Designing Your Online Store: Choosing a Template
When starting a brand-new online store for a small business, you're better off choosing a pre-existing design template rather than having a design done from scratch.
• Templates. If you’re not quite sure what kind of design you'd like, you can browse through the design templates included with most hosted online store programs.
• Themes. Some online store builders take the design template concept one step further, with "themes." Themes are essentially templates that include not only basic design elements but also text styles such as font faces and sizes. Themes also allow for slightly different pages across a website with a single unified design, without having to configure each page individually. For instance, a web store theme might include a product description page, a product category page, an "add to cart" page, and a checkout page. Just by choosing a single theme, you have all the pages in the shopping cart designed with a single, unified professional design, just like big, successful web stores.
• Theme builder. If you want to make changes to a theme–say a different font or a different color–some web store software packages make it easy with a "theme builder." With the theme builder, you can select values for features such as color and font. You can even choose to build a theme from scratch, though for most web stores this will be a case of re-inventing the wheel unnecessarily. You don't need to know anything about HTML; the interface is much like a word processing program.
• Professional design. Once you've created your store using templates or a theme builder, you can turn to a professional designer to make your site really special. Still, you may want to stick with the basic template or theme-builder site until you have a firm idea of how users are interacting with it and what elements are working. That way you'll have concrete requests to make of the designer.
Building Your Online Store: Inventory
The foundation of any online store is the products or services being sold. With most web store and shopping cart software packages, the functions for adding, removing, and pricing items are collectively called "inventory."
Even if you're selling intangibles such as downloadable software, you will use the inventory functions to specify how the items will be sold. There are options for setting the available quantity in stock to unlimited, or handling just about any kind of permutation of selling products or services online. Web store software makers have seen it all.
One of the great things about using a hosted web store software package is that if you do have trouble setting something up, you can get help quickly from customer service.
Adding New Web Pages to an Online Store
If you want to add new pages to your online store, the store creator software can help. If all you want is to add a new product, you only have to use the "add a product" feature, which is often listed under "inventory." However, if you want to add pages for sales copy, manuals, privacy policies, terms and conditions, the store creator interface is the way to do it. Most online store creators have a way of adding pages to a web store without having to use HTML; you simply type in your text in the form and upload any images.
Getting Your Store Found in Search Engines
In order for your online store to generate the most business possible, you’ll want to make sure that your store is easily searchable for Internet shoppers. Unfortunately, some web stores create pages using a dynamic script that search engines cannot index.
Often you can tell if a web store cannot be indexed by search engines by looking at the URL of an inside web page (the homepage, also called the index page or "front page," will usually be search-engine-index-able no matter what). If the URL is a long string of characters that is slightly different from one user to the next (say, when you open the page on your computer and someone else opens the page on another machine), that likely means the site is using "session IDs" which search engines have a notoriously difficult time interpreting. If the URL is something simpler, such as "domain.com/category-5/product-6.php", the page is much more likely to be search-engine friendly.
The best way to check whether a web store or shopping cart software produces "search-engine-friendly" pages is to check the documentation; software that's search-engine-friendly will usually say so.
Of course, as with any website, doing well in search engines still requires your site to have links pointing to it and some text on the pages. Just because search engines can index a page doesn't mean they'll return it for any searches.
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