Building an Ecommerce Website is getting easier and easier due to the ever improving tools that are out there such as Shopify or Ecwid but when you are brand new to doing this, there are many things that you may get wrong or overlook!
And it is for this reason why I have created an Ultimate Guide to Building an Ecommerce Website as I have built quite a few and fallen into many common mistakes, which hopefully you can learn from.
Throughout this guide, I will include links to other posts I have written that will help you get your ecommerce business up and running.
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Step 1: Choosing the Right Domain Name
THE most important step to starting an online store is getting a domain name! The reason why it is so important is that it is your online address, the place where your customers are going to visit you.
Buying a domain name is easy, you just go to a domain registrar, search and buy. Simple right?
It is not quite that simple, there are some guidelines that you want to follow in order to get the perfect domain name for your online shop. But what are these guidelines?
1. Keep it Short
You really want to keep your domain name to less than 20 characters and no more than 3 words. Ideally you want less than 15 characters and 1 or 2 words.
2. Keep it Simple
You want people to remember your businesses name and domain name and they best way to do that is to keep it simple.
Don’t be too clever with your name, unique ways of spelling words may help you stand out from the crowd but are people going to remember how to spell your name? If you try it out on people and they either struggle to pronounce it or just simply don’t understand it then you probably need to think again.
3. Don’t use a Hyphen
A common thing I see new businesses do is to go for a hyphenated version of their domain name and honestly, this isn’t a good thing to do. Firstly because 99% of people will forget about the hyphen and secondly you could potentially be sending traffic not only to someone else’s websites but also potentially a competitor.
Yes, I know EcommerceGold uses a hyphen but I’d backed myself into a corner on this one!
4. Only use Top Level Domains
You only want to use top level domains, I am talking about .com and .co.uk. The reason for this is that we are almost conditioned to type these whenever we type out a domain name. If you use any others, even .net and .org then you can have the same thing happen with using a hyphen, you are potentially sending visitors to another website.
It might take some time to get the right domain name but it will be worth it in the end as you will have one that you can build a successful business on.
If when you are searching for a domain name, you find that the one you want is available, then it is best to get it ASAP as you may find that it is has gone while you have been thinking about it. Also if both the .com and .co.uk are available, then it is best to get them both. This will help to stop anyone else from coming in and impersonating your business.
Step 2: Choose an Ecommerce Platform
Once you have your domain name, you need to choose which platform you are going to use to build your online shop. Now when it comes to choosing a platform, there are two main paths that you can take:
Number 1: Hosted Ecommerce Platforms – What I Recommend
Hosted ecommerce take a lot of the hassle out of running an online store and the reason for this is that they take care of all the technical aspects of your website and this includes:
- Website performance such as page load speed and image optimisation
- Mobile responsiveness, they make sure that your online store works well on all mobile devices
- Security, both on the server and website side of things
By taking care of all of this, it leaves you to focus on the important aspects of running the business part of website such as getting visitors, getting sales and managing your inventory.
You also get the benefit of having a support team at the end of the phone, live chat or email to help you should you encounter any issues with the your site such as it not loading or being slow etc. It is like having your own it support team.
When it comes to choosing a platform, there are quite a few options out there such as:
But which one you should go for depends very much on you and your business, fortunately for you I have tested and reviewed most of the on EcommerceGold and you can see my top recommendations in my Best Ecommerce Platforms post.
Number 2: Self-Hosted Ecommerce Platforms
Self-hosted platforms take more managing from you as you have to manage things such as your websites performance and server security. You also have two separate elements you need to manage and they are your Web Hosting and the ecommerce software such as WordPress + Woocommerce or Opencart.
This is a better option if you are prepared to pay a web developer to help you manage your site, yes you can do it yourself and you can learn all you need to know to have a really nice site. The only problem with doing that is that all the time you spend learning how to build and manage a website, you could have spent marketing and potentially getting sales on a hosted platform.
Now there are some advantages to having a self-hosted online shop as you generally have more control over how your shop will look and you can move you site to another web host if you are not happy with your current host.
As to which option you take, that is down to you but if you are just starting out, then for me a hosted platform is the way to go.
Step 3: Designing your Shop
Step 3 is where you actually start building your website and while most people will spend way too much time deciding which:
- Theme to use
- What the colors are going to be
- What font styles to use
These are actually quite simple:
- Go for a simple and clean looking theme
- Stick to simple color combinations that work together (avoid colors that clash)
- Go for easy to read font styles, most Sans Serif styles work well (avoid overly artistic styles as they can be difficult to read)
If you look at most ecommerce websites, they follow a similar formula and while aesthetics are important, usability is WAY MORE IMPORTANT!!
