The internet has seen its share of shake-ups when it comes to doing business online, but the basics of how to setup an eCommerce website remain the same. For those interested in a brief history lesson, we recently wrote a piece on the history and change of ecommerce. But in this post, we’ll walk you through the four key steps you need to take when setting up an online business and include our recommendations to make it as easy as possible for you to start making money online. And best of all, building an online business isn’t rocket surgery—we’ll prove it!
1. Choose the Right eCommerce Platform (Don’t Do It Yourself)
It can be tempting to think of blazing your own trail when it comes to starting an eCommerce business, but, in general, it is a safer (and more successful) bet to stick with established online store platforms. Odds are you want to spend your time focusing on growing your business and not troubleshooting your online store, so let the pros handle the coding and the technical stuff. When you’re selecting an eCommerce website host, it’s best to choose one that is widely known and trusted by both customers and other businesses you might work with. With that in mind, there’s two that we think are head and shoulders above the rest: WooCommerce and Shopify.
WooCommerce is an open source eCommerce plugin you can integrate with any WordPress site to start selling. This is especially great if your business’s website is already hosted on WordPress; you don’t have the hassle of making two different systems play nice together. Even if you’re not already using a WordPress site, setting one up is free and easy to start out with, and Woo even offers a “new store” walkthrough that can get you up and running in under a day.
WooCommerce is free to start using, but in order to get the security and domain hosting you need to keep your customers safe, you’ll have to eke out a few bucks to upgrade to those features. What’s more, WooCommerce has a wide variety of free and premium subscription “extensions” that can take the platform to the next level. Even with the base costs and a few extensions, it’s still very reasonably priced when compared to other eCommerce platforms on the market.
The downside to Woo is also the greatest benefit: it is infinitely customizable. That means if you don’t have any website building knowledge or coding experience, you might feel like your site is very cookie-cutter. On the other hand though, if you do know your way around some code, you’ll be able to create a truly bespoke site that can scale to nearly any design or functionality need.
We’ve built several advanced ecommerce websites using WooCommerce, and it tends to be our platform of choice when clients are seeking that extra level of customization. Check out our eCommerce web design services to see our full capabilities and samples of work.
Shopify is our other recommendation because it is an all-in-one solution for a flat monthly fee, though it’s not for everyone. In fact, we wrote a whole post on why and when to use Shopify here if you want to dig in further. One nice thing about Shopify is that you don’t have to pay extra for that critical https security or domain hosting, and you don’t need to know a single line of code in order to start. It’s got a teensy learning curve (especially compared to Woo) and Shopify runs a few million eCommerce stores around the web, meaning it’s a trusted name.
Shopify also partners with shipping companies like USPS, UPS and Canada Post to give its users easy integration for sending products to the customer. If your business revolves around shipping or dropshipping, the existing integration alone might make it worthwhile for you to use Shopify.
Shopify’s downside is that they charge transaction fees unless you use their subsidiary sales processing gateway, Shopify Payments. That isn’t a deal breaker for most people, but it’s worth noting. Other payment gateway fees will vary depending on which solution you implement (Stripe, Authorize.net, etc.). Shopify also features a walkthrough for first-timers looking to get an eCommerce store up and running, and it’s full of helpful tips and recommendations.
A side benefit of choosing either Woo or Shopify is that we’re experienced working in either platform, so if (when!) you decide to partner with a full-service digital marketing agency, there won’t be any hiccups if we end up working together.
2. Take Pictures That Will Wow Customers and Drive Traffic to Your Store
The internet is an inherently visual place, and it is extremely beneficial to invest in high-quality creative elements for your digital advertising and online store experiences. Especially for an eCommerce store, high-quality product photos are vital for the longevity of the business. Quality creative is imperative to creating trust and value signals to your potential buyers.
If your site features a grainy, badly lit shot of your amazing product, few customers are going to be able to look past the bad picture. This goes double if you are selling something where its appearance makes it valuable to a customer, like clothing, wall art, or a snarky coffee cup. When in doubt, make sure the product photos you take are just as nice as the product itself.
It can be easy to forget that traffic flowing to your online store and the number of those visitors who become customers is the king metric. Even if your social media game is on point and your paid advertisements are raking in the views, if you can’t convert, you’re going to go out of business. Fortunately, we’ve got guides that’ll help you get those tasty sales locked down.
3. Invest in Online Advertising to Grow & Thrive in eCommerce
You can’t rely on flyers, billboards and wacky-waving-inflatible-arm-people to advertise your eCommerce store; you also need to put ads where your customers are online. Whether you rely on paid search from Google and Bing or paid social media ads, focus on being better than the best. A poorly crafted ad is easy to skip over. Beyond that, make sure each advertising avenue redirects to a different page on your main website so you can track which ads are pulling their weight and which need to be cut.
Important to consider alongside any paid advertising, in particular with eCommerce, is a great content strategy for your site. ECommerce marketing can often take a blend of performance and content driven campaigns to really be effective. For example, your top of funnel campaign may drive users to a solution driven video or blog, while your remarketing campaign is purely product or sale focused.
4. Identify and Pursue Your Target Audience
Even when selling online, it is vital to know who your target audience is and how you plan to reach them. This is Marketing 101: you’ve got to know who is going to buy your product, where they are, and how you’re going to reach them. Are you going to have drivers doing delivery, or are you going to rely on USPS to ship? If you sell a digital product like a video course , ebook, or a file, how are you going to prevent link-thieves from sharing your product all over the darkweb?
Beyond that, where do your customers hang out online? Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, spacejam.com? Whatever the answer, you need to know, and that’s where you need to be. Finding the small communities of like minded people and inserting your advertising there is a great way to get customers who are invested in your product and your success.
From organic channels, word of mouth, and paid advertising, there are infinite channels to drive awareness and commerce through your online store. If you’re just getting started, now is the time to experiment with the delivery and messaging through these channels to refine your marketing mix to best reach your defined audiences. If you need a hand through this process, drop us a line!