After spending a great deal of time and energy perfecting your product, you’re finally ready to sell your work online through an ecommerce website. However, like many entrepreneurs, you, alone, have to create the site—something you’ve never done before. Does this seem like a daunting task? You’ve come to the right place! To get prepared for what lies ahead, read below for the 10-step guide to ecommerce website development.
10 Steps to Setting up Your Online Store
1. Purchase a Domain
The first step in building an ecommerce website is to decide on a domain name, aka your website’s unique identification string. Start by creating a list of URLs that reference your company, whether it’s the name, tagline or other brand descriptors. Keep the domain short and snappy—the fewer the characters the better—so potential customers remember it and return to your website. Also, try to avoid clever spellings or a name that sounds too close like another company as this will confuse your audience.
A top-level domain, or TLD for short, is the part of the domain that comes after the dot, such as .co, .edu, .gov or .org. While it’s getting more popular to use a unique top-level domain, .com is still the most-trusted non-governmental TLD. Nevertheless, the name of the game is being memorable, so get creative with your URL, including the TLD, but also do what makes sense for your target audience. Once you have a solid list of domain names, narrow it down by checking for their availability, weighing the prices and noting any previous domain authority.
Buying From a Domain Registrar
Domain registrars are accredited companies responsible for managing all of the internet’s domain names. While there’s an overwhelming amount of registrars out there, we recommend purchasing from a reputable company like GoDaddy or Namecheap. Not only will you avoid the possibility of getting scammed by a fake domain registrar, but these companies also offer complementary services, such as email hosting and SSL certifying, often at a discount, if you register with them. Domain names must be renewed monthly, quarterly or annually with cost-cutting benefits for longer-term commitments.
2. Pick an Ecommerce Platform
Now that you purchased your domain, it’s time to start creating your online shop. We recommend building your website either on Shopify or WordPress. Shopify is an all-in-one ecommerce platform that offers built-in hosting capabilities. WordPress is an open-source content management system that offers ecommerce functionality, but has an in-depth setup process and requires a website hosting plan from another platform.
You should use Shopify if you desire an easy and intuitive website-building process. It offers everything you need to create an online store including domain registration, hosting, security, as well as point-of-sale systems, transactional emailing, inventory management, legal page templates and more. While Shopify is a polished, one-stop-shop for ecommerce websites, keep in mind that you will be charged a fee for nearly every marketing integration, upgrade and add-on. Additionally, even though you needn’t be a web developer to use Shopify, having some familiarity with themes and liquid template language will make building your site easier.
The main advantage to building on WordPress is the opportunity to customize every aspect of your website. This is possible through the WordPress plugin library which grants developers access to thousands of free and premium open-source plugins meant to enhance the user experience and provide additional functionality. Keep in mind that plugin conflicts, deprecated code and security vulnerabilities can occur since many plugins are created by developers who aren’t always paid for their services. Make sure you do your research and choose your plugins wisely.
Enabling Ecommerce on WordPress
When it comes to enabling your WordPress site for ecommerce, there are a few options. The most popular one is installing WooCommerce, an open-source ecommerce plugin for WordPress. However, if you don’t wish to maintain customer information in your WordPress database, you also have the option to integrate headless ecommerce. Headless ecommerce strips the ecommerce functionality from the backend of your WordPress website and transfers it to a separate platform, allowing you more flexibility and autonomy for how your content is displayed. While WordPress is not as straightforward to build as Shopify, you should choose this platform if you expect to continually change/update your site or desire a custom look.
3. Create a Sitemap
A sitemap is the blueprint of pages that will make up a website. Before you start creating any webpages, write out all the pages you need for your ecommerce site. These will include a homepage, product pages, a page about the company, a contact page—anything your brand needs to communicate to your audience. Then, arrange the website’s hierarchical structure and decide each page’s unique URL based on this organization.
4. Decide on a Theme
Once you have the main interface elements pinned down, now’s the time to pick a theme, which is a set of page templates that dictate the style and appearance of your website. Both Shopify and WordPress offer a catalog of themes at various price points. Choose one that’s legible, mobile-friendly and fits with your branding. If you find a website that has a style you like, find out its theme by using this tool.
5. Wireframe Your Pages
A website wireframe is a visual representation of a website’s skeletal framework. If you work on a team and must flesh out the important parts of your website to others, use a wireframe to visually demonstrate the interface elements before moving forward. Not only do wireframes display how your website is structured, but they also show how the pages interconnect with each other. Adobe XD is an excellent platform to create wireframes since it allows you to add buttons and link to other pages, providing an interactive representation of how your site will appear and function to a customer.
6. Set Up Your Products
Any products you’re planning to sell must include some, if not all, of the following information: price, variants, such as size and color, and dimensions. While you can get by without having videos or GIFs, each item and its variant must be accompanied with high-resolution product and lifestyle images. Depending on your site’s design, product photos may need to be taken on a white background, and saved as transparent background PNGs. Generally speaking, lifestyle photos should be JPG files that are optimized for the web. Additionally, it’s a good idea to include a customer review section for each product, especially if you have a large number of items for sale and you wish to keep customer opinions organized.
7. Include Policies
8. Optimize for SEO
Search engine optimization is the process of improving your website in order to gain qualified traffic from search engines. Remember, Google only displays relevant information on the search engine results page (SERP), so make sure your customer-facing content contains keywords that match your target search phrases. Search engines also take user experiences into consideration, so make sure your website’s back-end is optimized in the following ways.
First, put as much thought in your metadata as you would for your customer-facing copy. Metadata is information about various aspects of your website, such as image alt text, page titles or meta descriptions. All of these help search engines like Google understand the content and messaging of your web pages in order to display them to the right users.
Large webpages and slow load times can make or break your SEO efforts. To reduce your page’s size and load time, compress your images to the smallest file size possible (without severely reducing their quality). Image optimization plugins, like WPSmush or TinyPNG, can be integrated on your website and will automatically compress images for you.
Robots.txt and Favicons
We also recommend including a robots.txt file on your site to communicate with web browsers and other web robots which areas should and shouldn’t be crawled and indexed. Favicons, website icons displayed at the top of the browser, are another important yet looked-over SEO booster since they help users locate your website when multiple tabs are open.
9. Install Marketing Plugins
Marketing plugins and applications are tools to help automate and track your marketing efforts. While there’s a plugin to help with just about everything these days, email marketing, social media marketing and content marketing apps will save you the most time and energy down the road. Check out this list of the best WordPress plugins and Shopify integrations which include details about our favorite tools, such as OptinMonster, Privy and others. However, downloading too many plugins will slow your site down, so choose carefully.
10. Run Tests
Once your ecommerce website is polished to perfection, you must test all its features and capabilities to ensure your site functions as intended. Internal and external links, transactions, inventory tracking and email automation are just a few examples that need testing before pushing your website live. It’s a good idea to create a 100%-off coupon when testing your point-of-sale system and your transactional emails. That way, you can complete a practice purchase by only charging for shipping and tax. Keep in mind that you must test your website’s capabilities on a routine basis as it’s possible for plugins, apps and other features to break without warning.
Set Your Ecommerce Website Up for Success
Building an ecommerce website from the ground up can be overwhelming, especially in the beginning. While it could be a long process, many times with unexpected roadblocks along the way, stay optimistic and focus on one step at a time.
Reach Out For Assistance
Enventys Partners is a team of expert marketers that can help you bring your dream ecommerce business to life. We encourage you to reach out if you need help during your website development journey.
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