We are living in perilous, life-changing times. Brick-and-mortar retailers are suffering from reduced demand or being forced to close entirely as social distancing measures become more restrictive in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Simultaneously, consumers are increasingly relying on eCommerce to purchase the goods they require to survive.
You may be a small business owner that relied on foot traffic and store sales only, and now you’ve got to figure out how to get your products into customers’ hands when they can’t come into your physical storefront. That means you need a functional eCommerce site, and fast!
Given the circumstances, now is a great time to talk about the process of building an eCommerce website. First, we’ll talk about building an eCommerce website from scratch. Then, for those of you who already have a website, we’ll share some tips for adding basic eCommerce functionality to your existing site.
Let’s get started so you can get back to selling!
Creating an eCommerce website from the ground up
I’m going to make two assumptions right away: (1) You know what you want to sell, and (2) you know what you want to call your eCommerce business. If that isn’t the case, read our guide to defining and targeting a niche as well as Shopify’s guide to naming your online store.
Step 1: Confirm that your domain is available.
Now you must check to see if your desired domain name is still available. This step takes literally seconds with a tool like Instant Domain Search. That’s fantastic if the domain you want is available! If not, look through the suggestions and choose the one that best fits your needs. Of course, your choice should not be too similar to an existing domain, as this will almost certainly result in lost traffic (and revenue) down the road.
Important: If you find an available domain, don’t buy it right away! If you intend to build your eCommerce website with a platform such as Shopify, Squarespace, or WordPress, you will be able to purchase your domain through the platform. Believe me when I say that this is a better way to live.
Why is determining domain availability the first step? Because it will save you a lot of time and aggravation. Imagine starting to name your products, write your web copy, and build your store only to discover that you’ve been optimizing for a name that isn’t for sale. Pass on this one.
Step 2: Research the search volume for the products you want to sell.
You should not invest money or time until you are certain that there is enough demand for your products to make your eCommerce business profitable. I don’t care how good your products are or how persuasive your marketing is—if very few people are searching for whatever it is you want to sell online, you’re unlikely to succeed. As a result, the second step in creating an eCommerce website is to use WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool to determine how frequently consumers use Google and Bing to search for your products.
This raises an important question: What constitutes sufficient search volume (i.e., demand)? We’ll need to do some math to answer that.
Assume you want to sell hand-made baseball gloves. You estimate that you can make $20 profit on each unit sold. If you need $10,000 in first-year profit to keep the dream alive, you must sell 500 gloves. Your initial goal should be to drive half of those sales (250 units) through organic search marketing.
Assuming you can get to page one of the search results (a difficult task—more on that later), you can expect at least a 3% click-through rate. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume that 5% of organic impressions will result in clicks. You estimate that 2% of those clicks will result in a purchase. To sell 250 gloves, you’d need to generate 12,500 clicks per year (1,042 clicks per month). You’d need to generate 250,000 impressions per year to drive 12,500 clicks per year (20,834 impressions per month).
To justify building an eCommerce website, you’d need to see enough search volume across Google and Bing to generate approximately 21,000 organic impressions per month.
If that number scares you, I have some good news for you: organic search is only one way to get customers to your eCommerce website. Even if this channel only makes $3,000, you can still meet (or even exceed) your $10,000 goal by utilizing paid search and paid social.
Important note: Even if you don’t intend to rely on organic search, it’s critical that your products generate enough search volume. For one thing, success with paid search necessitates a high volume of searches. Second, even if you intend to generate the majority of your sales through social media, search volume is a good predictor of overall demand.
This brings me to the third step…
Step 3: Determine how you intend to expand the Available domain?
Check. Is there enough search volume? Check. Before we begin building your eCommerce website, we must complete one more step: developing an online marketing strategy. Before you begin taking product photos and writing an “About Us” page, you must decide how you will grow your online store.
So, let’s talk about the levers you have at your disposal.
