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How to Build an ECommerce Website Step by Step

Ecommerce site builds are rarely simple or straightforward. There’s such a lot to take into account at every stage. It’s usually best – and more cost effective - to use professional site design and building services from an experienced eCommerce site developer like Intuitiv. But if you’re determined to do it yourself, you’ll need to be aware of the key steps involved. Here they are.

  • Register a domain name
  • Choose the eCommerce Platform
  • Select an appropriate hosting option
  • Design the eCommerce Site
  • Implement payment facilities
  • Establish shipping options
  • Add content and products
  • Test in safe environment
  • Launch the site
  • Additional considerations

Register a Domain Name

A domain is simply the address where your website lives. If yours is an existing business you probably already have a registered domain name. If not, the world is your oyster! It’s important to pick a logical domain name for your ecommerce site that reflects what you sell. Take B&Q, whose ecommerce site’s address is ‘DIY.com’. It says exactly what the business does, leaving people who search Google for DIY products in no doubt they’ve found the right place.

What’s involved in choosing and registering a domain name? Find yourself a domain search website – there are plenty of them around, including one from Google itself plus others from sites like Namecheap, GoDaddy, and A2. At the top of the screen there’s a search box where you can try out different names. It’ll tell you which domain extensions are available and which are already in use, for example .com, .uk and .org. You can also search for domains that are about to expire, another good source of ideas.

Once you’ve found an available domain name that suits your business, it’s time to register it. You can often do this via the same site where you found the domain name in the first place. Simply add the domain to your cart and complete the checkout procedure, choosing the amount of time you want to secure the domain name for – usually 1 year, 3, 5 or 10. Some hosting companies, for example GoDaddy, also let you buy hosting at the same time.

Choose the eCommerce Platform

Most contemporary ecommerce sites are built on one of the many ecommerce platforms available, including Shopify, WooCommerce, Wix, Bigcommerce and Vendr. Others conduct all of their ecommerce via established services like EBay and Amazon, so don’t have an ecommerce website of their own. A few organisations choose to have a custom or bespoke ecommerce site designed but this comes with issues around regular technical updates. If you buy a site that isn’t supported into the future on an ongoing basis, as ecommerce platforms like the ones we’ve mentioned above are, it will quickly go out of date. Unless there’s a very good reason not to, it’s always best to design an ecommerce website on an existing platform.

Select Suitable Web Hosting

Hosting always matters, but it’s even more important when you’re carrying out financial transactions online. While some of the best platforms include hosting – for example Shopify – many don’t. It makes  a lot of sense to choose the best quality hosting you can afford for your ecommerce site, ideally dedicated hosting where your business is the only one on a server, with no shared resources and a much lower risk of downtime, hacks, resource issues and other hosting problems. As a rule, dedicated hosting delivers the best site performance, security, and reliability.

Design the eCommerce Site

Most ecommerce packages include a choice of shop themes to choose from, many of which you can easily customise to suit your business and meet any specific design and branding requirements. As someone who isn’t a graphic designer by trade they’re gold dust, but at the same time you might find you get a much better result using a specialist designer. Don’t forget your business marketing collateral will probably include designed elements like brand imagery, logos and specific typefaces or colours. Do you feel confident in creating all this yourself? If not, tap into experts like Intuitiv and you’ll achieve something truly professional.

Implement Payment Facilities

You’ll need a payment gateway through which customers will pay you. A payment gateway is simply an online payment service that integrates with your chosen e-commerce platform to allow people to make – and you to receive – payments, securely validating customer card details. It might also be a good idea to offer payment via PayPal,, to please customers who feel safer not providing their credit card details. Some ecommerce platforms, including Shopify, come with their own payment gateway facilities, which do a lot of the hard work for you. Other options to consider are ApplePay or GooglePay to make the payment process easier for customers using mobile devices.People like to pay in different ways, so the more options you can provide, the better. If your business operates abroad, you’ll need to accept payments in different currencies.

Establish Shipping Options

Shipping and postage can make or break a sale. If someone else offers faster, cheaper delivery, they’ll probably attract more custom. But it can depend on the products. If you send them out from a local warehouse, the delivery methods and systems will be very different from a drop-ship ecommerce site, where the goods are shipped from a warehouse that can be located in another country altogether. The faster, cheaper and more efficiently your delivery system is, the happier your customers will be and the more repeat sales you’ll get.

