Your checklist of 14 critical e-commerce site elements

Person ticking off tickboxes

You know that e-commerce is the way forward and you’ve spent time thinking through your e-commerce strategy for growth. You’ve even got your site set up – but are you really ready for an upcoming big event such as a launch or the new shopping season? Even the smallest amount of friction in your online shop can lose you sales. Our e-commerce site checklist walks you through assessing the quality and functionality of your site. Revisit this list periodically to make sure everything is still working perfectly.

For easy reference, download the 14 areas and their sub-areas here.


Your e-commerce site checklist: 14 critical elements

1. Website design and architecture

The way your website is designed and laid out makes a huge difference to a customer’s experience.

a) General design

  • Make sure the design, visuals, user interface (UI) and experience flow well and cater for all customer segments.

  • Aim for a design that is clean and simple with ample white space.

  • Ensure the design is fully responsive for any device.

  • Build trust using elements such as displaying a security badge, shipping and returns policies, multiple and secure payment options, social proof, Google Reviews and so on.

  • Show your brand logo on every page, with a link back to your home page.

  • Use corporate colours and fonts consistently across the website.

  • Provide live chat so customers can ask questions in real-time.

  • Give your customers multiple ways to contact you and make it visible everywhere on your site.

  • Do everything you can to speed up page loading time – this is a search ranking factor and also influences user experience and conversion rates:

    • Optimise and compress all your images.

    • Review page load time for key pages.

    • Minify CSS, JavaScript, and HTML by optimising your code.

    • Reduce redirects.

    • Leverage browser caching.

Tips:

  • Use Page Size Extractor to check the overall size of a webpage, including content and images.

  • Analyse your website’s speed using GTMetrix.

  • Comalytics can advise you on the best design for your business. You can choose from templates or we can build you a custom website.

    For a demonstration of our B2C sites, see here, and for our B2B sites, we do a demo either digitally or in person.

b) Home page design

  • Make this a clear summary page of who you are and what you do – and this value proposition should flow throughout your site.

  • Include at least one paragraph of text, more if possible.

  • Design your homepage as a gateway into all the major sections of your website, answering the needs of all your customer segments.

  • Display your most popular items, plus any current promotions or special offers, on the home page, with links to further information.

  • Advertise your shipping and returns policies.

  • Highlight any calls to action, for example: “Sign up for our newsletter here” or “Check out our new products!”

  • Include a section with the latest news or blogs about your brand and products.

Tips:
Avoid carousels – they take up space, slow down your site and people simply don’t notice them anymore.

This example clearly displays shipping and returns information on the homepage:

Image of a banner that indicates free delivery and returns

Source

c) Navigation

  • Make sure your navigation menu is simple and uses familiar terms.

  • Include a store finder in your menu.

  • Organise products in a way that makes sense. Taxonomy on an e-commerce website is both an art and a science – spending time on it is worth it.

  • Include facets and/or filters on category and product pages to help customers find what they want.

  • Include breadcrumbs on each page to show visitors where they are.

  • Check that your vertical and horizontal linking is in place:

    • Vertical links: Home page links to category pages, category pages link to sub-category and product pages as appropriate.

    • Horizontal links: Category pages link to other relevant category pages. Product pages link to other relevant product pages.

    • Check for broken links i.e. a link that leads to a non-existent or wrong page.

    • Ensure there are no orphan pages i.e. pages that are not linked to a higher page. This is important so search engine spiders can effectively crawl your website.

    • Set up 404 (error) pages where necessary. Here are some examples of fun and creative 404 pages.

Tips:

  • Pretend to be a customer, and make sure hyperlinks across the website work and take you to the correct and intended page.

  • Link Checker and Xenu are good tools to assist with broken links.

  • Checking for broken links and orphan pages can also be included in our SEO audit (see below for more on this).

2. Security

If customers don’t feel safe on your site, they won’t buy from you.

  • Ensure your e-commerce website is secure and that your SSL certificate applies across your entire site, not just to checkout.

