There are more than 1.5 billion websites on the Internet today. How will yours stand out?
Whether you want to sell products online or in-store, you’re going to need to set up a website. And not just any website; it’s going to have to engage your customers and be easy for them to use. Your website needs to be pleasing to the eye without too many bells and whistles that may hinder your customer’s journey Yep, it’s a tall order, but with the right planning and knowledge, it can be achieved.
This chapter will show you how to plan and set up a website from the very beginning, so that you can carefully consider and balance all the requirements needed to make it look professional and be successful.
Checklist for Setting Up an E-commerce Website
As you embark on the journey of setting up your e-commerce website, you want to be sure that the site has a definite, clear, and focused objective. At the same time, you want to make sure that your website objective aligns with your company objective. They need to mirror each other; otherwise, potential customers will be confused as to what your company is all about.
Start with a list. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the purpose of my website? It could be to introduce a new product or service, or to show the inventory of all you have to offer.
- Who is my target audience? Who do you hope will be logging on to your site and staying a while? Who will be coming back again and again? Are you appealing specifically to men? Women? Upscale buyers? Animal lovers? People who like to eat certain foods? Drill down!
- What is it that you want your website visitors to do? Another word for this is “call to action.” What action do you want your visitors to take? Maybe it’s to make a purchase, or to sign up for a newsletter or join a waitlist. Maybe it’s to inform them about your brick-and-mortar store (and show them how to get there).
Your domain name is more than your website’s address. A good name can help customers remember you, increase word of mouth, and build your reputation as a business. Your website’s domain name can work as a positive association with your business, a shortcut. If the name is easy to remember, the customers will not have to struggle to find you online.
In Chapter 3, we talk about how to choose a company name and purchase a domain name. If you haven’t clicked “buy” on that domain name yet, now is the time to do so.
While you don’t need a domain to design a draft of your website using many of the popular e-commerce platform design tools, you can’t publish your website without one.
Unused domain names tend to be pretty cheap (think in the $10-20 range per year). Some e-commerce store platforms will cover that cost for the first year to entice you to use their service. Either way, most will also allow you to purchase your domain through their platform, so you can manage your domain in the same dashboard you use to manage your website.
Jot down a roadmap for your customers as they journey through your website. Before you dive too deep into the many pages and posts you can add, think about how your customers will land on your website.
Identify Your Landing Pages
We’ll spend an entire upcoming chapter on marketing, but briefly consider how you want to generate demand for your product, because it will impact the landing pages for your website. Besides your home page, this is where your customers will get their first impression of your website. You want to present a strong brand identity on these key landing pages.
Here’s a real world scenario to consider: if you focus all of your energy on your home page, but most of your traffic sees your blog posts first, you may be missing an opportunity to engage with customers.
Let’s cover a few more examples of the traffic source, customer journey, and their respective landing page.
Organic searches using Google or Bing that drive visitors to blog posts
- A consumer Google searches the phrase “best nighttime routines for acne”.
- A beauty blog shows up in Page 1 of the Google search.
- The consumer clicks the article, reads the blog, then navigates to the blogger’s store to purchase a face wash.
Landing page: blog post
Organic links clicked by my social media followers that drive followers to product pages
- An Instagram influencer posts about their new favorite protein powder with a link to purchase.
- A follower clicks the link and lands on the product page to purchase.
Landing page: product page
Social media ads (like Instagram or Facebook)
- A shoe company pays for an ad of their recent sandal collection on Instagram.
- A user sees the ad on their feed and clicks the link.
- The link takes them to a product page.
Landing page: product page
In-person events or activities, like a farmer’s market or trade show
- A consumer stops by a booth selling vintage jewelry at a local farmer’s market.
- The consumer wants to look at more inventory, so the seller suggests visiting their website.
- The consumer types the seller’s URL into their browser and lands on the home page.
Landing page: home page
Landing pages will help to inform users’ intent and resulting journey on your website. Make sure that your landing pages present a strong brand identity and highlight the key points you want featured.
Outline the Sitemap
A sitemap is a file that provides information about the pages and content on your website, and the relationships between them, so that search engines can intelligently crawl the site. It’s a hierarchy of the most important pages on your website.
