Things to consider for your online shop

Online ShoppingLast week, we had an email from somebody who was pretty desperate. He had set up an online shop, filled it with thousands and thousands of products and in the three or four months after release, still nobody had found his shop or ordered his products. The online shop at hand sells women’s cloths.

This guy isn’t the only one with that mindset. Unfortunately, a lot of people still think the internet will magically bring them a fortune without any more promotional work to be done. “If you build it, they will come”. If only.

Now we could easily sell people like this a review, and then have them rebuild their shop. But it only seems fair to guide the ignorant a bit, right? Here are some things to consider when setting up a webshop.

What’s the Unique Selling Point (USP) of your online shop?

A Unique Selling Point (or Proposition) is the main reason for a customer to switch products or shops. It’s the thing that makes your online shop better than the all the other out there. The concept was “first proposed as a theory to explain a pattern in successful advertising campaigns of the early 1940s” (from Wikipedia). I’ve also heard people saying the USP is dead and replaced by UBR, the Unique Buying Reason. Whatever you call it, your webshop needs it to stand out from the crowd.

Have you thought about this? Why is your collection of shoes better than the next? Perhaps you kept the environment in mind, like a lot of others? It’s tough to find that one reason why you’re better than the competition.

With your USP in mind, you can start building your online shop. In our reviews, we’ve found more than once that an online shop is just a collection of products and the human factor is entirely left out. That doesn’t mean you should add a live chat or whatever, but you should focus on a great About Us page. And for instance loads of positive testimonials and reviews for both your products and your shop as a whole. Something that’s left out even more is a blog. If you have a unique product or service, you must have something to say about it.

What’s the main eye catcher on the homepage?

Why would anyone list all their available products on their homepage? One of my favorite words is ‘clutter’. I just really dislike an online shop that shows a million different options for me to click on. I either already know exactly what I want to purchase and use Google to find it, or I visit your shop to see what you have that will make my life a bit easier. That’s a bit black and white, but it does emphasize the need for a great call-to-action on the homepage of your online shop.

A lot of online shops use sliders as their call-to-action. You already know our take on sliders, but unfortunately a lot of shops do use them. Especially when cloths are involved, an online shop comes up with great images in a slider. Apart from the discussion if static images or copy would convert better, you should at least create an obvious link or button on that slider. If possible, keep the same look for that link or button for every slide. And keep it in the same place.

Unlike thinking of a decent USP, it really isn’t hard to set up a decent call-to-action. Think along the lines of featured products or links to your sale or outlet page. Perhaps even a special page you’ve created for your summer collection.

Did you write great content for your product pages?

This will take some effort. Most online shops we’ve reviewed in the past year used manufacturer descriptions for their product pages. Just import that database or XML file and you’ll have a content filled webshop and Google will start showing your product pages in their search result pages. Think again.

This is probably the most common reason for cross-domain duplicate content for online shops. Most of your competitors will use that exact same description. So you can either:

  1. Forget about ranking with your product pages (which can be a valid decision sometimes), or
  2. Write unique product descriptions (or have someone write them for you).

Option one is only valid when you have common products that are offered all over the internet. You should at least use Product schemas and allow for customer reviews (unique content!), so you can focus on other content to make your site rank. Choose your categories with care and set up killer category pages. Maintain or set up that blog on your website. In short: focus on your Unique Selling Point.

The second option is much, much harder. Not if your webshop only has ten products of course, but with thousands of products it’s a whole different ball game. Hiring a copywriter might not be a bad idea in this case. It’s amazing in how many ways a good copywriter can tell the same story over and over again for similar products of the same brand. And prevent that duplicate content by doing so.

Do you create a safe environment for your customer-to-be?

Make sure a visitor feels safe enough to submit personal stuff like credit card details on your website. That doesn’t mean your online shop should just contain a lot of security signs. Yes, these should be added, but a secure feeling is also enhanced by other things, such as testimonials. And how about inline validation? Feeling secure is also about doing things right yourself.

An obvious one that is unfortunately forgotten by a lot of online shops: contact details. That large telephone number in your header makes sure I know I can contact someone if things go wrong. That address in the footer tells me you have an actual location I can go to with my complaint or damaged goods. It seems like some online shop owners just want to sell and prefer not to be contacted afterwards at all.