  • Check that your url bar is showing the secure padlock and that the url says “https:” rather than just “http:”.

  • Make sure your website is professionally backed up on a regular basis by your service provider.

3. Excellence across all browsers and devices – especially mobile

In South Africa more than 50% of internet traffic comes from mobile devices, with 67% of mobile searches beginning with intent to purchase.

  • Test your website to make sure every aspect of it works perfectly across all browsers and devices.

  • On a mobile device, check that the header is visible but unobtrusive.

  • Optimise forms for mobile.

  • Optimise pop-ups for mobile.

  • Ensure cross-device checkout capability.

Tips:
Use Lambda to test your website across browsers and devices (Freemium option available) – or ask Comalytics to do it for you using our more comprehensive test.

4. Content

Content should be helpful and well-written, and also contribute towards your SEO.

  • Make sure your website has real and unique content.

  • Include useful and informative information such as product reviews, testimonials, tutorials, helpful internal or external resources, radio or podcast interviews, articles and/or recent news about your brand or industry.

  • Check for spelling errors, typos, and grammar mistakes.

  • Create a personal connection with an About Us page and photos of your team.

  • Ensure formatting is consistent.

  • Include strong calls-to-action with engaging text to convert visitors to customers.

  • Content should be ‘scannable’ using H1 (Heading 1) and H2 (Heading 2) formatting and tags.

  • Make your visitors feel at home and increase conversions by personalising your website as much as possible.

  • If you are going to blog (which is highly recommended), aim to have 10 blog posts, optimised for search, ready for when you launch. Thereafter, consistently post about 3 or 4+ a month. Quality is more important than quantity.

  • Include helpful contact and FAQ pages, as well as privacy, shipping and returns policies, and display links to these on every page, usually at the bottom.

  • Display links to all your social media pages and make it easy to share information or blogs from your site using sharing buttons.

  • Invest in creating useful content for your category pages to boost your SEO. For example, you could highlight the most popular brands or models in that category. Category pages are nearly as important as your homepage, but normally don’t rank well because they have little or no content.

This explanation of how to handle category descriptions may help:

Explanation of how to handle category descriptions may help

Source

Tips:

  • Use a tool like Grammarly to check spelling, typos and grammar mistakes.

  • Ask Comalytics to assist you with personalisation techniques on your website.

5. Search and search results

Between 10 and 40% of your e-commerce visitors will use your site search. These people are generally 4 to 6 times more likely to convert because they are ready to buy. So if your search results are prone to giving irrelevant or zero results, it’s time for an upgrade. A great site search tool has many of these 30 features, of which only a few are listed below.

  • Place your search box strategically on every page, usually towards the top centre or top right (for very large websites, it should be front and centre).

  • Ensure your search engine is super fast.

  • Make sure it has high error tolerance for spelling mistakes.

  • Check that your solution includes auto-complete and is optimised for synonym search.

  • Ensure that results pages are highly accurate and relevant.

  • Check your solution allows for sorting on the search results page.

  • Make sure that facets and filters are available to tailor the search.

Tips:
At Comalytics, we usually use Doofinder to upgrade the standard site search, but we are able to assist you with your choice of other software.

6. Categories and products

When people click a link in search results and are taken directly to a category or product page, that page creates their first impression of your website.

  • On both category and product pages, use uniform product photos. It is a design factor that creates a clean and calm user experience and drives conversions

  • On category pages:

    • Use the filters carefully and logically. Only use filters that are linked to the products in that category. Use enough to narrow down decision making. Filters that are common include size, colour, price, brand, reviews and even attributes like new arrivals.

    • Category names need to be descriptive and clear.

    • Categorisation of products into parent categories and sub categories need to be logical, self explanatory and intuitive.

  • On product pages

    • Optimise the product title so potential customers can easily see what it is.

    • Show the product code on the product page.

    • Supply as much product information as possible, so they know exactly what they’re getting, including photos, detailed specs, sizes and colours.

    • Write enticing product descriptions that creatively describe special features and the benefits of owing the product.

