January 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Merchants offer tips on web design and search engine strategies

Speakers at this year’s Internet Retailer Web Design ‘09 Conference in Miami Beach, FL, shared tips on everything from home page design to ways to cozy up to the search engines.

Speakers at this year’s Internet Retailer Web Design ‘09 Conference in Miami Beach, FL, shared tips on everything from home page design to ways to cozy up to the search engines. The following are a sampling.

Explain yourself: Put text about top selling products first on your home page, rather than just your brand name. That will help search engines quickly identify what you sell and boost your web site search results, said Marion Sharkey, vice president of business development at PM Digital and Stephan Spencer president of Netconcepts.

Conduct a spur of the moment keyword analysis: Google offers a ready keyword research tool for free-right within a browser, said Spencer during his presentation, “Top Design Tips to Boost SEO Rankings.” When typing in a keyword, Google offers predictive word suggestions based on past searches. Retailers can use these terms to find out the most popular phrases shoppers are searching under and purchase keywords accordingly.

It’s not all about you-at least not at first: The home page is prime real estate. Retailers should think long and hard about what they put on it, said Jennifer Bailey, usability services manager, ForeSee Results, and Scott Kincaid, vice president, Usability Sciences Corp. Extra information that does not drive a purchase such as an “About us” link should go elsewhere. The same is true for a visitor counter, the experts said during their live reviews of retailers’ web sites. A retailer may care about how many shoppers land on the page, but consumers typically will not. Merchants also should think about things that simply don’t make sense, such as Proceed to Checkout, Shopping Cart or Home buttons. Consumers first arriving at the home page can’t checkout and their shopping carts are empty, so such features do nothing but take up space.

Don’t “Click here”: Search engines like link-rich web sites. But it’s important that the phrases linked contain words relevant to the merchant’s business. Generic phrases such as Click Here or Learn More tell search engine spiders little about the page or the information on it and thus will not help boost search engine results, Sharkey and Spencer said during their presentation. Replace such links with more detailed phrases such as: “Green wool cardigans.”

Advertise security, but not too much: Consumers like knowing the site where they transact is secure, but if retailers advertise that too much, it can work as a disadvantage, Bailey and Kincaid said. Shoppers may question why a retailer feels the need to market its security so much and wonder if the site has had problems in the past. Symbols such as McAfee and TRUSTe are best on the bottom of a home page, not the top.

Consumers are lazy: They won’t read much text on a home page, or anywhere on a web site for that matter. Keep text short and to the point, advise Bailey and Kincaid. Also, use bullets to help shoppers better skim for important information. And bold the most important words and phrases.

Know your customers, and speak to them accordingly: If a retailer serves international customers, it’s wise to steer clear from U.S.-centric jargon, Bailey and Kincaid said. For example, many retailers leave the “1” out before a 1-800 number, but foreign consumers may not know to dial the “1” first.

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