Web development is complicated in any project. You have to consider different aspects such as design, usability and performance in order for your website to look and function well. The development of your custom website is, however, the backbone of all your further operational and marketing efforts. Think for example of how a good web development leads to better SEO results, how a functional website increases a good user experience or how different content management systems can make your daily life easier.
So there’s no doubt that you should put some thought into the development of your company’s website. Especially when it comes to e-commerce web development, there are various other factors that will only make the web development process trickier. A complex website, like an online shop, will not only offer challenges when it comes to the structure of the website or its design but also regarding your stock inventory and payment processes.
We know there’s a lot involved when we talk about e-commerce web development. It often gets technical and the developer’s jargon might leave you with your head whirling. We would like to help you understand the basics of web development when it comes to e-commerce. That’s why we created this handy guide that focuses on different aspects of the process, so you know what to look out for. We will talk you through the development processes of e-commerce stores and what you should be focusing on in 2019.
What is e-commerce?
Let’s start easy. E-commerce refers to buying and selling goods using the internet. We probably don’t have to tell you how popular online shopping became the recent years, but we’d still like to show you this graph – just in case.
With more and more people buying online, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are millions of e-commerce websites online for people to choose from. Differentiating yourself from your competitors becomes increasingly important and this all starts with having a strong and well-developed online webshop.
There are different types of e-commerce models, such as B2B or B2C, and different types of stores (think of drop shipping, wholesale, retail etc.) But one thing all these stores have in common is that they’re unmanned, meaning nobody helps you browse through the products or sits at the counter to complete your transactions.
Since there are no physical employees present in the store, your e-commerce website should focus on all these tasks. And with your website taking over, you need a website you can trust. Let’s have a look at the web development process of e-commerce stores and the different aspects that come with it.
E-commerce Web Development
- E-commerce Platforms
- Product Catalogue
- Information Structure
- Product Filters
- Internal Linking
- Social Media Integrations
- E-mail Integrations
- Payment Gateway Integrations
- Analysing Tools
- Shipping Options
- Discounts & Promotions
- Scalable Website
So you have an idea, you have your products (whether or not you have a physical stock), and now you need a platform to sell your goods on. A custom webshop is most likely what you’re thinking of – although alternatives could include selling your products on Amazon or Ebay. But for the sake of this guide, we’re going to build a custom webshop, where you can show your products in all their glory.
What do we need for an online store
Let’s look at the basic things we would need in order to build an online store:
- A product catalogue with all the items that you offer
- Details on your products
- High-quality photos of your products
- A stock inventory management system
- Your branding aspects, such as logo, name and colours
- Licences and permits
- A domain name
- Landing pages to show your products
- Filters and search functions
- Marketing strategy or other ways to attract customers
- Order forms
- A way to accept payments
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool
- A way to send confirmation emails
This is a non-exhaustive list of things to consider when you start building a webshop. Luckily, there are many platforms these days that offer you an easy approach to all the technical stuff. Those platforms allow you to upload your products, keep track of your stock and with some easy drag-and-drop work you can design your pages. They connect your CRM and even send out automated emails.
And don’t get us wrong, we love these platforms. Even better, we use them ourselves (we’ll tell you which one later on). But it’s important to consider the limitations too. However they are very easy to use, there are still a lot of functionalities that will require more advanced knowledge of web development. And by just using an off-the-shelf web solution, you might not be so different from your competitor. An e-commerce web developer, however, will know all the integrations and functionalities you need to not only build a custom website that exactly fits your brand, but they will also help you increase your sales funnel conversion rate.
Choosing the right platform
So we mentioned it already: we are not going to reinvent the wheel. There are brilliant platforms on the market that offer a great tool to build an e-commerce website, so we would be stupid not to make use of it. Our preference goes to WooCommerce, the WordPress plugin that is specialised in e-commerce.
We don’t want to claim it’s the best platform, but it fits our needs best. It gives us a lot of options and freedom to create the exact products we want and it has proven to be successful. We’ll give you a couple of reasons why we love WooCommerce, but feel free to do your research and make up your own mind!
WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin that adds e-commerce functionality to your WordPress website. It’s easy to install and set-up and can be integrated with your WordPress theme. It gives you full control over all your data, which means it’s reliable – even if something would go wrong with the platform itself.
WooCommerce also offers you complete control over your products. You can decide on product types, quantity and variations yourself. And with its inventory management system, you can take full control over stock, back orders and product management. When it comes to payments, WooCommerce has fully customisable check-out processes and payment gateways that you can choose from.
Furthermore, WooCommerce has a lot of extensions, plugins and integrations available, so you can customise your shop entirely. That’s enough for us to make it our go-to platform for building beautiful and functional webshops – and it’s the reason we’ll focus on WooCommerce in the rest of this guide if we want to get a bit more specific when it comes to certain features.
When developing an e-commerce website, your product catalogue will be at the heart of many decisions. That’s why we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions regarding our products. For starters, you should look at the products you are going to sell. This varies a lot depending on the type of store and your business model. You might be selling your own creations, which means you are limited to what you have, or you might be selling your goods from a wholesaler.
In the last case, you should think about your niche and potential customers, and see what product variants or related products they would benefit from so you can extend your product range. Same goes for different types, colours or sizes, where you need to make decisions to see what you’re going to offer and what not.
You should also think about your stock inventory. Are you going to buy the products and store them at a location or do you work with dropshipping delivery? You might want to set up an affiliate e-commerce store, where you don’t actually need any products at all. Your stock is normally controlled by a system that will notify you when you’re running low. But it’s up to you to make decisions if you want to offer it again and to figure out how long it will take for the product to be delivered.
So we have our product catalogue and we have our platform. Let’s have a look now at how we can blow life into this online shop. And the best way to start is by organising things. Your information architecture is an important step for the user experience (UX) on your website and it will give you a lot of direction when developing your site.
So what does this entail? You’re basically going to collect all the information that you want to include in your e-commerce store, and then categorise it into different groups. By doing this, you will get a clear overview of how you can divide the pages, what information goes on these pages and what product categories you will have. Not only your product catalogue will benefit from this, but it will also help you when creating navigation menus and deciding upon URLs.
The information structure of an e-commerce store
Let’s clarify things with an example. Let’s say you want to sell sports equipment online. You could decide to categorise your products by sport, for example, creating categories like rugby, tennis and basketball. A second division would be to split the categories in equipment (like balls, nets etc.) and clothing (which can be split into male and female). These categories will probably be present in your menu, giving users the chance to quickly find what they’re looking for. It will also help your users when they’re using the search function on your website, looking for tennis balls for example. And finally, a good website structure with URLs like mystore.com.au/tennis/clothing/female will get you better SEO results.
How to set up your website
In addition to your different product categories, you should also decide on other information you want to include on your webshop. Maybe you want to write educational blog posts about sports, that you can put under a blog section with different categories. You might want to include a page about your shipping & return policy, or maybe you need some extra space to include details about your products. Don’t forget to think about standard pages like an ‘About Us’ page for your brand story and a contact page for customers to get in touch.
Once you have the main layout of how you’re going to categorise your products and ideas, it’s time to look at the pages itself. You can decide what type of information you’d like to include on the home page, what details are needed for the different products, where your logo goes and where you add your crucial business information. Of course, you don’t need to know every exact detail (leave some work for the designers) – but it helps a lot to start with a good organisation of your information.
Content Management System
By now it should be clear how much information or content your website will contain. And to display, create, publish and maintain all that content you need a good Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is a tool that you will use to enter and maintain all your data and files, that is easily accessible without having to go into the website’s code. An example of a CMS system is WordPress.
A big advantage of a CMS system is that is separated from your design. This means you can enter text, place an image or update a price in the CMS and it will appear on your website in the right style. This gives you a basic framework where you can modify each element of your website, without having to worry about more technical issues. Another plus is that a CMS helps with your SEO, where all the right tags are automatically applied and you have the option to enter meta tags and alt tags in the CMS directly.
In the case of an e-commerce store, your main type of content will most likely be your products for sale. With the WooCommerce plugin, you have a CMS that gives you the option to enter all the product details, such as attributes or its status.