Add Content and Products

Adding the products and product descriptions is going to be a huge job, especially when you have hundreds or thousands of products in your store, all falling into different categories. Sometimes the manufacturer of the products you sell will provide descriptions but, to benefit from Google’s focus on unique content, it’s probably best to rewrite it. The descriptions might not be very good in the first place, giving you the opportunity to replace them with something truly excellent that’ll inspire your audience.

 

Great content is about much more than attractive, compelling words. You also need to put SEO first, which means a lot of detailed research into the terms real people use when searching for the products and services you sell, then using the keywords you’ve identified in the right way within your content and meta data. This alone is an enormous job, especially when you’re not familiar with SEO. 

 

You’ll also need high quality images, potentially a large and detailed image for people to zoom into and a suite of thumbnail images that load super-fast because they’re nice and small. Video and blog content can be enormously beneficial on ecommerce sites. It’s a good marketing move to take advantage of every available way to make your site better than competing sites, including a lively, frequently-updated blog and video content that supports customers’ needs in every possible way.

 

You could consider populating the initial ecommerce site build with a small number of products, blog posts and videos, allowing you to rigorously test and appraise everything before you fully populate the shop.

Test in a Safe Environment

You really don’t want to make your ecommerce site live before it has been tested, tested, and tested again. It’s important to test the new site in a safe environment where it isn’t being crawled and indexed by Google, so it can’t be seen by the public. This kind of testing means being incredibly thorough, examining every aspect of the site’s functionality to appraise and verify it, including all your payment and shipping options. It’s about being methodical and detail-oriented, and it’s important to document your findings every step of the way. Then you’ll have a solid reference document to refer to when making changes.

Launch the Site

Your site is built and populated, and it has been tested and perfected. You’re ready to launch – so what’s the site launch process? You’ll need to install Google Analytics Ecommerce Tracking and set up Google and Bing webmaster tools as well as the Google Search Console. You’ll want to run a crawl simulation on the site to check accessibility and identify any critical errors.  It’s wise to test your design in browser emulators and, if necessary, set up RSS feed analytics. You can test the site’s online usability and branding, and set up a KPI dashboard to collect your most important metrics.

You’ll need to create social media accounts with all the networks where your audience hangs out, and connect them to your new site. It’s worth checking all of your content one last time for spelling mistakes and coding issues, ensuring you take out any test content before launch. Make certain your site is properly responsive on all types and sizes of screen, operating system and device, and make sure your images are displaying properly.

You’ll need to check your 404 page is in good order, ideally designed to send people to a useful page – maybe the home page – rather than leaving them dangling. Then there’s performance testing, page loading speed tests, and testing for broken links. You will probably want to optimise your images so they load like lightning. Don’t forget to add a sitemap, and remember to arrange automatic backups. 

Code validation and page redirection, indexing and email address set-up, it should all be tested. Last but far from least, you’ll need to think about marketing the new site at launch, which will mean a combination of social media marketing, press releases, ad campaigns, search campaigns, industry publications, directory entries, social bookmarking, and more. 

Additional Considerations

That’s the basics. But there’s more to do to maximise your ecommerce impact. You’ll need to set up GDPR compliance, usually via a pop-up statement. You might want to add a cookie statement. You’ll want to include Terms and Conditions. And you’ll need to apply the same SEO-led insight to new ongoing content as you did when creating the site. You’ll find it useful to formalise the timing, focus and content of your ongoing site updates, and find seamless, user-friendly, marketing-inspired ways to deal with out of stock and unavailable products. And, of course, there’s customer support. How are you going to help people get the best out of your ecommerce site under every circumstance?

Not a job for the faint-hearted! 

Setting up a new ecommerce site from scratch isn’t for the faint-hearted. There’s a vast collection of considerations to bear in mind, some technical, some design-led and others marketing-related. It’s no surprise Intuitiv is the first stop for so many ecommerce businesses thanks to our expert site design, web development and hosting services. If you’d like to know more about ecommerce options from Intuitiv, click here.

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