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Making money from your Ecommerce website – branding and web development

screen pixels design representing website and branding design

The third article in this series on Ecommerce websites covers your online branding design and website development. Certainly for designers this is the most exciting part, and I know from experience that clients really enjoy seeing all their hard work transformed into something tangible.

The first task is to develop your logo which will kick start your branding and corporate identity.

Logo design for Ecommerce websites

Your first task is to choose a design agency to create your logo. Remember, your logo is the first thing people see, it gives people an immediate impression of your business. It must be distinctive, relevant and encapsulate your business and company ethos. You need to get it right from the outset.

There are literally thousands of logo designers out there, from traditional graphic designers to the guy next door working from his back bedroom. Looking at some of the poor designs out there I suspect only a handful can actually design and are worth the money. Cheap design doesn’t save you money if it doesn’t work.

To help I’ve identified some top tips for choosing a good branding design company;

  1. Portfolio – It’s easy to browse online and check out a designers portfolio before having to contact them. When you’re looking at their designs be critical and ask whether they communicate the right messages. It’s easy to design something that looks ‘nice’ or ‘fashionable’ but is it relevant? A logo should say something about your business, it should be simple and memorable. Don’t get caught up in what you like, think about whether the example works for the audience. In summary, make sure the portfolio examples are;
    • Immediately recognisable and identifiable: Meaning ‘do you get it at first glance?’
    • Communicating the essence of the company: Do the logos tell you what the company does, are they relevant?
    • Applicable to various media: Could you put the logo on a t-shirt, letterhead, website, banner, side of a building?
  2. Meeting – Here’s the perfect scenario. You’re welcomed into their design studio and invited to meet the team, the designers are friendly and helpful. You sit down and take time to discuss your requirements and tell them your background. They listen and ask questions, they don’t rush you! When you’ve finished they start to throw a few ideas around and you know they’ve fully grasped your business and marketing objectives. I’ll repeat the most important part here is ‘listening’, it’s not throwing designs at you or making suggestions without fully understanding your background.
  3. Costs – Your designers should be willing to discuss costs from the outset. Ask for a fixed price logo design that includes final artwork. Costs do vary between agencies but asking for a fixed price ensures you keep your budget under control.
  4. Timescales – Good, successful logo design takes time. It shouldn’t be a case of jumping on a computer and grabbing some clip art, so be prepared to wait a week or so. Use their timescales as an indicator, if they say they’ll come back to you within the hour beware!
  5. Relationship – It may sound ridiculous but the better your relationship with your designer, the better the results are. Not only that but you may need further work such as packaging, labels, stationery and so on. You need to get on with these guys, sometimes it can be hard finding a solution so you need to know they are committed and on your side.

Final thought, it’s rare that you’ll find a web agency that can design a decent logo, equally graphic designers don’t always make great web designers. Assess each company on it’s own merits, and if you’re uncomfortable with any part of their offering split the work.

Ecommerce website development

Finally, you’ve done all this work and now it’s time to develop your shop front. Again, there are many web design agencies out there but how do you choose the right agency to deliver success?

I’ve put together a few key points to help your decision.

