G2S eCommerce Getting Started Guide
(What it Takes to Build a Successful Store)
by Stephen Furedi. Senior eCommerce Analyst, Go 2 Strategies, LLC.
Quick Question & Answer (Click to go to section)
Important: This page will be moving to http://ecommerce-guide.go2strategies.com on October 1st 2014, so be sure to check out our new interactive eCommerce portal guide! Our new eCommerce portal will be an interactive community where new to ecommerce users can post questions and get answers and how to's to starting a successful online business. For now, checkout the informative guide below to help you on your way to entrepreneurship and ultimately financial independence by successfully sell your products or services online.
What is eCommerce?
A lot of clients who are new to the internet often ask, "What is eCommerce, or What do you mean by eCommerce"? Simply put eCommerce is selling your goods or services online through your web site or mobile app. eCommerce has evolved greatly through the years since the early days of the internet. Originally an eCommerce site was simple html driven web pages, now eCommerce sites are huge database driven web sites using specific programming languages. Simply put though, eCommerce is selling online or through the internet hence the "e" in commerce.
ECommerce takes place through a service providers website. This web site isn't just plain html text with graphics and text like it used to be. Now potential customers need to be able to buy multiple products at once and purchase them securely with a credit card or checking account. We will discuss the various parts of an eCommerce web site in the next section. There are many individual parts to running a successful online store. A quality product is a great place to start, but no matter how great your product might be, if you do not have a secure web site and other eCommerce essentials no one will purchase your product or service. Building and establishing customer trust is a must and usually makes or breaks a new store very quickly. Once a site develops a negative reputation, it does not take long for the word to spread. This can cripple any business not to mention a new online business.
What do I need to Start Selling Online
The answer to this question varies depending on whom you ask. At Go 2 Strategies, we are a 100% customer focused company, which means, we will never sell you a product or service that we don't feel is truly beneficial. We feel that by keeping to our 100% customer focused mission statement, that is is not only the correct and ethical way to do business, but by doing so we know that our other services will sell themselves. So, back to the question at hand, What are the core systems I need in place to be able to sell successfully online?
1. A product or service that you feel would really benefit your potential customers
Choosing the right product or service is essential. If you are searching for so called easy way to make money, you have to remember, Brian Tracy, one of my favorite personal business coaches always says, "Money never comes quickly and easily". It's only through dedication and hard work that success is achieved and this holds true with any online business model. You need you put a lot of thought and energy into planning our your business. Even though it is online and may not be tangible, in to succeed, a great deal of planning must be done when selecting the items or service you will sell.
2. A Domain Name that Specifically describes your product / service
A domain name is the web address that potential customers will be using to access your web site and ultimately be using to buy your products. When selecting a domain, you will want to be as specific as you can. Try to avoid names that are too general.
A domain extension is the ending of the domain for example go2strategies.com is the full domain and .com is the extension. ICANN the governing body of domain names has opened up a huge number of new extensions of the past year or two, but keep in mind, you can never go wrong selecting a .com. It's the first and most classic domain extension and you may notice that just about any large web site has a .com extension. Try not to get caught up in fads and go with something that will stand the test of time, but ultimately this is up to you. Search engines are usually more interested in web site content rather than a particular domain extension.
3. Web Hosting Service (A G2S Personal or Business account is a great place to start)
So you may be asking yourself, what is web hosting? Simply put, web hosting is where your web site files will live. It is the computer or rather the server where you will upload your web site files, images, and coding to in order for them to be made available over the internet. Go 2 Strategies offers different levels of web hosting based on package features. These features range from how many sites you can host on one package to how many email accounts or databases you are a loud. We recommend that if you are running a business or non profit organization from your hosting package, that you have a business grade hosting plat form. Rule of thumb when if comes to web hosting, is if you are unsure as to how much space and data transfer you will need, it is always better to start small and upgrade if needed. Our 2nd level package is what I normally guide new businesses to because it is jam packaged with great features or a very competitive price.
4. A Shopping Cart System to develop your site around.
This is a very crucial part of starting a business online. A shopping cart will determine what features a web site will have as well as how easy it will be to build the site. I usually recommend an open source (free) shopping cart by the name of Zen Cart. This software is packaged with built in features that are a must for any eCommerce web site. Other popular free shopping cart systems are OS Commerce and cube cart. Zen Cart is the shopping cart system that I typically use for my own eCommerce projects. There are shopping cart systems on the market today that are "proprietary" which means it is build using a software in which you pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee for. Volusion and Network Solutions are examples of these types of systems. The key advantages to using an open source or free type of system compared to these types is that you own and can fully customize the open source version. The paid subscriptions are typically limited and can not be transferred outside of the company who is providing is. This can be very troublesome when first starting an online business especially when you are doing your best to keep costs to a minimum.
6. Merchant Services (How your customers will pay you)
A merchant service is generally how you will accept payment for your site's items usually via credit or debit card. There are many different merchant service providers and their fees usually included a monthly subscription fee as well as a small percentage of each transaction. Paypal is one of the most widely used merchant services and unlike other credit card processors their base account does not charge a monthly subscription fee. This is usually how I begin each of my stores until I have the need for something more in depth or convenient services. Remember too much over head can kill a new eCommerce store before it starts to see any substantial business.
5. Web Site security
SSL Certificates (Secure Socket Layer Certificate)
Security is a large concern that both web site owners and potential customers should have. Web site security or saying that a web site is secure is usually achieved by an SSL certificate (Secure Socket Layer Certificate). Simply put, this is a digital component that is installed on the web server hosting the web sites files and enables a secure connection to be created between the clients browser, such as chrome or internet explorer, and the web server hosting the web sites files. The secure connection is indicated by the internet browsers address bar switching from http://www.domain.com to https://www.domain.com. If you are processing credit card transactions directly on your web site using a third party merchant service like authorize.net or paylink, they usually require that the web site has an SSL certificate installed on it's account manager and checkout pages. If you are using Paypal, however, due to the fact that Paypal redirects the final transaction details to it's own secure web page for the actual payment processing, an SSL is not required.
