Avoiding the common pitfalls and understanding a few simple rules will help your website/online shop be found on the internet. You don't need to spend a lot of money, and you can do most of it -if not all-yourself.
As soon as you have a website or online shop (like with Ebay) uploaded you just have to sit back and wait for the orders to flood in. Right?
Wrong. The reality is that it's very unlikely that anyone will find your website. It will sit there in cyberspace completely unnoticed. It will be like a sheet of writing paper tucked between the millions of books in the British Library. You have to do something to make sure that it is found.
The first rule is that a 'bricks and mortar' (existing) business that is failing/not doing well will not do well online. Working methods and practices have to be radically changed for internet use. The popular term for this is 'working business models' - in everyday English it just means that a failing offline business has to radically change before going online otherwise there are no benefits.
You don't need to be a website designer or computer expert to create your own website/online shop. With the likes of Ebay, all the technical work that enables your shop to work is already in place; all you have to do is design the layout. It's all geared up to be very simple.
There are of course other options open to you. You can either buy a hosting package - 'space' where you can keep your website files and photos. Many hosts will offer a free co.uk domain name with the package and, usually there are website templates that quickly allow you to design the website. The first page of any website should be called index.html It is also convention to use lower case when naming html pages and images.
A basic hosting package currently costs around £80 a year. The likes of simply.com or streamline.net are but two places where you can get a hosting package/domain name. Another option is to buy a domain name only, and 'point' the domain name at your Ebay shop. As an example, years ago I bought the domain name sunchina.co.uk and 'pointed' it at a folder within the webspace that was supplied free by my ISP (BT Internet). Anyone who logs onto sunchina.co.uk is automatically transferred to the information I have stored in that particular folder on a BT server (it's about teaching in China). You can do the same and point a domain name at your Ebay shop. For example, if I bought the domain name 'cheesemadeinnorthumberland.co.uk' I could 'point' that name at my Ebay shop (which doesn't really exist..) http://search.stores.ebay.co.uk/cheesespleaseseverybody_W0QQsaselZ33210490QQsofpZ0
- and anyone lgging onto (www)cheesemadeinnorthumberland.co.uk would then automatically find themselves in the Ebay shop 'cheesespleaseseverybody'
Searching for a domain name
When purchased, you can create an email account such as 'enquiries' or 'admin' @cheeseplease.com - this will forward to any email address you use.
(URL forwards to:..)
Shown above: The domain name sunchina has been purchased (just the name, not any webspace). It has been 'pointed' to forward to webspace/files in a folder on a completely different server in a different company. You can do the same with any domain name you purchase - forward it to point at your Ebay shop.
Getting Your Website/Shop Found
Whichever route you go down, you still have the problem of making your website/shop known. Don't for one moment imagine that as soon as your business goes online the whole world will beat an electronic path to your door. Reality is very different. There are a few things you can do. Here's an example of the html code from the index page (first page) of my own website. Explanatory text is written in bold italics: (to see the source code on any website, right click on the page and then choose 'view source/encoding')
<TITLE>English Teachers in China - Description and Contacts</TITLE>
Give a different and meaningful title to each page on your website. This helps the search engines
<META name="description" content="Job opportunites for English speakers to teach in China.
Free TEFL course and you receive support from the Centre for International Education,
Sunderland University (UK) ">
The description describes what the website is all about. This information is displayed for the user on the results of a google search.
Below are the 'keywords' - here, you would write what words you think another person would use when searching for information about what your website/shop is offering. Put relevant keywords on each pge of your website
<META name="keywords" content="Teaching, China, teach in China, teaching English in China,
, vacancies in China,working abroad,
UK,teachers,job vacancies,academic, graduates,English speakers,Chinese Universities,
schools in China, universities in China,working in China, job opportunities in China,
schools in China,English,TEFL, ESOL, working in China,"
international education, British university, English university, British universities, English universities">
<META name="ROBOTS" CONTENT="index,follow">
'Robots' are also known as crawlers or webots - software packages that constantly 'crawl' the internet collecting information about websites. Here, this piece of coding simply tells the webots 'yes please, index my website and follow the links'.
