Friday, November 16, 2007

How a Fancy Pants Flash Website Could Hinder Your Sales

First published for the Ladies Who Launch blog

Your high-concept, artful, playful website could be making you all but invisible in the search engines, nearly impossible for people to send a link to a specific product to their friend, and could negate any positive impact from social bookmarking sites like StyleHive.com. Most of the big designers use these types of sites, and I say more power to 'em. It just means that my little well-optimized website will get more exposure.

To define, a fancy pants website is usually built with a lot of Flash, or another program that animates things to make them extra cool. The website pages sometimes look like pages, but they may not generate their own URLs. Your whole website may run off of www.mywebsite.com. Let's look the super cute shoe company, Seychelles Footwear. Go to that website and play with it. It's very fun. Luckily, it can be fun because they sell all of their shoes through stores and other websites that are much better optimized (aka appealing or readable) for the search engines.

The Link Problem
Years ago, I bought some Seychelles. I was so excited that I blogged about what I bought, and the other cute styles. I wanted to link directly to the shoes I was talking about. On the web, it's best to get to the point as quickly as possible. With Seychelles, no can do. I can only link to their home page and figure out ways to finagle some images from other websites like Zappos.com to show what I'm talking about. In fact, I'd be better off linking to Zappos.com, since my readers could fall in love with the shoe, and buy it right then.

The Search Engine Problem
Search engines love links. Links are like vegetables to them. When a search engine visits your site, it 'crawls' or 'spiders' as much of your website as it can by traveling through all the links you have placed. If you have images linked to images, and no text, or no links that go to places that are forbidden to search engines, they stop and miss out on all of the stuff you can SEE on your site. They like to read things. If you have words that are images, for example, and not actual words, the search engine just sees a file called our_mission.jpg. It has no idea that there are words there.

The Usability Problem
If products are spinning by, it's visually exciting at first, but when you go to click on something, it can be a slippery experience. Making your site as easy to use as possible is a good goal to ensure that your users are happy and seamlessly turn into customers.

The Social Bookmarking Problem
I call this Socialness. Social bookmarking is when a web page gets bookmarked on a website by a person. Other people can see what that person bookmarked, and then visit the page. StyleHive.com has a lot of highly interested users looking for fun things, and they will buy. Your products can show up there (if bookmarked , or 'hived' by someone if that product has its own web page. If every product shows up on www.yourwebsite.com, and not on www.yourwebsite.com/products/398lfoifjlsfjow or something obscure to humans but very important to how the internet works, then you could be missing out on a potentially effective bookmark that could drive highly interested people to your products. Example: Coco Ribbon sells very pretty things on their site, and they just redesigned their website. I must confess, I do miss their old one because, I think, each product had its own URL. So, if I go to put something on StyleHive, StyleHive picks up the product image, price, and description and automatically publishes it on their site. However, with their current setup, pointing out pictures and assigning it to one page is tricky. All of their lingerie items, for example, are under this URL: http://www.cocoribbon.com/collections/lingerie, so I can't link to a direct one, which would get users there quickly, and help that product rank in the search engines. If you don't care about search engines, then this isn't a problem.

The Bottom Line
Using animation and other swirly things is fine. It's great. Just ask yourself, before you fall in love with a concept, where you are using it, and how it will affect your users, who ultimately, can be your biggest evangelists.

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