Organic search engine marketing (a.k.a. search engine optimization)
Organic search marketing, also known as search engine optimization, or SEO, has a simple goal: When customers search for a product you sell on Google or Bing, you want your website to appear on the first page of results.
As you probably know from your own shopping experiences, websites that are buried past the first page are rarely visited.
I recommend that you read WordStream’s SEO for Beginners guide. The basic idea is to find high-volume, low-competition keywords related to your business and target them throughout your website copy (while faithfully addressing user intent, that is). It’s also critical to maintain a logical site structure, gain backlinks from relevant publishers, and keep your page speed high.
The following are some of the benefits of SEO:
It’s free—sort of. Whereas Google Ads and Facebook Ads require you to pay for traffic, SEO is completely free. However, keep in mind that it takes a long time to see results. Furthermore, tools that aid in the improvement of your SEO efforts, such as Moz, are not free.
It attracts high-quality candidates. SEO falls under the purview of inbound marketing. You don’t have to go out and find customers; instead, customers find you. These people are considered high-quality prospects because they have a purchase intent.
It generates a lot of clicks. As you’ll see in a moment, I’m a big fan of paid search advertising. Having said that, the fact remains that organic search results receive the vast majority of clicks.
Paid search advertising
Done right, organic search marketing will get your eCommerce website in front of high-quality prospects and attract a lot of traffic. But here’s the problem: That’s a long, labor-intensive process. I strongly encourage you to invest in SEO, but if you need results immediately, you need to open up at least one additional channel.
With paid search advertising, also known as PPC or pay per click, you can quickly get your message in front of those high-quality prospects. You’ll need to identify high-volume, low-competition keywords related to your business, just like you would with SEO. Instead of targeting those keywords in your web copy in the hopes of ranking high in organic search results, you’ll target them in your ad copy (and associated landing pages) in the hopes of ranking high in paid search results—which appear both above and below organic search results.
For additional reading, I recommend our article on the fundamentals of PPC as well as the definitive guide to eCommerce PPC. In the meantime, here are some of the advantages of PPC:
It generates results quickly. After you’ve set up your Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising accounts and your ads have been approved, you can begin driving traffic to your eCommerce website — and making money — right away.
It attracts high-quality candidates. PPC, like SEO, falls under the purview of inbound marketing. The most motivated customers will seek you out.
It scales very well. Once you’ve gathered some preliminary data and determined which keywords are the most profitable, you can immediately increase and/or reallocate your budget to improve your results even more.
Paid social media advertising
One major disadvantage of both organic and paid search is that search volume can dwindle. This is the inverse of inbound marketing; as effective as it is to capitalize on purchase intent, there is no guarantee that demand will remain sufficiently high. As a result, it’s a good idea to get some insurance. This is where paid social advertising comes into play.
Paid social is the practice of purchasing advertisements on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Because these platforms have access to a massive amount of user data, their advertisers can target prospects with incredible precision. You can pay per impression, per click, or even per video view, depending on your marketing objectives. As an eCommerce advertiser, you can also engage in social shopping, which is the practice of allowing social media users to browse and purchase your products without ever leaving the native platform. It’s a dream come true if you’re looking to maximize conversion rates!
Check out the WordStream guides to Facebook advertising, Instagram advertising, and getting started with social shopping. But, before you do that, consider the following three major benefits of paid social:
It enables you to broaden your prospect pool. As I previously stated, inbound marketing, while fantastic, can put you in a vulnerable position. To avoid being caught off guard by a decline in demand, use paid social to drive more prospects to the top of your eCommerce funnel.
It is not expensive. Simply put, clicks and conversions are less expensive on social than they are on the search.
It allows you to precisely target people. To their credit, Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising have significantly improved their audience targeting capabilities in recent years. Nonetheless, when it comes to getting the right ad in front of the right person, Facebook and Instagram continue to reign supreme.
Step 4: Create your eCommerce website.
