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Marketing Insights

Ecommerce Website Planning And Building - The Basics You Need To Know

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Our Approach To Creating An Ecommerce Website

As you can imagine, ecommerce sales have really skyrocketed, and everybody wants to be online to sell their products. So today, I've got my web genius here, Charlie Miller. And Charlie is going to tell us the software we use, and how we go about building an ecommerce website. Because if you haven't created an ecommerce site before, there's always a lot of questions on what's the best way to go about it? What should I use? Where should I host it. Let's get started!....

The Basics

Don Keller: Can you give me a little breakdown on how we go about creating a website?

Charlie Miller: Generally, we start with the design process, then once the final design is approved by the client we have what the website's going to look like and how it's going to function. Then we're going to use something like WordPress to build the site.

Don: And WordPress is what?

Charlie: It's an open source software for creating websites.

Don: Is there any cost for using WordPress?

Charlie: There is no cost for WordPress itself.

Don: If somebody came to us and said, I need a website, I need an ecommerce website. We could easily use that software for free. So there's no charge for that portion of creating a website.

Charlie: Correct. Using Wordpress is free but there are charges for web hosting, registering a domain name, and credit card processing costs a fee, sometimes per transaction, or sometimes a flat fee, depending on how much you're selling.

Hosting Your Website - What Features To Look For

Don: Let's talk about hosting for a minute. As you can imagine, there's a lot of there's 1000s of places you could host a site. So without naming names, let's just tell how we go about hosting a site and why we chose that particular host over somebody else.

Look for hosting providers that will include an SSL Certificate in their costs.

Charlie: We’re generally going to try to find a host, that is a good price and has an SSL Certificate included in the cost. And we're going to look for the use of an Apache web server, that's going to give us access to a control panel (cPanel) that will provide control over most aspects of the account including backups, creating email, managing databases, and installing software, it's going to give us the most bang for the buck.

Don: Why do we choose a particular host that has this Apache server? What's so special, why not the cheapest guy out there?

Charlie: With the control panel, often included in the price is the ability to do backups. So when you make a change to your website, you want to do a backup first in case something goes wrong, especially if you're updating software, updating plugins. Occasionally you run into a little trouble where you might need to take a step back, reinstall the backup and then do some troubleshooting.


Don’t Forget About Security

Charlie: Generally, hosting sites are going to have built in security, they're going to be managing their own networks. However, on the actual Wordpress website, we're going to install an additional plugin. There are several different kinds, but we're going to install a security plug-in that gives you, locally on that website, some user controlled security features.

Don: Security is important. Why?

Charlie:If you're going to collect credit card data and personal data from an ecommerce website, you're responsible if that software is breached, and people steal credit card numbers or people's names and addresses.

Don: That's obviously pretty important. You don't want to be putting your customers information into the wrong hands.

Building Websites With Wordpress

Don: Let’s get back to WordPress. You mentioned that it's an open source software. And just quickly, can you tell the people viewing, what is open source software?

Charlie: It’s software that anyone can develop with, you're going to find a very, very rich ecosystem of plugin developers and software developers that have a breadth of knowledge that you're not going to necessarily have with proprietary systems like say, Shopify, Wix or Squarespace just to name a few.

Wordpress websites can be built on a wide variety of web hosting providers.

Don: A lot of do-it-yourself ecommence website builders include web hosting, basic templates and themes, and credit card processing as a package. WordPress can be hosted on your own site on your own hosting service. So you're responsible for updating that version of WordPress as the life of your site goes on. And that is important. Because there are improvements that are made.

Charlie: There are often security patches to that get included in the updates.

Don: As you can imagine, a lot of people are out there that try to get into your site. And we're very aware of that. We ourselves have seen that type of behavior on our site, and we get notified by the software that we use, that somebody is trying to hack into our site.

So now that we've established the type of web host that we're looking for, WordPress seems to be the direction that we would suggest for most people. There are some reasons not to do that. And we have worked on other platforms.

But WordPress is open-source software. So there are lots of different extensions that are available. If a client comes to us, and they have a particular need, that isn't met through that initial installation of WordPress, we usually can find something out there that fits the bill.


Add A Shopping Cart To Wordpress

Don: If it's an e commerce site, they're going to purchase online. There's software out there, that needs to be added that is an extension of WordPress, I believe.

Charlie: Right, there's WooCommerce, which is probably the primary plugin for ecommerce. And that's going to give you all the functionality of a shopping cart. Plus WooCommerce, maintains a group of plugins that they develop themselves that costs extra, but the WooCommerce shopping cart itself is also free to use.

You'll need install Woocommerce to add a shopping cart to your website.

