Today, launching your small business online is no longer a nice-to-have, but an absolute must-have.
Seriously. The power of taking your business online can’t be denied. According to LSA’s (Local Search Association) report, “The Digital Consumer Study,” 63% of consumers primarily use a company’s website to find and engage with businesses. That’s a pretty big chunk of consumers. Another compelling reason your business needs a website? More than 30% of consumers automatically strike a business from consideration if they don’t have one.
Long story short, if you still don’t have a website, you’re preventing yourself from being discovered by new customers—and making it hard for existing customers to come back for more. People are searching for local and small businesses—just like yours—online every single day. So what’s stopping you from finally taking your business online?
We’ve created the ultimate guide to walk you through, step-by-step, the components of getting your online business set-up, how to start selling, and how to create an actionable strategy for each stage.
Pick Your eCommerce Platform
Are you digging the idea of selling your goods and services online? Then you’re ready for the first step: Finding a home for your online business. That’s where a dedicated eCommerce platform can help.
What is an eCommerce platform? In short, it’s a software application that enables a business to sell products and services online. The software also helps a business manage its website, marketing, sales, and other various operations. It’s essentially your one-stop-shop for managing everything you need for your brand new online store.
You’ll realize pretty quickly, though, that after typing “eCommerce platforms” into your search bar, there are hundreds of options to choose from.
Here are eight essential features to look for when shopping for an eCommerce platform.
1. Easy setup and design
Look for a platform that is easy to set up and easy to design and customizable. You want the ability to fully capture the feel of your unique brand, without having to start from scratch. Templates are great because they don’t require you to hire outside help and they don’t require you to be a design whiz to create a professional look.
2. It’s secure
When it comes to payment processing, be sure the eCommerce platform you’re considering offers top-notch security. Look for a platform that supports HTTPS/SSL for a safe and secure checkout.
3. It comes with tons of integrations
When it comes to integrations for eCommerce platforms, having a plethora of options to choose from can take your website from ordinary to premium. Integrations help you add enhanced functionality and features with just the click of a button.
Look for a platform that integrates with your other existing systems and marketing channels, for example. Does it integrate with Facebook? Does it integrate seamlessly with your preferred payment system?
4. You get access to analytics
Look for an eCommerce platform that helps you keep tabs on all of the important success measurements, like number of sales, conversions, website engagement, and more. Bonus points if your eCommerce platform displays stats in an easy-to-understand and easy to navigate format.
5. You’re offered customer support
If the terms HTML and CSS sound like retired naval ships, it might be a good idea to look for an eCommerce platform that offers a solid customer support team. Your online store can become more complex as you add additional features and customizations, and if you’re new to the scene, it pays to have real live humans who can answer your questions—because you’ll probably break something at least once.
6. Customer payment options are integrated
Customers want their online shopping experience to be easy. PayPal, Square, and Apple Pay are a few examples of popular payment gateways for eCommerce stores. Be sure to consider what forms of payment you’re willing to take when searching for an eCommerce platform.
7. The price is right
Some platforms come with standard monthly fees, others offer flat rates. Some eCommerce platforms even require additional costs for app subscriptions. Before you commit to a platform, do your homework, weigh the pros and cons, and stick to your budget.
Still need help narrowing things down? Here are a few eCommerce platforms to help you get started.
- Squarespace: If you want something straightforward and relatively modular, Squarespace is an excellent eCommerce website builder to consider. It’s hosted, so it’s an all-in-one solution. Squarespace’s templates can be set up in the blink of an eye with its drag-and-drop technology, without sacrificing style or user-friendliness. No coding is needed. This platform also offers a handful of integrations, helping to make your store functional for both you and your customers. Think abandoned cart recovery, bulk shipping labels, and more—it’s all there.
- Wix: Wix is another no-coding-needed, user-friendly website builder. Their templates are extremely visual-heavy, so if you’ve got tons of product shots that you want to be front-and-center, this is the perfect choice. Wix also comes with hundreds of free plugins that can improve the function of your site. You can do everything from improving the responsiveness to getting SEO plugins that help customers find your site in the first place.
