Most of the sites you see on the internet are selling something. That could be products, services or advertising space. Today, online sales are worth over $25 trillion per year. That’s more than the entire US economy. As Christmas shopping hits its climax in lockdown, with most presents and seasonal bits being bought online, that’s probably not big news to you. It is valuable news though, as you can get in on the act so easily that it might surprise you.
As a Christmas gift to you, here is a guide to designing the site that will take you into the world of online sales.
Your first and perhaps most important decision when designing your website is what you want it to achieve.
For a sales website, sales is the obvious answer, but you need to think of what kind of sales you want to make:
- Direct contact sales – The customer rings a number or emails an address on the site asking for something and you go from there. This method is easy and cheap to implement but requires extra steps by the visitor, meaning fewer leads. It can be streamlined, or there are more effective alternatives.
- Click and deliver – This does what it says on the tin. It’s what most people think of when they hear ‘ecommerce’. It’s effective because it’s quick and simple for the customer.
- Online appointment booking – Like click and deliver but for services. Anyone from a massage therapist to a business consultant can make it easy for customers to pay online and book an appointment in minutes.
- Sales meeting booking – You can use online booking to set up meetings for selling services and products, especially complex or personal ones that require explaining or relationship-building.
- Launching long-term sales strategies – These involve keeping prospects interested in your offering until they need it. This is great for offerings like service contracts, where a customer is unlikely to buy the first time they see your page but may want to remember your company for when they need to renew.
Remember, you aren’t limited to just one of these. Although launching a site with one makes it simpler for you to design and for your customers to navigate.
Key calls to action
Once you have decided what you want your site visitors to do, you need to get them to do it. This involves calls to action (CTAs).
What are calls to action?
They are tools on your site that ask or direct visitors to take a particular action. They usually consist of buttons, links, forms and the content around them enticing people to use them. They need to be clear, bold, tempting and placed in parts of the site where customers notice them.
As a guide, start by putting a CTA at the top and bottom of each page and at any point where the visitor might be particularly interested in what you’re offering. After an explanation of your product’s benefits, for example.
Offers and reductions lead to great CTAs for making sales – ‘accept offer’ or ‘sign up for free trial’ will attract many more clicks than ‘buy now’. Meanwhile, you can use free information giveaways, called lead magnets, to ask visitors to sign up to newsletters or give you their contact details.
Remember there are legal limits to what you can do with customer contact details, and you generally need to get consent. This is a complex area, so contact me for more advice if you like.
In general, your CTAs should lead customers from the point where they entered your site to essential information and engagement-building content (if needed), to the purchase itself.
Keep the journey your customer takes from entry to buying from your site as short as possible. Don’t add extra pages or sections for the sake of it and make the journey from entry to purchasing as short as you can while still keeping the essential bits in there.
Alongside this, keep the site structure simple. Have at least one defined landing page containing CTAs, as well as links to different offerings and important information pages. An ‘about us’ page is also a popular option, as is a contact page, but these are both optional and can be rolled into the rest of the site.
To cater for all customers, it can be useful to have short content on your main pages, and any extra, in-depth content on a few information pages on the side. Blogs, about us pages and resources pages can be great for this.
A menu that remains the same on every page, usually at the top, is an important and popular navigational tool. Keep the size down to 5 or 6 options at any one time. This may involve using dropdown menus for bigger sites.
Once you have your website’s structure in place with calls to action as signposts, it’s time to fill it up with content.
If I could say one thing on written content, it would be this:
Keep it as short as possible.
Sum up your offering, your company and essential bits of information each in a few lines and put only what is needed between the point of entry and the final call to action.
A great way of summing up is writing everything out naturally, then simply going through it again and again, deleting bits until you have the shortest message possible. For every part of the text, ask if the overall message still makes sense and hits hard without it. If the answer is yes, delete it.
Keep the message clear and simple, as well as short. You should write so that everyone can read your text. Aim for a primary-school or young secondary reading level, with simple words and short sentences. The Hemingway Editor app specialises in helping you write like this.
Think and write from the visitor’s point of view, not yours, covering:
- What the buyer gets, not what you sell.
- How customers benefit, not what you do.
- Reasons visitors want to work with you, not the strengths of your company.
When you’re putting all your content together, avoid big blocks of visually unappealing text. Break these up with subheadings, lists, images, calls to action and other formatting variations.
Last, but definitely not least. Keep everything professional by avoiding basic spelling and grammar errors at all costs. The Grammarly app is great for this.
For more hints and tips on content, read my post on the subject.
Visuals are essential to your site, and modern visitors expect large, attractive ones on their big, screens. You can create these, pay for them or find free ones.
There are a lot of sites providing high-quality free images on the web today, so this route is more possible than ever. Just be careful you are not breaking copyright laws. Do this by downloading pictures from a license-free site like Pexels, Piqsels or Pixabay, or by going to Google Images > Tools > Usage Rights >Creative Commons Licenses. You can use all of the images you find here for free.
Free images are good because they’re free, but personal images created by professionals add character to your site and reflect your true business. A professional photo shoot can be a great way to do this. Find out more about photos and shoots for your site here.
As well as images, you will need to consider the wider visuals of the site, including its visual branding. Start by choosing a series of colours and common visual aspects like logos and buttons that tie the different pages of the site together. This is important to stop you from ending up with a hotch-potch site that can look amateurish and confusing.
Bringing it all together
The best way to think of your website plan when it’s finished is as a journey leading the user from wherever they enter your site to your ultimate objective. This is the customer journey.
On this journey, it’s important that customers:
- Are kept engaged with attractive, structured and relevant visual and written content.
- Don’t get overloaded with information but do receive your key messages repeatedly in different ways.
- Want to take your calls to action, leading them along the journey.
- Can choose a quick route to buying if they want, even if there is a longer, more info-intensive option.
Although you’re looking to hit your objective, the site should be designed around the customer and their goals. Aim to give them what they want, and you will get what you want.