You’ve chosen the ideal domain name. The search volume appears to be high. You’re certain of the cross-platform marketing strategy you’ve devised. Finally, the final step toward creating your own eCommerce website is…
… creating your eCommerce website.
I know it’s not very helpful. However, believe it or not, you have already completed the most difficult steps. The difficult part is combing through keywords and figuring out the nuances of various marketing channels. In fact, if you ask me, you’ve only just begun the exciting part. With the grunt work out of the way, it’s time to build your eCommerce website.
So, let’s get started on what you need to do.
Select an eCommerce solution.
When you Google “eCommerce website builder,” you’ll see a slew of ads and organic results from software companies and marketing agencies. Among the former are a few names you’re probably familiar with: Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress
If we’re talking about a website designed solely for traffic and/or lead generation, I’d go with WordPress—they’re the industry standard for a reason. But that isn’t what we’re here to talk about. You’d like to create an eCommerce website. As a result, you should select the best solution for online retailers. And that is Shopify, my friends.
There are numerous in-depth testimonials extolling the virtues of Shopify; I’m not going to go into much detail today. I’ll just leave you with this: if you’re looking for an easy-to-use, affordable, and dependable solution that allows you to sell not only through your own website but also through platforms like Facebook and Pinterest, Shopify is the way to go.
Purchase your domain.
That domain you chose earlier? Purchase it. Whether you choose Shopify, WordPress, Squarespace, or another solution, you will be able to purchase your domain through them. You can expect to pay between $20 and $30 per year.
Choose a theme.
After you’ve decided on a solution and purchased a domain, you’ll need to choose a theme for your eCommerce website. What matters most is that your theme selection corresponds to your industry and your desired brand image. If you’re in the fashion industry and want to brand yourself as modern and cutting-edge, something sleek is probably the best option. If you’re in the home and garden industry and want your website to feel as welcoming as possible, consider a theme based on bright, warm colors.
Gather your product images and descriptions.
Product images can be extremely effective assets.
When potential customer visit your website and looks through your product photos, they can imagine themselves as your customer. If you sell women’s clothing, they can imagine themselves wearing a particular dress. If you sell home goods, they can envision your vase on their mantle. Moments like these, as insignificant as they may appear, can go a long way toward gaining a new customer. Check out these 14 product photography tips that will have you looking like a pro in no time!
Product descriptions are crucial as well. They not only assist you in providing prospects with a clearer understanding of the value your products can provide, but they also assist you in improving your SEO. A product description is an excellent place to target second-and third-tier keywords that didn’t fit into your product title. Assume you’re creating an eCommerce website to sell organic laundry detergent. One of your product names could be “Bill’s Organic Laundry Detergent, Lavender, 64 OZ.” You’ve included your brand name, scent, and bottle size, but consider all of the related keywords you can still target: all-natural, chemical-free, eco-friendly, and so on. Make the most of your product descriptions!
Install the Facebook Pixel
Before selling a single product, I strongly advise you to install the Facebook Pixel—a small snippet of code that allows you to track the actions your prospects take on your website. You’ll be able to take your Facebook (and Instagram) ad campaigns to the next level with the data your Pixel collects.
Let’s go back to the baseball equipment website as an example. Assume you had a successful Facebook campaign to promote a particular bat. You can group together all of the (anonymized) users who clicked on your ad and purchased a bat using the Facebook Pixel. You can now retarget that audience of previous buyers with an ad for a glove!
Bottom line: The Facebook Pixel will provide you with extremely valuable insights and enable you to generate more revenue from paid social.
Ascertain that payment processing is in place.
With your perfect theme in place, your product photos and descriptions ready to blow prospects away, and the Facebook Pixel installed, there’s only one thing left to do to get your eCommerce website up and running: confirming that you’re ready to accept payments.
If you already have a Shopify website, all you need to do is enable Shopify Payments; no third-party widget is required. You’ll need to connect your website to PayPal, Stripe, or both with a solution like Squarespace or WordPress.
