How to make your ecommere website robust, scalable and perform well under pressure:

Scalability and Robustness

Running a successful Web site that generates a vast amount of traffic will obviously be very good for business and potential advertising revenue. However, this is only true as long as the Web site keeps functioning at a reasonable rate. Many successful businesses have run into problems because they did not expect such high volumes of traffic.

The basic rules are simple and apply to the amount of bandwidth need, not (necessarily) the number of visitors you have. A kilobyte file being accessed by one thousand people is the equivalent to one person accessing
a megabyte file. If your business is selling mp3 files (a music compression format) then you will need to develop the infrastructure for people to download 3-6 megabyte fifes. If you do not have sufficient bandwidth
and your user base grows dramatically you may well find your service grinding to a halt and your users going elsewhere.

Some Internet services (like information databases) rely on software running on the server to perform search functions and the like. These, too, can radically slow down the performance of a service, and sufficient processing capacity should be planned for. So you need a server or hosting package that is up to the challange of keeping up with your ecommerce website’s demand. The most common 5$/month linux hosting fine if you are selling 10 products and have less than a hundred visitors per month.

But if your online store is big and it is developed with a complex php/mysql framework such as Magento you better start with a VPS (virtual private server) or dedicated server with ample RAM and Processing powers. You should also ensure that your hosting company is top level and has the means to let you upgrade your package easily.

Reliability

There is a saying that you ‘pay for what you get’, and this is especially true in the realm of Internet service provision. You need to understand what levels of reliability you need in order to keep your readership/customers
happy, and ensure that you have a service level agreement with your supplier that will fulfil this. You will also want to ensure that they have contingency plans in the case of a systems failure (some companies run dual systems
and have remote servers backing up their client data so that, if there were a problem, they can be back on line-almost immediately).

Various parts of the Internet are owned and managed by different companies and it is not always obvious where a fault has occurred. If you are dialling into a small ISP via a modem on a home computer, the problem could be:

  • your domestic line;
  • your modem;
  • your local ISP:
  • the backbone connection your ISP uses.

It has not been uncommon for services to go down for several hours at a lime because a water company has dug through a cable!

On the other hand, it could be your unresponsive hosting company who let your website stay down for hours in end. Ensure that the web hosting company is reliable by checking their reviews throughout the internet. Find out what other users of their services have to say before buying into them. See what kind of supports they provide and how responsive their support is. Do they have a public forum where they share their problems and solutions? Do they have live chat support and ticket system?

Meeting Future Requirements

As you can see from the above it is vital to get the right infrastructure to support your business and you must permanently keep an eye on your requirements. The Internet population is growing all the lime, and it also is expecting more and more sophisticated applications and user interfaces on Web sites. These all take up extra bandwidth, so it is worth remembering what your prime objective is: offering products or services in an intuitive
and easy to access way.

How to make customers loyal and bring them back to your site repeatedly

Regular Updates

Regular updates are essential to ensure that you are seen to be active as a company. Even if the core business product and customer base doesn’t change very much, there are things you can do to keep people, for the want of a better word, entertained. Add new links, change the graphics occasionally, add a cartoon – anything that will make the site a pleasure to use rather than a chore.

If, however, you have regular news, price or product updates, you must be absolutely sure to include this information on the Web site. Accuracy is very important (remember what E-commerce and EDI (Electronic Data Transfers) are all about!), so a disclaimer buried deep in the site that the company ‘reserves the right to change product pricing or specifications’ is not enough. You will get a bad reputation if you cannot fulfil orders as entered.

Of course, you will sometimes be dependent on suppliers yourself, but even if you are not the bottleneck, share this information with your customer. If a user orders something unusual you may sometimes have trouble sourcing it, but your website should first send an order status message (e.g. it is temporarily out of stock) and then a message confirming when it has been dispatched. Rather than being irritated at slow delivery, the customer is pleased because of the service.

A further feature you can use to maintain your company’s awareness levels is to offer an e-mail news service which customers can subscribe to. You send them details of latest products, services or offers as they become available. This sort of service has to be “opt in’ otherwise your company may develop a reputation for spamming.