<META Name="revisit-after" CONTENT=25 days">
This piece of coding tells the webots to return after 25 days and check for newer information/changes.
The online control panel (simply.com) where, once you have bought a domain name you can fill in meta tags (keywords) that will help the website to be found.
Search Engines and Directories
A 'search engine' may actually be a directory - similar to the information stored in a phone book. True search engines are radically different from 'directories'. Unless you pay, information is 'flushed out' approximately every 28 days. That's why bigger companies pay for inclusion in a directory/search engine ... their information is permanently held there and not 'flushed out'.
You can have your shop/website included for free. Do a search for 'free search engine submission' using the likes of Google. There'll be many results. Many offer free search engine submission with your url i.e submit your website/shop address http://search.stores.ebay.co.uk/cheesespleaseseverybody_W0QQsaselZ33210490QQsofpZ0 or (www) northumberlandcheeses.co.uk (neither actually exist). It will take approximately 6 - 8 weeks before your website is actually submitted to any search engine or directory (unless you pay for immediate inclusion).
In return for free search-engine submission the companies concerned will usually ask you to sign up for their newsletter (if you don't, you can't complete the sign-up/submission process ..). The newsletter is their hard sell - you may receive three newsletters a day from the same company. They're asking you to buy a better service guaranteed to drive traffic (visitors) to your site. Fine .. what they can't guarantee are sales.
Friends and Family
Get your friends and family to log onto your website/shop. The more 'hits' your website/shop receives the more the information is dragged around the servers and indexed by directories/search engines. Don't forget that if you also advertise in local papers it is also a good idea to include your website URL. The local press is still a powerful and inexpensive way to make sure your site does get found.
A visitor/'hit' counter can be obtained free of charge to put onto your website/shop - it's just 'copy and paste' code. Usually, the hit counter is put on the index (first page) and records how many people have visited that page. It's a completely pointless exercise that achieves absolutely nothing. It's akin to recording how many people walked into your local supermarket on a given day. The information is meaningless - You don't know where in the shop they've been, what they were looking at and even if they bought anything. Don't put a 'hit' counter on a website ... but do use a visitor analytics tool.
They're free and very useful indeed. Just sign up and submit the url of your website/shop. Shown below is the (free) Google analytics tool for a website that was created three months ago:
The map tells you which countries (and cities in those countries) have visited your URL. It records the number of visits. It also tells you how many of those visitors looked at other pages within the site. It tells you if they have revisited and how long they spent looking around.
Page views and visitor trends
There's much more information at your fingertips than shown here of course. Analytics/statistics give you a 'feel' for what is happening and gives an overall indication of what may be right (or wrong) within your shop/website. In this real example of a website uploaded 3 months ago, it shows that it was 2 months before there were actually any visitors.
It also indicates that the vast majority of visitors found the index (first) page and left the site within seconds. This is very common with a website and a good reason why a hit counter alone is absolutely meaningless. However, the data also indicates that several cities in Spain have revisited the site a number of times - and it is known that the majority of those revisits have been to a particular page within the site (electric scooters and motorbikes in this instance). It strongly suggests that there is a potential market/interest in selling electric scooters/motorbikes in the Spain.
Similarly, the statistics also indicate that in Algiers, North Africa there is some interest in lathes/trucks advertised on this website. The stats also indicate that there is absolutely no interest in computerised paper cutting machinery - no visitors to that particular page. Overall, the statistics give a good indication of where potential markets (what might sell..) lie and it's also a timely reminder that a website or online shop isn't static -it must change and adapt in response to prevailing market and economic forces.
As yet this particular website hasn't received a single order, which in itself is a timely reminder that a website alone is no guarantee of success. You have to give it time; change and adapt.
Static v Ecommerce Websites
E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods online. That's it. E-business is everything else - like the exchange of information. E-business does not include financial transactions. A static website does not change until you change the information within its pages. The term static does not mean there are no animations on any given page. It is the information that is static - until you change it. Your Ebay shop is an example of a static website.