- Product Identifier (SKU)
- Sale price
- Supplier data
- Purchase price
- Stock data
- Product category
- Attributes such as colours and sizes
Having all this information in your CMS will not only give you a handy overview of everything but will also ensure that the information is organised on your website. Depending on your theme or stylesheet, the website will pull this information out of the CMS in order to display this in an orderly way to your customer. In addition, you can create product categories and subcategories based on what you attributed in the CMS.
A CMS is what you use ‘behind the scenes’ to organise the products and content on your website. But from the user’s perspective too, it can be challenging to find your way through the complexity of an online store. That’s why we have to ensure product filters and attributes that will help us categorise everything – on both ends.
Product filters are an essential part of improving a customer’s experience in your store. It will give them the option to quickly refine a large product range to find exactly what they’re looking for. Filtering the products also gives them the option to manipulate the content, increasing the personal experience they will have.
How to filter your products
So what filters should you include on your e-commerce store? The answer to this highly depends on the products that you’re offering. Examples of filters that are available in most e-commerce stores are the price range and the brand, but when you think of clothing, for example, you’ll quickly associate filters as size, colour and fit.
Like we already mentioned, these filter categories are established as attributes in the CMS. It’s here that you enter the size and the colour, and that data is used to pull up the right results when somebody filters your products. But how do these filters function on your website itself? Filters usually appear on the left-hand side of your product page and can be displayed as checkboxes, links or tabs. Users normally get the option to select various options, and sometimes they’ll see little tags of the applied filters on the top of their screen.
In addition to filters, most online stores also offer a search function in their webshop, allowing users to quickly find the right product. The e-commerce site search is usually a search box that is big enough for typical queries, found on top of the website’s page. Since users using the site search are more likely to convert (searching for a specific terms means they’re already further in the buying cycle), it’s important to install a well-working site search on your e-commerce site.
Our webshop is taking more shape now we’ve included our products, content and filters. Now, it’s time to connect everything through internal links. Internal links are not only important for your SEO (more on this later) but are also necessary to keep your visitors on your website. It gives users the possibility to browse through your website and go from one page to another, which will ideally lead to conversions.
The most important internal linking structure is set up when we decide on our site structure and create our navigation menus. By doing this, we organise our content into categories that are more or less important and we tuck our subcategories away underneath the bigger ones. By doing this you will make your more important categories better approachable to your users and you will show the Google bots which pages have more relevance.
In addition to your site structure, it’s also important to include internal links between other pages on your website. Links can go from one product page to another, from a subcategory to a blog post or from a blog post to a contact form. Linking from one product page to another is mostly done by features as ‘Related products’, which will send your customers to other items they might be interested in. Linking to a blog post is something you can do when you write a tutorial or an educational article on one of your products or categories.
When you think about an internal linking strategy for your e-commerce business it’s important to keep in mind that you’re creating the internal links in the first place for your customers. Keep the links natural and relevant and don’t try to focus on SEO only.
Now we’ve reached the topic of SEO, it’s time to zoom in on our website optimisation for the search engines. Since we cover most of the on-page and off-page in our complete SEO guide, we will only talk about SEO aspects that are important for e-commerce web development.
We talked about e-commerce structures and internal linking, but it’s important for your SEO that you provide a complete inventory of your website so the bots can crawl it easily. By creating a sitemap you will help them find your pages and you can upload this in the Google Search Console. Furthermore, it’s also necessary that this structure is reflected in the URL – displaying your categories and subcategories clearly.
Another important aspect of SEO is the optimisation of your tags, so it’s important to verify your title and heading tags. E-commerce stores usually work with a template for their meta tags with a pattern that is easily recognisable in the search results. By using shortcodes that automatically pull up the category names you can avoid having to go through all your product pages and insert meta titles manually.
Great for your SEO is also Schema Markup. It will help customers click on your result compared to your competitors because it provides them with more relevant information.
What would you rather click on?
There are a lot of properties to add to the schema property but here are the ones you should add to the product pages.