A sitemap is also a good forcing function to figuring out how you want your website structured. As you build out your sitemap, answer the following questions.
- How do you want your website pages organized? Think of the visitor journey as a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. You introduce yourself at the beginning and tell the visitor all about yourself and your business. As they journey through your site, you show them what you have to offer. And hopefully, it’s a happy ending, with the customer making a purchase before exiting.
- What links do you want positioned at the top of each page? Those links are called the navigation bar. It can transport your visitors from where they currently are on your website to somewhere else—either another location on your site or to a completely different (but relevant) site. Your links could move them to certain products you want them to see, or directly to your checkout page. The challenge here is to keep your customers engaged throughout, and to prevent them from wandering away.
Wireframe Your Pages
Every business website should have specific pages, each with the purpose of attracting visitors and converting them into customers. Start drafting and outlining the information you want on each page.
Start with these pages as the foundation of your site:
This is oftentimes where a majority of your traffic will first interact with your business. It should set the tone for the rest of your website.
Whether it’s a small section of your website or an entire page all to itself, the About Us section helps to humanize your brand and share details about you and your team. This could perhaps include a history of your company and profiles of you and your staff. Keep it simple, friendly, and relatable.
It’s vitally important for customers to be able to contact you, usually either by email, an embedded contact form, or a toll-free phone number. Having a Contact Us page lends to your legitimacy and credibility as a business. It shows that you are real and willing to interact with your customers regarding questions and concerns.
Pro tip: you’ll also want to make sure any contact email address you provide uses your website domain. For example, if your domain name is www.yournamehere.com, then your email address should be firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or something to that effect.
You’ll likely want to spend significant time on your product pages, since they help your visitors better understand what you’re selling. Some businesses rely on paid advertising to drive traffic, so they take a minimalistic approach to their pages, including a few brief lines about the product, images, and large buttons to purchase. If you’re hoping for more organic traffic, you’ll want to beef up the page with more content, including customer reviews, testimonials, size and fit charts, product and lifestyle images, etc. because that can help improve your website search engine rankings.
This is the legalese you need to include on your website, if necessary. This spells out what is expected of you and of your customers. It ultimately protects you from lawsuits, especially if a potential buyer is asked to agree to your terms by clicking a button that says, “I agree.”
The following pages are usually considered more optional than your foundational pages above. However, give them some thought; they can go a long way toward engaging your customer, and building a market.
A blog is like an online newsletter that can engage your visitors with business and industry news, as well as event coverage, tips and advice, customer testimonials, and thought leadership pieces. You can use each of these individual posts (articles) in your social media, as well. Plus, blogs can be a huge traffic driver if you’re looking to use SEO to drive sales.
FAQs and Help Center
Customers want to know that they have somewhere to turn if they have a problem, question, or concern. Your FAQs (frequently asked questions) and/or Help Center page can answer questions and address concerns before they are asked.
Case Studies, Testimonials, and Reviews
Not everything is brand new for the digital age. Sharing existing customer satisfaction with potential buyers is a time-honored way to grow your business. People listen to what current customers have to say. Case studies that prove that your product is useful or worth buying also go a long way when it comes to persuasion.
Consider Other Forms of Engagement
Live Chat Function
Again, customers like to know that you are with them all the way, and that they have someone (or even something, like a bot) to talk to if and when needed.
According to a study on the effectiveness of live chats:
- 29 percent of consumers have told friends or colleagues about a positive live chat experience
- 38 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from a company if they offer live chat support
- 51 percent of consumers are more likely to stay with or buy again from a company if they offer live chat support
You don’t have to build a live chat widget yourself or be awake 24/7 to take incoming calls. You can integrate live chat software with your website to automate much of the hard work for you.
Quizzes are a great way to capture visitors’ email addresses for ongoing outreach. In fact, Neil Patel increased website lead capture by 500 percent with a quiz for one of his websites.
Customers also like to share their opinions and be heard. Use a short, fun quiz or survey to find out how they’re feeling about your product or service. The responses you receive can be enlightening and help to inform your audience makeup.
Free Downloadable Content
Offer visitors helpful information and long-form content that is only accessible after they enter their email address. They leave your website armed with a helpful resource, while you have their email address for future email campaigns, data, and marketing.
