Now more than ever, all businesses need a well-designed website, particularly if you plan to sell goods or services online. The website for an online business serves many purposes: It attracts customers, can provide the bulk of the interaction a customer has with a business, and drive sales.
Why Does Your Business Need a Website?
Websites are particularly vital for e-commerce businesses. A properly designed website will funnel customers successfully through the buying experience. Additionally, a website is a robust marketing tool and provides potential customers with information about your business. It's essential that companies be where their customers are, and overwhelmingly, where the customers are is the Internet. Almost everyone, no matter their location, age, or socioeconomic status, uses search engines to procure information about a product, service, or business they are interested in. An informative and aesthetically pleasing website can help enterprises to turn these searchers into paying customers.
- Study Shows We're Spending a Lot of Time Online: Everyone knows most people spend a lot of time online, but a 2019 study revealed that the average American spends an average of six hours and 42 minutes online daily. That works out to a little more than 100 days a year spent on the Internet!
- Daily Time Spent on the Internet per Capita Worldwide by Device: Curious to see how Internet usage has changed over time? In 2011, the average user spent 43 minutes online via a computer and 32 minutes via a mobile device. By 2021, those numbers are predicted to be 37 minutes on a computer versus 155 minutes on a mobile device.
- People Spend Most of Their Waking Hours Staring at Screens: Screens occupy most Americans for the majority of the hours they are awake. From laptops to cell phones, Americans consume Internet content in a variety of ways. That variety of screen sizes occupying everyone is why responsive web design is a vital part of any e-commerce website.
- Here's How Much Americans Have Spent on Online Shopping Over the Past Ten Years: There's been explosive growth in e-commerce over the past decade. Americans spent $34 billion online in the first quarter of 2009. Ten years later, in the first quarter of 2019, Americans spent $137.7 billion online.
- E-Commerce: Men Spend More Than Women: All businesses should understand their target customers. On average, women actually make more purchases annually than men, but men spend more money on their e-commerce purchases.
- Quarterly Retail e-Commerce Sales: The U.S. Census Bureau releases data about retail shopping and e-commerce spending quarterly. The report from the last quarter of 2019 shows that e-commerce spending continued to grow throughout the year.
Website Design and Setup
There are six stages in the design and setup process of developing an eCommerce website. The first is project definition, in which the client expresses their wishes, a timeline is crafted, and the project brief is written. Next, the site structure is defined, and then work on the visual design of the site commences. Next, site development occurs. This stage is when the website is first built. Then, testing is done to ensure that all features of the site work: Are all links operable? Does the site take credit card payments properly? Finally, the site is launched. A style guide for the website should then be written up so that future edits and updates fit in with the aesthetics of the site.
- Develop a Project Plan for Your Website: A project plan describes the scope of work required to build the site, the timeline, the budget, and the resources required.
- Site Structure: Proper site structure is an essential part of a well-designed website. Users need to be able to move around the website purposefully and efficiently; sites with a poor structure frustrate customers with dead ends and confusing navigation.
- How to Design a Style Guide for Websites: It's easier for everyone involved to keep the site's design consistent if a style guide is written down. It also means that people in the future who need to tweak the site will know exactly what fonts, colors, and graphics are allowed.
- The Website Launch Checklist: 15 Essential Checks Before You Go Live: A website requires thousands of small decisions and functionalities. These 15 items are often forgotten but vital for a successful site rollout.
- A Beginner's Journey to Launching a Website: This first-person narrative talks through the decisions that go into creating an e-commerce site.
Coding and Programming
HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is the coding language on which Web pages are built. It's complemented with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) or scripting languages like PHP. Some websites are built with a combination of CSS and PHP. CSS sets the layout and look of the site, while PHP handles the back end of the site.
- HTML Introduction: It isn't necessary to learn HTML to oversee a site's construction, but understanding how it works allows business owners to grasp better what their website could be capable of doing.
- HTML Basics: This easy-to-understand tutorial covers the basics of HTML, which will help business owners understand their sites better.
