You’ve decided it’s time to start selling your products online.
You’ve known for a while you should, but you just didn’t know how. The skills it takes to become a business owner aren’t the same as those it takes to set up an online store from scratch.
But even though you worry it will be hard, you trust it will be worth it.
With an online store, you can bring your products to a wider audience than you can with a storefront. You make the decision to purchase more convenient for your customers – being able to buy something without leaving the couch removes a lot of the possible barriers to a sale.
And you can tap into the power of online marketing and SEO. Now that so many people start their search for a new product online, the best way to show up when someone’s looking for what you sell is to be online.
If the main thing stopping you was concern that setting up an online store would be difficult, we’ve got good news. With the right website builder, creating an online store is easy — no matter your level of experience.
Why You Should Use a Website Builder to Set Up Your Online Store
For any business ready to get an online store up and running, there are a few clear benefits to using a website builder to make it happen:
This might be the most important benefit for most small business owners. You don’t have time to learn all the ins and outs of setting up an online store from scratch, and you don’t have the budget for hiring someone that does. But you don’t need either if you use a website builder.
Every day your website isn’t set up for selling products is a day you could be losing out on sales. The sooner your online store is functional, the faster you can start making extra money.
It brings the main tools you need into one interface.
If you set up an online store on your own, you have to remember to find the right design tools, eCommerce software, and security features all as separate steps.
With a website builder, everything you need is brought together in one place, where you can access it all through one interface. It makes your job easier and ensures you don’t forget anything important.
How to Set Up an Online Store with a Website Builder
If you already have a website that you’re adding an online store to, you can skip the first few steps. But if you don’t have a business website yet, you’ll need to start at the beginning.
1. Choose a domain name.
Your domain name will ideally be yourbusinessname.com. But if your business has a name that’s at all common, that may already be taken. You can use a domain search tool to find out what’s available and brainstorm options that will be easy for your visitors to remember.
If the .com is taken, then .net or .co may be a better option. You can also consider variations of your business name using hyphens between words, so a business called Acme Knives becomes acme-knives.com, if acmeknives.com is taken.
Get a little creative if you need to, but make sure the end result is something that will be intuitive for your visitors to use and remember.
2. Select a hosting plan.
Every website online requires hosting. When you start looking into your hosting options, you’ll quickly realize that there are both a lot of providers and a lot of different plans to consider. In your search, make sure you prioritize finding a hosting plan that supports an eCommerce website and that will be compatible with the website builder you use.
Here’s a helpful checklist to follow when selecting your web hosting provider.
3. Choose your website builder.
Some web builder plans come with hosting included (including HostGator’s), so you may be able to complete this step at the same time as the last one. If not, then spend some time reviewing your different options.
Make sure you go with a website builder that’s easy for beginners to use and makes adding an online store to your website a breeze. Consider the number of themes and features each website builder offers and how the costs line up with the budget you have in mind.
4. Select your theme.
Most website builders come with a number of different themes you can choose from. The theme works as a starting point that provides a structure for your website. You can make changes to it to make the design your own by moving different elements of the page around, adding in any new elements you want, and subbing in different colors, images, and copy.
5. Create your main pages.
Your website can’t just be product pages. At the very least, you’ll need a Home page that communicates your company’s unique positioning and why your visitors should do business with you. In addition, you may want to include:
- An About Us page that provides information about what your business is and who’s behind it
- Category pages that help you organize your products based on the main attributes your visitors will use to find what they need
- A contact page that makes it easy for your visitors to find out how to get in touch
Figure out the most important pages you want to include on your website and how best to organize them.
With that done, you can start working on the online store part of your website.
6. Add an eCommerce app to your website builder.
Depending on the website builder you choose, eCommerce features may be included, or may be an additional add-on. With HostGator’s website builder, the eCommerce store is an app you can easily add to your website builder. A good eCommerce app will make the next few steps easy.
7. Add products to your store.
Now that the structure of your website and online store are in place, you can start adding in your products. In addition to filling in the product name and the price of each product, make sure to load high-quality product photography and include persuasive copy that touts the benefits of each product.
This step is worth committing some time to. Your product pages have a lot of work to do to get your visitors to take that last step to purchase. It may be worth hiring a professional photographer and copywriter to make these pages really attractive and convincing.
And take a little time to learn SEO basics and optimize each of your product pages. Your website will go a lot further if people can find your products when searching for them in Google.
8. Select your payment options.
To make sales online, you need a way to process payments. Chances are, the eCommerce software or website builder you use will have some particular payment options it’s compatible with. These likely include Paypal, Stripe, CashonDelivery or other payment processing solutions.
Choose which payment options you’ll accept and connect them to your merchant account.
9. Start promoting your store.
You finally did the work of setting up your online store, now you need people to find it. With the sheer number of eCommerce businesses on the web, people are unlikely to stumble across yours without a little nudge (or a big one).
Figure out a plan to market your website. A good digital marketing strategy often includes:
- SEO – Strengthening your website’s authority to increase search engine rankings for relevant terms.
- Social media marketing – Promoting your brand and products on social media channels where your audience hangs out
- Content marketing – Creating high-quality content as a way to attract new traffic, build trust in your website, and convert leads to customers.
- PPC advertising – Paying for ads on the search engines or social media sites that charge on a pay-per-click model.
- Email marketing – Building an email list to sustain and grow your connection with leads to help convert them to customers (and keep them as customers for the long term once you do).
Decide what the right mix of tactics is for your online store and get to work. Be aware that online marketing is a long game, and you may need to put some real time and work in before you start seeing big results.
10. Track analytics.
A good website builder will come equipped with analytics tracking that helps you gauge the success of your website so you can improve over time. Pay attention to what your analytics tell you about your traffic: where it’s coming from, what people do once they reach your website, and which visitors become customers.
The more data you gain over time, the better you’ll understand what works best for your particular audience. You can improve the copy you use on your website, select the most effective keywords to target in your SEO and PPC ads, and tweak your marketing efforts to focus on the tactics that result in the most profit.
Build Your Online Store
Running an online store takes work, but you can save yourself a lot of time and money in the early stages by using a website builder to get your new online store set up. With an intuitive, accessible online store, your customers gain a new way to buy from you, and you gain a new stream of income.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.