One more thing: Refund policies and Money Back Guarantees. Most of the times these are defined by law, so why not display these clearly on your website? A lot of your customers don’t realize they are protected anyway and don’t have a lot to worry about when purchasing anything from your shop. Listing these near checkout buttons is a great way to take away that last doubt.

Does your internal search work like it should?

Another pet peeve of mine. When you do a search in a webshop for “iPhone cable” and the results give back Galaxy covers. This might be personal, but when I do a search in a shop, I would like to:

  • See an image of the product,
  • view the product price so I can already compare products in the search results,
  • add cheaper items to my cart directly from these search results,
  • have a clear ‘click here for more details’ link,
  • be able to list all items instead of having to click to the next page (I can scroll really fast, you know),
  • have these results ordered by relevance.

If you do this right, I’d be in and out your online shop in no time and you can send over all these great products you offer.

Gives you something to think about, right?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In our reviews we cover this, and a lot more, so if you’re willing to spend money on getting our opinion, get one of our website reviews.

Also, if you run a website or build websites: you must have customer stories about this, or additional considerations. Perhaps you were that ignorant online shop owner in a past life? I’m looking forward to your additions in the comments.

27 Responses

  1. Mark Riley
    By Mark Riley on 18 June, 2014

    Michiel, thanks

    is there a particular theme you think is best suited for both e-commerce and seo?

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 18 June, 2014

      Good one, Mark. Unfortunately we haven’t reviewed all e-commerce themes :)

      Problem is that no two products are the same, and no two websites should be. If you are selling clothes, you need large images of people wearing those, and the theme needs to allow for that. A shop selling screws and nails needs another approach. I don’t think there is one answer to your question!

    • Dylan
      By Dylan on 1 July, 2014

      As Michiel mentioned, there’s no one theme that suits all. It would help to first browse around competitors’ sites to get a feel of product themes vs site themes. Often times, you’ll be able to identify similar elements consistently used throughout a particular niche. Hope that helps.

  2. Dave
    By Dave on 18 June, 2014

    Seeing this all the time with (shop) startups and it’s a pity. They’re spending (a lot) of money to develop their store and forget that they will need to invest (an ever higher) budget & more time to get people to their property.

    Even ‘sucky shops’ can do well when attracting the right people.

    That being said, i’m missing 1 thing that could be added here : find a way to bound people (aka micro conversions) to your biz after they leave your site because most of your visitors are not ready yet to buy from you.


    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 18 June, 2014

      I think there is a dozen things that can be added, to be honest. But from my experience starting with these is an improvement for every webshop.

      Social media and newsletters (I assume you are mainly referring to that), are indeed often forgotten. Have you read this post, Dave? That has some great additions as well.

      • Dave
        By Dave on 18 June, 2014

        A dozen is probably not enough yet :)

        I read the cart abond. post and not sure what your experience is but i have some very mixed results over here and feel that the numbers than can be found online, often stated by foks who are selling the tool, are a bit over rated.

        About the exit intend surveys. Lot of people are ‘leaving’ the screen to use the back button, not because they want to leave/close your page and than that feature is very annoying :)


  3. bikehound
    By bikehound on 18 June, 2014

    One more thing I’d add is site speed. If you want to stand out from your competitors make sure your site is faster loading than theirs, especially if you’ve got thousands of products you want indexed quickly. And please make sure your theme is mobile resposive and has alt text in wherever possible. These things may all sound minor but you’d be surprised what happens when you put all these together.

    And one last thig – not only should your search function be spot on (try searching for three letter product names as mysql can sometimes do funnky things with short or common word searches but even consider implementing an auto suggest feature for your search box to help guide your visitors to your prooducts and give them an experience they are familiar with from google.


    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 18 June, 2014

      Thanks for the addition, that’s a very valuable one. The Amazon example says it all: every 100 milliseconds increase in load time of decreased conversion/sales by 1 percent. That’s a lot when you are Amazon :)

  4. Franp
    By Franp on 18 June, 2014

    Great article! And what do you think about spintax text for description of a large number of products?