In 2021, over 2.14 billion people worldwide are expected to buy goods and services online, up from 1.66 billion global digital buyers in 2016.
An e-commerce platform is the technology that allows you to build a store online and reach these consumers. Since your online store or website is likely the crux of your business, it’s important to take the time to research the different platform options and find the right fit for your needs.
Here are some of the most-popular e-commerce platforms for your further research (in alphabetical order):
How do you pick the e-commerce platform that’s best for your business? As you’re making your decision, keep in mind:
Is it an easy-to-use platform?
You’re going to be using this platform a lot, maybe multiple times a day. You’ll be adding content and images, handling customer questions and comments, and potentially a million other things to keep your business going. Make sure you test out the platform and see if you feel comfortable using it (or can become comfortable with time).
Many e-commerce platforms have little to no coding required, like Wix, Weebly (powered by Square), and Shopify, so even the most technically-challenged entrepreneurs can find a great solution for them.
If you want a more customized solution, some e-commerce platforms, like Magento and BigCommerce, provide flexible options that a developer can help you unlock.
Does it integrate well with your business systems?
You likely will want to find an e-commerce platform that seamlessly integrates with the other e-commerce tools and software you’ll be using. Some potential integrations to look for include:
- Shipping software (i.e. Shippo)
- Accounting and timeslips (i.e. Quickbooks)
- Email management (i.e. Klaviyo, Hubspot)
- Returns (i.e. Returnly)
- Payments (i.e. Stripe, Square)
Some e-commerce platforms have their own app store, like Shopify, where you’ll find the integrations available. Others will be found within the platform dashboard or on their website.
Is it secure?
You want a platform that helps to protect your website from cyber attacks and hackers. You don’t want any weak links or vulnerabilities in your website that can lead to lost revenue stream and business reputation.
At a minimum, you want to purchase an SSL certificate for your website. An SSL certificate creates an encrypted link between the client and the server, so that all data is transmitted encrypted to prevent hackers from eavesdropping. Some platforms, like GoDaddy, include an SSL certificate for free with a premium plan.
Other security nice-to-haves include:
- Daily security scans for malware
- Google blacklist monitoring
- Automated website backup and one-click restore
- Advanced DDoS mitigation
Will it help you with search engine optimization (SEO)?
Some platforms are better suited to help your online store rank on Page 1 of search results. This may not be a big factor for you—say, for example, if you are going to focus on paid acquisition instead of organic. But, if you are looking to rely on organic traffic, you should definitely research the platform’s SEO performance.
Here’s a real-world example: you might have a new sandal you want to call the Sara Sandal. Some platforms will use that name as the URL string and the page title, even though it doesn’t include relevant keywords for search (think: tan wedge sandal).
You want to be able to customize the page title, meta description, etc. in order to include keywords. At the same time, you don’t want to limit your product names to just include those keywords.
Will it work on all devices?
If you overlook mobile visitors, you risk missing out on roughly half of all online traffic. Many e-commerce platforms are offering responsive design templates to accommodate for both desktop and mobile visitors. That means that the website will look good on any device size and will adjust (read: respond) to the size of the browser.
Be sure to look at both the desktop and mobile version of any design templates before you purchase or request mobile and desktop samples from a designer.
Does it offer analytics?
What does your e-commerce platform do to keep track of your sales, accounting, and business growth? What analytics methods does it use to track your numbers accurately and easily? Is it presented in a user-friendly format? What does the analytics feature offer that will help you be more insightful about your business and help it grow?
You’ll want to make sure that your e-commerce platform provides an analytics dashboard to view trends in your data. That way, you can analyze your selling performance and make informed business decisions to better the company.
Does it offer customer support?
You’re bound to run into questions at some point or another as you set up your website. It’s important to have a team of professionals behind you at all times to answer your questions and walk you through technical concerns.
If you’re stumped or in a bind, will there be a human voice (or at least a bot) to be there for you? And are they available 24/7?
How much does it cost?
Finally, choose an option that fits within your budget. There are a few different payment options to fit a variety of different financial needs.
- Free: Some e-commerce platforms, like WooCommerce and Ecwid, are free to use and then they offer paid add-ons and subscriptions to enhance the online store.
