the call and you don’t miss out on capturing the customer’s interest. Who knows if they’d still feel like calling you at 9.00am the next morning?

As well as phone contact you need to deal with form submisisons or emails in an appropriate way. Autoresponders are good. When the visitor sends you an email or submits a form they get an email just confirming that it has been received and will be dealth with. Set a realistic timescale for this, or better, set a timescale and then respond much quicker – exceed the customer’s expectations.

Integrated Web Design

A good web developer will not design your website as a stand alone unit but will look at how it integrates with your business needs.

Beat the Credit Crunch – Move Online

Save moneyWith all this financial doom and gloom in the media it’s perfectly understandable that many businesses are looking to cut back on spending and play it safe until the economy is more stable.

Starting a new website or investing money in website marketing is probably something that is generally viewed as an expense to be avoided in the current climate but a move towards web based business could actually save you money.

We all know that paper publications like corporate brochures are in decline and electronic media are on the increase. Now could be the right time to make the leap.

If you produce a brochure it’s probably costing you thousands. You’ve then got all the distribution costs – covering letters, envelopes, postage. With a website you’ve got an initial cost (almost certainly lower than brochure print costs), some annual maintenance costs (hosting, backups) and then internet marketing costs (promoting your website to get your business found). The big cost difference online is that when you come to the next cycle you don’t have this initial outlay again as you would with a brochure. There’s a huge saving to be made.

Moving your marketing publications from offline to online won’t just save you thousands, it has other benefits. With a traditional brochure the only way of measuring its effectiveness is seeing which of its recipients go on to enquire and then which buy. In reality most companies don’t even track this and don’t really know whether or not their brochure works but carry on with it blindly more out of habit than anything. With a website and online marketing tools everything is tracked, logged and measurable. Consider the advantages of knowing all this:

  • You will know how many people visit your website. With a brochure how many are read and how many go straight in the bin? You’ve no idea.
  • You will know which products people are looking at. Again, with a brochure you’re in the dark.
  • You will know how people found your site – from search engines, from other sites or by typing in your web address (from offline promotion).
  • With online advertising you will know exactly how many people have viewed your ad and how many have clicked it. Compare this with an ad in a newspaper or magazine – there’s no easy way of knowing how effective it is.

Moving your marketing from offline to online will not only save you money but will provide you with exact data which can be used to inform your marketing decisions. This means better marketing and less money wasted on ineffective marketing.