    • Bike Hound
      By Bike Hound on 18 June, 2014

      I’d think about what the experience would be like for your users if you are going for sales conversions.Personally I doubt its possible to do spintax effectively and maintain trust. For clickthru sites maybe but not where you’re trying to craft a professional image in the user’s perception of you.

      • Franp
        By Franp on 19 June, 2014

        I use spintax (with a very complex syntax) for very similar products and I noticed that Google does not dislike it. The spintax does not affect the user experience as well, because the texts are very detailed.

        • Michiel Heijmans
          By Michiel Heijmans on 19 June, 2014

          I agree with Bike Hound. Especially since Google seems to understand synonyms. Can’t imagine that Google doesn’t understand spintax – perhaps you’ve just been lucky sofar ;-)

  5. Mario
    By Mario on 19 June, 2014

    Interesting post and good advice. Would like to start an online-shop in the near future. Right now working on the right strategy and trying to find an theme that suit my needs.

    There are hundreds of e-commerce-templates on the market, more than 200 which are usable with woocommerce for example.

    All are with sliders, making the shop slowly and….

    You @ yoast seem to be right with your thoughts, so my question:

    Why you not offer special “e-commerce-themes”???

    And where are the other themes you promised?

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 19 June, 2014

      We’ve had some valuable remarks on our current themes that we take in account for the next theme that we will release.

      E-commerce themes is a whole different ball game, as these have to communicate with shop plugins and things like that as well. It’s not just throwing some html and css in a bowl and see what happens ;-)

      Just check our website now and then and you’ll see when the next theme is released! Thanks for your patience.

  6. Lawrence Mak
    By Lawrence Mak on 19 June, 2014

    I am considering to set up an online shop too in the near future, but I have to think of the problem of how to expose my site, how to advertise as I do not have big budget.

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 19 June, 2014

      Set up your shop right, start by focussing on your niche, see how social media can help grow your audience. And blog a lot.

      • Salman Alfarish
        By Salman Alfarish on 21 June, 2014

        Thanks for the advice, I will try to focus on my niche

  7. john simmons
    By john simmons on 19 June, 2014

    Very good points but to get a unique selling point these days can be difficult.

  8. Chris Sinatra
    By Chris Sinatra on 20 June, 2014

    It seems that there is a trend of adding more content to the home page below the fold. We run an e-commerce site and have started to add much more content to the Home Page. Have not seem much change in traffic or overall rankings.
    Not sure if it helps, hurts or really does nothing.
    Your thoughts?

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 20 June, 2014

      Your site needs introductory content. I do think Google will like this more above the fold, but understand the design issues that might give. I do think it is utterly important to make clear to your visitor and Google why you are the one to go to (USP/UBR?)

      • Dave
        By Dave on 20 June, 2014

        If your coder is a bit of a rockstar, just ask him to put that piece of text on top in the sourcecode while in front it’s sitting at the bottom of your page :)

  9. Chris Sinatra
    By Chris Sinatra on 20 June, 2014

    Really can’t thank you enough. Really appreciate it. I was not that aware of the Introductory content theory.
    I was thinking about making some tweaks to the Header that would include changing the Logo from an image to CSS as it contains one of our Keywords “Drape”.
    Also adding a small tagline beneath the logo. Do you think that this would provide for enough “Introductory Content”?
    Thanks very much!

    • Minde
      By Minde on 24 June, 2014

      hi, i would say you should definitely consider adding a tagline, moreover as Yoast is suggesting, you should place the text you have in at the bottom of the front page. You about.html already contains your 2 introductory paragraphs:

      “When you buy your drapes at DrapeStyle, you are buying directly from the factory, nothing here is “ready made”. Whether designing a home, restaurant or hotel, Professional Designers put their trust in DrapeStyle and each drape we make includes the same quality features:”

  10. Louise
    By Louise on 23 June, 2014

    I think your first point about the USP is so important. I come from a small town and they only let new businesses set up if they can offer something different to what is already being sold in town. If not, they are not allowed to open! Customers who are happy with companies that they use are not going to change if you are offering the same things. You have to come up with a brand or gimmick that is going to get people interested in your products, until then you are unlikely to sell anything.

  11. Marcel Werkman
    By Marcel Werkman on 25 June, 2014

    My advise is to be the best in a little niche and build from there. Each page must have a minimum of 300 words and hire a good linkmarketeer…