Once you’ve made the biggest decisions as per Part 1: Decision-making and implementation, add an SSL certificate for customer security and peace of mind. They’re extremely easy to set up, can improve your search engine rankings, and give customers added protection when they’re browsing your website and entering personal information. You can add your SSL certificate at any point; ideally you want to make it before your website goes live to avoid search engine indexing issues. If you install it after you’ve installed your ecommerce platform, remember to change any instances of https:// to https:// as needed in the admin panel/code.
When you’ve done that and spent some time familiarising yourself with the features of your new ecommerce platform, it’s time to get started adding your products.
Navigation and categories
We’ll look at navigation in more depth later on in the series when we cover SEO and UX, but for now it’s likely that when you create a new product category, it will automatically create a corresponding link in your navigation.
If you have a lot of categories and products to add or aren’t sure how best to organise everything, it’s best to plan it out either on paper or in a separate document/spreadsheet first. Ideally you don’t want products more than one or two categories deep to save your visitors clicking. If you’re having trouble getting started, try looking at some established ecommerce websites in the same industry to get some ideas of how you do/don’t want to organise the products. The general rule of thumb is to keep category numbers low; you don’t want to end up with a lot of categories that only contain a few products each.
Once you’ve determined everything, create your categories and begin adding products. The first few will take some time as you get used to what information you need to input and the process to go through, but don’t worry – you’ll soon begin to speed through it! This is the time to make decisions about formatting and presentation so all your products are consistent; for example, are you going to Use Title Case For Titles or just Capitalise the first letter of the first word?
Your product description is a selling opportunity that should always be fully utilised. Even though it might not be the most exciting part of your business, it’s important to spend time writing and editing your descriptions, formatting them, using style elements such as subtitles, paragraphs and bullet points, and making sure they flow well and include a good amount of information.
Product descriptions are a balancing act: you need to provide enough information so that the reader is capable of making a buying decision, but you don’t want to include anything irrelevant or display information in a way that’s overwhelming or creates unnecessary obstacles. Make it as easy as possible for the user, e.g. don’t make them open a pop up window to continue reading, or give them a wall of text to read. Using a generous font size and line height helps improve readability too.
Tip: One of the most common problems for ecommerce websites is the line length of descriptions. If your lines are more than about 15 words long, you’re instantly making them less readable for your visitors. Ideally, for an ecommerce website, you want to aim for 10-12 words per line. Altering the CSS to decrease the default width of the description block and using clever formatting (like bullet point lists) will make your text easier to read straight away.
Writing product descriptions
Don’t copy and paste any part of your description from somewhere else, even if you have permission. This includes replicating descriptions within your own website. Unique content is hugely important for both search engines and visitors; it prevents repetitiveness (particularly when people are comparing products and search engines are comparing pages), shows you care about your business and have good attention to detail. It’s definitely not the most exciting task, particularly if you’re writing unique descriptions for very similar or identical products, but it’s worth the investment. Alternatively, there are plenty of cheap writing services available on the web if you’re looking to outsource.
Descriptions should always be written primarily for the user, and give them the key information they need to make a buying decision. Don’t stuff them full of keywords you think the search engines will like, but instead focus on natural writing that outlines all benefits, features and necessary information.
Sourcing and creating images
Your images will typically come from any or all of the following sources:
- Your own design/photography
- Images you’ve commissioned
- Copyright free/creative commons images and stock photos.
Ideally you want consistency for each product, so for example you might want to create a set of three images for a product: one with a white background, one showing the product in context (e.g. a sofa in a fully-furnished living room, or a dress on a model), and an informational photo (e.g. a close-up of texture, details of ingredients, packaging, instructions, or similar).
Tip: If you’re looking for different locations (rooms, buildings, gardens, etc.) for a photoshoot, it’s worth booking somewhere using AirBnB; it’s very cost-effective and gives you access to a wide range of natural environments all over the world.
Taking your own photos? A decent camera (preferably a bridge or DSLR) is essential, but so is your lighting and set up. If, like most people, you don’t have access to a studio, it’s worth investing in some kit suitable for the size and type of products you’re planning to photograph, ranging from a small lightbox to large backdrops and lamps. Amazon has a great selection of well-priced home photography equipment…and don’t forget it can be written off against tax if you’re self-employed/run a business. There are thousands of useful books, websites and videos out there for helping you learn photography, and many areas have short evening and/or weekend courses if you want one-on-one learning.
Alternatively, if you don’t have too many products to photograph and/or you’ll rarely be adding new things to your range, you might want to get a professional photographer involved. To make it cheaper, try and trade skills with a contact (for example, they do your photography, you design their new advert or logo), or get in touch with a local college or university to find out if there’s anyone looking for experience who’s willing to help for a small payment.
Creative commons licensed images and stock photos are often the least time-consuming options, but can be very limiting in terms of what’s available. It really depends on what you’re selling and how many photos you need, and you’ll also need to review licensing options carefully, particularly for branded items.
For virtual products, box and screen mockups are inexpensive and a hassle-free way to make your items look professional.
Optimising your images
When it comes to adding images to your products, there are three main areas to consider:
- User experience – This covers things like: Is the image a true representation of the product? Are there several images to view? Can the viewer see it from different perspectives/in different contexts? Can the viewer enlarge it? If the user is blind or the image does not display, is there a written description of it presented as an alternative?
- Design & technical aspects – Is the image blurry? Is it obvious what you’re selling? Is the image optimised for the web (loads quickly)? How does it look/work on mobile devices? Are images landscape, portrait, or a combination? How large are the images (both in pixels and file size)? Does the image scale well (i.e. is the product recognisable at both thumbnail size and full size)?
- Search engine optimisation – Does the image have a file name that describes it well (e.g. ‘silver-heart-necklace.jpg’ rather than ‘image4032.jpg’)? Have you entered a descriptive ALT and title (as mentioned above)?
Keep the motivation going
If you have a lot of products, it’s easy to lose motivation. Create a workflow that works for you to make things easier; for example some people prefer to go listing-by-listing, some people prefer to upload all images, then do all titles, then do all descriptions etc.
We’d recommend setting yourself deadlines if you’re working with hundreds or thousands of products, and outsourcing help where needed. Make sure you give yourself enough time; it’s all too easy to think ‘I’ll finish the other ones after the site goes live’ and then never do it.
The next part in our How to make your ecommerce website profitable series will look at accessibility and user experience, covering setting goals, best practices, and much more, so keep an eye on the blog for the next instalment.