Don: Okay, and WooCommerce is another piece of software, it's been around for quite some time. So with that in mind, they're looking at the needs of business owners. And what does a business owner need is they need to look at their sales history, they need to they need to capture information as the the sales are made, they might need it to work in conjunction with some type of a shipping software too.

Don’t Forget About Shipping Options

Charlie: One of the things that our clients seem to always forget, is shipping options and shipping tables, that's going to determine both the carrier that you use to ship and calculating the price based on the location that you're shipping to.

You will need to know how you're shipping your product and how much it will cost.

Don: That has come up often with people, especially if they're going to they're going to ship mostly in the United States, but some do ship outside the US. So that just brings up other needs. And there have been some instances where we needed to break down the shipping based on locations, so that the further away, the more expensive the shipping was. Those are things that are going to need to be thought of while you're building your site. Having a good method to start with is always a plus it's not 100% necessary, but knowing about shipping, and what kind of costs you may get into are always good to know.

Charlie: And there's lots of plugins that'll add functionality to that, that'll integrate with the shipping vendors like UPS or FedEx or whatever kind of shipping method you want to use.


Make Sure You Get Paid

Don: Let's talk quickly about the bank credit card processing. That is something that we do not set up for people. They need to work with their own processor, whether it's through their bank, or there's a lot of independence out there. But what kind of information do they need to give us to make that part of the WooCommerce shopping cart?

Charlie: Well, if it's going to be through a traditional bank, they're going to need to get with their bank and set up a commercial account that will actually do the processing for them. And there's going to be certain fees associated with that and certain process that they have to go through to set that up.

Then you have to connect the function of that processor to your website. Usually that's done with some type of plugin. There are also a lot of newer kind of payment processors that seemed to be quite a bit simpler, like Square and Stripe. There are all sorts of smaller independent processors like that that are somewhat easier to use, and easier to get started with.

Extending Wordpress

Don: Once we've got the basics down, we've got a web hosting service selected, you have purchased your own URL, we’ve got WordPress in place, we've got WooCommerce on top of WordPress. There are a few other extensions that usually come up with a site like that we've put on any site, whether they're a ecommerce site, or they're just more of an informative site. Can you tell a few of those things.

Wordpress can be extended with various plugins that will add additional functionality and design options.

Charlie: Some of the biggest options are most websites you see on the front page or some kind of image slider, that's something you have to add, it's very common, there's lots of different ways of doing it. There's lots of different themes that you can use that will have a lot of functionality built in, they'll have page builders and, and ways of doing special effects with CSS and HTML, that would be a lot more difficult to do manually by just developing your own HTML.

Don: A theme, for people that don't know is a more or less a stock design. There are a lot of places out there, if you were to look out, look up stock software or website designs, you would find a number of sites that they have hundreds. And they usually charge some kind of a small fee to get started, right?

Charlie: There’s a lot who do. If you go to the WordPress website, there's probably 1000s that are free that you can start with. Some of them have basic function that's free. And then if you want some premium function you pay a little bit for.

Basic Themes And Customizations

Don: When we started this talk, you mentioned that in the process, we usually would design a site first. So if you were to buy a stock theme, there's not as much design involved. But there are some trade offs there. In that you should use the theme itself.

Even when you use a Theme it's necessary to write content for your pages, add photos and photograph your products.

If you've got photos in place where you don't necessarily want photos, it may have some options of making some changes. But making major changes to those pieces are not as easy as starting from scratch more or less. When we do build our own unique theme, how do you build that within WordPress?

Charlie: We start with a framework that has a page builder, and a lot of the functionality that you need, such as different ways of connecting social media, it's always popular, different kind of sliders, different ways of displaying images with some sort of interactive rollovers or functions that happen when you when you click on something. But you can style every aspect of all those things from within that page builder.


Responsive Design - One Website Many Screen Sizes

Don: I don't want to assume that our viewers know about this. But when a website is built, it wasn't always like this but it certainly is now. When you view the site on a laptop, or you view the site on a mobile phone, you're going to get the same information, but it's displayed differently.

Charlie: You definitely want to look for that, make sure you're using a theme that includes responsive functionality built into it.

Don: So any way that your customers find you, your website is going to display and be useful to them and be able to be purchased off of as well.

Adding And Configuring Your Products

Don: Let’s talk a little bit about the other information that a customer is going to need. When they've got a product or a series of products. What do we normally need from them when we add that particular series of products on their cart? How do we go about?

Charlie: Generally, if it's more than just a couple of products, you want to set up all the products in a spreadsheet, a basic Excel spreadsheet, it's going to have names of the products, with columns with different qualities of the products or aspects to the products. If you're doing something that has a product with multiple versions, you'll have to set that up in the spreadsheet. Sizes or colors or things like that, or flavors. Once you have that spreadsheet you can take all that data at once and just import it into the shopping cart.

