E-commerce in the UK has been growing consistently over the past decade and more. It’s a market that will continue to grow in both revenue numbers and importance for years to come.
For this reason, any business looking for future growth and to meet the needs of its customers should be online.
COVID-19 has also heightened the need for businesses to pay more attention to online channels. They can offer an alternative revenue stream if physical stores are forced to close or operate under restrictions.
Even if businesses don’t sell online directly, online offers another channel for communication and a way to build awareness.
Stats from 2019 show that 47% of SMEs aren’t currently selling online, while a quarter don’t even have a website.
In this article, I’ll look at some key tips for building a website, from choosing a domain and platform provider to key features and technology and basic design tips.
Building a website from scratch is an option if you have the skills and knowledge (and time) but often the best option is an out-of-the-box website solution.
This may be a CMS like WordPress for a blog or promotional, non-transactional site or an e-commerce platform for retailers.
An e-commerce platform is the software which allows the retailer to control their e-commerce operations. They provide the front end of the business – the website that people visit and order from, and tools to manage key functions such as managing orders, adding stock and customer service.
A CMS (content management system) is a platform used more often for non-e-commerce sites (though many sites use a mixture of both) to publish webpages, blogs and other content.
For example, a CMS could be used for an offline business to showcase products and services online, with the main aim of driving users into physical locations (perhaps through the addition of a booking system).
Whether your site is transactional or not, it’s important to think about your business needs when choosing a platform, as well as the level of knowledge needed to manage them.
For example, some solutions will manage everything for you, hosting your website, managing payments and providing templates for website design. If you lack the coding skills or time, then solutions like this can save a lot of time, although the drawback is that there are sometimes fewer options to customise and adapt sites.
Domain names are basically the address of your website, johnlewis.co.uk for example.
When choosing a domain name, it’s important to think about the name you want, what domain extension you’ll choose and which registrar to buy it from.
You’ll want to secure your own business name, or something very close. Using a tool like this one for .UK domains, you can search for the name you want to see if it’s available or browse variations if it’s not.
Think about how easy it is to remember and how it would look on business stationary, vehicles, emails and so on. Simple and short can be better if you can find the right one.
Then there’s the domain extension which is the part you see at the end of web addresses, .co.uk, .com, .org and so on. For example, you might want to choose a domain ending in .UK to showcase to customers that you’re a UK business.
Once you’ve decided on a domain, the next step is to choose a registrar, a company through which you can buy your domain name. It can pay to compare prices and services – some may come with add-ons like email addresses or hosting services for example.
Make sure you have up to date security software on your website and look at the security options provided by the web platforms and payment gateways you choose.
For retailers, security is a key concern for shoppers and is an area you need to be on top of. It can also pay to think about key features and content that can help reassure new shoppers that a website is secure.
This may mean some wording around the security practices you’re implementing, making sure you’re using recognised and secure payment methods and displaying any seals which can confirm your level of payment security.
Even if you’re not selling direct to customers online, security is still a key concern. Users need to feel safe visiting and browsing your website.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when designing a website.
It’s more important that the site is easy to use and allows visitors to find the information they’re looking for.
For example, customers should find it easy to browse products and checkout without any problems on an e-commerce site. This is important to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform – a front end with good basic usability will convert traffic into sales more consistently.
For non-transactional sites, users should find it easy to navigate through your pages and find information they’re looking for quickly. This could be pages on your COVID-19 policies, booking forms or more information about your business.
Google Analytics gives you valuable insight into how people are using your website. It can help you to evaluate marketing efforts in terms of driving traffic to your website and identify problems which may be affecting conversions.
It’s relatively easy to setup analytics through the steps below, and Google has some more advice on setting it up for your website here.
Depending on your choice of e-commerce platform, payment may be included in the software. Otherwise you may need to look for a payment gateway that can handle payments and payment security.
One thing to consider is the choice of payment methods you want to offer customers. Credit and debit cards are a must, but it also pays to offer some choice to cater for all customer preferences.
For example, offering other recognised payment methods like PayPal (like in the example from ASOS below) provides a useful alternative which can shorten the checkout process by using saved card and address details and can lead to more conversions.
In addition, mobile-friendly payment methods like Google Pay and Apple Pay can appeal to mobile shoppers and overcome mobile checkout issues.
The homepage isn’t necessarily the most important page on your site, as much traffic will come directly to product pages and landing pages from search, email and other marketing channels.
A large amount of traffic can still enter the site on the homepage however, so it’s important it’s there to signpost users to what they want to find on site, through clear navigation options, links and menus.
The homepage can also be where people first get an impression of your site and brand, so it’s an ideal place to explain your products, business philosophy, or other key selling points.
Keep the homepage simple and easy to navigate and also use it to highlight key products, categories, information and content you want to promote. You can find some tips to creating a winning homepage design here.
Product pages are where visitors make the decision whether to buy a product from you, so these pages matter. This decision is based, at least in part, on the information and images they see.
Here are some key features and information to present to visitors on your product pages:
This is where your efforts can really pay off. A checkout that is simple and easy to use will help more customers to complete a purchase and improve your revenues.
If choosing an out-of-the-box option, look for one with simple and clear checkout forms that will present no obstacles for buyers. It’s also important that it works well on mobile – in this case the availability of mobile payment methods can help.
It’s as important to monitor checkout performance through analytics so you can identify problems and areas for improvement.
Whether you sell online or not, users will come to your site looking for key information relating to your business.
It’s important to ensure that this information is easy to find, and that it’s accurate and up to date. If for example, your opening hours change, then it’s vital to keep this up to date online.
Think carefully about what your customers will be visiting your website for and how you can make that information quick to find and easy to understand. For example, people may be looking for information relating to changing circumstances such as Christmas opening hours or ordering times.
It’s also really important that visitors can find the information they need on the device they’re using. Make sure that your website is responsive and works across multiple devices including mobile, tablet and desktop/laptops. You can find out more about making your site mobile-friendly here.
It can also be a good idea to get friends and family to try using your new site as they may be able to flag any potential improvements or areas they struggled to use.
It’s not enough just to be online, you need to look at ways to attract people to your site.
There are many different channels and techniques that you could try to help build awareness and attract people to your website, including:
For more detail on these areas and more, take a look at this guide to increasing online traffic, with lots of tips to build an audience online.
When you’re creating a website for your business, there’s a lot to think about, and plenty of options to consider.
As a general rule, it’s important to maintain focus on key areas, such as a memorable domain name, a platform that is easy to use and a good user experience for site visitors.
It can pay to start simple, with a website that offers the kind of functionality that web users expect and building from this point as you learn more about the way people use your website.