    • Include keywords wherever you can to boost your search ranking.

    • Display high quality, optimised images from multiple perspectives and if possible, with zoom functionality.

    • Where necessary, include visible reminders to choose quantity, size and colour before adding to cart.

    • Make sure the actual size of the product is very clear. For example, provide clothing or jewellery sizing charts, or show an art piece in relation to a standard couch.

    • Include product reviews and ratings to provide social proof. Also consider displaying photos of real customers using your products. Yotpo easily gathers this kind of social proof on your behalf.

    • Make sure the price is clear. The price for discounted products should be struck through, with percentage discounts shown.

    • Use ribbons to show any discounts or other deals available e.g. if the product is part of a bundle.

    • Explain shipping times and costs.

    • Consider showing live inventory levels to create a sense of scarcity and urgency.

    • Make it clear if a product is sold out and offer relevant alternatives. Also decide whether to allow back ordering or notifications when the product becomes available again.

    • Include any other useful content such as how-to guides or videos about the product.

    • Highlight the Add To Cart button.

    • Also offer an Add To Wishlist option.

    • Supply buttons that make it easy to share the product to social media.

    • Provide a space for customers to comment on a product.

    • Cross-sell and up-sell by using “other customers who bought this also bought…”, “recommended/related products” or “accessories you may need when buying this product” – and personalise this as far as possible.

Tips:

  • Software providers like Sirv offer dynamic product image functionality like 360-degree-spin and zoom.

  • Comalytics can add specific filters to your category and product pages for you.

  • We can also add urgency or scarcity plug-ins where needed.

  • Ask us about integrating personalisation software to your e-commerce site.

7. SEO: Basic on-page and technical optimisation

Optimising your pages helps you move up the search rankings. If you need more than the points below, you can access our SEO checklist here.

  • Keep the URLs of all pages clean, short and descriptive.

  • Give every page on your website a unique title tag that includes your keyword and brand name.

  • Include a well structured meta description on every page – this shows below your search engine listing and helps with click-through rates.

  • Optimise the text on each page with the primary keyword or key-phrase and its variations.

  • Include the primary keyword phrase in the Heading 1 (H1) tag.

  • Each page should ONLY have one H1 tag.

  • Optimise image file names and alt text to include primary keywords.

  • For expired product pages, consider permanently 301 redirecting to a new or replacement product. Otherwise, if the product doesn’t have a replacement or similar version, redirect to the parent category.

  • If you can, avoid duplication by writing unique and creative product descriptions and specs for each product. Sometimes this is impossible on e-commerce sites though, in which case:

    • Write compelling descriptions for your strongest products.

    • Add an emotional layer to the supplier description to add uniqueness.

    • Make use of user-generated content to differentiate pages from other pages on your site and from supplier pages. For example, get your customers to send you content like product reviews and personal stories through social media.

  • Use Schema.org that allows you to display review stars next to your listing in the SERPS. This dramatically affects click-through rates and adds a ‘stand-out’ factor compared to your competitors.

  • Continually audit your site (or ask Comalytics to do it) to identify basic problems with indexing, duplicate content, broken links, manual penalties and more. Fix problems promptly.

  • Use canonical tags/URL’s to eliminate duplication issues where necessary.

  • To rank your website, search engine crawlers need to be able to access your website and index it. To enable this:

    • Register your website with the search engines.

    • Get Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to verify your website.

    • Generate HTML and XML sitemaps on your website and submit them to Google, Bing and Yahoo! for indexing.

Tips:

  • Our Comalytics B2C software can assist you with the basics of SEO on your e-commerce website. Websites are search engine friendly right out of the box.

  • Google Webmaster Tools (Google Search Console) will generate a list of technical problems with your website, which you can discuss with your web development company.

  • Note that although SEO work is not normally included in the development of a site, it can be added to the project. Generally though, merchants sign up for SEO as an ongoing service to ensure their site is always up to date, search engine optimised and selling well. We can also perform periodic audits and fixes or ongoing enhancement. Contact us for more information on this service.