- Paid options on a sliding scale: Most e-commerce platforms—like Wix, Weebly by Square, BigCommerce, and Shopify—offer a variety of paid plans for businesses at different life stages.
- Custom options: Many of the e-commerce platforms, like BigCommerce and Magento, have custom pricing solutions for enterprise customers.
Does it offer multi-channel support?
If you’re interested in selling on marketplaces or social platforms, in addition to your website, many of the e-commerce platforms will help you seamlessly manage inventory and orders across multiple channels.
With Ecwid’s Forever Free plan, for example, its built in control panel will help you build a beautiful e-commerce store in minutes. As your business matures, you can add social selling and marketplace selling with Ecwid to reach more customers. Ecwid’s dashboard will track all your inventory, orders, and sales, too.
Did you know 38 percent of people won’t bother pursuing a website if the content or layout is not attractive?
Once your outlines are in place, the fun can begin. It’s time to start designing your online store.
First, know that there are pre-designed e-commerce websites, or templates, ready for you to use. Some are free and some cost a fee. You can also hire a website designer to put your site together from scratch, but using templates has become increasingly common, cheaper (or free), and seamless. Plus, many of them have been designed with usability in mind.
Most templates come with easy-to-follow directions or have online help available. You want the template to be user-friendly enough so that you can load your content and images, and maintain and update the site regularly, with little or no trouble.
UX Best Practices
UX stands for user experience, and it’s critical in the planning and execution of your business website. No matter what you have in mind for your site, your first priority is that it is seamless for the customer. This includes offering a good experience from the time the customer logs on and off your site.
Remember that yours is clearly not the only website on the Internet. Your customer may be looking at a number of sites before a purchase decision is made.
Here are some best practices to stand by when creating your site.
Create your site with your customer in mind.
Is your customer base young and hip? Urban? Older? Conservative? Women? Men? Keep them in mind as you contemplate a look for your site. It will make a difference when your specific audience comes on board and forms an instant opinion of your site.
How does your website make your customer feel? Do they go away feeling satisfied, happy, fulfilled, intrigued? Would they come back to see you again?
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Attention spans are not very long these days. An average user has an attention span of 8 seconds. For all the hard work you put into your site, most people will be scanning it quickly at best. Don’t let that get you down; make it work for you. Keep the content short and sweet, direct and clear. Use images whenever possible. And most importantly, make your call to action buttons (BUY, FIND OUT MORE, CLICK HERE) very easy to find and use.
Photography and Illustrations
Visuals help stir emotions, which is what you want to do to your customers when they click onto your site. Done well, photography and illustrations can build your business credibility and make your site look most professional.
When working with visuals, consider this:
Show photos of you and your staff.
Photos of your business in action, or having fun doing what you do, could make your business seem more “human” and inviting. Customers may be attracted to the warmth and friendliness that personal photos convey.
Show photos of happy customers.
Customer testimonials are good ways to show how people are enjoying and benefiting from your product or service—a photo of the customer does it one better. It’s a visual that proves that the customer exists, and makes the testimonial more relatable.
Buy stock images.
Stock images are photos and other images that already exist; all you have to do is pay for permission to use them (rates vary). There are millions of stock images, and some may be right for your site. Start your search here:
Be sure your photos and illustrations are modern.
You don’t want to use visuals that make your site look dated. Be sure that your stock photos look as contemporary as possible, and that your illustrations are in sync with current trends (if you’re not sure, you may need to consult with a graphic artist on this).
Hire an illustrator.
A personalized, skilled service like this could be costly, but it might be worth it for original content. Illustrations are unique, and more likely to not be copied or duplicated by a competitor the way a stock photo could be.
Use product photography.
If you are going to take pictures of your products, it’s best to get them done professionally. However, here are some things to keep in mind when including images of your product on your site.
- Pay attention to lighting. If you don’t know the difference between studio lighting and natural lighting, consult a professional product photographer.
- Don’t assume Photoshop will save you. If the shot is not taken correctly, all the editing in the world will not save it. Photoshop is best for small touch-ups, not big revisions.
- Stage product shots you like. See how others are doing it. Think about how a similar photo would work wonders for your product.
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to be so creative that the product gets lost in the translation. Keep props and other distractions at a minimum. Focus on the product itself.