  1. Agency background– Get yourself on their website and check out their portfolio and case studies. Here are a few things to look out for;
    • Google their website examples – You should always Google their website examples and check they exist. There’s little point looking at mock ups or screen grabs, they only tell half the story! It’s important that you also check out any testimonials, ask if it’s okay to contact a few of their clients. This is a great indicator of service, ask them about turnaround, support, costs and so on.
    • Check out their design – Does the design style look relevant to the company and products? does it get across key messages? Good website design isn’t about a few drop shadows and gradients on buttons, it’s about communicating the benefits of using your company, and providing a compelling argument for users to buy from you.
    • Test usability – How does the site navigate? Is it easy to use and enjoyable? Do all the screens look well designed and considered? Is it clear where you should go next, and can you always find help if you need it?
  2. Meet the team – Many design agencies will have a meeting room away from the main studio. This means you don’t get to meet the team, it’s important, you’ll get much more from discussing your project with the people actually working on your website. You should insist on meeting the developers and designers, assess their abilities and if in doubt ask! Ideally the team will have a broad range of skills with specialists in each area. You don’t need to get on with every team member but you do need to know they’ll be there for you if things get tough. Are they helpful? professional? eager to please? This is your investment, you need to be confident in their hands.
  3. Project management – Good management is essential to any website
    development but particularity for Ecommerce. Deadlines are crucial for ordering stock, marketing strategies and so on. Late delivery of your system will cost you! Determine who is in charge of your account, you need a single point of contact. Quiz them about management and how they will approach it. You will need detailed specifications, go live plans and so on.
  4. Programming The is the nuts and bolts of your website. Don’t be put of with technical jargon, if anything this could be a sign that there’s something to hide. Ask what programming language your developers have experience in then do some research! Is this language widely supported? Is it sufficient to provide what you need? You should visit a few different agencies and get a sense of what’s on offer. Check that your website will be DDA compliant and built to W3C guidelines. It must be supported by all the latest browsers such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari and so on. How about mobile or tablet users? Will your website render properly on these devices? Is it responsive?
  5. Bespoke or existing Ecommerce platform – Your proposal should detail exactly how your developers intend to construct your website. Some prefer to develop custom applications, whereas others will customise an existing platform such as Magento or VirtueMart. Here are a few pros and cons to consider;
    Advantages of bespoke applications

    • Performance – Many bespoke applications are faster as they’re not cluttered with functionality that isn’t used.
    • Scalable – Generally, it is easier for programmers to develop and enhance their own bespoke applications as they are familiar with the coding.

    Disadvantages of bespoke applications

    • Intellectual property rights – This varies but there may be restrictions on moving a custom application to another agency.
    • Cost of development – In some instances development can be expensive if custom modules are required.

    Advantages of using an existing platform such as Magento

    • Cost – In most cases it is cheaper to customise an existing platform. Development costs can also be cheaper as there are many plugins available to enhance the standard functionality.
    • Transferable – As the coding is open source it makes it much easier to switch suppliers should you need to.

    Disadvantages of using an existing platform such as Magento

    • Hosting – Some platforms recommend specialist hosting which can be expensive.
    • Development – If you need something that isn’t available as a plugin it can be expensive to develop a custom module.
  6. Demo Most agencies will have a demo of their preferred Ecommerce solution. It’s worth checking this out, does it look easy to use, comprehensive and so on.
  7. Ongoing support – You will need help and support ongoing. Ask about a maintenance contract or service level agreement. If there is a problem you will need it fixing quickly, and you need to know your developers are available to assist. I’ve worked on many Ecommerce websites and issues can arise at any time, Sunday morning is always a favourite! Throw a scenario at your agency and see how they respond, ideally you need out of hours support for any critical issues.
  8. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) / Marketing – is your agency able to support this? Making sure your website is at the top of the search engines is crucial to your success. SEO needs building into your site from day one of construction. The simplest check is to see where your agency rank in Google for terms such as ‘website designers’, ‘Ecommerce designers’, ‘Web design agency’ and so on. If they’re not at the top for their services then you MUST LOOK ELSEWHERE. Even if their rankings are good do more research, ask for case studies, speak to SEO clients and so on.
  9. Terms – You don’t want any nasty surprises further down the line, check the terms and conditions very carefully. The following points suggest what to look for.
  10. Costs – Is the cost fixed and does it include everything? What are the ongoing costs of hosting, support, domain renewals and so on.
  11. Bug fixing – Who pays for this? Most agencies will fix any bugs they are responsible for free of charge.
  12. Ownership – What exactly do you own? You should insist on getting a copy of all working website files. Do a risk assessment and ask what would happen if your design agency disappears? Can your website continue to run? What happens to the hosting? Most important of all who owns the domain name?
  13. Backups – Who is responsible for back ups and when are they done?
  14. Payment – What are the payment terms? Staged payments are a great idea but try to retain some of your payment to cover any post launch issues.


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