A while back we asked you what topics you’d like to see covered in our future blog posts. One of the answers we got back was, ‘What to do if you build an ecommerce site and it’s not performing as expected’.
We thought this was a great topic – so great, in fact, that it deserved its own series to do it justice. Rather than just outlining how you can increase traffic and sales for your ecommerce website, we decided to cover everything from planning to UX to promoting your site on a budget. So here’s part one, covering what decisions to make and how to set up your ecommerce website, starting with the most important thing…
Choosing a platform
Ecommerce websites are notoriously difficult to transfer to another code base or system once established, so it’s vital that you know your platform does everything you need from the start.
Set aside at least ten hours to customise, tweak and explore…it will probably take even longer than that, but it’s worth investing the time nearer the beginning. Poor choice of platform can be a very expensive mistake further down the line. If you’re working with a designer or a developer to create an ecommerce website, make sure you’re both happy with the choice of platform, or it will lead to problems and conflict later on.
Don’t rely on a quick Google for answers to questions regarding your chosen platform’s functionality and capabilities; check important plugins, code snippets, and similar thoroughly before you make your final decision (or ask your developer to do so).
If you’ve used a particular ecommerce platform before, go back to it and make a list of what you liked and what you hated. You’ll also want to create a list of must-haves, which will largely depend on what’s important to you and what you’re selling. Examples include:
- SEO capabilities (SEO friendly URLs are a must for all ecommerce websites).
- Good image functionality (i.e. the ability to upload multiple images for a product, zoom, increase size, view thumbnails and so on).
- Virtual product listing capabilities (if your site will solely focus on virtual sales, it’s worth going for a purpose-built solution like Easy Digital Downloads).
- Loyalty point and reward programme functionality.
- Support for multiple currencies.
- Discount code and sale system.
- Ease of use.
- Ease of security upgrades.
- Themes, plugins and other additional content available.
- Popularity (if you want custom work done further down the line, it will be easier and cheaper if you choose a widely-used platform from the start).
- Reporting and analytics.
- Built-in payment options.
- Ease of blog integration (particularly if you want to use a separate CMS such as Joomla! or Drupal).
- Booking/reserving capabilities (for example if you’re running workshops, taking pre-orders, or are linking the website to a physical business).
There are plenty more features to consider, but the above list will help kickstart your list of what’s important for your particular website.
What if I’ve already chosen a platform?
If you’ve been running an ecommerce site for a while and you’re happy with your decision, that’s perfect; just make sure you’re on top of all security updates. If you’re not completely happy and thinking about switching, it largely comes down to what your grievances are. For example, if integrating a WordPress blog is nigh impossible and your pages don’t have SEO-friendly URLs, it’s probably worth switching. If, on the other hand, you’re familiar and happy with the admin dashboard but just have a slight gripe, e.g. about image sizes, it’s probably going to work out more hassle to move.
Nine times out of ten though, we’d recommend moving to a platform you’re completely happy with. Yes, it’s a lot of work and money now, but it’s a lot less work and money in the long term compared to trying to constantly find workarounds or be stuck with having a website that can never perform as well as it could. If you know deep down that you’re holding yourself back, now’s the time to change that.
Most popular ecommerce platforms
With our customers, the most frequently installed platforms for ecommerce are WordPress, Magento and OpenCart (all free). Here’s a quick run-down of them.
Whilst it’s traditionally used as a more general content management system, WordPress also lends itself well to ecommerce websites (see 10 easy ways to set up WordPress for ecommerce). The big advantages of using WordPress is that it’s extremely well optimised for search engines out of the box, and it’s easy to get answers to your questions because it’s so widely used. However, at the end of the day it wasn’t purpose-built for ecommerce like the other platforms in our list, so it’s worth bearing in mind as a possible disadvantage in terms of backend functionality.
Find out more about our WordPress hosting, which can be installed in a click from your control panel.
OpenCart is a fantastic all-rounder, and definitely worth a proper look. Unlike a lot of ecommerce platforms, it’s modern-looking from the start, has lots of functionality and interesting plugins, and requires a lot less faffing in terms of styling and upgrading. It can be quite difficult to integrate a proper blog (such as WordPress) into your website, but it is possible!
Learn more about one-click install OpenCart hosting.
Magento is the daddy of free ecommerce software, and is frequently cited as the go-to option for online stores. It largely depends on the type of shop you’re intending to create; Magento scales extremely well so if you’re going to be adding thousands of products either now or in the future, it’s a good choice. For the average ecommerce site, it tends to be overkill, not least because it requires a lot of server resources.
Magento is available as a one-click install on our VPS and Hybrid Servers, although Premium Hosting also works if you’re looking for a managed service.
A note about web hosting
Ecommerce stores can quickly build up in terms of traffic and pages, especially if you’re planning to run offers. Whilst a Home or Business Pro plan will suit you to start with (unless you’re installing Magento), if you’re planning for the future, we advise opting for either Premium Hosting (managed) or a VPS (unmanaged) or above to give your website room to grow as well as ensuring a better experience for customers.
Picking a domain name
Ideally you want to pick a name for life, so it’s important to get it right first time.
Try to choose a unique name, or at least one that’s different to other ecommerce websites already out there. It’s worth running a quick search on Facebook pages and eBay shops as well to make sure there’s no one with a similar name. This will prevent confusion and complaints further down the line.
You also want to make sure that the most popular domain name extensions and social media usernames are free; you can do this in a click with our 360 Name Finder. If your ecommerce store will have global visitors, go for the .com and use that as your main domain name. If you’re just targeting the UK, go for .co.uk and .uk. Ultimately, it’s best to future-proof your brand and potential expansion by registering common established extensions and relevant new extensions.
A common mistake people make for ecommerce websites and businesses is choosing a very specific name. What is Blue Widgets Store today might expand to selling blue and yellow widgets plus a variety of flibberdigibbits tomorrow.
For more advice, check out our domain names tips page.
The next part of this series will look at how you can present your products (and services) in their best light, covering everything from effective cross-linking to homepage heroes, and crafting descriptions to help you sell more.