Website Design: eCommerce

A Better Business Website

You may know that I come from an IT background and spent about 14 years in the web and eCommerce space before launching a restaurant business in 2007. I still manage various websites, marketing, social media, etc and thought I would share a few cornerstones of what makes a successful website that can be applied to your business.

Start with Why

This is the first question you need to ask.

Why does your website exist? Why are people be visiting your website?

These are the fundamental questions you need to answer before you even design a widget or cut a line of code. The answer to this question defines what you need to achieve.

Once you have your big why, you can start designing the site and writing your content.

How you write your content is also crucial. Copywriting (which I also offer) is an art and skill in itself and can make the difference between successfully converting (closing) site visitors or not.

Make Sure Your Website Can be Found

This is a combination of technology and search engine optimisation. You need to make sure your pages are coded cleanly and don’t have things hidden in them that search engines object to. Most modern design takes this into account with cross-platform (ie mobile-ready) design, but it’s an important question to ask of your designer.

This section offers you shortcuts to building a cleanly-coded website without needing technical skills.

I used to hand-code websites around the turn of the Millenium and always used the optimal coding for search engines so nothing got in the way of them being indexed. I delivered this for a number of SMEs moving them up to the first page in Google.

Fortunately, technology has advanced a lot since then and there are content management systems that do the job for you so you don’t need to worry. Also, a hand-built site will need maintenance going forward which is a hidden cost.

I advocate WordPress as the go-to choice of platform on which to build your website (approximately one-third of all websites are built using it). I would also recommend buying a commercial theme from a site such as CodeCanyon. This ensures you get a standards-compliant, mobile-friendly, optimised theme for your site. Plus, the theme is maintained and your license fee includes the updates so your website will always be in tip-top condition.

However, remember if you buy a third-party theme that you are at the behest of the developer. If they stop updating it you risk your site’s code getting outdated and potentially developing security vulnerabilities (see also the next section).

WordPress provides you with easy-to-use editing facilities so you can manage your pages and content whenever you choose. One word of caution – some themes you buy use additional plug-in editors to help you create more fancy looking pages. These editors have a learning curve associated with them and may not be as straightforward to use. One site I worked on uses the Bold Builder plugin for example which I found hard work to use. Do your research into each theme to determine if it uses any additional plugins to extend the functionality or if it uses the standard Gutenberg blocks editor shipped with WordPress. Remember that additional plugins will generate additional code which may impact your search engine optimisation.

There are other ways to build your site’s theme which get round these pitfalls and give you more design flexibility, but it’s a trade-off between learning the design environment versus plugging in a good design and getting on with launching your site.

Make A Secure Choice

WordPress is constantly updated to keep it secure, but you need to ensure you click ‘update’ to keep it safer. Given that a third of the web is built on WordPress, it is a regular target for hackers so you should take further steps to harden (make more secure) your online business presence. Here are a few key things I recommend:

  • Use the Akismet anti-spam plugin (or disable comments of posts and pages)
  • Set the plugins to update automatically.
  • Install the Wordfence plugin. This installs a firewall and security scanner on your site and protects you against most attacks. There is a free version but the protection signature files are 30 days old. The paid-for version gives you fully up-to-date signature files. The security scanner is great as it checks your installation vs the central repository of WordPress in case something changes that shouldn’t and offers you a 1-click fix option. You can also add two-factor authentication to protect your login, and auto-update minor WordPress updates.
  • Install a backup plugin (like Updraft Plus which is free) and set your site to backup daily to an off-site location (like Dropbox). Your website host may also offer this, but a full WordPress backup of your own is very valuable.
  • Add the GA Google Analytics plugin (or similar) to integrate your Google Analytics (traffic) code. You will need to create an account with Google Analytics if you haven’t already.
  • Create a Google Search Console account also and ensure your site is verified with Google. This creates better credibility for your site and the Search Console also gives you further analysis of your site performance for mobile, site maps, and any issues that Google objects to. As they change the rules, you get an advanced notification to be able to make changes as needed.
  • Install an SEO plugin like Rank Math or Yoast to configure key elements to help your SEO efforts. Rank Math is more in-depth but both are excellent depending on your needs. Although WordPress can be used to automatically generate site maps (which Google loves you for), bespoke SEO-related plugins do these and also ping search engines to tell them you have updated content. I have found indexing to occur more rapidly using these plugins (the Search Console shows you this).

I use SiteGround for WordPress hosting as they are one of the top companies with dedicated and affordable WordPress hosting packages. They also offer you free access to the Cloudflare content delivery network which provides additional benefits to your website performance. Packages at SiteGround start from a one-off website to managed cloud hosting for much larger installations and they have a great support team who can help you with anything you may need. I have used many companies over the years for hosting ranging from one-off hosting packages on fully shared and also virtual servers through to fully managed dedicated and cloud hosting with Rackspace and have found SiteGround to be the perfect fusion of support, performance and ease-of-use. SiteGround also auto-updates major WordPress versions to make sure you are kept secure.

The above list is my “shopping list” of key plugins and third-party tools to help get the best out of your website. You will need to configure each of the options for your site so the plugins all work in harmony (some have overlapping functions).

If you would like further information on any of these elements, send me a message or leave a comment below.

Would you like a website audit?

I can provide a high-level audit of your site based on these concepts. Just contact me and I will be happy to do this for you. My availability is limited, so I only do a handful of free audits every month. If you are happy with the results, is all I ask is a testimonial from you which I can publish.

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