eCommerce guide – Part 3: Developing your website
Now you’ve had a good think about what’s involved in running your own eCommerce website, it’s time to get started. This article covers the things that you’ll need to do while developing your website. You can also read the intro, part one about market research and part two about planning.
Firstly you will need to get a keyword relevant and/or memorable domain name and point it to the relevant server. You can brainstorm ideas for domains, or use a domain name suggestion tool like Name Mesh to help generate ideas.
This is where your website and email address(es) that use your domain will actually live.
Web hosting is usually renewed yearly. There are many different web hosting companies out there so it can get confusing. Cheap hosting is a false economy when you need your site online and working smoothly to take orders.
Prices vary wildly and reflect the quality of support offered, how many websites are hosted on one server and a whether it is Windows or Linux based hosting.
Cheap hosts almost always create problems, especially with shop software, and the time and money spent fixing these faults wipe out any savings made by buying low-cost hosting. Add potential downtime and lost sales to the equation and cheap web hosting isn’t the bargain it might appear. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples and preferably speak to people who already use the hosting to see what they think of it.
There has been a massive rise in web hosts claiming to offer “green web hosting” – most of these are making a superficial effort to appear environmentally friendly. Our green web hosting is powered by wind turbines, making it properly green!
If you choose to have a SSL Certificate on your shop, now is the time to install this too.
Installing Your Shop
Once you have chosen your shop software, you will need to download the latest version from the developer’s website. You will then need to upload the shop onto your new hosting account, set up a suitable database and connect it all together with the right settings in the config files.
You will then have a basic shop installed and ready to tailor to your requirements. It may come with a basic template, but you will need to alter this to make your shop match your logo and colour scheme.
Don’t use tacky, freely available templates. Spend some money on a professional template so that your eCommerce website will look trustworthy and encourage people to purchase from your online shop. Branding is very important online and you need to make your shop recognisable and trustworthy.
Once you have your shop system installed, you will need to add your products. The systems we use allow two ways of adding or editing products. You can enter them manually through your control panel, or batch import products using a spreadsheet. The second method is much quicker.
It’s worth thinking about how your products will be organised before you start uploading. Try to categorise products so people can search for what they want directly. If you sub-categorise too, results will be shown that are more relevant to what people are looking for.
Each product requires a unique SKU (Stock Keeping Unit), which is basically a ‘product code’. Naming images with an SKU results in a well organised system that means you can rapidly mass upload product images with the correct names via your product spreadsheet.
While you can often get product descriptions pre-written from your suppliers, other ecommerce sites will probably also be using them. To capture your customers’ attention and that of search engines, write your own descriptions promoting the most striking features. You could compare them to other products you sell so a range of choices are all laid out in one place.
Imagine selling the item face to face or recommending it to a friend: How would you convey the (time saving/revolutionary/novelty) features?
A great photo can sell the product for you. Images should be square and centered on a white background with a margin round the edge. Use the largest, best quality images you can find. If you can, get professional photos from your suppliers, but if you’re providing your own shots, ensure the background and lighting is perfect, or employ a good photographer to do it. This investment will pay off instantly with increased sales.
It’s worth watermarking your images with your company name or website address: firstly this thwarts competitors trying to steal them, and secondly if people save the picture, your logo tells them where to go back and buy it from.
See more about creating great ecommerce product images
Product pricing is a tricky area. Competition can be fierce when selling online, so you’ll need to have a strategy. Don’t assume that being cheaper is all that it takes to make the sale: Customers also need to trust you and receive excellent service. Competing on price alone leaves you selling to bargain hunters who might return the goods anyway, wasting your time and energy.
However there isn’t a formula to what affects your sales so experiment with pricing, discount coupons and special offers after your site has started running.
UK VAT and other taxes can be a nightmare: Get advice from your accountant whether you should show taxes separately on your website and invoices. Your web designer may not informed enough to accurately advise on this aspect of your business.
It makes sense to get legal advice on your Terms & Conditions to make sure you aren’t breaking any laws or setting yourself up for a fall.
Payment Gateway Setup
Your website needs to be connected to a service that checks customer card details, takes payment, and passes this information back to you. You could use PayPal or a payment processor such as Worldpay or Sagepay. These systems are usually set up in ‘testing mode’ until everything is working properly; then it’s switched to live mode for your customers to use.