Building an eCommerce Website: You're 8 Steps Away From a Successful Online Store
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These days, if you don’t have an eCommerce website, then you are probably thinking about it. Existing businesses have found that it’s a necessity to compete. New businesses are starting up with just a website and not worrying about storefronts until they have proved their idea works with an eCommerce store.
So what does it take to get started with eCommerce? Honestly, it takes a lot of research and planning. The good news is that it’s easier than ever these days to get an eCommerce store spin up and selling.
Why Should You Create an eCommerce Website?
The past few years have taught business owners the importance of their on-line presence. There are a lot of moving parts to an online presence but for most store owners, the central part is their eCommerce store.
- An eCommerce site allows you to do business even when your customers can’t make it into your shop.
- An eCommerce site allows you to do business at any time of the day or night.
- An eCommerce site allows you to do business even if your customers are on a different continent.
In short, eCommerce websites allow you to do more business. If you want to be a part of the biggest marketplace in the world, you need to have an eCommerce storefront. So, let’s get started! Below are the 7 essential steps you need to take to create your eCommerce site. Additionally, we’ve thrown in a few useful tips on how to select the best tools for you.
STEP 1: Choose your eCommerce Platform
The problem most new store owners face is that there are a lot of options for setting up a new online store. Picking the right one can be challenging. Picking the wrong one can be disastrous. Many potential eCommerce store owners are faced with the choice of either guessing, or hiring expensive consultants to help them decide.
The question most new store owners try to ask is:
“Which eCommerce solution is best?”
That’s the wrong question because there is no answer to it. The question that needs to be answered is:
“Which eCommerce solution is best for me?”
To help you find an answer, let’s take a look at some of the different options for an eCommerce website 👇
WordPress + WooCommerce
The combination of WordPress and WooCommerce is my personal favourite eCommerce platform to build on. It is easy to install, not terribly difficult to configure, and with a little patience, the average site owner can get a store up, operational, and take orders in an afternoon.
WordPress+WooCommerce is an open source platform and both are free to use. They both share a wide community that supports them so you will surely not feel alone when using them. WooCommerce has its own marketplace with over one hundred extensions available to help you build the online store that you want. Some of those extensions are free, however most carry an annual subscription.
Choosing quality web hosting that specializes in WooCommerce to host your eCommerce site is the first step to your online success. SiteGround is a dedicated hosting provider for WordPress+WooCommerce, recommended by both. Thanks to their expertise and unique hosting optimization for WooCommerce, it can easily be installed with the SiteGround Site Tools in a single click.
Then, WooCommerce installs a handy “Getting Started” wizard to help novices make sure they get everything they need configured.
In short, WordPress+WooCommerce is a solid platform for small businesses to get started with an eCommerce site. As you grow, so does the platform. You can easily grow your small eCommerce website into a feel blown enterprise-grade solution, as you need it.
Of course, since it is built on top of WordPress, you get the entire WordPress ecosystem to help you do all the non-eCommerce things.
PrestaShop boasts of over 300,000 merchants using the platform. This means that you will have a lot of company if you decide to deploy it. This usually means that for any problem you have you can usually find an answer. An active community is important when dealing with Open Source. Of course, if you want better support than answers when people can get around to it, there are solutions providers that you can hire to solve just about anything.
The bottom line is that PrestShop is a good player suitable for small to medium sized online stores It is under current development so you won’t feel abandoned. It has a marketplace of add-ons so that most of the things that shop owners will want to do can already be done without restoring to hiring a developer.
In order to create an eCommerce with PrestaShop, you need a reliable web hosting partner. SiteGround is an excellent choice for this. They offer PrestaShop as an installation option when creating a new site. Then, the setup and management of your new site is easy and quick.
You can find specific instructions on how to create an eCommerce site with PrestaShop in this PrestaShop Tutorial.
OpenCart is another Open Source eCommerce solution for your online business and the core is free to use. It can easily be installed on a SiteGround hosted website. Nevertheless, it does require that you be comfortable with using the command line as the installer is not web based, but a command line program.
Like PrestaShop, OpenCart has a marketplace where you can purchase extensions and themes. This means that many of the things that you are going to want to do with your online store, are already available for you to purchase. Things like integrating your mailing list into purchases or pushing your products to Facebook.
OpenCart has a thriving community that can help you solve problems and a decent sized ecosystem of service providers and experts who can help you implement your ideas.
