I have reviewed your website from the point of view of a potential
customer and have noted my results, organized by several sections
(based on your questions).
A. Level of Purchasing Difficulty / Potential Turnoffs
Never having visited your site before, I was definitely pulled in
several different directions as I looked at the homepage. Your
navigation bar across the top of the screen is useful. It's simple and
clean lines attract the user's attention, and the dropdown menus are
intuitive. You might consider changing "Product of Canada" to "Proudly
Canadian", as you are describing your company at this point, not a
product. Also the status bar text when you do a mouseover on a link
(it should not display the filename that will be loaded - this is
The welcome message should be removed, and the background of the
company and soap creation process are not appropriate contents for a
homepage. These should be organized logically in the "About Us"
section. The other contents of the page looked scattered, and as a
potential buyer with the goal of doing research on specific products
and perhaps making a purchase, the following served as distractions:
Too many pictures (none of which link to anything)
Testimonials that are unconvincing - this type of product is usually
purchased to solve a particular discomfort. You might try a "success
stories" section, showing how Mountain Sky products have provided
value to other customers.
Product categories buried in text links - these should be the main
focus of your homepage. Users will be primarily interested in what you
have to offer, so that should have visual priority. Also, the
categories you specify in the menu are not consistent with the text
links given. Your offering should be made to look consistent and
Coupon links should not be available until the user has had a chance
to see a product and perhaps the selling price. Remove this.
It seems that the merchant account section and gift bundle section
have just been hastily tacked on to the original homepage. They should
not intuitively reside there - the login button is particularly
unappealing. Many users might see that and be scared away, thinking
that they have to divulge personal information simply to view
You might want to reconsider the red/orange colour being used for
heading text and secondary text. Users may have problems seeing this
On the product listing pages, I thought the categories logically
divided the product types. However, it seems that subsection
information was being repeated (in the form of text and again as an
image). This is not necessary - just choose one and stick to it.
Descriptions of products are relatively limited, though you have
provided generic information at the top of the page which I assume
applies to all products (this should be confirmed). If you can provide
more product-specific detail on individual product pages, this is
desireable (though not always necessary).
When describing products, avoid using "we" and "our". Descriptions
should be in passive voice.
The extra images along the left side of the product pages are somewhat
distracting away from the flow - you should remove these.
The cart functionality is relatively straight forward - someone who
has purchased online before should be comfortable with it in concept.
The steps are intuitive and clear.
There is no information on the site regarding shipping and return
policies. Your FAQs talked about the products only, not the retailing
aspect of the site. This will drive away many customers who might be
weary of your company (being small and relatively unknown).
B. Key Words and Meta Tags
I had no problems with your keyword selections or use of meta tags.
You provided a comprehensive (yet not excessive) list of words
describing your products.
A google search for "mountain sky" on Google returned your site in the
first page, so this aspect of your site is fine.
C. Differentiating Factors (versus competition)
I really believe that the product that you are selling here is very
different from many of the other products being sold online. Your main
differentiation comes from your product itself. You will be able to
better communicate this to your visitors by providing them with all
the information they could possibly want to know about your product.
There was a lot of talk about the company scattered throughout the
site, which I didn't particularly find very helpful. While this tells
me that the owners are proud of their achievements, it doesn't
necessarily mean anything to someone who just wants high-quality
You might attract a detail-oriented customer segment by having a
couple of pages outlining the generic process that is performed in
creating the product lines (thought this may be a trade secret). The
point is that the message of high quality (rather than cost efficient)
is crucial here because of what you are selling and how you are
The actual purchasing flow (ie. shopping cart) is fairly standard
among all e-retailers and there isn't a lot you can do here to
seperate yourself. Again, your potential buyers are unlikely to go
somewhere else if they like another company's shopping cart better.
The value is in the product.
D. Potential Web Advertising Sites
There aren't really any very obvious answers to this question, simply
because this industry is quite small an under-developed. As a result,
you have a number of individual sites that depend heavily on word of
A suggestion would be to incorporate your website address into your
Chances are your customers are more likely to come to your site after
hearing about Mountain Sky from a friend than from searching online.
For other industries, many sites offering similar products/services
enter a ring where each of them advertise each others sites. Not only
will this hurt the integrity of your site, but will not yield much
benefit in terms of additional traffic (your competitors are small for
the most part as well).
If you are absolutely intent on advertising via the web, Google's
AdWords service will take a user's search terms to display appropriate
ads (you will have seen this before if you have done a Google search
before). Advertisers only per when users actually click on the ads.
You can learn more about this service from:
Generally this was not a problem, though as I mentioned above, you
should be careful about making descriptions sound as if they were
coming from a person (using "we" and "our" often distracts users).
An additional layout issue I noticed in the Testimonials section (it
occured in other places as well) was that the body text was too close
to the content in the margins. There should be a significant gap
between these two areas.
I hope I gave you the type of information you were seeking. In
closing, I would just like to warn that your business has a different
target customer than the average web retailer - this should be
considered when trying to reach out to them.
Clarification of Answer by
14 Nov 2004 00:09 PST
In response to your clarification requests:
Regarding the status bar text, it's possible that you may not be
seeing what I am because of a difference in browser settings. I am
using IE 6.0 and have the status bar enabled (this can be done through
View > Status Bar). With this setting, I can see the filename of your
homepage link, as well as the names of the various php files being
linked to in the navigation bar (at the bottom of the IE window).
An example of repeating subcategories via both text and images can be found here:
On the left, links are provided in text, and in the main body, they
are repeated as images. On second review, this was actually the only
category that did this (the rest were fine).
I actually committed a bit of a typo for the shipping/return policy
comment. This information, although it is there, is unclear and
incomplete. Your customers are likely to be from many countries, so
you should either clarify the currency that the costs are stated in,
or provide shipping costs in numerous currencies. There was no
information provided relating to any sort of return policy (this can
be placed along with the shipping costs within the FAQ).
In terms of complimentarys sites that would advertise your site, I may
have misunderstood what you were initially asking to mean that you
were looking for places where you could buy industry-specific
advertising. These sites are essentially collections of links of
producers of natural soap products. You would need to contact the
webmasters and request that your site be added:
Regarding keywords, you are not the first to wonder how they affect
placement in search engine results. I believe you will find the
following answer given by a fellow researcher helpful in understanding
how exactly this work:
Hopefully I've cleared up all your follow-up questions - please let me
know if any of the information I've provided is still unclear.