I’m a web designer, and most of my clients are very small businesses. They are regular people trying to build a side-income, that have no eCommerce or website-building experience, and whose professional skills are quite different from those skills they need to launch a successful online store.

I’ve seen the ones the succeed and the ones that don’t. Obviously the actual product is very important, but in this article I’d like to assume the product is good, and talk about the website.

There are a few things the successful stores do very well, and the unsuccessful ones ignore. Here they are.

1. Professional photography

If they say ‘content is king’, then in eCommerce, photography is the ace.

Professional photography is the difference between looking like a trustworthy business selling a premium product, and an amateur selling something second-hand from your bedroom.

Want proof? Which of the below would you rather buy?

Bad photography can make the best product look terrible.

If you have the budget, invest in a good photographer who specializes in product photography for eCommerce.

It’s also possible to take the photos yourself, and even with your phone, but there are a few rules you must follow.

  1. White or plain backdrop. The worst thing you can do is have your cluttered kitchen counter in the background.
  2. Always photograph your products from the same distance, angle and zoom level. You don’t want some products to seem further or smaller than others.
  3. Lighting changes everything. Experiment with what looks best but in general you don’t want any hard shadows or bright reflections.

Shopify have published an extremely thorough guide on DIY product photography. I highly recommend checking it out — https://www.shopify.com/guides/product-photography.

2. Lots of well-written content

Content is king. Once a customer has noticed your product somewhere on the internet, and landed on your site, there are only two things they really care about:

  1. Tell me more about this product. Show me more photos.
  2. Who are you? Where are you? Are you trustworthy enough to buy online from?

So the two things you need most of all are Product descriptions and About Us content including content for the homepage.

You can write all these up as small snippets to be used wherever they are suitable. For example, a common piece of text you need is a 1 or 2 sentence short intro about your business. It can be used on the homepage on top of a banner and also as the intro on your About page, where you then elaborate on these two sentences.

If you have some kind of unique ordering situation, like customizable or made-to-order products then you will also need snippets where you talk about this-on the Product page, in the About, or in the Shipping & Returns pages.

A FAQ page is an excellent place to store all these snippets on a variety of different topics. So if you are preparing to launch a website and you already have all these small bits of text in an FAQ, it’s going to be much easier to add onto and modify this text for other areas of the website.

If your budget allows it and you don’t enjoy writing, you can hire a freelance writer to help with this part. If you don’t know where to look, a good place might be upwork.

3. A marketing plan

A common mistake of new store owners is the idea that once you build your store and launch, people will start buying. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work like that.
If nobody knows about your store before you launch, you will be launching to the sound of crickets chirping.

About a month or two before launching you should have your social media channels set up. Facebook and Instagram are the minimum.

The beautiful product photos we spoke of earlier should now be on your social media together with your logo, colors or other branding, regularly being posted every couple days, letting people know the store is coming soon.

All your friends and family should know about your upcoming launch, and thanks to their shares and support, their friends and family should know too!

However even this is just the bare minimum. Serious businesses will already be using paid ads, influencers, blogging and other tactics to build brand-awareness before launch.

Your ability to use these tactics will depend on your budget and skills, but you should have a good brainstorming session about your options and formulate a marketing plan.

A few other things that didn’t quite make the cut, but are also pretty important:

SEO Text

There is another great reason to have an FAQ page and lots of snippets of text about your business written up. That reason is SEO.

For those unfamiliar with these 3 letters, they stand for Search Engine Optimization — the art and science of making your website rank better on Google search results.

This content should mostly come from your main body of text for the website, and be slightly re-written for more keyword density. However you still need to keep in mind that you will have to write this stuff.
Think about what you want people to read first when they google your product.

When you search the name of my company, you immediately know what services we provide thanks to the Meta Title and Meta Description.

You need these snippets of text for almost every page of your site. The homepage will be quite important, and also the collection pages. Your product pages will use their main descriptions by default, but if you want you can also set some optimized text to show on google.

Shipping

This might seem like an obvious one but — before you can sell anything online you need to know how you are getting the product to your customer, how much this will cost and whether you can afford it.

I won’t go into the options here because it will vary depending on where you live. You will need to research the shipping options yourself by checking with your local shipping provider, be that post office or courier.

The bottom line is this, if I was your web designer setting up your store, you need to provide me with the shipping rates for each of the places you plan to ship to, and for the different weight and sizes of packages that you sell.

Logo & branding

If you don’t have a brand color scheme or fonts chosen yet — no biggie. Most web designers are able to provide this basic branding service. The one thing they probably cannot do is create a logo for you.

Logo design is a very specific skill on it’s own, and if you want a professional logo you need the help of a logo designer. That’s why this is one thing you may want to have done before building your website or contacting a web designer.

A good logo goes a long way in making you look professional in your pre-launch marketing efforts.

In summary

It’s really quite simple when it comes down to it.

To launch a professional eCommerce website, you need to have good photographs of your products, you need to have written a lot of information about your products and brand, and you need to know how you are going to bring people to your website.

These are the three pillars on which a successful website stands. The rest is just details.

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