In contact with the eCommerce platforms we talked about so far Weebly is an online drag-and-drop website builder. Most of what you will find about Weebly is related to your store being hosted on their infrastructure. However, if you host your eCommerce site with SiteGround, it is possible – and honestly, very easy – to install it. When you set up a new website on SiteGround, you only need to select “Weebly Sitebuilder” as the software to install and SiteGround will do the rest for you.
Then all you need to do is go in and start setting up your site. You can check more information on how to activate and access Weebly Sitebuilder in SiteGround here. Of the options we’ve looked at, this is one of the fastest installs we’ve discussed so far.
Even though your new shop would be hosted with SiteGround, some of the content will still come from Weebly’s infrastructure. This means that you will still need an account with Weebly to get things working. Most of the configuration for your site will be done at weebly.com, not your storefront.
While Weebly is a fast install and the management interface is easy to use, if you are hoping to host your own site and “own it all”, then Weebly is not the solution for you.
Drupal is a general website building tool that is useful for almost any kind of website.
Like the others, Drupal is open source and its core is free to use. Many modules in its ecosystem are free to use. The better eCommerce modules are not however.
Drupal’s community is large enough so that they have annual conferences around the world. This means that not only is the community large, but they are active.
Drupal, and many of its more important modules, are under current development.
Since Drupal has modules for both eCommerce and other things, it is a good choice as a platform to build on if you are planning on doing more than just eCommerce.
Again, choosing a top hosting provider which supports this application will be a wise decision. Drupal can be installed and hosted on SiteGround via their App Installer. Using their straightforward tool, Drupal is just a few clicks away. You can check the step-by-step setup process in this Drupal Tutorial.
Magento (Now Adobe Commerce)
Magento is a web shop platform for larger companies. It was originally built by a company named Varian but is now owned by Adobe. It has grown from a small open source project to the framework of choice for large enterprise-grade eCommerce shops.
Magento has two different versions that you need to be aware of. The community version can be self-hosted and is open source and free to use. The commercial version is hosted on Adobe’s magento infrastructure. If you want the commercial version then be prepared, the prices can be steep.
Magento, which is now Adobe Commerce, can be installed on SiteGround hosting but keep in mind that you need to purchase ElasticSearch from a third-party vendor to ensure its proper functionality. If this is your choice of platforms to build on, I strongly encourage you to hire an expert to install and configure it and show you how to manage your new shop. Be prepared to put your expert on a maintenance retainer as Magento is not as easy as other platforms to upgrade.
Magento supports multi-store sites and SiteGround has a great tutorial on how to build a multi-store site with Magento. Make sure you check it out if you are going to use Magento as your eCommerce platform.
Factors to consider when selecting an eCommerce platform
Self Hosted vs. SaaS
Most of the solutions above share one thing in common, they are all self-hosted. Even Weebly has a self-hosted component. This means that you, the store owner, control where the site is hosted. You can host them on privately owned servers running in your corporate basement, or you can use a reputable hosting partner like SiteGround. The point of self hosted is that you make the decision and you get as much or as little help as you want.
Software as a Service (SaaS) is the other option. With SaaS, you, the site owner don’t have control over where it is hosted, but then again, you don’t care either. You are purchasing a completely managed service, part of which is software, the other part is infrastructure and the management of the infrastructure.
The right choice for your hosting depends largely on what you plan on doing and how much control you want.
If you don’t want to bother with any of the infrastructure, you just want to manage your store, then SaaS is probably the best solution for you. In this case you are trading off control of the platform for simplicity.
If you want influence – but not direct control – over the server your software will be running on, a self-hosted is most likely your best choice. For instance, for my personal website hosted on SiteGround, I have control over most of the variables that are important to me:
- Version of PHP
- PHP extensions installed
- The software running my site
I don’t have to worry about making sure that the other pieces that are important to making sure my website is operational. SiteGround manages all of that for me.
Another important factor to consider when considering is the maintenance of your store. If you look around at the different solutions, you’ll quickly find that some are easily maintained and other solutions require maintenance staff.
For instance, WordPress has a built-in update system. Not only the core, but all plugins and themes can automatically be updated. This of course includes WooCommerce and all of it’s extensions. From a maintenance standpoint, most of this is automated. Occasionally, you will have to perform a database update but they make this easy with a push of a button.
The opposite end of the spectrum is Magento. Magento is a large project and ongoing maintenance of it will require dedicated staff. Whether that takes the form of an actual full time employee, a contractor, or an agency on retainer, if you are using Magento, you will be paying someone to help you.