Now that you’re ready to sell, go live with your brand new eCommerce website!
Integrating eCommerce into an existing website
Some would advise those who already have a website to use a solution like Shopify or WordPress to quickly build a separate website that is designed exclusively for eCommerce.
This is not a good idea.
First and foremost, this entails paying for two websites at the same time. I know it’s not a huge expense, but it’s still an expense. Second, as simple as some of these website solutions are, creating a new website takes time. Why squander a couple of days on something you don’t have to do?
Third, and perhaps most importantly, redirecting customers from your main website to your eCommerce website creates a negative user experience. Your most loyal customers may be willing to put up with something like that, but many online shoppers are not. So, by creating a separate site just for eCommerce, you’re not only wasting time and effort, but you’re also throwing money away.
What you must do is incorporate basic ecommerce functionality into your existing website. Let’s go over the various approaches you can take.
Take a look at what your solution provider has to offer.
If your current website is managed through a platform such as Squarespace, WordPress, or Wix, you have some leeway. For example, Squarespace Commerce is a set of tools that allows you to sell products, manage orders, and accept credit card payments. It’s simple to create product pages, and you have some leeway in terms of shipping arrangements. Furthermore, some of Squarespace’s native marketing features, such as discount announcement bars and abandoned checkout recovery, can easily boost sales.
If your website is powered by WordPress, I have good news: WooCommerce, one of the most popular WordPress plugins, makes it simple to add ecommerce functionality. Simply select “Plugins” from your WordPress dashboard’s left-side menu and then click “Add New.” Look for WooCommerce, install it, and let the Onboarding Wizard walk you through the process. You can begin experimenting with specific functionalities once you’ve been onboarded.
Wix is a final website solution I’d like to mention. Wix, like Squarespace, makes it simple for customers to upgrade to ecommerce-friendly plans. If you don’t already have a Business Premium subscription, you’ll have to upgrade (which comes with an increase in the price). After that, simply select “Add” from the left-side menu and click “Store.” In your left-side menu, a new button labelled “My Stores” will now appear. You can then begin building and managing your Wix store!
Make use of a third-party ecommerce tool.
If you don’t want to change your website subscription—or if your website is built in a way that prevents you from making large, fundamental changes—you can add basic ecommerce functionality using a third-party tool. Let’s take a look at some of your options.
Buy button on Shopify
The Shopify buy button, which was created with bloggers, artists, and side hustlers in mind, allows you to sell products through your website without fully transitioning to an ecommerce model. You can easily embed buy buttons within your homepage, sidebar, or even throughout your content, regardless of the type of website you have. This is a great option if you want a quick, secure way to sell products while maintaining a high-quality user experience.
Shoprocket allows you to sell on your website and Facebook page for as little as $7 per month. Shoprocket, which integrates seamlessly with your existing website, provides a centralised platform for creating offers, managing orders, specifying shipping details, and more. The best part is that you can upgrade as your business grows, giving you access to advanced features like Google Analytics tracking and live chat support.
Another option for adding ecommerce to your website is Snipcart, which allows you to start selling products, downloads, and subscriptions with just two lines of code. You get access to an intuitive platform that allows you to manage orders, track abandoned shopping carts, integrate with email marketing solutions, and more in exchange for 2% of each sale. Give Snipcart a look if you’re looking for something simple to set up and adaptable enough to meet your changing needs.
Begin developing your ecommerce website right away!
Whether you’re a new entrepreneur starting from scratch or an established retailer looking to improve your online presence, there’s no better time than now to start building your ecommerce website. There are numerous effective ways to reach your target audience, regardless of which ecommerce solution you want to use or which marketing channels you want to explore.
However, with the number of online retailers increasing by the day, competition for that audience will only grow in the future. That is why it is critical to get the ball rolling—whatever that means for you—as soon as possible.
Congratulations on your sale!