It’s getting easier and easier to set up online stores. Maybe that’s why more and more people are failing at e-commerce. It’s easy to start, but not easy to sustain or turn a profit. Here’s the beginner guide to setting up an online store with WordPress to start you off on the right foot.
Pick What You’ll Be Selling
Unless you’re planning on competing with Amazon.com selling every product imaginable, which would be a bad idea, get specific. Offline, people go to malls for the convenience of having multiple shops within walking distance so they don’t have to drive around looking for stuff. Online, the convenience is search. People search for what they’re looking for.
For example, Snowboarders aren’t looking for green tea products when they’re shopping for snowboards. So unless you know for sure that people who snowboards are secretly green-tea addicts, don’t try to sell snowboards and green tea on the same website. Getting specific means increasing your chances of showing up for the first few search results on Google or Yahoo. And, being first counts for lots of sales.
Getting specific also weeds out unnecessary competition, which improves your store’s image and product line. Unnecessary competition is having to waste effort on competing with other green tea shops when 98% of your revenue are from snowboards, not green tea.
And how does weeding out unnecessary competition improves your image and product line? Relevance and quality. It allows you to focus on what’s important for the right buyer. For another offline example, anyone who doesn’t care about what they put on their feet can go to Walmart for shoes, for the rest that prefer to pay a little more for better looking shoes, they go to the mall and head for the nearest store with shoes as its main focus. For teens, that would be Foot Locker or Foot Action, where they can get their latest Michael Jordan shoes.
Get Domain Name
Hopefully, now you know what you’re going to sell. Before you can set up a website, you’ll need a domain name, which will cost you around $10. For that, go to Godaddy.com and register/buy one. Buying a domain name is a simple process. If you get stuck, Godaddy has a 24/7 help line.
On the other hand, picking a domain name is tough because there are many choices and many mistakes you can make. Here’s a quick guide for picking domain names:
(Let’s pretend you’re going to sell snowboards.)
- Use snowboards, snowboard, snow or something relevant/obvious within the domain name. For common names like snowboardstore.com, it’s more than likely you won’t be able to register it because it’s already taken. In fact, that’s the case for many common names. It’ll take you a while to find a good domain name that isn’t taken, but keep at it. One exception to this tip is if you already have a catchy name available for purchase and a big budget to promote the online store, then sure… register anything you want.
- Don’t use cute misspellings like “snowbor”.
- Buy a .com name. Don’t settle for a .net, .org, or whatever else is available. Imagine buying fun.net, spending all your time promoting it, then ends up losing some people who wanted to go to your website, but ended up at fun.com. The .com suffix is most common so buy a .com. Otherwise, you might end up really successful with a .net, but still have to pony up a ransom for the .com version because the owner of the .com name sees how successful you’ve been with business under the .net name and because he knows you want the .com. Save yourself the trouble in the first place.
- No dashes. snowboard-store.com? Forget it.
- Last but not least, double check to see that your available domain name isn’t misspelled before you register it.
Sign Up for Hosting
There are endless tips on hosting. Below will focus simply on what you need for now.
- Do not buy the domain name through your chosen web host. It almost always end up messy.
- Don’t pick one web host over another simply because they offer a free domain name for the first year. You shouldn’t get a domain name through a web host anyway, even if it’s free for the first year or the entire lifetime.
- Don’t pay annually or bi-annually for web hosting because of the discount offers for those payment plans. Pick a reliable host and pay monthly.
- You don’t need a dedicated server or UNLIMITED resources. What your online store needs are basic features for it to function and offer up products until it’s profitable, which then would allow you to spend more on web hosting.
- Basically, look for 1 GB of space, 5 GB of bandwidth, multiple email accounts capability, multiple MySQL database capability, and CPanel (your web hosting control panel). In reality, most websites don’t cross the 0.5 GB of space and 1 GB bandwidth mark.
- Avoid Windows Hosting Packages, which are more difficult for beginners. Linux or Unix hosting plans might sound strange to you, but go with them instead of Windows Hosting.
From personal experience, I’d recommend HostGator.com. They’re cheap and reliable, really all you need for a new online store that’s going to do moderate numbers. Search Google or Yahoo for Host Gator Coupons and all you’ll pay for the first month is $0.01.
With CPanel (your web hosting control panel), installing WordPress is easy. You can do it through programs available via CPanel. For example, programs like Fantastico and Simple Scripts. Here are several tutorials on how to install WordPress:
- One-Click Self-Installation – This is a video example of installing WordPress through the Simple Scripts program in CPanel. Note: Host Gator doesn’t offer Simple Scripts by default, but it does have Fantastico, which is another program that can install WordPress for you.
- Installing WordPress by WordPress.org’s Codex – This is the installation instructions on the WordPress.org website. If you’re going this route, download WordPress first. And if you need it, here’s a tutorial on how to use FTP to upload files to your web host’s server.
Install An E-Commerce WordPress Theme
You won’t have to set each and everything step by step (like you do with competitor theme). Simply activate the theme and this theme auto populates sample products, categories and does the basic settings (you can remove them with single click). It’s much easier now to understand how the theme works and all you need to do is, edit the sample products and place your own. You do not need technical knowledge.
