Starting an eCommerce project: a long and exciting journey
Opening an eCommerce site and making it profitable is anything but easy, if we then add the classic mistakes or forgetfulness that are committed during the start-up phase it is easy to understand why most of these activities fail after a short time.
Since I am an SEO consultant I have known many different realities, some have been very successful, others have kept it, others instead have only made big holes in the water, wasting time and money. Because? Because they hadn’t considered things like the market, the competition, the prices, the necessary investments, and so on.
On this page I would like to show you a logical process that can help you start an eCommerce site. I list and describe all those activities that should be carefully planned before jumping into online sales. The aim is to avoid errors typical of those who face an eCommerce project today with laziness, superficiality, or simply incompetence.
- Before leaving
- Keyword Analysis
- Analysis of online competitors
- Product analysis
- Define a budget
- Define CMS and integrations
- Define the characteristics of your hosting
- Define the structure of the website
- Define filters and advanced features
- Define the text contents
- Define SEO guidelines for development
- Follow the development of the site, without exaggerating
- Get the site tested
- Manage web marketing activities
- Monitor your results and constantly improve
I have included in the first point all those activities external to web marketing that in any case cannot be ignored, both in terms of time needed to manage them, and in terms of costs that these activities will entail in the start-up phase and continuously during the life of the activities.
Before starting an eCommerce website you will need:
- Business plan: define a budget plan from 1 to 3 years and above all a maximum limit of acceptable losses. This activity is important and no cost should escape you. If you have never done a business plan you could read this guide by Il Sole 24 Ore .Your business plan should also include a feasibility study to test the idea and its success rate.
- Bureaucracy: you need the permits of the municipality, a company or a VAT number. Get started with this PMI guide .
- Logistics: your products need to be stored somewhere, so you need a warehouse. Usually we tend to have this aspect organized by specialized companies , but as always it depends. Amazon has its own logistics, Mr. Rossi who sells his handmade ties does not need logistics and warehouses, he does everything at his home or in a small warehouse. He tries to find the simplest solution for your needs.
- Shipping: if you decide to manage the logistics yourself, you must choose the shipping service that best suits your needs.
- Orders: you need to organize the staff for the management of orders and returns. Also in this case you can do it internally or rely on third parties.
- Customer care: customer complaints must be handled quickly and in the best possible way. Do you do it yourself or do you rely on external services?
- Payment methods: how can the customer pay? Consider using PayPal, bank transfer, credit card, cash on delivery, gift vouchers, discount coupons.
- Partners: Choosing the right partners is a critical choice. Spend the right time selecting the key elements for your eCommerce, such as the web agency or the webmaster, the agency or the SEO consultant, the possible UX expert and the graphic designer. The figures who can be involved in a project are many and must be carefully selected.
- B2B or B2C: last but not least – carefully define your market and also the countries where you want to sell. Depending on your target you will have to make different decisions, a B2C (Business To Consumer) eCommerce site has different characteristics from a B2B (Business To Business) sales website.
I do not want to go into the details of these activities since it is not my professional field, but remember that these are all elements that must be defined and taken into consideration in the business plan phase.
After the business plan I recommend the market analysis. Before filling the virtual shelves you have to have some analyzes done by specialized people, it is important to fully understand the market and the competitors. The money you will invest in these analyzes is all money you will save when you go online. Those who skip this stage have very little chance of success.
There is no SEO strategy without keyword analysis . Ask your consultant to perform an in-depth analysis of the consumer’s research habits, the data that emerge from this type of study are essential to effectively approach the market.
Keyword analysis allows you to:
- evaluate the size of your online market
- understand what users are looking for online
- understand if there is traffic on certain keywords
- estimate the average monthly budget to invest in PPC campaigns
- define the strategic terms for the logical sections and categories of the site
- define an editorial plan of information content
Now that you have the database with all the strategic terms of your sector, you can proceed with the analysis of your real online competitors: who is receiving traffic from search engines for your strategic keywords?
Analysis of online competitors
Studying the market to identify online competitors is the second useful analysis activity to get the most out of your investment. Knowing who the players to beat are allows you to study their strategies, the winning ones. Furthermore, it allows you to highlight their weaknesses to exploit them to your advantage. The online competitor analysis is a SWOT analysis of the most visible sites on Google for your market niche.
The study allows to:
- identify the most visible websites on Google for your industry
- identify their strengths
- identify their weaknesses
- estimate the brand awareness of the top players
- estimate the budget spent by competitors to be where they are
- assess the feasibility of entering the market
- define reasonable, medium and long-term objectives
Don’t tell me you want to do a trendy shoe eCommerce, please. The success of an online store is also given by the product:
- Are you selling a product that others don’t have?
- Are you selling a lower priced product?
- Are you selling a product with unique additional services?
- What are the strengths of your product?
- Why should users buy your product?
We already find everything on the internet, do you really need your product?
It is important to answer these questions before setting up an online business.
Define a budget
I happen to evaluate startups and projects online and, I’m sorry to say, but most of these projects don’t have the legs to run. When it comes to investments and budgets, people generally look down and we already understand a lot here.
Each sector has its own characteristics and its own competition, there is no minimum investment that guarantees success. What is certain is that if you want to compete with a site that has cost € 500,000 to develop and invests the same amount in marketing every year, you will have to put a similar amount on the plate, or you will have to spend it better than him.
The costs that you will have to allocate to the budget are:
- All costs anticipated in point one: logistics, shipping, customer care, …
- Website Development Costs: As with cars, there are € 500 websites and € 500,000 (and more) websites. Consult your SEO to understand what you really need.
- Monthly costs in web marketing: SEO costs , PPC average budget , Social, Email marketing and marketing automation. Just to say the most used channels.