- Shopify: Shopify offers a powerful combination of an easy-to-use interface and intuitive navigation alongside incredible customization options. You can create the site of your dreams in a short time span thanks to the thousands of themes (some free and some paid). You can also make sure that it has all those features that you want, too. Looking for easy integration with Facebook? Shopify has that. Interested in a feature that auto-calculates shipping pricing for each customer? Shopify offers that, too.
Give Your Online Business a Name
Now it’s time to give your business its online name. This is the name that’ll be linked to, searched for, and displayed across all your marketing platforms. So, you know, choose wisely.
Your domain should either be your exact business name or something that’s pretty close. You want your customers to find your website without a hitch, and a URL that mirrors your actual business name makes it easier. You can do a quick search to make sure the domain you want is available. If your name is already taken, try adding on a second word that describes your product, like “store” or “shop.” If you can’t get the URL that mirrors your actual business name, it may be helpful to file a DBA to establish brand consistency.
Once you settle on a name, it’s time to claim it. You can purchase a domain independently through Hover or GoDaddy. Some eCommerce platforms like Squarespace let you purchase a domain name directly through their service.
No matter which route you choose, however, consider taking advantage of longer registration periods. Many domain purchases let you pay a month-by-month fee, but when available, consider registering your domain name for a year at a time, or even more. Longer registrations usually mean better pricing, and you can save yourself the headache of dealing with an expired domain every month.
Create Content People Actually Want to See (and Read)
A good website is more than a static home page. You'll want to create multiple pages dedicated to different aspects of your business, such as a detailed catalog of your products or services, an about page, or a blog section for company updates and industry news. Don’t forget a contact page! This is your customers' direct link to you, so make sure you include your preferred contact method, like a phone number, email address, or form.
You should also consider creating a memorable logo if you don’t have one already. This will appear across your website and social profiles, and it helps clients quickly identify your company across all channels.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when building out your website.
1. Be clear about what your business does
Distill what your business does into a clear, concise statement. Visitors should be able to understand what you do within seconds of landing on your home page.
2. Include testimonials (if you have them)
If you have customer reviews and testimonials, use them. How many times have you checked Yelp before heading to a restaurant? The same principle applies here: Customers want to know your product is the real deal before taking a chance. Make sure you showcase your testimonials either on your landing page or on the actual product pages so they’re easy to find.
3. Place strategic calls to action
Make it as easy as possible for visitors to purchase your product the moment they land on your page. Consider adding a clear call-to-action right in the center of your homepage, like a “Start Shopping” prompt that takes visitors straight to your inventory.
4. Avoid stock photos
Cheesy stock photography is the quickest way to turn a great site into a mediocre and inauthentic one. Instead, consider introducing visuals unique to your own business. And don’t worry: You don’t have to have a huge budget or graphic design experience: Websites like Canva let you create professional headers, infographics, and more through their easy-to-use, customizable templates.
Get Your Website Discovered By Customers
Imagine this nightmare scenario: You spend a lot of time building and perfecting your first online store—and the only person who visits it is your mom.
Don’t worry—that nightmare is totally avoidable with a few smart marketing techniques. To make sure you have traffic from the very moment you launch your business, you’ll need to build brand awareness and excitement around your new product.
Here are a few ways to generate buzz and get people coming to your site.
1. Set up an online presence with social media
Social media is the fastest (and easiest) way to get the word out is via social media.
But before you rush to create an account, remember this: You’ll need high-quality content to actually share and post about. Without it, you’ll have trouble standing out and connecting with new customers. For inspiration, look to competing brands or influencers posting about products in your niche.
If you’re unsure where to start, consider starting a blog on your website, where you can post how-tos, product spotlights, or industry analysis. All of these things are not only great fodder for your social accounts, but also help you position yourself as an expert in your niche.
If you want your social accounts to really shine (remember, social engagement is heavily driven by visuals), you can also use free design services like Canva, which let you create and customize dynamic visuals for your social posts.
2. Tap into the power of email marketing.
Another way to drive traffic to your store is by leveraging email marketing to communicate with your customers.
On your website’s homepage, you’ll want to make sure customers have an option to enter their contact information to subscribe to your marketing newsletter.
