Ecommerce Spot

eCommerce Website Development Tips

eCommerce Website Development Tips

As the Founder of an ecommerce development company, I have seen and been involved with perhaps hundreds of ecommerce Web site projects. In my experience, I find that clients tend to put more of an emphasis on increasing traffic to their site in order to generate sales rather than taking steps to improve the site to increase conversion (ie. turn those visitors into buyers!). It’s a fact that you can often improve sales exponentially by simply making some minor site modifications and avoiding some common mistakes. Online merchants are all too familiar with the concept of optimizing their site for search engines to get more traffic but they also need to think about optimizing their site for humans to get more purchases.

Recently, my firm made a series of changes to a client’s Web site to improve conversion rates. The merchant was averaging about 940 visitors a day and closing about 3-5 sales a week. Sales increased over 300% percent in the 10-days that followed the release of the new site which we had optimized compared with the previous 10-days. Even though this was a small merchant, 300% growth has potential to have a very positive impact on a business.

This article will offer ecommerce website development tips that will help you improve conversion rates for your Web site. Don’t get me wrong, sites need traffic and search engine optimization is of fundamental importance. However, if you are going to work that hard to get traffic, it would be wise to optimize your site for conversion as well. Try these simple measures and let me know how they work out.

Getting the Masthead Right

The masthead is the graphic at the top of a Web site. It should be clean and incorporate the following:

  • The masthead should be 120 pixels high and 1000 pixels wide
  • Contain a logo and slogan (keep the logo small)
  • 1-800 number (or local phone number if you don’t have a toll-free)
  • Utility links
  • Site search box

The masthead should be “high and tight,” no more than 120 pixels high. 100-pixels is preferred. This will allow more products to be seen “above the fold” in a shopper’s browser further down the page. Shoppers actually mentally block out the information in the masthead and only look there when they need certain types of information like a phone number or a link to the basket or policies page. This is not the place to stroke your ego with a big logo and bloated graphics. It should be all business. Think of the site design, masthead, navigation and footer as a shopping interface. It’s all about ergonomics and usability. Don’t have the graphics from your interface competing with messaging and product images. A toned down interface will make your products and messaging jump off the page.

This is not my opinion; it is the evolution of the ecommerce interface. Take a look at the mastheads of all the leading ecommerce sites for examples,,, They are all “high and tight” have a small logo, do not contain bloated graphics and do contain the bullet points listed above.

Your toll-free number should be prominently placed in the masthead and include some verbiage like; “For Customer Services call: 1800 555-1212.” This number gives shoppers confidence that you can be reached if they have a problem with a purchase.

Most ecommerce Web sites have what I call a “utility navigation” which includes links to ecommerce functions like “My Account, View Cart, and Check Out”. This is also a great place to include a link to you policies, Wish List, Gift Certificates and Contact Us. Keep the font small 10 pt verdana works nice. Some designers use icons for these link which can add to the site’s visual appeal. Personally, I like text links. They load faster and avoid confusion.

Integrating a site search into the masthead is a common practice. Shoppers expect it to be there consistently on all pages of the site. Include this feature even if you don’t have a big product catalog. This, and the other elements mentioned above will give your site a professional appearance and help build confidence in your shoppers.

Homepage Ad and Messaging

It is critical to let your visitors know what your site is all about at a glance. The center of your homepage should contain a distilled general message (6-8 words). This message should take some time to get right. Come up with some ideas and share it with the rest of your staff or friends, sleep on it, refine it, take time to get it right. Find the right supporting image from a site like Be sure to purchase the proper license. Stock photography sites have been on a rampage lately suing site owners who use unlicensed images. This is where you need to get creative; it would be a good idea to enlist a graphic designer to ensure your ad is professional. Try to limit the ad size to be 250 pixels high and the full width of the site. You want to conserve vertical space so you can fit a row of products below your homepage ad and above the fold (visible without scrolling).

Finding the Right Balance for Your Navigation

The navigation system is a critical component of a Web site. It should be very clean from a design standpoint. Avoid unnecessary graphics, buttons and roll-overs; they will only get in the way of search engines and customers. Search engines view the navigation system as the site’s foundation. It is literally an information hierarchy and will have a major impact on the site’s search engine visibility. Carefully plan your navigation system to include the phrase that you are targeting in the search engine optimization strategy.

It is important to find the right balance for the top-level categories in your navigation. Too many top-level categories will overwhelm shoppers and potentially lead to product list pages that have too few products in them. Try limiting your top-level categories to 12-15 categories.

Fewer categories will leave room for other important elements that shoppers expect to see under the navigation. Items that you should place under your navigation; SSL Logo, the payment methods you offer (graphics of credit cards, etc.), Your Free shipping offer, and logo from your payment gateway and you PCI scanning services. These items add legitimacy to your site and make shoppers feel secure.

SEO Footer
SEO footers are appearing on more and more sites. They provide a great way of separating out information pages from your product catalog. You want your main navigation to contain links to product pages only. Don’t distract your shoppers by mixing in pages like “about us” etc. The SEO footer provides a great place for your SEO and informational pages. For an example of an SEO footer visit;

Free Shipping Offers

Studies show that free shipping offers have a major impact on Internet shoppers and helps to increase sales. If you offer a free shipping incentive make sure it is highly visible in three places; the masthead, under the navigation, and on the product detail page next to the add-to-basket button. Recently, I was able to improve the visibility of a merchant’s free shipping offer (free shipping on orders over $75.00) by placing it under the navigation and on the product detail page near the buy button. The number of orders grew 15% the next week.

Now We’re Shopping
When visitors browse your ecommerce site they want to see product, and lots of it. Make sure your product list views contain 3-5 columns per product row. If possible, show 30 to 40 product thumbnail images per page. This will allow the shopper to easily browse through your selection and have a better shopping experience.


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Doing Business on the Internet

eCommerce Website Development Tips

Author Bio

James Curley is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mountain Media, an ecommerce solution provider and web development company located in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Known as a pioneer in the ecommerce field, Curley led the company to produce one of the Web’s first ecommerce development platforms, “Mountain Commerce” in 1998. Since then, the platform has continued to evolve in order to meet new feature standards and industry trends and was named to Practical Ecommerce Magazine’s list of “Notable Shopping Carts” in 2007.

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