Whose site is it anyway?

Starting a new Yahoo! Store is hard, but as the saying goes: “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” These are the steps that a new merchant might take to launch a new Yahoo! Store:

  • It all begins with site design. You have signed up for a new account and now it’s time to get a good-looking store. You spend a long time to come up with the design you like, perhaps with the help of a designer. Every aspect of your site should be just the way you like it.
  • At the same time you get your catalog ready, write product descriptions and make sure that all pages look good  and have well-written content.
  • You make sure that test orders will go through without a glitch and then it’s time to launch. Hopefully shoppers will reward your beautifully designed store with lots of orders!

This is obviously a simplistic view and does not take into account the many others aspects that go into running a successful business. But the point I am trying to make is that it does not seem logical to me that “Design” should have such relative importance.

Why?

Quite frankly, when you start with a completely new design you are flying blind. You and perhaps your designer made a hopeful guess that the design you chose will lead to sales. Even if your design is inspired by a site that you think looks cool, you don’t actually know if that other site is successful in terms of sales. There are many “modest-looking” stores out there that far outsell “cool-looking” ones.

But the bigger factor is that your visitors and clients will determine how your site is used. Not you or your designer. They will vote with their clicks and credit cards about what they like and don’t. They will come and go as they please. Your job is to try to understand what visitors do on your site, what they are looking for and serve up relevant content. Even if there is a competitor that sells exactly the same items you do, the traffic patterns and keywords are likely very different from your site.

Is design not important? Of course you should have a professional-looking site, but I am suggesting that you spend less effort upfront on design and more time analyzing your site once it is live. You just don’t know how people will use your site until they use it, so it’s better to launch early and make improvements later on rather than try to guess upfront what improvements you think are needed.

The best thing you can do is measure, test, analyze your site once it’s open for business. Running a successful Yahoo! Store is a constant work-in-progress; use Yahoo! Store stats and 3rd party web analytics packages to help you.  Try to find out the intent of your site visitors by looking at the search terms that brought them to your site. Test as much as you can: headline, offers, site copy, etc. Then use that knowledge to improve your site incrementally, creating more relevant pages for your visitors. More relevant pages equals more sales.

And who knows, maybe the data you collect will indeed show you that a re-design is necessary, but not the other way around!

Finally, for more on this sort of topic, I recommend “The Site is Dead”.