You'll need all the details about you products before you import them into your online store.

Don: And that makes it so much easier. Okay. All right. And one thing that could go into that spreadsheet, I'm not sure if it is that you can correct me, since I'm not sure are the images?

Charlie: Yes. You can make a column in the spreadsheet, that includes the paths of the images - the actual URL of the images, and then it'll link them automatically.

Don: You may already have something like that done. But a lot of times, and I'm sure most people have shopped online on a cart of some sort, and you will go to a particular product, and you will see different views of that same product, left view, right view top, whatever it is, whatever is necessary. And a lot of times, you'll see other informative information, which ended up being an image on that series of photos that could be displayed.

That's a common feature of the shopping cart, but not always something that clients start thinking of. The other thing that they don't think of is descriptive copy for those products as well. Not just technical information, but some kind of copy that's actually going to sell the product. Whatever that product is, I'm sure that there is a there's a use for it. And you want to talk to that particular audience, in terms that will help sell your product.


Marketing And Promotion

Don: Let’s talk about specials. Or say you wanted to run a promotion on your site.

Charlie: That's usually called a coupon code, or you can have certain products just called out as on sale, or a percentage off.

Don: And how is that achieved? Is that part of the software that we've loaded? Or is that additional?

Charlie: Most of that kind of functionality is a pretty common thing. So it's included in the in the basic WooCommerce shopping cart. Coupon codes, I believe are also included. You can indicate which products are on sale, that'll put a special little flag on the corner of it, I’m sure you've seen that with a certain discount price. Or perhaps free shipping over a certain dollar amount.


Share, Like, and Leave A Comment

Don: Other things that people might want to have on their site, Charlie, like perhaps product reviews.

Charlie: That’ll be part of the basic WooCommerce shopping cart that you can turn on and let people leave comments and reviews. You don't have to have enabled but you can turn it on.

Don: Right. And even social engagement, that type of thing.

Charlie: There are plenty of plugins to add share buttons, like buttons and those sort of things. You can include feeds of your existing social media accounts.

Don: Which if that's where your audience is probably well worth having.

Basic SEO - Get Found Online

Don: There are some things that that we can do to help you become found online. We think they're basic things that you should be doing. But not everybody always does that. And now I'm talking about some form of search engine optimization.

A blog is a good way to create content around your particular types of products.

I don't want to get too far down into that because I think that takes us a little bit out of what this particular video is about. It is important to have names for all your images, it's important to have a title and a meta description for every product that's on your site, every page, every product, and every page. So you may have a site that wants to contain a blog on it.

A blog is a good way to create content around your particular types of products that people may find online before they find your particular product. Unless you have the most unique product out there, where putting in the name of that kind of a product is only going to bring into your site, but the chances of that are probably slim. You want to be able to be found by your audience.


Track Your Progress With Google Analytics

Don: There’s always a few things that we add to sites as well, when we're building that give us some tracking information. And I'm talking about a basic free add-on like Google Analytics.

Once you create a Google Analytics account you'll still need to add the provided tracking code to your website.

Charlie: You should open a Google Analytics account. That way you can start from the very beginning you can have Google Analytics tracking data, tracking visitor data. So you develop a starting point and you have a baseline, as you move forward that you can see exactly what's working, you can see the number of visitors that are coming. So you know that when you're when you're doing things trying to affect SEO, improve SEO, you'll know if it's working or not.

Develop a starting point so you have a baseline, as you move forward that you can see exactly what's working.

Don: Right, You'll be able to see the traffic, you'll be able to see generally where they're coming from. Maybe not all parts of the country, maybe just certain parts, maybe just your particular region, maybe you were at a tradeshow and then all of a sudden you start seeing a lot of traffic from that, from that tradeshow. So it's a free plugin. So it's worth it. There are others out there that you can pay for. That might give you a little bit more insight. But I know Google as has been around for as long as Google's been around.

Find The Best Solution For You

Don: Can you think of anything that we didn't discuss here that might be important to someone looking at an ecommerce site.

Charlie: I would consider when you're setting up a site that you can do things à la carte, you can shop for the best web host that you think is out there. You can shop around for the best price on your domain name, which people wouldn't think of, but there's often deals you can find from different registrar's that will give you better prices per year than others. When you look at credit card processing, consider the transaction fees and what type of processing you select. In the very beginning, it might not make a lot of difference. But if you become more successful, those fees really add up and that comes out of your bottom line.

Don: That's true. And that's why you're going online.

I hope you found this video useful.

If it was, please leave us a comment below. Or, if you thought we missed something let us know.

You can also watch the companion video to this article on our YouTube Channel.

I hope that we get to talk to you soon. If you have an ecommerce need, please give us a call at 410-337-0066 or use the form above. We'd be happy to discuss how we could help!

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