You can have the best looking site in the world but if it slow, hard to navigate and generally frustrating to use, it simply won’t work.
So what are some of the things you should be working on:
1. Home Page
Many people spend too long setting up their homepage when building an ecommerce site but unless you are someone like Amazon or Ebay, most of your visitors won’t actually come to your sites homepage, instead they will probably come to a product page.
So don’t stress over your homepage too much, have some nice pictures to link to your categories and maybe list your most popular or featured products. You could also link to your social media and blog if you want but don’t spend too long looking at every little detail, make it look nice and be functional, then focus on the rest of your site.
2. Navigation Menu
I see so many sites that don’t use these correctly but you need to think of your navigation menu as the directions for your website and as I’m sure you know yourself, bad directions make life so much more difficult but when it comes to your ecommerce website, this can result in potential customers clicking off and going somewhere else.
3. Product Page
These will probably be the most visited pages on your site and this is really where first impressions count!
You want all information to be easily accessible on the product page (also when filling out your product page, add all relevant information) and most platforms offer a couple of different layout options but things you want to consider:
- Use large, high quality images so customers can see the product
- Put all relevant information in a text box next to the image
4. Make Sure it Works On Mobile
Most websites are designed on desktop computers as it just makes life easier but mobile now makes up around 50% of traffic to ecommerce websites.
So make sure that it works on mobile, most platforms will have an icon in their customizer which allows you to switch between desktop and mobile view, so whenever you make a change, always check to see if it works well on both devices.
Also use your own mobile device to check as well, I always use a private browser on my phone to check how well my sites perform and look.
Step 4: Choose a Payment Gateway
This step is a pretty important step, unless you don’t want to sell anything or give all your stock away for free!
To optimize conversion rates, it is often best to offer multiple payment options such as PayPal and a Credit Card processor as this gives your customers a choice and they may have their own personal preference and you want to accommodate this if possible.
When it comes to payment gateways that are out there, there are a lot to choose from and for new businesses this can give them a lot of flexibility.
Pay As You Go Payment Processors
Arguably the best option when you are just getting started as you only pay transaction fees when you make a sale, some of these options include:
While these payment options do give you more flexibility, they do charge higher transactions fees, usually around 3%, however, some do offer reductions in fees for high volume merchants.
Merchant Account + Payment Gateway
This is the more ‘traditional’ way off accepting payments online and requires you to have a merchant account and a payment gateway. These can either be had separately or combined through your chosen partner, such as:
For new ecommerce websites, these aren’t the best option as they usually have monthly fees ($20+) and long contracts (2-5 years). These should only be considered when you are having higher volumes of sales as they can be quite a lot cheaper in terms of transaction fees.
Flexible Payment Options
A recent but much welcomed additional to the types of gateways mentioned above is flexible payment options and depending on the payment provider, you could have things like:
- Buy now, pay after delivery
- Break the payment down into 3-6 monthly payments
- Retail finance, with monthly repayments ranging from 6-24 months
Offering these different types of payments can often lead to increased sales as it gives your customers much more flexibility, especially when it comes to more expensive items and some of the popular options are:
You would want to offer these alongside the more traditional payment options as some people just want to pay for their orders in one go.
Step 5: Setup your Delivery Methods
The next things you want to do is figure out how you are going to get your products from you to your customer?
As with most things in business, there is more to this than meets the eye. Not only do you want to know what services you are going to be using and how much they are going to cost but you want to know how reliable are they? do they offer tracking? can you claim of them if your item gets lost?
Sometimes going with the cheapest can end up costing you more money in the long run. So do your research and make sure you are working with a company that is going to help your business not hinder it!
This is also something you need to consider when you are planning how to post out your products. You want your products to get there in one piece so you need to make sure it is well protected during transit.
Again there a few things to consider:
- How does your packaging look? It might protect it but if it looks like it has just been thrown together by someone on their kitchen table, it isn’t going to give a great first impression.
- How much does the packaging cost? You want to find a happy medium between it protecting the item, looking professional and not costing too much.
- How easy is the packaging to dispose of? Customers are caring more and more about the environment and you might want to consider having easy to recycle postal packaging, plus it makes your business look good.
