Top of the hits parade: Tabitha Potts, with sons Felix, 7, and Rufus, 5, uses Google, Facebook and Twitter to attract customers
Simply rewriting the tags and straplines on your home page can turn browsing visitors into paying customers
A few simple changes to Jamie Wallace’s website resulted in soaring sales for his business, Granny-jacksons.co.uk, which sells Scottish confectionery to homesick expats.
The move from a simple home-made website to a slicker retail operation was inexpensive, said Wallace. “The appearance of the original site was amateur and messy. It looks much sharper now, with more welcoming web pages, and the site is more internationally focused.”
Thanks to these changes and creative marketing, Wallace said, online sales have grown to 50% of total sales, up from 5% when he started the business in 2007. Wallace, 30, runs the website part-time from Glasgow. Sales this year should be about £20,000.
Will Sussman saw bookings rise almost overnight when he revamped the website for Meribel-skichalets.co.uk. “I made silly mistakes on the original website, such as white print on a blue background,” he said. “We changed it to black on white, made it all much clearer, got a new logo and spent money on nice images.”
The chalet holiday company, set up in 2001, saw swift results. “In less than a week I had phone calls from customers saying they were booking because they loved the website,” said Sussman, whose UK base is on the Isle of Wight.
The changes he and Wallace made show the importance of the virtual shopfront, yet many small firms are unaware of simple and inexpensive ways to boost sales, said Aneesh Varma of FabriQate, a digital agency.
Studying your site traffic is a good place to begin to identify simple improvements, said Varma. “The most important first step is to evaluate where the customers come from. Are they arriving by word of mouth, via the search engines or from direct links through an ad campaign?”
Website analysis tools, such as Google Analytics, can help to do this as well as identify what is deterring potential customers, he said. “It will show you things such as the bounce rate, when people enter your site and then leave right away, and the abandonment rate, when they start filling the shopping cart and then leave. It may show people getting lost on page three, for example, which lets you know that you need to redesign it.”
Simply rewriting the tags and straplines on your home page can turn visitors into paying customers, said Varma. “Perhaps you are driving people away by asking for their date of birth or other information you don’t really need. Making the customer journey easy and obvious is important. Usability is paramount. If users get confused, you have lost them.”
Testing ideas for your site is useful. “Get family members or friends to play with the site. Are there things they can’t cope with?” said Varma.
Wallace imagined his site as a real sweet shop before he began his redesign. “I think in terms of shop shelves, not categories. I asked myself what products should I put on my shelves and which products do I want to be most prominent?” he said.
Simple improvements should not be difficult for anyone with a website built on a content management system, said Varma. “The latest systems don’t require special coding knowledge. You should not need to contact your IT guy to make small changes.”
Creating richer, more in-depth content is another way to improve sales, said Varma. “You can show all of the product label, add images and include all the information that comes on the box.”
Marketing services are getting cheaper and in some cases are free, said Wallace. “Mail Chimp is a good campaign management tool and is free to use for mailings of up to 500 customers.”
Tabitha Potts, the founder of Mimimyne.com, an eco-friendly childrenswear and toy retailer, has grown website traffic to 3,500 hits a month since launching last year.
She recommends listing a business in Google’s Local Business Centre. “It’s a good way to attract local searches. I also use Google Base, which gives you the chance to create links to your site with images and product descriptions. It’s a bit of a bore listing your products and names but it gets you up the Google rankings.”
Potts, who is based in east London, is looking at more proactive marketing: “I’ve seen discount coupons work well for other people and I am planning to introduce my own. You should be tweeting vouchers and passing them to your newsletter subscribers and Facebook group.”
Wallace recommends regular visual updates. “Having different themes — using Christmas banners, for example — shows you are up to date.”
Good salesmanship can work online as well as in the high street, he said. “The customer experience is so important. Using creativity and having fun is not something we do enough. I wrote a Scottish sweetie poem on my blog that I think reminded Scottish expats of what they were missing and gave them a sense of who I was. Over the next four weeks sales rose.”