8. Shopping cart

The shopping cart is a critical part of the purchase process – make sure it works for you and your customers.

  • Make the shopping cart, number of items in the cart and order total visible in the header so the visitor can see it wherever they are on the site.

  • Display the checkout button prominently, possibly even in more than one place.

  • Ensure customers can easily change the number and size of products in their cart.

  • Make it easy for customers to delete items in their cart or, even better, save products for later.

  • Ideally keep products in a cart for 30 days, as customers sometimes browse and come back later to complete their purchase. Inform the customer when their cart will be cleared to avoid disappointment.

  • Ideally allow users to access their cart anywhere, anytime, even from another device, by associating it with their account.

  • Use visuals wherever possible in your shopping cart.

  • Ensure you have a reliable shipping solution in place, make shipping costs and timeframes clear throughout the checkout process, and offer more than one option (collect from store, overnight, 2-days).

  • If you offer free shipping over a certain threshold, remind customers of this to tempt them to add more to their cart.

  • Make several payment options available, with reputable badges, so customers can choose which one they’re most comfortable with. Include options that allow for instalments or credit, and/or don’t require them to share their card details (e.g. e-wallets).

  • Send emails automatically (within a certain timeframe) to customers who abandon their carts.

Tips:
Our Pargo and SmartFreight integration makes managing your shipping options easy.

9. Checkout process

Make sure the checkout process is very clear and simple, and test it rigorously.

  • Allow customers to order as ‘visitors’. Then integrate their registration into the checkout form, providing an easy option to opt-in or -out.

  • Make sure checkout is superfast and easy, with no barriers that might bounce customers away.

  • Ensure you capture emails as early as possible, so you can follow up with customers should they abandon their cart.

  • Make checkout as quick and easy as possible, preferably one page (see tip below). If you are using multiple pages, show a progress indicator as they move through the process.

  • Consider saving as much information as possible for repeat customers, so they don’t have to fill in their personal and delivery details every time. Ask your payment gateway about saving and displaying previous credit card details too.

  • Offer a space to type in promotional codes, but display this out of the way so it’s not distracting.

  • Ensure that password recovery is quick and easy.

  • Invite customers to continue shopping after they’ve checked out.

  • Include explanations and advice on filling in fields that may be technical or not common knowledge, for example, the CVV field.

  • During checkout, the header and footer (and everything else really) should be kept as simple as possible, so customers aren’t distracted from the checkout process.

  • Set up your system to automatically send a post-purchase receipt with details of what they bought, delivery information, useful product information, an option to cancel, and an invitation to join your loyalty club or sign up for notifications of new products.

  • Provide delivery tracking and information via email or sms until the package is in the customer’s hands.

  • Send an invitation to review the product a few weeks later.

Tips:

  • Ask us about our plug-in to create a ‘one page checkout’ for your site.

  • Test the ordering process from beginning to end i.e. placing the order, calculating shipping cost and making payment, plus the confirmation page and emails.

10. Forms

Forms are an essential part of the checkout process, but may also be used for newsletter or other sign ups, contact us purposes or quotes when prices are customised. Your website software stores each form submission in a database and your analytics software (like Google Analytics) records the submission as a conversion.

  • Forms are perceived to be a friction for most visitors and cause bouncing. So, limit forms to only be used when absolutely necessary – and then make them as short as possible.

  • Test to make sure all the forms on your website flow properly and are fully functional, also on mobile.

  • Auto-fill forms wherever possible, especially for repeat customers.

  • When someone submits an order or form, they should be taken to a thank you page and receive an auto-response email.

11. Legal requirements

Protect your business by getting a legal team to check the important details:

  • Review your website content to check for copyright, trademark infringement and plagiarism.

  • Make sure you have a clearly displayed privacy policy, terms of service and returns policy.

Tips:

12. Bringing customers back

It can take time to convert a visitor into a customer and then a loyal customer, so automate the process of bringing them back to your site.

  • Invest in email marketing automation software as well as retargeting advertising to do this for you.