Take some time when planning how you are going to get the products to your customer and if you have it already setup and ready to go, it will save you a lot of time when your online shop is up and running!
Step 6: Make Sure Your Website is Legal
When you are selling online, you need to make sure that your business is operating legally. Because if you don’t, you can end up in a lot of trouble with the government and that is the last thing you want to have to deal with!
So what do you need to do to help ensure that your business is legal?
*Disclaimer – this is a guide only, always get anything legal or financial checked by a legal professional, accountant or the relevant authorities*
Tell The Taxman
When you set up as a business, you need to let whoever you are responsible for paying tax to, which is HMRC here in the UK, that you are going to be making an additional income.
The simplest and easiest way to do that here in the UK is to become a sole trader, it also involves less paperwork, which is always nice! If you have any questions about what is best for you to do, then speak to a chartered accountant as they will be able to tell you exactly which route you should take.
You need to include your business information on your website and also make sure that this information is easy to find. But what information do you need to include?
- Your Business Name
- Your Business Address
- Contact Information such as Telephone Number and Email Address
If you don’t want to use your home address, then one option is to use a Virtual Office, which is where you rent a mailbox from a company and all of your post and correspondence will go there.
When it comes to your contact information, it is worth investing in having a domain linked email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org rather than having a generic gmail or outlook email address. You can usually do this through your website provider or if you can use G Suite by Google or Office365 by Microsoft that both enable you to do this and you also get to use their apps which makes managing your business email on the go much easier.
With your telephone number, you can use VoIP software that allows you to have a geo or national landline, without having to have another phone line installed as they use the internet to make the calls. You can either have a VoIP phone or install the companies app on your smart phone to turn it into a business phone.
Website Pages – Required
There are pages you need to have on your website that are legal requirements.
Terms and Conditions – you may end up with two sets of terms and conditions. One may be for your websites, so how visitors can use your website and intellectual property etc. The other may be for when they purchase from you and will include your contact info and how to contact you, how they can pay, their right to cancel, returns and refunds. Basically anything related to the transaction that is made between the customer and you as a business.
Website Pages – Optional
For online stores, it is always good practise to create separate pages for parts of your terms and conditions (they must still be in your T&C’s). This just makes it easier for your customers to find out what want to know, without having to trawl through the terms and conditions page.
Contact Page – this just makes it easier for your customers to contact you. This can be really beneficial to sales as some visitors will have questions they want to ask before making a purchase, so make it easy to contact you. Also include your telephone number and email address on this page to give them more options.
Returns Page – clearly listing out your businesses returns policy can help build confidence in your business as you are not trying to hide how your customers can start a return, if they don’t like what they buy from you. Always make sure your returns policy is fair and most importantly legal!
Payment & Delivery – you can do these as separate pages or combine them into one. You basically want to include all the information you sorted out in Step 4 and 5 above and tell your customers how they can pay, what delivery methods you offer and how much delivery costs.
Step 7: Test, Test and Test Again
Once you have finished building your website and filling in with inventory and content, it is pretty much ready to go. But before you launch and start getting customers to your site and buying from you, you want to test your site to make sure it is working properly.
Run some test orders through your site, make sure that your checkout and payment processors are all set up correctly and the sales are going through.
Print the orders off so you know that you can process the orders, work through all the stages of the order such as processing, completed etc.
Cancel and refund your test orders, do you have to do it through your payment processor or can you do it through your admin area?
Doing all of this testing with practise orders will make your life so much easier as you will know how it works and what you need to do for when you start getting real orders coming in. You also want to check to make sure that all the emails are not only sending properly but also contain the right information.
If you want to ramp your testing up a bit, get friends or family to place some test orders on your site and get feedback from them as to how easy it was to do, did everything work properly and can anything be improved. It is better to iron out as many issues at this stage rather than trying to work through them when the site is live.
Conclusion – Get Started!
Planning will only get you so far and you can read every guide under the sun but nothing can replace actually getting started!
I will be completely honest, you never feel ready and you never feel like you know enough but you won’t know what you need to learn until you are out there doing it. The first 12 months will be a constant learning process and you will make mistakes but you learn from them and grow as a person and a business.
The first 12 months will be roller coaster of emotions, you have have good times and great times, you will also face some tough and challenging times but it will be an experience you will never forget and you will use it as a platform for your future!
Starting a business is challenging and scary at times but you want to embrace the challenge and enjoy the process! You only regret what you don’t do, so go for it!