Once you start collecting subscribers, the next is creating an eye-catching, value-adding newsletter. You can use services like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact to easily create, manage, and monitor your email campaigns.
Here are some ideas of content to include in your email marketing:
- If you’re big on blogging, include 1-3 of your most recent posts to add value and make it clear your email isn’t just another sales tactic. You could also use this space to highlight new product reviews or user-generated content you’re tagged in on social.
- Announce upcoming promotions. Make sure you include some kind of promo code or link that helps people take action.
- You know those emails you get after you browse online, add stuff to your shopping cart, and leave? They let you know you “left something behind,” and it’s a great tactic to get customers to revisit and reconsider a purchase. You can easily automate abandoned cart notifications through your eCommerce platform.
3. Utilize SEO tactics.
Search engine rankings are a big deal for small businesses trying to get noticed.
The average person completes a Google search 3-4 times per day--and you want to do everything you can to make sure your name pops up as one of the top options.
Getting those rankings comes down to how search-engine-friendly your website and content is. To make sure you rank for key terms in your niche, here are a few things to focus on while building out and monitoring your site:
Focus on internal linking: Internal linking helps build page authority and allows your readers to navigate easily within your website. If you provide them with further relevant reading options, they will be tempted to stay on your website longer.
Create crawlable link structures: Crawlable link structures (URLs) allow your website to be quickly and easily found by search engines and helps them determine what the page content is about. So, use meaningful keywords in your URL rather than numbers or abbreviated words. For example: www.example.com/how-to-make-your-website-seo-friendly.
Be smart about keyword placement: Many people focus on using keywords only in the body of their copy, and they neglect all other areas. You can use keywords in the image titles you upload, title tags, headline tags, website slogans, meta descriptions, meta keywords, and more. Make sure you don’t overlook these!
4. Introduce Promotions Early And Often
Who doesn’t love a good sale? Nobody. That’s who.
For millennials and Gen Z, the top incentive to purchase is a sale or promotion. So, how exactly do you integrate promotions into your online marketing strategy? What’s the right balance?
Here are a few strategies to consider. Once you zero in on one that works for you, make sure you blast the new offer across those new social platforms and email marketing campaigns you created. You can even consider adding a pop-up window when visitors land on your website, so they’re quickly alerted of the can’t-miss offer.
Here are a few ways to integrate promotions:
- Go the traditional route and offer discounts and coupons, taking advantage of major retail holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday,
- Launch a tiered loyalty program where customers gain access to exclusive content, sales, or freebie products the more they purchase.
- Create bundles and kits, where customers save money by purchasing select products together.
Analyze, Optimize, Repeat
Data can give us a lot of information. It tells us what’s working, what’s not working, and where there’s room for improvement. It’s one of your greatest tools, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Most eCommerce websites utilize a tool like Google Analytics to keep daily tabs on their chosen key performance indicators (KPIs). In tools like Google Analytics, you can set up daily dashboards, customized reporting, and even see your site activity in real-time.
Here are a few KPIs to keep track of:
- Website traffic (including new visitors and returning visitors)
- Conversion rate
- Bounce rate
- Referral traffic
- Click-through-rate (CTR)
- Average time spent on your site (or specific landing page)
What do you do with all of that data once you’ve captured it? Take a moment to analyze your numbers, and figure out what you can do to correct the not-so-good numbers or enhance the upward trends you’re already seeing. Is your website traffic stagnant? Try posting on social more or introducing a more frequent email cadence. Is your bounce rate high? Maybe you need to rework your landing page so your value proposition is front and center. Or maybe you’re seeing low click-through-rates. It might be time to experiment with different button placement, colors, or phrasing to see what sticks.
Whatever your numbers are, monitor them often and make tweaks as necessary. Your website isn’t a one-and-done project, and it should be constantly growing and evolving.
Are you ready to grow your business, reach new customers, and tap into the limitless power of the world wide web? Taking your small business online makes it easier than ever before to show off the products and services you worked so hard to create. Along the way, you’ll gain 24/7/365 availability (no “closed” signs needed here), more exposure, more flexibility, and an outlet to connect with a potential customer, no matter where they are.
So what are you waiting for?