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Any reasonably successful online merchant understands that search engines provide nearly all of the qualified traffic to his or her web site. This is why paid search with Google, Yahoo and MSN has become such big business. But did you know that your Internet shopping cart software may be an impediment to making your e-commerce site search engine friendly? If your ecommerce shopping cart software creates session IDs -- long, coded URLs -- it may be throwing up a barrier for search engines trying to index your site. If this is a problem with your site, you might want to look for a shopping cart that doesn't create these URLs.
The big search engines have all developed multiple paths to allow merchants to create paths to their online stores. The big one is paid search results. But Google, Yahoo and MSN also have shopping services that allow users to search for specific products across hundreds of online stories. How do you get your product into these services? You need to have an XML feed for each of products. The search engines then pick up those feeds and include them in the search results. And how do you get this XML feed? If you're smart, you will find an online shopping cart program that includes automated XML feeds to the major search engines. That way, your Internet shopping cart will do all the work for you. And you can sit back and enjoy the results of the exposure.
If you want an electronic shopping cart that's going to integrate seamlessly with your site design, and not look like a templated package, you need to look for these three letters: API. And be prepared for these two words: pay up. A shopping cart with a public API -- like Google Checkout, for example, allows a web developer to get into the guts of the site and integrate its functionality with your look and design. But it's going to cost you. You will need to hire a professional web developer and be prepared to lay out cash for both development costs and an ongoing retainer. Still, if you're serious about e-commerce, it's worth considering.
If you're an e-commerce merchant paying a lot of money to a merchant account provider, Google Checkout could save you a lot of money, especially if you're already a Google advertising client. Google Checkout is e-business software that offers a web-based order processing system similar to Paypal. But unlike Paypal, it integrates with Google AdWords, has basic fees (2 percent plus 20 cents per transaction) that are dropped for AdWords advertisers, integrates with popular shopping carts, and even offers a public API for developers. Even if you don't want to move to Google, it should give you better ammunition to demand a better ecommerce automation solution from your own ecommerce provider.
Google has jumped out in front of the ecommerce provider pack with its combination of AdWords, AdSense and Google Checkout. But fellow tech giants Yahoo and Microsoft are ready to battle right back. Both are making big jumps into paid search as ecommerce. Yahoo Small Business Hosting has recently joined forces with blog software innovator Moveable Type to offer a complete, browser-based ecommerce web-building tool. Microsoft, meanwhile, promises to make a big jump into paid search with integrated ecommerce as it introduces its Windows Live products this year. The good news for consumers is this: As the giant ecommerce providers compete, the product lines offer more for less. There's never been a better time to choose an ecommerce provider.
Putting together an online shopping cart prgoram is one thing. Getting people to find it is another. When searching out potential web-based shopping cart providers, ask them about what they do to help you and your store get listed prominently in the Google, Yahoo or MSN search engines, or shopping feeds like Google's Froogle. Along with Internet shopping cart software, some hosts offer SEO (Search Engine Optimized) tools to help you move your site up in search engine rankings, while others can provide XML feeds to integrate with Froogle and other shopping aggregators. If you can find a host offering these tools, it can help in the long run.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|