A digital agency’s tips to building an eCommerce website that actually works

By Michelle O'Keeffe on February 21, 2018

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So you’ve done the hard work… you’ve actually come up with an idea, built something, made something, have something you’re really good at to offer to others. Now all you need is your website and you’ll be a gazillionaire…

No, most likely not.

Or maybe you managed to build your own, and it’s been working really well, but now you’re selling a lot more, and you need to start thinking more seriously about warehousing, account integrations, automated customer emails, etc, but don’t know the best way to go about it.

To be fair, I talk to A LOT of online business owners and I think it’s tough that in addition to being an expert at your product or service, you’re actually required to be a digital/website/instagram/facebook/linkedin expert, too.

And from those conversations, I also know that there are way too many shonky digital agencies out there that either barely understand how to build a good website themselves, but they take advantage of the fact that you don’t know what they’re doing and charge you accordingly.

So, in the interests of helping online retailers building online businesses that really work, here are our top tips to help you through:

Use your own website domain address (URL), not one that is hosted by a website platform company

Why: eCommerce is about (amongst other things) branding and SEO. If you’re hard to find, you’re off to a poor start.

Make sure you or your developer redirect your existing content

Why: If you’re changing domains or have built a new website that will replace an existing one, make sure all your ranking content has been redirected, otherwise you will lose any search rankings you had managed to build up over time.

Select an eCommerce platform that has good site analytics built into it

Why: Understanding how your customers spend time on your website and where they drop off or engage is crucial to constantly improving your customer experience (which you have to do to get more customers)

Integrate your website with a good CRM and emailing system

Why: Once you grow, they will make your sales strategies clear and basically, your life easier… Depending on your needs, something basic, such as MailChimp, or a system that will house a customer database and enable you to set up automated email workflows to customers, such as HubSpot are great to platforms to consider. Allow for the cost of these systems in your budget. A marketing automation platform such as HubSpot or Marketo may seem expensive, but if you use them properly, they will demonstrate a good ROI within the first 12 months.

Make sure you select a platform that has an API or plug-ins for other systems, such as your accounting or fulfilment systems

Why: Because if you set your site live and make a tonne of sales, you will be spending ALL your time trying to arrange shipments, order stock and reconcile invoices & payments etc, rather than focussing on running your online store.

“If you build it they will come”. No, they won’t.

Why: There is not magic button that tells your target market that you have just launched your website and they should check it out! You have to put together a marketing plan.

Think before you build

Why: There are A LOT of choices and options. You wouldn’t rush out to buy a physical store, so put as much due diligence into which platform you build your site on and how it’s built. If for example you chose to build on Shopify, do you choose the standard package or the enterprise level Shopify plus version? Do you choose an existing template or have a custom one built. Do you build it yourself or get a website design and build agency to do it for you?

Template vs bespoke design

Just a note on this one. You can have a good designer develop a fully bespoke design for your website and have it integrated with an existing platform, such as Shopify. You an also use an existing template (there are literally thousands to choose from). If you choose a template, DO NOT attempt to alter that template, or have anyone else do it for you. If something breaks, it can cost you more to fix it than a bespoke design would have cost you in the first place.

Choose the right partner?

Why: If your needs are simple, the truth is you probably don’t need to partner with an agency or specialist to build your site. Many eCommerce platforms are specifically set up so that you can build your own website. If you’re building a bigger site with more complex customer interactions, then unless you’re pretty tech savvy and can program in languages like PHP, then you’re going to need to partner with someone. Make sure they can explain to you how your site will deliver an ROI. They should understand your business and strategy so they can a build a site that aligns to both. And be nice to them! Yes, of course this works both ways, but all going well, you’re going to develop a long term relationship with Agency, and as with any relationship, life is a whole lot easier when you get on well, and have mutual respect.

What should I spend?

The million the dollar question! It literally can be. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to answer that without knowing what it is you want to build, and be very wary of anyone that quotes you anything without understanding your needs first. It could be anything from $2,000 to $200,000 or even more. How many products you have, variations on those (such as size/colour), how many pages your site needs, what it needs to be integrated with, and how complex or specific any customisation is will all play a part in how much you need to spend. A good ball-park is around $40,000 – $60,000.

These are lessons we’ve learned on behalf of ourselves and our clients over the last nine years, and we are happy to share them with you. If you’ve got any questions at all, or would like to talk to a human to get a little further help, we’d love to hear from you. Just drop us a line…

Michelle has been in marketing strategy for over 20 years. Michelle got involved in Engaging from Day 1 with the conviction of creating a business that ‘does great work with great people’, including clients, partners and staff. A born problem solver, she immerses herself in clients’ businesses and reconstructs their sales & marketing activities to ensure they operate to deliver directly on the business’ objectives. Michelle is passionate about maintaining a company and company culture that leaves the world a better place than we found it.

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