On Monday we launched AliShops.com, The Insider’s Guide to Twin Cities Shopping. The site is the brainchild of Pioneer Press Savvy Shopper columnist Allison Kaplan, and features short, informative, and engaging reviews of Twin Cities neighborhood stores.
The site had to be visually appealing, quick loading, easy to navigate, and, just as importantly, search engine friendly. The illustrations for the site were designed by my friend Patty at Spot Design. They give the site both elegance, visual charm, while also immediately identifying that the site is about shopping.
Search/User Friendly Database Design
AliShops.com features a database backend to handle the content and administration of the site but we specifically designed the database to include search engine marketing features. Each page on the site can have custom meta titles, descriptions, and keywords. The URLs for each page use keywords rather than ID numbers to describe the content of that page. All of these features contribute to help optimize an individual page on the site for a specific search phrase while also providing more information for the site’s visitors.
The site search function is fairly robust, searching nearly all the database fields for the stores. Site visitors can further refine their queries by sorting their searches by name, category, county, neighborhood, city, state and zip code.
Search Friendly Coding
The pages of the site use cascading style sheets for formatting and layout in order to both follow website design best practices and to make the pages as easy as possible for search engines to understand, and therefore index. The site looks and works well in all major browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari for the Mac.
Advertising Management System
Though AliShops.com does not sell advertising, we implemented an ad rotation/management system for Allison to run internal sitewide promotions, such as one encouraging visitors to sign up for her free email update. The advertising management system allows campaigns to run sitewide or within specific sections. Ad campaigns can be set to expire automatically at a date certain or after X number of impressions or click-throughs. The system can handle graphical banner ads, text-based ads, or even rich media.
Social Bookmarking Integration
In order to promote sharing of the site and to provide a helpful feature for visitors, we built in the capability of visitors to save individual store review pages (example, scroll to bottom) to popular social bookmarking services such as digg, Google Bookmarks, del.icio.us, Furl, or to email the page to friends.
Not only does this help visitors keep track of their favorite pages, but it also allows other people who are using those services to find AliShops.com.
We also designed a template email to match the look an feel of AliShops.com for her to use for her weekly email update. The update service provides subscribers with sales and specials and notice of when new stores and shops are added to the site. Email newsletters are a superb way to build an ongoing relationship with visitors.
Finally, we designed a companion blog for the site, AliShopsBlog.com. The blog provides Allison with a communication vehicle that is personality driven–more intimate and informal–which helps to make a personal connection with her visitors. With the ability for readers to comment on her blog, she can engage her audience in a conversation while gaining valuable insight into what they’d like to see in her Internet presence.
The blog features the same social bookmarking features that AliShops.com boasts, as well as RSS feeds for popular RSS readers.
We designed an email update template for the blog that matched the look and feel of the site, as well. The blog’s email update allows her subscribers to get a weekly email containing all the blog posts for that weeek.