Discounts

If you are making savings by using the Internet it maybe prudent to pass some of these on to the customer. Most of the big online retailers offer Internet customers special rates – although the additional postal costs sometimes annul these!

Other Activities

There are a number of other innovative ways in generating traffic to your E-commerce Web site (and keep it coming back). Examples include:

Run contests or competitions, ensuring that they are well promoted and that the prizes are worth winning. People generally are interested in getting something for free and this is a sensible way of attracting visitors to your site who might otherwise never consider stopping by.

It is often worthwhile collecting the e-mail addresses of the site’s visitors in order to form the basis of a mailing list that can be used to promote new products or special offers at a later date. It is important if you decide to opt for this, that you obtain their permission at the time of collecting their address that they are happy to receive such updates. One method of helping them to ‘agree’ to this is to offer to place their details in a regular draw for free prizes.

As more and more people use the Internet, so the opportunity to collect their details and specific areas of interest also grows. As a result there are a growing number of highly targeted e-mail lists for rental. If you are clear about the intended target audience of your E-can prove very successful.

Building Customer/Visitor Profiles

It is very important to understand who is visiting your site and to constantly try to develop the content and style in order to maximise its value to your company. There are two straightforward ways in which to do this:

  • using analysis software
  • using Response Forms
  • Using Analysis Software

Use google analytics and google webmaster tool which offer a service whereby you can analyse site usage. These services make software available to analyse the log files which are automatically updated as your pages are accessed by Internet users. Alternatively you can mount your own software on the server to carry out this function.

Using Response Forms

If you need more specific information, you can provide an online form or forms to illicit information about your visitors. These are general created in standard HTML and use CGI or PHP script to post the content of the completed form to your designated e-mail address(es).

You can stipulate that certain fields (e.g. e-mail address) are filled in before the form is submitted (thus ensuring you have some form or responding if needs be). If the form is generating a large amount of e-mail responses it is relatively simple for the receiving company to write a script which will extract the data from the E-mails and allow it to be processed in a database.

Creating the forms is easy, but a lot of care should be taken over their content. They should:

  • be concise and clear
  • contain no ambiguities
  • be reasonably short (no-one likes filling in long forms)
  • contain a textbox field for additional comments
  • you may want to make them available in more than one language

Some people set up Web sites such that users have to fill in a brief form before accessing the site content. This may well have the effect of putting people off using the site unless:

  • it is very clear what the site content is;
  • it is made plain that these details will be kept in confidence;
  • that visitors wiil not (unless they elect to) receive any e-mails from -the site owners.

How to promote your ecommerce website online and offline Part 01:

Generating Traffic
There is no point in having a web presence without people knowing about it. This calls for co-ordinated campaign of marketing and advertising, some of which can be handled by a third party if required.

The key things to do to promote your ecommerce website online and offline are:

• Make your web presence part of corporate identity

• Advertise on the Internet

• Advertise in relevant media – TV, Radio, Billboards

• Optimize your website for search engines

• Get links and banners from other websites

• Create a brand presence on social networking sites like facebook, twitter etc.

• Encourage user ‘loyalty’.

One of the biggest challenges in terms of getting visitors to the site lies in creating successful branding. Research has shown that Internet users are busy and prefer to use a known brand as a short cut to obtain the goods and services they want as quickly as possible.

 

Make Your Web Presence Part of Corporate Identity:

Your clients and trading partners should know that you have a web presence, as should every potential customer you speak to. Your stationery (letterheads, compliment slips, fax templates and business cards) must all carry your URL and e-mail address. If the site has any special functionality, such as online ordering, then spell this out too. You must set your ‘signature files’ (which determine the standard text at the end of your e-mail) to point to your Web site, too. This information should be concise as it increases the size of your messages.

Any promotional material you use, such as:

  • exhibitions materials
  • brochures
  • advertisements
  • company reports
  • case studies
  • press releases
  • presentation materials
  • and demonstrations

should all include your web branding. If you run a fleet of cars or vans, then brand these, too.

