Most of the people I meet who are new to ecommerce suffer from the same false pretense that simply having an ecommerce site is all they need.Â Once it's up and running, the search engines will find them, the seas will part, the skies will clear, and a magic rainbow will send a flood of customers to their door with money in hand, ready to buy whatever they're selling.
Then a few months later they wake up from the dream and wonder why they aren't getting any sales.
You wouldn't start a brick & mortar business without a plan, and an ecommerce site is no different.Â Sure, you've thought about how the site will look… I bet you've already designed it in your head.Â But the design is actually the least important aspect of your online store; it's the products that matter the most.Â How they're organized, the picture quality, and how quickly a person can find what they want, add it to their cart, and check out is what really makes or breaks your site.Â To help you get started, here are the 5 steps I use whenever I launch a new site for myself or a client:
1. Plan the site content and choose a web host.
What purpose does your site serve?Â Why would someone go there?Â Get all of your products, UPC's, and descriptions into an Excel spreadsheet (most shopping carts support some kind of Excel-based import, so it's a good start).Â Take good photos – stock photography is OK, but keep in mind that if your buyers are shopping around they've probably seen that manufacturer photo dozens of times, so taking your own can set you apart.
2. Select a shopping cart that meets your requirements.
Unless you're a programmer, I recommend hosted shopping carts over scripts you download and install on your own server.Â They take the technical requirements and burden of installing updates & maintaining backups off of your shoulders.Â You need to focus on running a business, not running a website.Â Cartooga, Volusion, and Big Commerce are all great choices.Â Now is a great time to set up your Merchant Account too (so you can accept credit cards) – most of the hosted carts will help you with this if you don't already have one.
3. Simple web design sells.
When designing your site, remember you are selling a product – don't try to impress visitors with your web design skills and don't annoy them with flash, splash pages, or make them watch a video. Keep the design simple and clean, without any hidden links.Â Your visitors should be able to find what they're looking for within one click (45% of them leave your site if they can't), add it to their cart, and check out.Â Don't launch your site until it's finished - "under construction" and "coming soon" pages tell your visitors you aren't ready for them, or their money.Â Set up Google Analytics so you'll be able to analyze your traffic.
4. Pay-Per-Click marketing test.
Everyone always wants to skip this step because it "feels" like a waste of money.Â The point here isn't to profit, it's to get 30 days of traffic patterns and see what keywords turn into sales.Â I tell people this because there are two kinds of keywords in ecommerce – the words that bring traffic, and the words that convert.Â SEO is time consuming, and can get expensive if you're paying someone to do it for you.Â You don't want to waste your time optimizing for keywords that bring traffic but don't turn into sales.Â Use the "instant gratification" that only Google AdWords can give you in a 30 day campaign, testing all of your keywords and buyer behavior to see which ones bring you business.Â I recommend spending $3,000 on this – that's only $100 per day, and will give you enough traffic to observe visitor trends on your site.Â If you go too far below this number, you won't have enough data for it to be accurate.
5. Review and optimize.
Now that your 30 day PPC campaign is over, shut it off and spend some time reviewing your analytics.Â Optimize your site for the keywords that converted.Â Adjust the pages most frequently visited to push buyers toward the products they're likely to buy when they click those links.Â Look at what pages you lost visitors on – someone clicked that link and then left the site.Â Was it because they were looking for something and it wasn't there, or was it because they didn't like what they saw?Â Look at your site the way a customer would.Â Your site has to appeal both to those who are familiar with your product and ready to spend money, and those who have never heard of you.Â Don't alienate one in favor of the other.
This information should get you started, and next time – once your site is up and running – I'll show you some more specific techniques to figure out what your buyers are thinking when they see your site, and convert them into sales.
Ron Rule is a technical entrepreneur who's been doing e-commerce, web marketing, and development since the mid 1990"Â²s. To read more about Ron, click here.