It's easy to see why shopping online is so popular. The internet makes it much easier to find the products you're looking for, not to mention the convenience of being able to shop right from your living room.
And as eCommerce grows, more online stores open to meet the ever-expanding needs of discerning customers. Well-known retail brands have taken the step online to complement their physical locations, and startups are appearing every day, bringing their own unique products and ideas onto the market.
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you might be considering opening an online store of your own. Maybe you make products yourself that you'd love to sell, or you want to build your brand beyond popular marketplaces. Or maybe you want to become a high-powered retailer in a niche that appeals to you. Either way, it might be time for you to break into eCommerce!
Regardless of the products you want to sell and the industry you're targeting, there are some important factors you need to keep in mind when building your online store. It's easy to go into eCommerce with unrealistic expectations — since everything is done on a computer, it can seem less "real," which makes it common for new merchants to make mistakes or lose track of the next step.
Here are three major points to understand, so you'll start out on the right foot.
Your Website Budget is Complicated
You should never start any business endeavor without a thorough understanding of your budget and expenses, and you need to anticipate everything, as leaving something out can be disastrous. But thanks to the "virtual" nature of eCommerce, it's easy to overlook certain things. Remember that when doing business on the internet, the amount of money you can spend on your supplies and inventory isn't the whole of it. You have to watch carefully for discrepancies between what you expect to spend and what you may need to spend on your website.
One complicating factor is that website creation isn't a one-time purchase. Even if you get a top-of-the-line site that works perfectly, it's still going to need maintenance and updates. The internet is always changing, and standards for design, SEO, and coding continue to evolve. Even the best website in the world is going to be outdated one day, possibly much sooner than you'd expect. So not only will you need design, you'll also need support, and in some cases that could mean hiring a programmer with very specific abilities — not only coding knowledge, but also the skill to understand how your original developer did things.
These are strong reasons to build your eCommerce website with an established platform that has a consistent staff of developers backing it up. Even if you have to pay a monthly fee to use it, you can save a lot of time and trouble later by eliminating the need to hire outside help. This is a common problem with free and open-source eCommerce software — you may have to search far and wide for a solution to an issue rather than contacting a knowledgeable support staff.
Take some time to evaluate your eCommerce software options before you decide which to use. Look for everything that could cause additional expenses later on. Is the platform fine for smaller stores, but might buckle under the strain of tons of products and traffic? How many features are built in and how many require paid apps? Is support included or will you need to pay for upgrades and maintenance? Is the software easy enough to use that you can run your store on your own? Will you need to pay for hosting and security too?
The golden rule for choosing your online store's platform is to be prepared for both short- and long-term expenses, and avoid cost-saving measures that could turn into a larger expense later.
Design is Extremely Important
You only have about three seconds to catch the attention of anyone visiting your website, so its look and feel need to be appealing enough to entice visitors to stick around and become customers. It's also vital that your website loads quickly and works on mobile devices, so customers can have a smooth shopping experience. Mobile compatibility ("responsive" design) is built into the best eCommerce platforms, as is quick loading speed — which is accomplished through efficient coding and proper image compression.
Design encompasses both your website’s looks and its structure. As mentioned, mobile compatibility is crucial, both for user experience and for SEO. The layout should be uncluttered and easy to understand and navigate. Ideally, a visitor won’t need to click more than three times to find what they’re looking for, and all your links will be clearly labeled.
Your site also needs a clear call to action, which is most effective in the form of a button or banner that instructs the visitor to take the desired action, such as subscribing to your newsletter, creating an account, or buying a product. The lack of a clear CTA will often leave the customer feeling lost.
SEO Starts Immediately
There are plenty of things you can do over the long term to help boost your site in search rankings, like writing informative blog posts and including valuable information on your product pages. However, some SEO is more technical and should be implemented correctly from the beginning.
Your URL structure is one important aspect of your SEO that can be extremely hard to correct later on, so it's best to do it right on your first try. All the URLs of your website need to be understandable to a human viewer. For example, a URL such as www.myonlinestore.com/c22/prod_4769752.html is terrible for SEO. Something like www.myonlinestore.com/pets/cat-toy-remote-control-mouse.html is much better.
Your page titles also need to be optimized, both for search engines and for human readability. The page title tag appears in the top of the browser as the "name" of the page, and as the name in a visitor's bookmarks. It will also be the large link at the top of the entry within search results, so it needs to be informative and appealing. "Welcome to My Online Store!" tells us nothing and wastes a valuable opportunity for keywords. Instead, each page title should be written with its actual use in mind. Using the same example of a remote controlled cat toy, a good page title would be "Remote Control Mouse – Manufacturer Name | Online Store Name". Keep the keywords at the beginning and don't overdo them. Don't neglect your site's meta description tags either — they provide the summary within a search results entry.
A site that fails these SEO tasks will rank poorly, so ensure the eCommerce software you use makes it easy to customize your URLs, page titles, and meta tags. Otherwise you'll have to dig into the code, and we're back at the problem of needing to hire a developer.
Putting Knowledge to Use
Hopefully you’ll be able to use the information in this article to avoid mistakes that could cause problems for your business later. The internet can be unforgiving when it comes to website design, and doubly so for eCommerce, so it’s always a good idea to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Keep these factors in mind while you choose your eCommerce software and build your website, and you’ll be off to a great start.