The design elements you choose will help to identify your brand and allow customers to associate the look with your business. Of course, it’s important for your brand to look professional and polished. But how do you do that, especially if you don’t feel you have an eye for it and are not trained in the graphic arts?
You don’t have to be a professional graphic artist to consider your best options for design elements. Consider these steps toward a visually appealing website.
Determine the font you want to use.
Fonts are another word for typography. Believe it or not, some fonts actually evoke emotions and reactions in people, so you want to give this some consideration.
Make sure your font matches your brand identity.
Look through a font list to see what jumps out at you and feels like your brand. For instance, if your business is rather conservative, you don’t want a typeface that’s too wild; if you and your business are rather artsy, you may want to experiment with a more daring (but always readable) font.
Make sure your font is readable.
There are a lot of font choices, but you ultimately want to choose one that is easy for your customers to read, and doesn’t interfere with your website’s page speed by being too busy.
It’s best to keep your font the same throughout your site, to establish a brand identity and to be sure the customer recognizes you.
Pick a color palette.
Remember, this is about more than simply dressing up your site; it’s about brand identity. Just like with the power of fonts, color has the ability to evoke emotions in people.
Use colors that will not interfere with your site’s performance.
Lots of white space is always a good idea. It helps to bring greater focus and attention to the parts of your website you want highlighted. Use your colors sparingly so that they don’t overwhelm your site. Perhaps two or three colors at most.
Create a brand logo.
A brand logo is like visual shorthand—it makes you and your business instantly recognizable to your customers. It’s meant to make (and leave) an impression. It should reflect your values in that if your business is conservative, the logo should not be too hip or wild; if your business is more artsy, you may be able to get a little more daring.
Sometimes a visual design task like this is best left to professionals, but in the digital age, there are opportunities to do it yourself. Some website platforms offer ways to create brand logos instantly. Some (but not all) are free.
Check out these platforms for brand logo design:
A plugin (pronounced “plug in”) is enhancement software that “plugs into” your website in order to give it more capabilities and features. For instance, you can include a plugin that allows for video to be played on your website; if you don’t have the proper plugin, your followers will not be able to play the video you’re featuring.
There are thousands of plugins available, and you won’t need all of them. It’s like buying a car: you may not need an ashtray or a stickshift, but for other buyers, it’s non-negotiable. It all depends on your business goals and how you want your site to look and operate. Some common plugins include:
- Contact forms
- Live chat
- Grammar check
- Special photo editing
Some plugins can actually “plug into” each other and work together.
Other terms for plugins:
Where to find plugins:
In most cases, plugins are available from the web browser you use: Google, Mozilla, Apple, and others. These browsers verify that the plugins are safe and usable.
Many plugins are free. Be sure to check with your provider to make sure. Plugins are often updated regularly, and new ones are created and offered all the time.
In the relative old days, people would work at computers stationed at their desks. Now, of course, computers are not only everywhere, but small enough to hold in your hand. Make sure your website looks good and works well no matter what device your viewer is using: smartphones, laptops, and tablets.
Most website creators now offer templates that will automatically sync with all devices with the help of a Mobile Editor. The goal is to present the clearest readability and smoothest navigation, without you having to design a different website for every type of mobile device.
Here’s how to ensure your site is optimized for mobile.
Choose a reliable web host.
An excellent website host (and a good hosting plan) will eliminate most of the battle for you. The host should guarantee high speed and consistently high-quality performance, as well as very little downtime.
If you are especially concerned with mobile optimization, you may want to consider a host that offers a managed dedicated server. That’s a server you don’t have to share; it’s all yours and only yours.
Use a mobile speed-testing tool.
You can consistently monitor your site’s mobile speed performance by simply testing it online and getting instant results. Google offers a good one.
Go easy on the pop ups.
Pop ups are the little dialogue boxes that suddenly appear throughout a site and grab the viewer’s attention. However, they don’t work equally well on all devices. If you use them, make sure they only cover a small part of the screen and are easy for the viewer to close (usually with a little X in the corner of the pop up).
Create a mobile app.
A mobile app can be a productive companion to your website, sitting right on a user’s device. You can use an app to send push notifications and updates directly to the user, who sees your communication in real time. They can also use the app to order from you and correspond with you directly. Mobile apps may not be easy for just anyone to design; you may want to consider an app developer.
