Setting up an eCommerce website is a lot easier than starting your own physical store. However, it can still be daunting if you’re not sure what steps you need to take to create your own successful site. I’ve created a step-by-step guide to setting up an eCommerce website so you know exactly what steps you need to do to get your online store up and running, and start serving happy customers, as soon as possible.
This article covers the technical side of setting up an eCommerce website, so I won’t be answering questions like how to decide what to sell. If you have your merchandise ready to go, read on to find out what you need to do next to start making money online.
Choose a domain name and a web host
The domain name you choose for your new eCommerce website will be one of its most important steps. If you’ve already decided on the brand name of your website, search for a domain that is either the same as your brand name, or is relevant to what you’re selling. For example, if your website will be an online shoe store called Well Heeled, you should try to find a domain that includes the name (e.g. wellheeled.com) or one that is related to shoes (e.g. stylishshoesNYC.com).
When you start looking for both a domain name and web hosting provider, you’ll quickly realize that there are many companies out there vying for your attention. Having been in the web hosting field for a number of years, I can save you time and recommend GoDaddy as it’s my number one domain registrar. They provide excellent rates for their service and they support a good number of domain name extensions.
Choosing the right web host for your site is also incredibly important. For an eCommerce shopping site in particular, you should ensure your host offers at least a reliable SSL encryption option.
This enables your customers to submit payment details over an encrypted connection. As an eCommerce merchant, you need to have an SSL-enabled website, otherwise you are putting your customers at risk and, consequently, putting the reputation and success of your website at risk too!
If you’ve been visiting this website for a while, you’ll know that I have tried and tested many, many hosts! My top recommended hosting company is BlueHost. They provide excellent and reliable web hosting services that will give you everything you need at a reasonable price. If you want to compare packages from different companies, two other hosting providers I highly recommend are HostGator and WebHostingHub.
Choose a CMS
The CMS (content management system) you choose will influence how easy it is for you to upload content to your website. Choosing the right CMS is important as the type of system you choose will dictate how long it takes to upload content to your website, how easy it is to customize your site and what kind of eCommerce features it offers. Several popular CMS in the industry are Joomla, Drupal and TinyCMS.
My top recommended CMS is WordPress, especially for first-time website owners. This is because it is easy to use, yet comes with a lot of features and in-depth functionality. Using WordPress, you can do everything you need to do in order to successfully run your website.
One of WordPress’ most impressive features is that it is incredibly easy to customize your site. Through the WordPress marketplace, and on third party sites, you can find a number of plugins that add extra features to your site, as well as themes that enable you to customize your site’s appearance. It’s also very easy to create new web pages, new posts, upload new content and insert images, videos and audio clips into posts too.
Choose your shopping cart software
Once you have your domain name, web hosting and your CMS, next you need to choose your shopping cart software. Just like hosting companies, a quick search will reveal a huge range of shopping cart software and it can be difficult to know how to tell each apart.
I’ve written about shopping cart software several times on this site, so take a look at my other articles for more details about some of the most popular shopping cart scripts on the market. In summary, my two top recommended shopping carts are CS-Cart and Jigoshop. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail:
Jigoshop Pros and Cons
Jigoshop is a plugin for WordPress. It’s open-source, which means it’s free – a big plus for website owners who are just starting up their own eCommerce website. Using Jigoshop, you can keep track of all your analytics through your WordPress dashboard.
It’s simple to use, offers a variety of payment gateways and you can sell to buyers in different countries. If the basic free package doesn’t have all the features you need, you can also purchase additional extensions (some of these extensions are free). Jigoshop is perfect for small to medium-sized eCommerce websites.
Check out a complete Jigoshop review.
CS-Cart Pros and Cons
Like Jigoshop, CS-Cart is an open-source shopping cart software, however it isn’t free (packages start at $345). It does come with a lot more advanced features compared to Jigoshop and is more suitable for both small eCommerce sites as well as larger setups. Some of the features which I like are the full integration with more than 50 payment service providers, one-page checkout, complete inventory control, return management, real-time shipping, and easy skin customizations!
Whatever shopping cart software you choose, it’s important to select one that is compatible with multiple payment gateways. This will make it much easier for you to switch payment gateways in the future if you need to as your business grows, and it also makes it possible to offer customers a choice of payment options.
Visit CS-Cart’s official website and find out more about this great shopping cart script.
Choose your payment gateway
Your website’s payment gateway is the last major technical decision to make, but by no means the least important. The payment gateway you choose will influence the kind of experience customers have on your website, so you need to choose wisely. Some of the most popular payment gateways are:
- PayPal, Amazon, Google Checkout, Verisign, Authorize.net, and WorldPay
The payment gateway you choose will depend on which ones are compatible with your shopping cart software. As a merchant, you also need to look in to the following features:
Some payment gateways charge higher fees than others. You will need to compare several services to find the best deal.
The payment gateway you use should have a good security record, otherwise you will be putting customers’ sensitive data at risk.
The higher a payment gateway’s uptime ratio, the better. You don’t want your customers waiting to buy one of your products, only to find your payment gateway has gone down and no one can make any payments!
When you’ve chosen your payment gateway, you’re ready to go! Start uploading your merchandise, and you can begin to sell to your customers. Give your new website, shopping cart software and payment system a few trial runs before opening up the site to the general public so you can solve any issues in advance. Once you’ve done this and your website is fully-functional, you’re in business!
Editor’s final words
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I would like to reemphasize that the first step for you to start an eCommerce website is to get a domain name as well as look for a good web hosting provider. As I highlighted above, I have nothing but praises for Bluehost and I highly recommend you to check them out. They give you a free domain name with their web hosting plan. So, why not take this opportunity? You have nothing to lose as the domain name is completely free, and you are protected with Bluehost’s Anytime Money Back Guarantee!