If you had a static site and had 100 electric drills to sell, you would probably put a Paypal 'buy now' button alongside the photograph of the electric drill. When the 100th drill is sold you then have to delete/alter the webpage to prevent anyone else from buying a drill - as you have none left ..
An e-commerce enabled website uses SQL and PHP. SQL is the database and PHP is the language that queries the database and gives the result to the user. In practice, the database is set up to include 100 drills and for every subsequent sale, it deducts one from 'the stock' -automatically - until the 100th electric drill is sold and -automatically - it would inform the 101st customer that electric drills were out of stock.
Currently, a webspace with PHP/SQL functionality costs around £200 a year. Usually, to a limited degree, the company will also throw in 'shopping cart' code/facility. Both PHP and MySql are available as free downloads from the internet - though you will need a php server as well (software) if you want to run it/play with it on your computer at home. The Php server is also a free download (like the 'Apache' server software). Buy an e-commerce enabled package and you get everything- you use their php server. Quite easy to use.
Another golden rule is that if a website isn't useable, it won't get used. This may sound obvious but many major companies have found out the hard and expensive way. Irrespective of how technically good a website (or shop) is - it won't get used if it's difficult to navigate through. There is one and only one reason that somebody visits a website (or online shop) and that is to find information. Information as to prices etc..
You have 11 seconds to keep a visitor on the webpage. This isn't a figure plucked from thin air -research has established this. If the visitor doesn't see what they are looking for within 11 seconds, they go to another site. That's what really happens.
Information and Presentation
Avoid long-winded and grandiose mission statements like the plague. You've probably seen Ebay adverts along the lines of 'I pride myself on the quality of cars I sell..blah..blah ..and I have 20 years experience ...blah..blah..blah .. My aim is to ..blah..blah..blah..' and at the end of several paragraphs of hot air and drivel that says absolutely nothing it says '1975 Vauxhall Viva. £300'. Describe the products yes, not your own ego. Don't get off on the wrong foot by boring the visitor who'll take an instant dislike to you (and go elsewhere).
Avoid such nonsense as having 'Welcome to my Website/Shop' on the first page. There's no need to have 'click to enter' either. Do either of these and the visitor thinks they are being patronised - and will go elsewhere.
Don't use too many words. Writing for online use is not the same as writing an article or a book. The Internet is briefer, shorter and 'punchy' - The heading 'ladies shoes' alongside a photo explains where that link would take the visitor. There's no need to write 'Ladies shoes in red, blue and green, with different sizes ranging from 4 to11' Add extra pages to lead your visitor to their destination ... it's called 'breadcrumbing' - laying a trail to be followed. Ideally, the visitor should arrive at their destination (what they are looking for) within 4 clicks.
Home Page, Navigation and Scroll-Bars
Seven out of ten people do not use the horizontal or vertical scroll bars. This of course means that information on a poorly thought-out webpage will not be seen. When scrolling vertically, there should be no more than three sceen heights of information. Ideally, where possible, all the information on a page should be presented on one screen-height where scroll bars are not needed. This makes the page very user friendly indeed.
Most users get lost at some point within a website. When that happens -if the information they are looking for is within that website - they will click on the 'home' link/button and start again. It is absolutely essential that with the exception of the home page itself, each and every page within the website enables the user to return to the homepage.
Technicality and Colours
Nobody visits a website/online shop because it's technical and uses nice colours. Nobody actually gives a monkey's how technical your website/shop is - they just want to use it as quickly and as easily as possible. Don't over-complicate matters. Simple and useable rules ok. Whilst colours and layout can and do make a website look pleasing, they're not the compelling reason that brings visitors in. Don't make the mistake of spending all your time deciding on colours - it isn't an art competition. Concentrate on the functionality, useability and layout (pages...links) first. Everything else will fall into place later.
There's many options - usually at a price. When starting your own website the easiest way to accept online payment is to sign up to Paypal. Then go into their merchant tools section where you can create a 'buy now'/add to cart button within a few mouse clicks. The coding for the button can then be copied and pasted into the coding on your webpages. It's safe and secure and payment for orders is sent direct to your paypal account - just like it does when you use paypal within Ebay. Very easy to set up and use.