Building a successful eCommerce website means organizing and planning well ahead of actually sitting down to build the site. When I’m building a new site I plan out and gather all of the following information so there are no delays during the build.
I know this may seem obvious, but the point is that choosing your product is one of the most important things in building your eCommerce business. Choose the wrong product and you’ll have far more difficulty succeeding.
What is the wrong product? When you’re just starting out it can be tempting to pick popular products, like technology. The problem is that the market for popular products is pretty saturated, so unless you have a very specific marketing plan which addresses exactly how you’re going to overcome and rise above all of the other sites promoting the same products, you’re probably not going to get traction or make any money.
Additionally, picking a product you have no interest in can be a mistake because there will be many times you want to give up; having a genuine interest in the products you sell will help you get back on track when the road gets rocky.
What is the right product? When you take the time to research the niche you want to sell in, and its products, you’ll be way ahead of the game. It’ll be easy to tell whether your audience wants the products, which can mean the difference between success and failure. Also, if you already have some knowledge of the niche and products, you’ll know exactly how to build that audience and the experience will be much more enjoyable (meaning, it’ll be ten times easier to keep going through the hard times).
- Who is Your Customer?
This second point ties in directly with the product(s) you want to sell. You need to know exactly who your customer is in order to be successful selling via an eCommerce site. Actually, this should probably be the number ONE spot, as it is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to nail down ahead of time. Reason?
- It affects your site design
- It affects how you market
- It affects practically everything: social media, email marketing, branding, content, etc.
As you’re working out who your customer is, here’s a hint: IT’S NEVER “EVERYONE.”
- How are You Going to Sell?
This point is defining what functionality your eCommerce site will need. Will you be putting your designs on products through a print-on-demand (POD) site? Will you be selling other people’s products and dropshipping them? Will you be using Amazon FBA? Will you be selling primarily digital products? Each of these require slightly or completely different research and planning before the build
Before building the site you’ll need to know which of these different ways you’re going to be selling your products. Some require integration, others settings things completely up on the site itself; when done correctly, the sales process can (and should) be automatic.
- Good Images
All websites should have good, clear images but it’s absolutely a MUST to have good, clear images on an eCommerce website. Not only should your site and category images be clear, but your product images must be easily seen and show the product in its best light so people know what they’re purchasing. Images need to be optimized for fast loading (yes, this is a ranking factor with Google) and they should fit the branding and product line of your site.
- Good Content, Copy and Descriptions
Make sure the copy and content is error-free: no typos or grammatical errors. If English isn’t your first language, make sure you have an English native speaker look things over and edit to make you look professional.
Make sure the “voice” of the site fits your brand. This is especially important if you’re having others write different portions of your site.
Ideally, your product descriptions will be unique and not boring; hire a professional copywriter if you need to.
- Good Mockups
Mockups are images showing your products in real-world situations, for example clothing on models, art prints in frames on walls, designs on clothing, mugs, etc. Having good mockups will allow potential customers to imagine themselves using your product in the same way, which is an important step in the buying process.
- Site Design
Now that you’ve gathered most of the content for your eCommerce site, you can focus on the design. The style of your site will depend on a number of factors, including what you’re selling, how you’re selling it, who your audience is, and what your branding is. There is no “one way” to design your eCommerce site, but there are a few best practices to consider as you’re developing it:
- You want easy navigation so your customers don’t get confused and/or lost because once that happens, they’re gone (most likely forever).
- You want strong calls to action. People need to know what they’re supposed to do at every step of the process.
- You want an easy sales process: easy ordering and easy checkout. (And please let them remove items from their cart if they wish!)
- As mentioned above, you definitely want excellent images and good, error-free copy throughout the site.
Your site must be responsive, meaning it needs to look good and function well on all devices. In fact, Google uses mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor.
If you’re going to use a template (even one from this site), be sure you customize it to fit your business. Which leads perfectly into the next point:
Who are you as a company? Are you quirky? Serious? Fun-loving? Elegant?
Knowing who you are BEFORE you build your site is imperative. You want to be as focused as possible when you launch your brand, otherwise you’ll be selling to no one
Branding is more than just font styles, colors, and a logo. It’s how you behave as a business, how you interact with your customers, how you come across in the world, what you want to be known for. It’s a long-term game for long-term gain. Most people focus solely on logos and typography, forgetting that the way customers see a business goes so far beyond that.
In today’s world, many companies have taken stand politically or in other ways. I don’t recommend you do this UNLESS it fits what you’re doing or you’re already established enough so you won’t alienate potential customers. You can certainly come out in support of worthy causes, just be cautious in how you do that, especially when you’re just starting out
I recommend finding a course on branding or watching a few videos before diving into your own. It should give you lots of ideas and help you decide who you do want to be as a company and a brand. Branding makes it so much easier to target your marketing, so make sure you’re targeting the right market!
- Strong Calls to Action
What do you want the customer TO DO? It’s best NOT to ask them to buy something right away – if people don’t know you they probably won’t buy from you the first time they land on your site.
It used to be that a potential customer had to see your ad twelve times before they’d be comfortable enough to purchase from you. I don’t know if that’s the case anymore, but even if it’s fewer times, you still need to establish trust and confidence in your buyers.
A good way to get new/potential customers to interact is to offer a discount or a coupon when they first come to your site. That way they can check out your product at a lower price, and who doesn’t like a deal?
- Product Page/Shopping Cart Strategy
How you structure your product pages and shopping cart often determines how many people buy vs. abandon the product. I highly recommend having strategies in place ahead of time to deal with shopping cart abandonment and how to make the entire purchasing process easier.
Don’t make it difficult for people to find the information they need about your products. The worst thing in the world is to want to buy something but you can’t find where to change a size or a color, or (worse!) what the price is BEFORE adding it to the cart (the exception to this is a strategically run campaign that features huge discounts after a person ads it to their cart).
- Store Policies
It’s extremely important to have strong legal protection for your shop – not only is it a legal requirement in many places (the U.S. is one) but it will also help keep you out of legal problems (or protect you if someone sues).
You should have policies for each of the following:
- Site Terms of Service
- Shop Policy
- Refund/Returns policy
- Shipping Policy
- Shipping Information and Policies
Configuring your eCommerce shop requires knowledge of how (and where) you’re going to be shipping your products. It also requires knowledge of whether you’re going to be collecting taxes, who from, and what the rates are.
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Good SEO is absolutely necessary for your audience to find you, and it’s more than just keywords: it’s a full strategy comprising both technical and non-technical tasks. Knowing what good SEO is will help tremendously in getting your site to rank with Google (and other search engines.
Knowing how to research keyword terms and create content that will attract those searches is extremely important.
- Customer Emails
Having a strong and friendly welcome sequence when someone reaches out can go a long way to getting and keeping new customers. Offering a discount to new customers or a freebie can help get people to sign up to your mailing list, and if they’re the right customer for you, they can become a loyal fan and purchase from you many times.
Planning your email strategy ahead of time and having your email marketing automation in place before your first customer signs up can translate into higher sales. Mailing lists are essential in turning new products and promotions into instant sales in the future.
- Social Media
It’s important to secure your social media accounts so you can begin marketing and branding when you launch your site. It’s not necessary to be on ALL of the platforms, only the ones your customers hang out on.
Knowing which platforms to be active on is important to get new customers and customer engagement, otherwise you’re wasting your time.