An interesting eCommerce success factor that isn't precisely overlooked, but which is often thought about more in terms of being a way of feeding the search engine spiders has to do with providing content. In a very real sense the customer's job is to consume. That's why you're in business.
Think in terms of providing the information your customers need to do their job of consuming. What does that mean? Consider what you sell. The content on your site needs to focus on your products - whatever they happen to be. Reviews and comparative information on the items available through your web site can help focus and direct your customer to what they need, want and can afford.
Too often eCommerce sites use only marginally relevant information as content - or content that may match the general theme of the site but has nothing to do with what's being sold, promoted, etc. That could be more or less adequate as spider food, but it isn't going to help your customers do their job of consuming your products.
The better you combine these two goals - informing your customers and feeding the spiders - the better you'll do at both. Irrelevant search listings are pretty much a waste of your bandwidth. What you want is highly targeted customers interested in what you're offering and since the search engines love focused content and integrated sites, make that work for you.
And I'm not suggesting blatant repetitive hyped up sales copy. You want to inform, compare, offer added information that will help focus your customers. Use your content to develop desire and provide comparative information on similar products at varying price levels. Remember: desire not need.
While we all need things - and while you may be convinced everyone absolutely needs your product - we mostly buy based on desire - because we want it. The better you do at turning that need into immediate desire, the better your site will perform.
Again, not a fevered sales pitch. That's likely to turn off a large number of customers. Examples, stories and carefully chosen (and real) testimonials can support the process, too. Using video and/or audio can have a dramatic impact. Let your customers draw the obvious conclusions.
Along with providing plenty of comparison and review data, good search facilities are essential for a large eCommerce site. This also means that if you use a searchable product database that your keys and descriptions must be well-chosen and the links from search results to pages work smoothly and easily.
While we've talked earlier in this series about the importance of providing various ways to enhance the social aspect of your site, it's also important that customers be capable of using it without assistance. Never over complicate your site or your processes to the point that it's no longer obvious what to do to buy something (or complete whatever desired action you are focusing on).
A typical customer should be able to go from front page to product page to order page to thank you page easily and without hesitation or confusion. The simpler and cleaner the process, the better for you.
If you can manage it, test with 4 or 5 basically internet illiterate people. Watch carefully what they do, where they hesitate, what seems to cause confusion - but don't talk or help during the process. Then go over everything with them in detail working with your observations and their thoughts and feelings. Your site may be obvious to you, but is it obvious to anyone else?
And when you think you've covered anything, a few pairs of new eyes (or checking out your competitors’ sites) can give you a whole new to-do list.
Your eCommerce site is an intentional business creation. Every aspect should be organized around what you want the site to do, what kind of visitors you want and what you want them to do. Everything on your site should be there for a specific reason that contributes to your goals for the site. And everything should be tested to be certain that it actually does contribute.
It's your site and your business so never take anything for granted, never assume something works if it can be tested. And never stop testing. With careful attention to detail and on-going testing you'll be able to make incremental improvements over time that will vastly improve the productivity of your eCommerce web site.
Copyright 2005 Richard Keir
Aside from writing, Richard teaches, trains and consults, on and off-line, on business and professional presentations, eCommerce, site building and programming.
Visit http://www.Building-eCommerce-Websites.com for eCommerce articles, information, resources and links and check our blog at http://www.Building-eCommerce-Websites/blog for opinion and ideas.