Tips for Planning an Ecommerce Website

bvallsAny kind of website requires careful planning and preparation to ensure the desired outcomes. This is especially true for ecommerce sites.

Ecommerce entails a host of unique complexities that aren’t common considerations for non-ecommerce sites. Fortunately, from stock management to SEO and marketing, today’s popular ecommerce platforms have solutions that address almost every element of an online business.

Before you start…

  • Set your goals – make sure everyone working on the project is aware of the final goal – whether it is a simple 10 product store, or an advanced amazon-style ecommerce behemoth.
  • Don’t lose focus – The amount of plugins and extras available for ecommerce sites is almost infinite – making it easy to lose sight of the basics of your project, being tempted instead by attractive but ultimately unecesarry features.
  • Plan to do the basics well – transactional emails (order confirmations, shipping notifications), a smooth checkout and easy payment processing are the building blocks of a successful ecommerce site, and they are things that customers appreciate. Consider in advance how the whole shopping process should work from start to finish, and what confirmation emails will include and how that information will be displayed.

Choosing a Platform

  • Don’t pay for what you don’t need – ecommerce software can get complicated, and therefore expensive, quite quickly – but most leading platforms are available free (or cheap), containing all the basics you need. If you intend to sell a small number of simple products, woocommerce (for self-hosted) or shopify (hosted) are tried and tested solutions that should cover all you need. For bigger projects with thousands of products and more complex needs, Magento is the most popular option.
  • Consider your payment provider – almost all payment gateways have associated expenses – setup costs, monthly fees or percentage based fees – so it’s worth comparing your options. Paypal provides everything most small/medium sized ecommerce sites could require (and have no shortage of options if you are willing to pay extra) – but if you’re especially adventurous or catering to a particularly tech-savvy audience you may want to consider accepting bitcoin – made surprisingly easy by providers like Coinbase.

Gathering Content

  • Importing Tips – if you have hundreds of products you may want to bulk import all that data into your new ecommerce site; rather than adding each individually. Once you have decided on a platform, research that platform’s import options (some may require free or paid plugins) and get a template so that you know what information is going to be required. Start adapting or adding your product data into this template, and try a few test runs before beginning the full import.
  • Product images – a major element of a successful ecommerce site is quality photos – so consider both how you will get these images (if you don’t have them already) and how you will import and assign them to their associated products. This can add an extra complication to your import process, so is worth planning and testing carefully.

SEO and Social Media

most major ecommerce software will be SEO friendly by design, but it’s up to you to take advantage of these features to ensure your site is easily indexed and ranked by google.

  • Duplicate content – if you are listing multiple versions of similar products, consider how you will tackle the problem of duplicate content. You may need to re-write product descriptions, especially if similar or identical content appears on competitor sites who stock the same products.
  • Rich Snippets – Google can display ‘rich snippets’ like price, availability and product reviews on their search results pages – but your platform must label this data for google to read. Most major ecommerce software will now have this included, but it is worth checking.
  • Google merchant centre & shopping feeds – google now allows you to upload a data feed for your products, for inclusion in google’s shopping results. Check whether your ecommerce platform includes an easy way to export this data – for woocommerce for example this a paid add-on at $79
  • Social Media plugins – both twitter and pinterest have introduced ‘rich media’ features that can pull information like pricing (and a product image) whenever a link from your site is shared. These features rely on schema data, like google’s rich snippet data. This information is not pulled by default however – you will have to go through twitter and pinterest’s application process first.

Hopefully these tips are helpful as you consider your ecommerce build. With some careful planning and preparation, your project can be delivered on-budget and on time. By focusing on the key elements of ecommerce – and future-proofing your site with a view to SEO and social media – you can ensure your site will be able to serve customers effectively both now and in the future.

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