Building an eCommerce Website

Any CMS software can be used to build an eCommerce website, although some are better suited to this functionality than others.
Without going into the differences and pros & cons of the various CMS systems (eg Joomla, Wordpress, Drupat etc), there are some basics which apply geenrally.

This article hopes to address these.

Must-Haves For eCommerce Websites

Good Quality Hosting

Before you can build any website, you have to obtain hosting services. But, building an eCommerce site requires a little more horsepower than a typical CMS functions.
An eCommerce site requires the power to quickly and reliably load pages full of product images. It also has to have the capacity to handle many guests and transactions simultaneously.

Develop Your Brand Identity and Build it Into Your Site Template

Surprisingly, this step trips up a lot of eager store builders.
They have an idea for a range of products or services they want to sell, but they fail to consider what makes their offerings unique, identifies them as a brand, and creates good will and trust in their name.

You need to find a theme that works with the eCommerce plugin of your choice and also suits the look and feel you want your brand to convey.
For example, someone selling baked goods might want to choose a theme featuring shades of brown, evocative of baked bread or chocolate chip cookies, and areas for including nutritional information about their products.
Retail stores might want something heavily focused on white backgrounds, as they do not draw attention away from the products, with areas for featured products and announcements about sales.

Once you have selected a theme, you need to consider other elements like your logo and brand voice. Some like to stick with a simple text logo, while others prefer easily recognizable symbols.
Similarly, everything you write on your site, social media channels, and elsewhere should share a common style (or “voice”) that represents your brand.
Will your voice and logos be hip and fun? Serious and professional? Soft and friendly?
Whatever you choose, it should match your brand’s identity and the products or services your site offers.

Components & Plugins

Now that you have figured out where to host your site, selected your CSM software platform, chosen your theme, and plotted out your brand’s identity, you need to start building.
Before getting too far down the road of constructing your site you will need to install an eCommerce component.

  • Joomla - VirtueMart used to be the Go-To component for Joomla eCommerce, but I prefer eShop from OS Solutions.
  • WordPress - WooCommerce seems to be the Go-To component here.
  • Drupal - well... this is an absolutelly excellent CMS, but there isnt a lot of components available. For this reason, I wouldn't like to differentiate. If yo intend to use Drupal, a little more research will be needed.

Whatever the CMS platform chosen, all a good eCommerce components will will provide your site with a shopping cart, inventory control, and ways to attach payment gateways.
Do your research and find the one that offers the price, features, and interface that works best for your needs.
Most will generate a few pages you will need as part of your shopping and checkout process.
Carefully consider where to place these in your menus so your customers can find and use them easily.
Remember, make your visitors’ shopping experience as easy and intuitive as possible. Think about all of the ways people might move through the site and do what you can to prevent them from becoming frustrated and leaving.

Associated Components / Plugins

Although not directly associates with the eCommerce functionality directly, you should also consider a component / plugin that will help you create a contact form and newsletter signup.
This will allow your customers to communicate with you without having to expose an email address where spammers might find it.
You can also collect your customers’ email addresses and continue to engage with them long after they have left your site through email campaigns, such as newsletters or information regarding special offers.

Finally, be sure to find a Component / Plugin that helps you optimize your images for faster loading. An eCommerce site tends to have many product images, and these can slow down the time it takes a site to load on a visitor’s browser.
While caching and a content distribution network (CDN) can help, optimizing every image on your site can have a huge impact, too.

Create Products

Easily the most time consuming part of building any eCommerce site, properly adding products to your site is critical. These products serve as the cornerstone of your site.
This means more than just having interesting products or services. It means presenting them in a way that makes people want to buy them.
This entails taking interesting, compelling photographs of the products, or finding appropriate images to represent the services.
It also means writing compelling product or service descriptions that will answer a customers questions while enticing them to buy.

Most eCommerce plugins will provide templates for product pages and taxonomies for site navigation. Use these to inform your decisions about how to craft each item’s description, images, and other information.
Also, take the time to research shipping costs (if applicable), taxes, product dimensions, and any other details customers might find useful.
Include this information in your site while building each product. When possible, include all variables for a product (e.g., different sizes or colors) in a single product page.
This will make managing products easier and help customers find what they want faster. It will also give your site a more polished and sophisticated feel, improving the user’s experience on your site.

Build the Other Elements of Your Site

While the products and cart are arguably the most important parts of your eCommerce site, you still need to have a few other pages and features for strong ranking in search results, customer engagement, and to build consumer confidence.

  • Have an “About us” page that talks about your company, your organizational values, and your team.
  • Include a “Terms of Use” page containing all the necessary boilerplate to protect your legal interests vis-a-vis your site visitors and customers.
  • Create a “Contact Us” page so your visitors can ask questions, notify you of issues, or address any other matters.
  • Create a series of articles about your products, your industry, your personnel, and any other matters that might interest your site visitors.

Together, these additional pages can make a site feel more complete. They can inspire greater consumer confidence in your brand that a simple and direct purchase funnel simply will not.
When properly optimized, these pages can help your site climb the ranks of search results, making it easier to find.

Launch The Site

Now that you have built your site and added your products, you need to launch your site. Most site owners know that simply publishing a page will not lead to immediate sales.
After all, as of the date of publication, there are nearly 1.3 billion websites on the Internet (and counting). To reach the right people, you need to get the word out about your site, your brand, and your products or services.

Search engine optimization (SEO) will be a necessary first step. Following SEO best practices will cause a site to rank higher in search results.
Social media has become very important in driving traffic to a site, both from an SEO standpoint and simple marketing. Create social media channels for your site across every major social platform.
Post content regularly, interact with users that make responses, and make sure your posts match your audience’s interests.

Collect email addresses and engage with customers via well-designed email campaigns. Use your site to collect even more email addresses and continue to grow your list.
Send out content on a regular basis containing useful information, product or service updates, and promotions.
Track open and click rates, then experiment with content, subject lines, and layouts to find what gets the best results.