- CSS Beginner Tutorial: A CSS tutorial designed for absolute beginners explains what CSS is and why it is used.
- What Is CSS? CSS Explained for Beginners: Watching CSS design in action can help many beginners develop a deeper understanding of Cascading Style Sheets.
- What Is PHP? This guide explains the scripting language and how it works with HTML to develop robust websites.
- What Is PHP Used For? Uses and Advantages: This guide lays out when PHP should be used and the advantages of the language.
Graphics give Web pages visual appeal. Well-implemented graphics can help maintain customers' attention and interest as they navigate the website. Graphics also provide visual structure for the information on each page. Graphics must fit into the overarching aesthetic of the site. They should enhance the information on the page, not distract from it. It's also important to consider the file size of graphics and if they could add up to a page size that will slow load times for users. Graphics should always direct the user's attention purposefully, not distract them from the critical content on the page.
- Web Graphics for Beginners: Wiredexplains Web graphics in this simple article aimed at beginners.
- Image Optimization: Images not only occupy visual space, but they also account for the majority of the downloaded bytes of a website. Optimizing images results in performance improvements for the site.
- GIF, PNG, JPG, or SVG: Which One to Use? Photos, videos, and other graphic components can be saved in a variety of file formats. This guide breaks down what file format to use for different images.
- Digital Image File Types Explained: All of the different file types are explained here along with information about compression.
- Vector vs. Raster Graphics: Learn about the differences between vector and raster graphics and how to convert one graphic type into the other.
- All About Images: Everything a website owner needs to know about images and how to use them on a website is explained in this guide.
Web Hosting and Domains
Websites live on computers explicitly built to host websites. Typically, sites are on multiple machines. Picking a website host is an essential part of launching a new e-commerce site. Considerations when selecting a host will include the website's footprint, the amount of traffic the website will get, and if the server offers features like server-side scripts. Most hosting companies will post this information on their website so that it's easy to see what the monthly price covers. A website's domain must be owned by the business or by the company they hire to design the website, not the host.
- Why it's Worth it to Purchase Your Own Domain Name: A self-prescribed domain addict lays out all the reasons that owning a domain name reinforces anyone's brand.
- Why Domain Names Are So Important: Domain names add credibility to your business, help establish a brand, and provide many other benefits to small businesses.
- How to Choose the Best Web Host: A Cheat Sheet: Picking a host can feel overwhelming. This cheat sheet breaks down everything a website owner should look for when choosing a host.
- Choosing the Best Web Hosting Service: A Buyer's Guide: Follow the advice in this guide to pick the right host.
- What Website Traffic Is and How to Interpret It: Traffic measures the number of users a website receives, but knowing how to interpret it is essential to understanding how well your site is doing and how much traffic it needs to be able to handle.
- Client-Side and Server-Side Scripts: A dynamic e-commerce site that sends customers reminders of abandoned carts or thank you emails after a purchase will require the use of scripts to automate the email process.
- Abandoned Cart Email Best Practices to Win Back Shoppers: Emails sent to shoppers who added items to a cart but navigated away from the website before completing the purchase can help turn browsers into shoppers.
Website Accessibility, Testing, and Management
Once the website is designed, the next step is to make sure the site is accessible. Accessible sites remove barriers for use by people with disabilities. Another consideration is to make sure that the website is fully responsive: A responsive website is a website that looks good and works well on computers, tablets, or phones. This is also the time to thoroughly test the site to make sure all features, links, and other content work properly. No one wants to launch a website and realize that it isn't correctly set up to take payments!
- Accessibility Basics: The U.S. government provides this resource describing accessible websites.
- Introduction to Web Accessibility: An in-depth article explaining web accessibility can be found here.
- Developing Accessible Websites: The nuts and bolts of creating accessible websites are discussed in this guide by the University of Washington.
- An Introduction to Website Usability Testing: Read a guide explaining how website testing works and why it's key to test a site before launching it.
- Five Tests You Should Run on Your Website: All business owners should run these tests on their website and then use the data to make informed choices about their site and their business.