In between these two solutions are the rest of them. Some solutions are easier to maintain than others. Before settling on a solution, you need to make sure that you understand its ongoing maintenance requirements.
Similar to maintainability is extendability. How easy is it to customize the solution you select. In most of the solutions described above, we talked about “marketplaces”. If a solution has a thriving marketplace then it is easy to extend it and a lot of people are doing so. Solutions that do not have a marketplace are usually either difficult to extend or closed systems. If you choose one of these solutions make sure that out of the box, it does everything you need it to do.
If you’ve selected the solution you will be using for your online store, then here are the next steps you need to take to get up and running.
STEP 2: Get A Domain Name
It all starts with a domain name. Make sure that you select one that is easy to spell and memorable. A good domain name will help you with “discoverability”– the ability for people to easily find you.
Your domain name is an embodiment of your brand. Therefore you want to choose one that best represents your brand and not a generic term. For example, for my scuba diving mailing list, I could have tried to register scubadivingmailinglist.com. It is memorable and it describes what you can expect at the domain. But it does not speak to my brand. Instead I chose unclecalsdiveclub.com. It’s memorable and brandable.
If possible, avoid hyphens. It is awkward to say “visit myDASHdomainDASHisDASHhere.com”. As someone who owns a domain with hyphens in it I speak from experience. You don’t want this.
Steer clear of trademarks. If you aren’t sure if your domain contains a trademark then contact an IP lawyer. In the US, holders of trademarks are legally bound to protect their trademarks or they lose them. So if you use someone else’s they will come after you.
Finally, if you can’t think of a domain name, use a domain name generator. Put that term in your favourite search engine and you’ll find several options. These can help you think outside of the box and find a domain name that checks all your boxes.
STEP 3: Select Your Hosting Provider
Now that you have a domain name selected, it’s time to attach it to a website. Before you swipe your credit card, think for a bit about your needs. Switching hosting partners can be done after your site is launched but it’s not easy and takes a lot of time and planning. It’s best to get this right the first time. To hello you get it right, consider the following:
- Do they support the platform you want to use?
A prospective hosting partner’s tools, servers, and resources should be optimized for your chosen platform.
- Can you grow with them when your site grows?
Top tier hosts will have a variety of plans that can grow with you. For this reason, I recommend that once you’ve selected a host, purchase the smallest plan that offers you everything you need. Once you start growing, you can upgrade as needed.
- Do they offer support?
Support is an important factor to consider. Can you contact support 24×7 or just during office hours? Do they have a strong history of offering solid support? Most importantly, if the problem is not the underlying architecture – what they are there to support – can they recommend a qualified professional to help you troubleshoot and fix problems with your site?
Many companies only offer email support and for their lower tiers the response time may be measured in days, not minutes. Ask about support response times and ask if you can upgrade to a better response time if you want to pay
- Do they offer tools to increase site speed?
Speed is one of the main points that makes the difference in your website’s success, because it brings a better user experience, leads to higher conversions, and better positioning in search engines. Your selected hosting provider should offer you tools to get the best performance.
- Are they commited to security?
Your hosting provider plays a key role in your website security, so look for one that offers you things like:
- System monitoring
- Defense against external attacks
- Daily backups
- The latest updates to your chosen platform
Hosts that offer you tools to enhance security at the platform level are excellent. SiteGround, for example, has the free SiteGround Security plugin, that helps you protect your WordPress site in a matter of a click.
- Do they offer domain registration?
Finally, top-tier web hosts are also registrars. This makes spinning up a new site much easier since they can not only register the domain name for you, but they can configure your DNS for you. DNS is not an easy thing to manage and if you can let someone else do it for you, that’s always the best plan.
Having hosted websites since 1996, and for 15 years running my own hosting operation, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to hosting companies. For me, SiteGround is the best service I’ve come across due to their state-of-the-art technologies and their expert support. Truly, they are more than a hosting provider, they are a hosting partner.
STEP 4: How to Install Your eCommerce platform
Once you have your platform and hosting partner selected, it is time to install your application and to get everything up and running. Follow your host guidelines to do so. In the case you select WooCommerce and SiteGround as your web host, the setup will be as easy as I show you in the following video:
Step 5: Choosing the Perfect Design for Your eCommerce Website
Understand Your Brand and Target Audience
Begin by understanding your brand identity and the specific audience you want to target. Your template/design should align with your brand image and resonate with your target customers. Consider elements like colors, typography, and overall aesthetics that align with your brand personality and cater to your audience’s preferences.
