A third of Australians now shop online at least once a week, according to a recent Swinburne University study of online retail conducted as part of the World Internet Project. Our number of average weekly online purchases has almost doubled in the last two years and shows no sign of abating.
This might sound like bad news for traditional Australian retailers, but what it really means is that there are plenty of opportunities for those prepared to take the internet seriously.
Not every business lends itself to online retail, but it’s still important to have an online presence.
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More than 80% of Australians now use the internet as a research tool while shopping, even if they make their final purchase in a physical store. If you’re not visible online then you’re simply not in the picture.
It’s easy to get a basic business website up and running quickly, but a poorly designed and resourced website can do more harm than good. Is your business website kicking goals or is it letting the side down?
It’s important to develop an underlying strategy for your website. The old “build it and they will come” approach just doesn’t cut it anymore. Who will come to your website? How will they find it and exactly what will they be looking for? What actions do you want them to take next? Once you’ve clearly established the purpose of your website then the path forward becomes clearer and it also becomes easier to measure success.
One key to a successful website is effective search engine optimisation – give potential customers the best chance of finding your website. Make sure you use appropriate keywords throughout your site, especially in the page titles and major headlines. Create a search engine-friendly site map and include keyword-rich descriptions in the ALT tags for your images, to help give search engines a clear picture of your site.
Linking to other pages within your site helps drive internal traffic, so make sure the anchor text offers a good description of what it’s linking to. Cultivate reciprocal links with key websites in your field to help boost your search rankings, but don’t try to scam search engines by paying for links – Google is awake to such tricks and your search rankings will plunge rather than rise.
These days more and more people use the internet from mobile devices; quite possibly while standing in your store or perhaps one of your competitors. As such it’s vital to allow for mobile devices in your website design, perhaps utilising a mobile-friendly skin which automatically kicks in when it can tell you’re browsing from a handheld gadget.
This is particularly important if your website relies on Adobe Flash content which won’t be displayed on Apple’s iGadgets. Once again, think about exactly what people will want from your website when visiting from a mobile device. Take into account the limited screen real estate and make it easy for people to quickly find what they’re looking for.
Website performance on desktop and mobile devices is crucial, especially if you’re expecting heavy traffic. Use resource-hungry eye candy such as Flash sparingly, so as not to bog things down. Don’t skimp on hosting costs either, as the longer your website takes to load the more likely someone is to change their mind and look elsewhere. Australian-based web hosting is often more expensive than US-based hosting, but in return complicated websites should load faster for Australian users. Also optimise your website to ensure that key components load first, so people can start reading while the rest of the page loads.
Regardless of what your business does, it’s worth running a regular health check on your website to ensure that it’s still delivering the goods.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.