Online retail sales in the UK are set to triple by 2012 and retailers are creating increasingly sophisticated transactional sites to compete for part of this.

As the competition increases, retailers will need to become much savvier about the way their sites and products are rated by search engines. As broadband continues to increase use of the internet in the UK, users are becoming more sophisticated in the way they shop online.

Traditionally, customers would enter a site via its home page and then go through a series of sub-menus to find the product they wanted. But search engines such as Google, Yahoo and AOL have transformed the way customers shop online.

50 per cent of customers now go straight to a specific product page, via a search engine, when shopping for an item. This means that, while the home page remains important, for many customers, the individual product pages will provide the shopfront experience, because they become the landing page.

Customers tend to dip in and out of sites, wishing to transact quickly and cleanly – find the product and then go straight to the checkout. Many retailers have designed their web page experience around a more traditional, logical journey and will need to fundamentally rethink how their web experience works.

As the URL becomes less important, where you rank on search engines becomes more crucial. Retailers need to program their sites and product listings to appear high up the rankings; a process that can be done in-house or by using external consultants.

The fact that a highly competitive market has developed to help companies manage their search engine rankings shows just how vital this is in realising sales.

One of the most important factors in page ranking is the content on a web page. User-generated content plays a big role in defining rankings and one way to drive a web site up the ranking league is customer reviews. They have moved rapidly into the mainstream and the effect they have on conversion is impressive.

Another method to achieve higher rankings is to add video to pages. Search engines’ spiders are now able to identify and display pages with video content, which improves a page’s visibility within a ranking. Not only does it play an important role in improving rankings, but it has also been shown to have a significant impact on sales conversion rates.

At Shop Direct Group, we are passionate about the online revolution, which is developing at incredible speed. Retailers must ensure they remain not just at the cutting edge of technology, but deliver what customers demand from their online experience.

For those that can do this, the potential of a£14 billion online market by 2012 is a very exciting prospect indeed.

Mark Newton-Jones, chief executive, Littlewoods Shop Direct