- Staff costs
Define CMS and integrations
Regarding the infrastructure, you can choose to rely on companies like YOOX that manage everything for you, from the web platform to shipments, or you can invest in your own site.
The critical questions are:
- Which CMS best fits the catalog you need to sell?
- Which CMS has the necessary functionalities?
- Which CMS requires less customization?
- Which CMS integrates better with your management system?
To do eCommerce there are many systems and CMS, to list the most famous we find (in order of complexity):
- Magento (read the SEO guide )
- Prestashop (read the SEO guide )
… There are many others . Ask your SEO for advice, he will be able to help you choose the solution that best suits your needs. Don’t forget to ask your developer for his opinion too: he will have to program, if he prefers PHP don’t get him a system in ASPx, unless you want to change developer.
Define the characteristics of your hosting
Hosting is the engine of the website. The engine of an eCommerce site is fundamental, an undersized power will make the site unusable, slow and consequently will get few sales.
Even for hosting, the price ranges we find on the market are really wide: we go from super cheap hosting from 10 € / year to super professional hosting from thousands of € per month.
In particular, the following aspects will be defined:
- hardware technical requirements
- software requirements (operating system, type of web server, type of database, installed programming languages, …)
- the potential of the server: RAM, CPU, SSD capacity and speed, maximum bandwidth, …
- server stage: it will also be necessary to have a clone server for development activities.
- additional services: often the server alone is not enough, for some sites you need for example a CDN, a load balancer, a firewall , a backup system, …)
If you are not a computer engineer or an experienced webmaster / developer, it is better if you ask your SEO for help: I will be repetitive but it is, trust me, an SEO can save you a lot of money by avoiding bad choices. A competent SEO consultant will be able to indicate the optimal characteristics of the server in order to make the site fast and performing.
Define the structure of the website
The contents / products of an eCommerce site must be organized logically and navigation must be simple and clear. Users must easily find what they are looking for.
Now you have everything you need to define (together with your SEO) the logical sections of the website, the categories and the navigation.
- Define the sections of the site: what are the product categories you want to propose? Which categories have significant search traffic?
- Defining navigation: which roads will lead users from the home to the product? What are the shortest paths to convert the visitor?
- Define the tree and internal links : are there first and second level categories? Are there only top-level categories? Are there any hierarchies?
- Define URL structure: Use SEO friendly URLs and define whether to use hierarchies or flat URLs with products all at the top level.
Define filters and advanced features
Users like to use tools they know, eCommerce have elements that have become standards that everyone expects to find. Navigating a list of 100 products without filters is not easy and could be confusing for the user. Define which filters are most useful for your products, use keyword analysis to find new filter possibilities.
Based on the function of the filter you will be able to evaluate whether to implement it via URL with parameter , via JS or other. You will also need to evaluate which filter to index to search engines and which ones to canonicalize .
Together with your SEO think about filters and additional features:
- Define the necessary filters
- Define the indexing of filters with canonical tags
- Do you need a product configurator?
Define the text contents
I’ll never get tired of saying it: Google doesn’t like product listings! The listings must be presented (both to Google but also to users) with dedicated text, an introductory text. The text helps Google understand the page better and then associates it with a greater number of keywords.
Ditto for the product sheets: if you copy the same description from other 1000 sites, Google will not give you great visibility.
Together with your SEO define:
- where to insert text
- who writes the text
- how much text should be entered
- writing guidelines – SEO copywriting
- editorial plan for the corporate blog. You might be interested in the guide Why do you need a corporate blog?
Define SEO guidelines for development
Web agencies do web agencies, SEOs do SEOs. You are wrong if you think otherwise.
Those who make websites do not have the logic of an SEO. To develop a site capable of obtaining results on Google, it is right to give some stakes to respect, rules and technical guidelines that the webmaster or web agency will have to follow during the development of the website. Preventing problems is the best way to avoid traffic losses and failures, so defining your site development rules first is definitely a great strategy.
The SEO guidelines must indicate to developers the main rules to follow and the elements that cannot be missing for good SEO. Eg:
- how to avoid duplication
- how to handle canonical rel tag
- how to handle URL parameters
- how to fill in meta tags
- What are the typical mistakes to avoid on an eCommerce site
- define SEO copy guidelines for those who write the texts
- define basic elements such as robots.txt and sitemap.xml
- how to set up the web server
- how to optimize page loading speed
Follow the development of the site, without exaggerating
It’s your creature, follow its development together with your SEO:
- Anticipate the changes instead of waking up at the end asking a thousand things: support the webmasters day by day.
- Don’t be a bottle neck – answer developer questions quickly.
- Don’t break the bales of who’s working: if you stress me a developer, you just have to lose. Make your own rules and then let it work.
Get the site tested
Before going live with the site, ask your consultant to perform an in-depth SEO audit to find technical and content criticalities. Problems are always there, I’ve never seen a perfect site go live. Better to lose a week to fix all aspects than to go live with an incomplete job.
Manage web marketing activities
Time to spend money. A website must be launched, promoted, pushed. Customers don’t fall from the sky!
Invite your SEO and web marketing team to dinner and maybe take the opportunity to define …
- SEO campaigns
- PPC campaigns
- display campaigns
- social campaigns
- email campaigns
- marketing automation campaigns
- search & social remarketing campaigns
Monitor your results and constantly improve
The offers and contents of the site need to be constantly improved. In web marketing you never arrive, you are always on the way to the next destination. Who grows is who innovates every day!
Start by planning audits and data monitoring. Starting from the data it is possible to define improvement strategies, every choice must be data driven .
I think this guide contains a lot of what you need to know, if you have more to add leave a comment