eCommerce 101: How to Build an Online Store in 4 Steps

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eCommerce is steadily rising in popularity. We’ve written an extensive guide for beginners showing how to choose a product, build an online store and start making money online.

1. Build Your Website

There are a number of great eCommerce platforms you can use to build your online store.

WordPress + Plugins

WordPress is a content management system originally designed to build blogs, but is now used for all kinds of websites, including online stores and shopping carts. The best solution for building an eCommerce website using WordPress is to use a pre-built plugin for the shopping cart functionality.

Two of the most popular plugins are WP eCommerce and WooCommerce.

We recommend setting up WordPress, installing one of the two plugins above and finding a theme on ThemeForest. Many theme authors build themes which focus exclusively on eCommerce and building on online store with your WordPress website.

This is probably the easiest path for beginners. If you start to see some success with your WordPress eCommerce website, then you can migrate it to a custom software package or begin to develop your own plugins (or outsource them to a developer!) to improve the functionality and customer experience.

Custom Software

If you want a solution that’s more tailored to online stores and allows for a lot of customization , you might be better off using one of the many eCommerce software solutions including: Spree Commerce or Magento.

Spree is built with the Ruby on Rails framework and Magento is built in PHP. Both have pretty big ecosystems and your choice would mainly depend  on your personal programming skills and preferences.

2. Testing Demand and Choosing a Product

The biggest mistake people make when starting eCommerce businesses is that they never test demand for their products before they start selling them. The great advantage of the internet is that you can cater to very small niche audiences, but the drawback of this is that even ideas with very little demand can seem viable with the internet.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4 Hour Work Week is famous for having tested potential titles for his book using Google Adwords. He created a list of potential titles and built paid ads on Google for each title. The ad which received the best response (ie, most clicks and engagement) was The 4-Hour Work Week, which became the title of his book.

Anyone who intends to run their own business should be using some variation of this method to test interest and demand before creating their business. There are tons of different ways to test whether or not you’ll have a good audience for your product:

  • If you have any established social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) for your business, make a public post asking your followers if they would be interested in [your product idea]. See what generates the most buzz.
  • Create ads on popular websites where your potential audience might hang out. Facebook, Reddit and PlentyOfFish all offer great advertising platforms that allow you to laser-target your audience down to what their specific interests might be!
  • Read Amazon reviews, Quora and other discussion forums popular among your niche. Look at what people are complaining about or what their pain points are. See if your product(s) can cater to their needs.

If you’re already running an online eCommerce website, but aren’t seeing good results with your current products, reach out to your users via email and ask them how you can improve your online store or which future products you could offer to increase sales.

3. Optimize Your Website

Once your eCommerce website is running, you want to spend your time collecting data and drawing insights from that data. Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, and Crazy Egg are all excellent tools for this. Crazy Egg, for example, provides “heat-maps” for pages so you can see where people are clicking on the page. This will give you a good idea of whether or not your customers are taking the actions you want them to.

Google Analytics will help you understand where your traffic is coming from and where they like to spend their time on your site.

Understanding your sales funnel is essential to success in any business. Increasing revenue is a combination of 2 things:

1. Increasing your reach to a wider segment of your intended audience

2. Retaining customers at each step of the sales funnel

The typical funnel for an eCommerce website looks something like this:

ecommerce-funnel

When running an eCommerce site, you should narrow your strategic focus to these two questions: how can I gain more exposure for this business? and how can I make sure people actually buy what I’m offering?

eCommerce giant Amazon.com is an excellent case study of how to properly run an online store-front. Amazon is notorious for their split testing and metrics-driven approach to business.

If you’ve been using Amazon regularly in the last 5 years, you’ve probably noticed that they often re-position buttons and make small tweaks to the user-interface of the website with the goal of testing which improvements result in the most sales.

An extreme example of this on Amazon’s website is their checkout process. Most people don’t notice or remember this, but once you click the checkout button and move into the payment / shipping options on Amazon, the entire website disappears with the exception of the content necessary for the customer to finish their purchase. They do this so that customers quite literally have no other option but to finish purchasing.

Amazon Checkout Process

4. Send People to Your Site

Even if you have a great business idea and a product that tons of people want, you won’t be able to make any money unless people can find your website and make purchases on it.

There are two strategies you can use to drive traffic: paid and organic search. With eCommerce, you should generally be using both of these strategies to drive traffic to your site.

Organic SEO

Organic SEO means producing high value, relevant content for your potential customers. The most common way to do this is by blogging. In recent years, it’s become very common for companies to write blogs about their niche. Kissmetrics is an excellent example of a company that runs a high value blog. Their blog is a treasure trove of information related to online marketing, analytics and content creation. They write long, valuable articles that get shared often. All of this is done with the eventual goal of selling their customers some of the Kissmetrics analytics tools / servcies.

Your organic SEO strategy will generally not yield much traffic in the beginning, but has a sort of exponential growth curve. If you put in the work early on, it will pay off in the coming months and years as you begin to rank on search engines.

Your core focus with organic SEO should be to focus on keywords that users will search for when they have intent to make a purchase. An example of some such keywords:

  • Where to buy [x] online
  • Best [x] in 2016
  • Buy cheapest [x] online

These are quite general, but if you do research into your niche, you can come up with a broader list of search terms that convey purchase intent or show that users are researching a product that they plan on buying in the near future.

Paid Advertising

SEO is a great strategy, and I recommend everyone implement some sort of organic traffic strategy so your site can rank through search, but using paid advertising can be a great way to start driving traffic to your site immediately, without having to wait.

Here are a list of some paid advertising platforms you could use:

  • PlentyOfFish Ads – as mentioned earlier, Plenty Of Fish is a great source of traffic. You can also tweak your ads to specifically target the demographic you’re trying to sell to.
  • Facebook Ads – another great choice due to the sheer volume of Facebook users and, once again, the ability to implement laser-like targeting for the kinds of traffic you want for your website.
  • Google AdSense – Google’s advertising platform. This one can be good, but it’s also very competitive and you should probably be familiar with paid advertising before trying this.

Paid advertising and media buying are huge topics that warrant articles of their own. I’ll work on getting some paid advertising guides up on Career Hack soon 🙂

In the meantime, if you’re interested in driving traffic to your eCommerce website, I highly recommend starting off with a fully organic SEO strategy in the beginning.

Conclusion

We hope our guide was helpful. Have any questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

Any other Career Hack readers who have built profitable eCommerce businesses? Please share your stories 😀

What else would you like to know about online business?

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