Advertise on the Internet

Research what sites you could benefit from advertising on. Ask the right questions about their readership and get proof of any claims to number of impressions (or visitors). Advertising on the Internet will probably involve the
use of banners. User experience seems to indicate two important points as far as the use of banners placed on small specialist sites are generally more effective than those on large sites where they can simply get lost; some form of animation on the banner tends to increase click-through rates significantly.

Advertise in Relevant Media

If you already advertise then well and good, but at this stage a review of the type of media you use may be prudent. If you have significantly changed the way you run your business then be canny and make sure you
get editorial coverage as well as placing your advertising.

Optimize your wensite with Search Engines 

This is probably the most important thing you have to do. People who are looking for goods, services and information on the web without any prior knowledge of where they are going to find it invariably turn to
one of the search engines. This is probably the most important element for properly promoting your website. Search engine optimization or SEO has three main elements:

1. Keyword research: find out what keywords you want to optimize your website for and if they are viable

1. On page SEO optimization – involves optimizing the code, contents and site architectures of and on your web site

2. Off page SEO optimization – involves getting back links from other web sites, bookmarked in social bookmarking sites, getting shared and talked about in social networking sites


Establish Reciprocal Links

Not all publicity need be paid for. There is still a reasonable amount of friendliness in the net community, and sometimes all you will need to do is request a reciprocal link with a site that is related to yours (or indeed you may be asked for a reciprocal link by someone else). The usual etiquette is to establish a link yourself and then politely inform the webmaster of the other site. As an example, your links page should contain links to all your customer sites and, if (hey think highly enough of you, you will probably get links back. If they have reasonably well established sites, then this can be worth a reasonable amount of traffic.

 

Join Web Rings and Affiliates

A web ring is a group of related sites which provide links to each other – either in a structured or random way. A piece of HTML code is inserted in your home page and allows users to bounce across to another related
site. Be careful, though, as web rings are good when they are small, but are sometimes counter-productive if they grow to large. If the overall effect is that visitors are being taken away from your site, then they are a mistake.

Encourage User ‘Loyalty’

If your site is:

  • badly organised
  • takes a long time to load
  • is never updated
  • offers no real benefit to your customers/trading partners -then you will not get return visitors.

By the way, you can read some interesting (well, may be not so interesting…) history about the emergence and growth of e-commerce here.

This blog post is my attempt to an overview of natural and organic OnPage SEO optimization techniques divided into three major aspects of website development:

  1. Optimizing your pages’ coding
  2. Optimizing your pages’ contents
  3. Optimizing your site’s architecture

Optimizing your pages’ coding for search engines:

  • Use meaningful, optimized, short and unique title for each page. Best and optimized meta title length would be below 60 characters
  • Use unique meta description tag for each page relevant to that page. Write this for human viewers – not search engines. This is the snippet that usually shows up in search results for your site. Best and optimized meta description tag should have around 160 characters. No more
  • Ensure that your coding is Valid HTML and CSS according to W3C standards. Use the W3C online validator at http://validator.w3.org/
  • This one is little tricky based on site’s design. But try to achieve it if you can. The code for the navigation bar/s should be at the bottom of the HTML code above the footer. The content and sidebar code should be crawled by search engine bots before the navigation code.
  • Keep the final/rendered html and css coding clean. Remove unnecessary and unused tags and classes
  • Pay attention to the code to content ratio. A higher code to text ratio gives you a better chance of getting a good ranking for your page in search results.  Use divs to design your page layout instead of tables
  • Instead of using inline CSS styling, create a CSS class for your style in the main CSS file and refer to that. This will help keep your coding clean and increase your code to content ratio
  • Compress and optimize your javascript, CSS files if you are using many of them. Page load speed is part of Google algorithm these days

Optimizing your pages’ contents for search engines:

  • Your Search Keywords and Key Phrases should be emphasized in a natural and organic way for both the website visitor and the search engine spiders at the same time.
  • Do not “KeyWord Stuff” your web page, by repeating the search phrase over and over again in your webpage so it becomes unreadable to huma viewers and reads inorganic and unnatural. Keyword stuffing often results in a Search Engine Penalty and moves your site’s ranking lower in the results instead of higher
  • All text should be presented in HTML/CSS whenever possible rather than in images
  • Use header 1, header 2 and header 3 (h1, h2, h3) tags to for content titles to indicate their importance but do not overuse the h tags
  • This is the age of social networking. Keep social sharing icons at prominent location on all your pages  for  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+1, YouTube etc.
  • The text font color code (html color code) should be clearly contrasted against background so search engines may not suspect you of using black hat SEO technique to hide text from human visitor but stuffing keywords for search engines.