Nearly 70 percent of people admit that page speed influences their likeliness to buy.
If you’ve ever waited for a website page to download or for the little circle on your device’s screen to stop spinning, then you know the importance of page speed. You never want your customers to be slowed down when they’re browsing your site, or in the middle of a purchase. It’s extremely frustrating, and sours the experience. You want to make sure that your website’s page speed is the best and the fastest it can be.
Here are a few other tricks to make sure that your customer’s browsing and purchasing experience will be seamless and without lag.
Keep it simple.
Don’t overheat your website so that it’s too burdensome to operate smoothly. For instance, don’t bring on more plugins than you’ll need.
Consider your cache.
Your website’s cache is data that gets transferred to and stored on your viewer’s device after visiting your site. The cache remembers where and how your viewer visited your site—for instance, a certain page, item, category or purchase—and will help them return to the same place with little typing or effort. Find a cache solution that will keep your website acting quickly and efficiently when your customer returns for another visit.
When it comes to page speed, think micro instead of macro.
After you look at your entire website as a whole, pay attention to each individual page. What can be improved, page by page, to help your website run faster? Consider each page’s images, colors, and assorted bells and whistles.
Make cart loading easy.
Create a cart that allows a customer to shop and buy with as few steps as possible.
On the first page of Google Search results, the first five organic results account for 67.60 percent of all the clicks.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. You’re aiming to get your website to rank on Page 1 of Google and Bing search results through SEO efforts.
If you’re listed on Page 2 or 3 of a search engine, chances are that searchers have already dropped off; they’ll be happy to just click on the first few offerings at the top of the rankings. It’s human nature.
Of course, using effective keywords is not as easy as it sounds.
Everybody wants to rank high on a search engine, but there are only so many spots available. So how do you work it? By developing a solid SEO plan and sticking to it.
The main weapon in a high search-engine ranking is the proper use of keywords. Keywords are the words you use in your content that is most relevant to what you are selling and what your business is about. Sometimes keywords are not just one word. They can be a string of words or a phrase that closely matches a specific search.
If you are using the right keywords that closely match the purpose of your website and your business, you have a higher likelihood of being seen. As a result, your website and its pages start to move up the rankings.
Here’s how to find and use the right keywords.
Make a list of all the words, phrases and terms that are relevant to what you are trying to communicate. In fact, you can cheat a bit by actually searching these words and terms that occur to you and see how well they’re ranking.
This is not the time for casting a wide net. Choose the words that best describe what you are doing or selling. Use your location if that helps, because customers may prefer to buy local, right down to your zip code. If you sell organic products, for instance, be as specific as possible about what kind of organic products you’re selling. Being right on target can really make a difference when it comes to search engine rankings.
Find your niche.
Using a great keyword feels like the key to success until you realize that everybody else (your competition) is using it too. Drill down to what you do best beyond an ordinary description. Do you have a specialty or a service that sets you apart from your competition?
Think like your customer.
How would that customer search for you? What words and phrases would they use when looking for a business like yours?
Get help with keyword tools.
You don’t have to go it alone, and many people don’t with the help of online keyword tools. These platforms can tell you how many people are searching for terms like yours, month by month. This is great insight into figuring out if you are on the right track to SEO success. Of course, the more a keyword is used, the harder it is to rank. That’s because your competition is using the keywords too.
Try these free online keyword tools:
Don’t be greedy.
The most-used keywords may not guarantee you ranking success. It ultimately means the words are used a lot. Instead of just going for the highest-ranking keywords, give extra thought to the words that most accurately describe your business. Constantly ask yourself what your customers are specifically searching for. The resulting keyword may not necessarily be found right at the top of the list.
Once you have the keywords that work best for you, use them throughout your website, especially on the pages where customers will most likely be searching. This may be a trial-and-error exercise.
An effective website will ultimately sell your product and service for you and be your calling card to your current and potential customers. The consideration and effort you put into your business website could reward you many times over.
Just Remember We’re Cheering You On
We know how hard it can be to open an online store. If you need a little extra motivation or a sign, here it is. All those long hours will soon pay off. You’re doing great—so close to making that first sale!
Download the entire e-book here.