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Website 101 With Expert Rick Segel

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Website 101 With Expert Rick SegelWant to learn what makes a store website unappealing—and how to fix it so it will attract visitors and turn them into customers? Rick Segel, principal at Florida-based Rick Segel & Associates, a firm specializing in retail marketing and retail sales training, talks about the components of a "simple" but well-designed site and techniques for driving traffic to your site.

Q. Why are some of today's best websites basic and utilitarian in design?

A. There's a new marketing term called "minimum level of perfectionism" that's contrary to all marketing beliefs. [It's the notion that[ once you reach a certain standard, levels above that are worthless and provide no financial reward. There's brilliance in simplicity in any type of design. For example, bluenile.com sells expensive diamonds and jewelry online but its design is basic and utilitarian. The Harry & David site (harryanddavid.com) is also very basic. It has no scrolling; there are two navigation bars, pictures and short copy.

Q. Please define the consumer phenomenon called "FSE" and why it makes well-designed sites so important.

A. FSE stands for "first shop elimination." People are doing their first shopping online, especially on bigger-ticket items. They are coming into stores with pages printed off their computers. FSE numbers don't show up because the sale wasn't made online; it was information [that consumers were shopping for].

Q. Why should retailers do their homework before designing their websites?

A. The biggest mistake retailers make is that they don't go shopping online to look at other sites that they respect and that impress them. These can be sites in their industry or others like jewelry, better apparel and furniture. Spend a half day or a day studying these sites. Make a list of the elements you like, the look and feel you like, and what makes the sites good. Also, decide how you want to position your business on your website. Think of Godiva chocolates and an [edgy, urban] coffee company. Both sell gourmet foods but would position themselves differently on their websites.

Q. What guidelines help ensure "good" site designs?

A. [Even with a simple design,] your website has to look professional. You want a design that's a little different and that stands out but is within acceptable limits so visitors can find items. Think of the Saab that's different because the key is placed in the console in the middle; it takes you forever to find where it goes! You also want your site to have the familiar feel of your store and your personality. Sites are all about pictures now. Think about how your photos are being used. A picture can set the mood. You have to have good pictures of the merchandise you are selling.

I reviewed the website of a home decor store owner in Maine who uses her very professional site for two purposes: to post her articles and to use "clickable" pictures to show site visitors the client work she has done. She doesn't sell from this site.

One category every retailer should have on his or her website is "Events." This is where retailing and e-commerce have seamless integration. You want to give site visitors as much information as is required to get them to make a decision and act! List all types of things going on in your store like contests and artist appearances.

Q. Conversely, discuss "the bad and the ugly" of website design.

A. Over 90 p ercent of people skip website "intros." Don't use flash, where items are flying in from both sides of the page. Also, anyone who puts music on a website should be shot! Most people surf websites when they're at work, so music is like the kiss of death [for a website]. Other "don'ts" are poor graphic design, colors and background; poor font choices or inappropriate font sizes; no focal point; poor navigation; and no store contact information.

I recently worked with an association with a website page that had a beautiful picture of its convention in sepia tones in the background. The typeface on the page was Times New Roman in a 12 point size, so it wasn't professional-looking and wasn't readable. Remember, you're not selling background, you're selling product.

Q. How can retailers drive customers to their newly-designed or revamped sites?

A. It used to be that a site would come up high in search engines if it was properly optimized (i.e. the website's copy contained keywords and phrases that consumers would typically use to search for items). Unfortunately, today there is so much competition with other retailers and referral services that generate traffic for store websites. One such free referral service is google.com/local (scroll down on left side of page to "Add/Edit Your Business"). This also allows consumers to find where your store is located and what you sell. Yahoo.com has a free referral service, too.

When I worked with the largest bridal shop in America, the store came up 102nd in an online search! It is almost impossible to get a natural high position with search engines. But don't ignore them! When you have a tool that doesn't take hardly any time, doesn't cost anything and can have results, why not use it?

Remember that search engines also search through blogs for words and phrases. (A blog is a website for posting thoughts and photos, getting feedback and more.) My weekly newsletter and blog are the biggest sources for links to my website. I download my newsletter to my blog every week. It's a cut-and-paste operation. You can create your own free blog at blogger.com and then have your webmaster add a link to it on your website.

Note: You can reach Segel at 800-814-7998 or ricksegel.com. To order a copy of his book "The Essential Online Solution: The 5 Step Formula to Small Business Success," log on to ricksegel.com

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