Prioritize User Experience (UX)
A seamless and intuitive user experience is vital for retaining visitors and encouraging them to make purchases. Look for templates/designs that offer clear navigation, easy-to-find search functionality, and logical layout structures. Emphasize mobile responsiveness to cater to the increasing number of users accessing eCommerce websites through mobile devices.
Customization and Flexibility
While templates provide a starting point, the ability to customize and make the design your own is essential. Choose one that allows you to modify layouts, colors, fonts, and other visual elements to match your brand identity. Flexibility is crucial as it enables you to adapt and evolve your website as your business grows.
Responsiveness and Performance
In today’s digital landscape, users expect fast-loading websites. Opt for templates that are optimized for speed and performance. Ensure they are responsive across various devices and screen sizes, providing a seamless experience for users, regardless of the device they use to access your site.
Integration with eCommerce Features
Consider the compatibility of the template with eCommerce functionalities and features. Look for built-in support for product galleries, shopping carts, checkout processes, and payment gateways. Seamless integration will save you time and effort in implementing these essential eCommerce elements.
Read Reviews and Seek Inspiration
Before finalizing the design, read reviews from other users to gauge their experiences. Additionally, browse through websites in your industry or similar niches to gather inspiration and identify design elements that resonate with your target audience. Adapt and customize those elements to create a unique and engaging website.
By carefully considering these factors, you can select a template that not only enhances your brand image but also provides a positive user experience, ultimately leading to increased conversions and the success of your eCommerce business. Remember, your website’s design is the first impression customers have of your brand, so make it count by choosing the perfect layout that reflects your brand identity and captivates your target audience.
And then again, if you select WordPress+WooCommerce, you can check out my advice on selecting a theme in the article The Best WordPress Themes – Default, Free and Paid.
STEP 6: Set Up Payment Options
Once you have your storefront up and running, you need to decide how you are going to accept payment from your customers. This involves selecting a payment processor, creating an account with them, and setting up your solution to process those payments. This usually takes multiple days to do properly. The good news is that you can do this at the same time as your web designer is working on point #3.
If you choose WordPress+WooCommerce, check out my advice on How To Choose The Best Payment Processor For Your eCommerce in the following video:
STEP 7: Define and Add Your Products
Now that you can accept payment for your goods and services, it’s time to add those goods and services into your new store. It’s best to start with your simplest product and get a few in so that you get used to the interface before you start tackling your more complex products. Start by making a list of your first 10 products, think of possible variables and then, follow these steps that I share with you in the following video to add them to your brand-new eCommerce site:
STEP 8: Set Up Your Products Shipping
Finally, you need to be able to deliver your products to your customers. If your products are all digital, then you can skip this part. However, if your products are physical, shipping is going to be important.
For most of the solutions described in this article, the major shippers have plugins, modules, or extensions that will let your system calculate shipping automatically. This of course requires that you know things like the weight of each product, etc. This may be the final step before you start taking orders but it is still an important step. Spend the time to select the shipper with whom you want to work. Then spend the time necessary to set up, configure, and integrate the module into your system. I strongly suggest that you start with a single shipper and grow after you’ve got some experience under your belt. For more details on how to set up shipping in WooCommerce, check out our video below:
eCommerce has gotten a lot easier since I put up my first storefront in 1997. These days, you can install, configure, and populate your store with the click of a few buttons. The important thing is to go slow, be deliberate, and take your time in clicking those buttons. The cheapest time to correct a mistake is when you are still in the planning phase. The most expensive time to try and correct a mistake is after you’ve already implemented your store and are taking orders. So take your time, do your research, and think it through.
When people ask me my advice on which solution they should build on, I give them this advice.
- If you are building a small site and just want to sell a few products, go with WordPress+WooCommerce hosted with a top-tier hosting partner like SiteGround’s GoGeek plan.
- If you are a medium size business that requires more resources, go with WordPress+WooCommerce hosted on SiteGround’s managed Cloud Hosting plan.
- If you need an Enterprise grade solution, then select Magento hosted on SiteGround’s custom managed Cloud hosting plan. In the “Partner Perks” section inside your SiteGround account, you will find good agencies to help you get your site up and running and assist you with ongoing maintenance.
So, prepared to create your next eCommerce site? Get a more detailed look at everything necessary to bring your eCommerce business to life using WooCommerce and strategies to make it successful by downloading our FREE guide on How to Start Selling Online.
Updated: July 2023