7. Privacy and Other Policies (Helps to protect your customers and your business)
It is very important that your site policies and procedures for handling customer issues are well documented and can be access by at any time. If your potential custom would like to check on a particular scenario, for example how to return a damaged item, they should be able to do so with relative ease. This helps to set the proper expectations and protects your company. You should never hid anything from a potential customer. Making agreeing to the sites terms of service when creating an account is always recommended practice. There are a few different policies each web site should have. We will go into further explanation of these processes in our next article, but for the purpose of this article, just know that you will need to have them and create clear procedures to easy the mind of a potential customer and make them more agreeable to purchasing from your site.
8. Web Site Marketing & Social Media Marketing
After your web site is built and all of your products are added, you've implemented security, merchant services, and clear policies, the last and most crucial step is effectively advertising your site. I've seen web site owners spend tons of money on advertising and have seen them get little to no results from it. Where as i've seen other site owners create clear marketing goals and budgets and have had more success than they would have ever seen.
Online marketing in 2014 and beyond
In the early days of the internet, just simply creating a web site, adding in some keywords an other meta data and then submitting you site monthly to the search engines was enough. That's not the case in 2014. Don't get me wrong add meta data to your site is still part of the larger picture but it's only a piece. Now a days Google and other search engines determine your page rank not only on your meta data, but your sites content as well as quality non paid back links and different social media outlets. Pay per click advertising is still popular and can be an effective way to generate traffic to your web site, but i've seen many site owners waste their marketing budget on poorly managed pay per click campaigns.
How do I effectively market my web site?
There is no clear cut answer that I can provide you that will say this will work. It varies based on your product niche. What we recommend is to let our marketing professionals establish a solution that is customized for your business and product.
Here are some marketing basics that you can use to help put that marketing puzzle together.
1. Create Quality content for your web site that best describes the key words you would like your web site to be found under when searching for it. Please be careful though not to "spam" your content with repeatedly using the same key words over and over again. This will actually hurt you not help. But by writing quality content that gives your users good information this will help you with your natural listings within google and other engines.
2. Setup corresponding meta information that aligns with your site content which will indicated the importance of that particular key works or searchable phrase. Like i mentioned, search engines say they don't look at the keywords anymore, however, we would still recommend using them, just don't make them spammy. Your site title, and description should match in importance to your sites contents and desired keywords.
3. Social Media, social media, social media.... Did i mention social media :). Now more than every social media marketing is a very key piece to the over all internet marketing puzzle. It is not just enough to have only a face book or twitter page, just like it is not just enough to have only a web site. Your online presence needs to span between all of these areas and all of these areas need to be linked and actively developed. It is important to create a facebook page for your business, and you can also create twitter, google plus, and pin rest pages just to name a few. As a rule of thumb, you'd like your business to be listed in many different locations. This increases the change of your product or service being found and potentially purchased. You need to keep in mind the spamming rule and not to flood your content with keywords or reuse the same exact content in every location.
Back links to your web site or social media pages is an important aspect as well. Back in the day new startup sites used to purchase links on higher ranked web sites to link back to their own web page. This is highly discouraged and can be a dangerous practice in today's SEO game today. From my research, having a few links from quality authoritative sources is sufficient in helping to determine the relevance of your sites content. Building quality link backs to specific pages or products on your site should be the goal of any web site owner. This will also help out with referring traffic not just page relevance.
Pay per Click Marketing and Social Media Click Marketing
Pay per click marketing can still be an effective form of marketing but should not be your only form of marketing. It sounds easy, but having a poorly managed campaign can be a waste of money and bring little results. When it comes to pay per click, you will save both time and money by researching all areas of it out in great detail before dumping funds into an account and out bidding everyone else on generic or generalized key words. A hint when it comes to pay per click is sometimes great results can be archived using long tailed key words. They are generally more specific and may not be used as often as a more generalized key word, but by using them you can help to stretch your ppc budget and generate higher quality traffic.
Facebook and twitter as well as other social media sites have their own form of ppc advertising. This works out similar to Google Adwards or bing. This kind of marketing can be especially useful if you have a brick and mortar store a long with an online store. This ppc will help you to generate more localized traffic.
In conclusion, we hope that you have enjoyed this article about what it takes to make an eCommerce site successful. It is a lot of information and we know that if this is your first time building a web site like this, it is always nice to have an expert you can talk to to help guide you in the right direction. At Go 2 Strategies we are here to help make your business successful. We have extensive experience in eCommerce and online marketing and are 100 % focused on help you make your dream of online business ownership a reality. Give us a call today at 502-487-HOST or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get the ball rolling today!
Check back soon for our next article on how to setup an eCommerce business, make it succeed, and have next to no over head costs while doing it!
About the Author
My name is Stephen Furedi. I am a lead technical analyst with Go 2 Strategies, LLC. I have extensive experience in the web host, web design, internet marketing, and particularly eCommerce area of expertise. I not only work for and sell web hosting and eCommerce products/services, but I have run a multitude of different eCommerce web sites in the past including a serious of home, lawn, and garden doctor web sites. My latest web site, which is actually my wife's site (but my side project), is www.mandyshomedecor.com. I have worked for and used many different shopping cart systems and system providers. I am writing this guide in conjunction with Go 2 Strategies so that our clients can make the very most of their services with our company. We truly believe that by helping our clients grow their businesses online, it grows ours, so we are 100 % customer focused and are motivated to help you succeed.