Optimizing your website architecture for search engines:

  • All site URLs should be Search Engine Friendly (SEF URLs).  If possible, no URLs should end in an extension such as .html, .php, etc. No URLs will contain index.php or anything similar. All URLs should be human readable. It is good practice to have URLs of the web site’s main sections to end in a trailing slash and URLs of web pages to NOT end in a trailing slash
  • All URLs should be in lowercase. Words in the URLs should be separated with a dash “-” character instead of space or underscor ( _ )
  • A user friendly 404 page should be offered for pages do not exist anymore or for missing links. The 404 page should include the site’s normal navigation, a site search box, and a standard “We are sorry but the page you requested is no longer available” message
  • The website should only be available in either the “www” or “non-www” format. Use 301 redirect of one of the versions that you are not using to the other one. Use a single URL format uniformly to link internally and externally to your site from everywhere
  • Internally, on a page, the first appearance of a link to any other page is what counts to search engines. So, this link’s anchor text should be optimized for search engines and contain the keywords or key phrases that you want to rank on search engines for. You can have multiple links to other pages from the same page but the subsequent links will be ignored. Only the 1st link matters.
  • A common mistake on many websites you will see is to link to home page with www.domain.com/index.html etc. Very wrong. Always link to the full single URL from everywhere or use a forward slash (/) to link to the home page from all other pages
  • Sitemaps are important. Sitemaps should be auto-generated if you are using a CMS. A HTML sitemap should be be available in the footer link. An XML sitemap should be generated weekly or monthly depending on your website’s page update frequency and submitted to Bing and Google. In xml sitemap assign the weight of pages according to their importance

 

The importance of optimizing and promoting your website for search engines like google, bing and yahoo is realized by more or less any website owner these days. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the most important part of internet marketing without a doubt. The world wide web is huge and these three giants of the search engines are the main gateways to it. When one does not know the address, search engines are the guides in this maze named internet. And you want your web address popping up at the top when someone searches for something that you provide services for. You can buy paid ads if you have the bucks. But nothing beats the organic search results. Those are free and you have to compete hard for important keywords, so search engine users implicitly like to believe that your website has some qualities and there is a good chance that they will find things here that they are looking for. Now a days you can also get traffic from social networking sites, popular bookmarking sites like digg.com, delicious.com etc. Or you can buy ads on popular sites in your niche. But organic ranking in search engines is still, and I believe, will continue to be major and serious source of traffic in near future.  I am not a dedicated SEO guy. But I have been related to web design, development, project coordination for over 10 years. Over the years I have picked up a few things and I have seen how the SEO game evolved. So that is what I would like to share. I will try to keep it concise and focused on important points. Of course, there are an endless aspects of SEO and all of them cannot or rather should not be put into one post. So, there will be multiple posts, each focusing on some major aspect/s.

Optimizing your web site for search engines involve fighting in two major frontiers:
1. On page SEO optimization – involves optimizing the code, contents and site architectures of and on your web site
2. Off page SEO optimization – involves getting back links from other web sites, bookmarked in social bookmarking sites, getting shared and talked about in social networking sites

In my next few posts, I will elaborate on different different ideas and paths one can go about in on and off page SEO optimization techniques.

About this blog

dna88 blog is a place for some rants about the web design and development technologies, internet and everything else in the universe! Blog posts may include but are not restricted to xhtml, CSS, php, mysql database, ajax, jquery, apache server, physics, super string theory, brane multiverse, parallel universes, philosophy, movies, TV series, music, heavy metal bands and whatever pops into my mind.

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