  • Build your email list by popping up a form to capture addresses even if visitors are just passing through.

  • Follow up with useful information about the product they have bought.

  • Send occasional and relevant promotions that you know they would be interested in.

  • If customers haven’t bought for a while, tempt them back with a discount voucher or gift card.

  • Build your loyalty programme so it becomes desirable and worthwhile to stay in contact with you.

Tips:
Comalytics B2C software can be integrated with email marketing software packages like MailChimp or Yotpo and others, automating much of your marketing efforts and protecting your emails from being labelled as SPAM.

13. Analytics and other services

Web analytics helps you understand visitor browsing behaviour and conversion data.

  • Set up web analytics as early as possible – we recommend using Google Analytics.

  • To allow your analytics tool to collect some data before launch day, ask your web development company to make your website live with a “Coming Soon” page at least a month before you launch.

  • Set up retargeting and remarketing pixels from Facebook and Google on key pages of your website.

  • Use SEO tools to track your rankings.

  • Set up Google alerts to monitor any mentions of your brand name.

  • Check your website’s performance with “uptime monitoring”.

  • Use Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to check frequently for errors on your site.

  • When setting up your social and web profiles, claim your preferred username early and ensure consistency across all your platforms e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, StumbleUpon, and any others that specifically speak to your target audience.

  • Invest in organically building social media followers. Although social commerce is in its infancy in South Africa at the moment, it’s a fast-growing trend – don’t miss out.

14. Consider valuable integrations that can save you time and money

Automate as much as possible to eliminate errors and unnecessary admin.

  • Integrate your e-commerce website to Facebook Shopping, Google Shopping and Instagram Shopping.

  • Consider affiliate marketing programmes.

  • Beat your competition on comparison websites. Integrate to feeds such as BidorBuy, PriceCheck and many more, including international feeds.

  • Integrate to the Comalytics PIM system. This allows you to control all your product data and promotional material in one place. It also ensures you publish the correct versions to all your marketing entities.

  • To eliminate re-keying information, unnecessary admin and other delays, integrate your e-commerce site to your ERP, inventory management system, accounting system and/or supplier systems.

Tips:

Preparing for a launch or a big shopping event

Some of the tips in this checklist really only apply when you launch, while others are useful to help you prepare for big shopping events like Black Friday or Christmas.

Prepare your launch ideas and campaigns

Use the internet, your email, social media and PR channels to spread the word about your website launch in as many ways as you can:

  • Register your website in key, niche directories before launch.

  • Sign up with Google +, Yelp, Best of the Web, Bing Places and South African directories.

Tips:
For specifically South African directories, take a look at these suggestions.

  • Invest in pay-per-click advertising (we recommend Adwords and social media) until your organic traffic has grown.

  • Do a series of press releases.

  • Get in the press by pitching your story to editors.

Tips:
Consider Help a Reporter for international coverage.

  • Use your social media platforms well and constructively.

  • Create YouTube videos and blog posts ahead of time.

  • Send products to bloggers to review before launch.

  • Consider contest or game campaigns to win discounts and giveaways.

  • Plan campaigns to build your email list even before launch, while the ‘coming soon’ page is still up.

  • Get known in your community.

  • Network on forums.

  • Consider implementing a Comalytics’ B2B system to sell wholesale to other businesses.

Do a soft launch

Once your team and your web development company have worked through the points above, consider testing your website one last time using a ‘soft’ e-commerce website launch. This can be as simple as sending your final website to friends and family before you officially go live or, if you’re part of a big company, sending the website URL to other teams in the company for feedback.

A soft launch provides additional feedback from an objective test audience on your website’s usability and content. This enables you to fix any issues before the final go-live date.

The bottom line…

Launching an e-commerce website is a big step. Keeping it relevant and up-to-date, especially before the shopping season, is also no small feet. There’s a lot that can go wrong. Following this checklist will help you ensure you’ve covered all the bases, putting you firmly on the road to success.

Contact us to find out how our range of e-commerce products and services can help you grow your business, whether you’re launching or already live.



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