Upload Products and Details
Shopping online and offline are certainly two different experiences. Obviously, offline, you get to see and feel the real thing. With online, you’ll need to get the customer as close to the product as possible, which means:
- showing multiple shots of the product from different angles or zoom-in capability
- providing product specs if technical information will affect customer’s decision
- including actual feedback and/or reviews and ratings if your product requires a little help from testimonials
Promoting Your Store by Adding a Blog
While a big budget opens up many more possibilities or ways to experiment with bringing people to your online store, it doesn’t take a big budget to profit. You’re really limited by your creativity. For this tutorial, I’m going to borrow some concepts from blogging and assume you have little to zero budget for promotion.
First of all, getting specific with what you’ll sell is already like picking a niche for a blog. With niche-blogging, you pick a small to moderate size topic/niche and you stick to it so when someone searches for say… digital photography, you’d show up as one of the first few results for digital photography on Google or Yahoo.
If your blog fall off track because your writing interest changed to digital painting then your chance of ranking highly on search results for digital photography will be less than that of a competitor’s blog that is completely dedicated to digital photography.
There’s no rule barring you from adding a blog to your online store. Actually, you SHOULD add a blog to your store. It’s a way to chat with customers, promote, and get feedback. Gary Vaynerchuk’s winelibrary.com brings in 8 figures per year and that’s largely due to his video blog series at tv.winelibrary.com.
Once you’ve added a blog to your store, it might look lonely and dead with few posts here and there about what’s going on with the store because that’s probably what you’ll write about in the beginning during your adjustment phase. But soon, you’ll realize your blog is a pretty persuasive communication channel. Customers get to see and hear from you. They’d come back just for the blog even if they aren’t looking to buy new products, if you have good content and are passionate about the topic.
From the blog following you’ve developed, you can start a newsletter for blog readers who want more content or special content and announcements from you. With the newsletter, now you have permission to actually tell customers about new products that are coming. For regular blogging, keeping the reader’s trust while trying to plug your products for sales is a delicate balance. With the newsletter, even if you don’t have enough content for a high quality blog post, you can simply send out a newsletter with a few tips and a plug for a new product. But of course, the blog and newsletter will only work if it doesn’t seem like all you’re doing is pushing your readers to buy more stuff from you.
(Manage newsletters using Aweber.)
Besides newsletters, you can look into linkbaits and leveraging social media. A linkbait is simply an article or blog posting that other blogs of the same topic wants to link to. For example, you’ve managed to interview the top 10 snowboarders in the world through email for sharing on the blog, which is attached to your snowboard online store. The more blogs link to your interview article, the more people come to your blog to read it. The people who came to your blog for the original interview that keep coming back for more from you will eventually buy from your store because they are familiar with you.
For those with a little money spend, depending on the topic of your store and blog, you can create blog posts tailored specifically for social media sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, or Facebook. Take StumbleUpon for example, it’s advertisement program allows you to test advertisement campaigns for as little as $5.
You simply create a linkbait tailored for StumbleUpon audience, usually blog posts with more visuals because Stumble Upon users are impatient people that like to look at cool and pretty stuff. Sign up with Stumble Upon to advertise that linkbait. Configure your settings for when your campaign will start and who should see it.
Who should see it is important, you want potential buyers, not random nobodies whose going to waste your money advertising to them and not buy anything. Most people fail with StumbleUpon campaigns because they forget to select who to advertise to.
Important, with StumbleUpon, you’re advertising blog content you’ve created, not products or services from your store. To people viewing your advertised page, it’s like any other page, but you’re actually advertising a linkbait by paying StumbleUpon to to show your page to its users. While StumbleUpon users aren’t there to buy from you, they will come back to your site if you have great content, which eventually leads to purchasing a product from the store.
More Free Ways to Promote Your Online Store
- Guest blog on someone else’s site and link back to your store.
- Go on relevant forums or message boards. Post information people are looking for and link back to the store in your profile’s forum signature area.
- Write for content hubs like ezinearticles.com and squidoo.com and link back.
Tracking Results and Adjusting
Constantly promoting the blog and store aren’t enough. You need to track everything you can track, see what you’ve come up with, and make necessary adjustments. That means using tools like Google Analytics and CrazyEgg. For testing what version of which pages will perform better, use Google Website Optimizer.
For an example of tracking and adjusting, you can look at the statistics to determine which product page on your site people are coming to from Google and what search term they’re using to get from Google to your top ranking product page. If they’re looking for Chinese chairs and your product page is selling a Japanese-inspired chair, you have a problem and that is a whole bunch of people are coming to your product page, but not even one chair is sold.
For another example, you need to track what people are searching for within your store by using Search Meter. That way, you’d know what product you’re missing or what should be the new product in the coming days or weeks.
E-Commerce Resource Links
- 17 New Rules for Successful E-Commerce Websites
- 15 Common Mistakes in E-Commerce Design and How to Avoid Them
- Google Website Optimizer for WordPress – Use this plugin with Google Website Optimizer service to test your pages. To get you started, watch Google’s tutorials.