- offers > price;
- offers > priceCurrency
Last but not least, we should focus on technical SEO issues when developing an e-commerce website. Think about avoiding duplicate content (and thus not having two identical pages on your website) and keyword cannibalization errors where you let multiple pages rank for the same keywords, so they compete with each other.
Social Media Integrations
In addition to the basic features WooCommerce offers, there are probably a lot of integrations you would like to consider in order to adapt your online store to your exact needs. We’ll go over a couple of integrations you can’t miss for your e-commerce store, and we’ll start with social media.
We know it’s all happening on social media, so don’t forget the importance of these channels for your e-commerce store too. Focusing on social media will be one of the best ways for you to attract new customers, but we’ll talk about e-commerce and social media marketing later on.
At this point, we want to point out the things you should include in your e-commerce web development in order for your social media and website to be integrated. Of course, it’s important to provide a link from your store to your social media pages, and this is usually done by including the social media icons in the footer of your website.
There are however a couple of other ways for integrating your online store with your social media channels.
A first thing you want to include on your website is social sharing buttons. These buttons give customers the chance to share a page or product of your website with their followers. Modern customers have stronger relationships with the brand they support and will be more inclined to share their opinion with the world.
Including social buttons is best done on the separate product pages, so your customers can easily share their favourite items. It’s important to adapt the social sharing buttons to fit on your page without interrupting with the buying process, and we would recommend creating new icons that differ from the ones you used on your home page. Also, think about what channels you connect here. When it comes to online shopping, Facebook and Pinterest would probably be interesting, LinkedIn is probably better to leave out.
A second connection with social media should be made through social sign-ins. When a customer wants to buy something on your website, they will have to create an account in order to keep track of their purchasing history, saved items and shipping updates. But instead of having them to fill out a lengthy form, you can offer them the option to sign in through one of the social media channels they’re already active on.
Facebook integration for WooCommerce
But there’s more. In order to attract more customers through your social media, you can integrate your entire online store with Facebook. WooCommerce has a handy plugin that will connect the two, but let’s see what this can be used for.
First of all, there’s your Facebook store, where your products can be viewed on Facebook. Your products will be automatically imported into your Facebook store, with details such as prices and images included. Customers will either be able to buy it on Facebook or they have to click through to your website to complete the check-out process.
Once you have your products in your Facebook store, you can tag products in your Facebook posts. Customers will then see the products shown in your picture or video and immediately see all the details. Integrating your Facebook store with your WooCommerce store will furthermore give you the option to create Dynamic Product Ads on Facebook or retargeting ads to people who’ve visited a certain page or viewed a certain item on your shop.
Instagram integration for WooCommerce
There’s also an Instagram integration possible for your online store. Similar to Facebook, you can upload your products into your social media store which gives you the option to tag the products you’re showing on your Instagram posts. Customers can then just click on the item in order to purchase it in your store.
Another integration you can’t skip is connecting your online store with an email service. Emails will be an important part of your selling process, whether it’s to send an order confirmation, shipping updates, abandoned shopping cart reminders or newsletters.
A first step is to choose an email marketing platform. Examples of good email platforms include Mailchimp, Mailster or OptinMonster. Within your email marketing platform, you can create the emails you want to send out when certain actions are taken on your website. The tools often give you the option to do this entirely in your house style so you can include important branding elements.
By connecting your email platform and your e-commerce store, you can make sure that emails will automatically be sent when triggered by a certain action. Examples are completing a purchase, sending a reminder or just sending a welcome email when they sign up for your mailing list.
Payment Gateway Integrations
Unless you’re planning not to make any money with your store, a payment gateway integration is a necessary thing to include in your webshop. A payment gateway is an e-commerce service that processes credit card payments where key information is being transferred between your payment portals. Since there’s money involved, this should, be safe and encrypted information – so your customers can safely spend their money.
Examples of safe payment gateway integrations are PayPal, Square and Stripe (they accept master cards and visa cards). When deciding upon the right integrations for your store you should look at the processing speed, user-friendliness and transactional fees that might be included (especially when dealing with international customers).
When you have an established e-commerce store, you want to know how it’s performing. That’s why you need to connect your online shop with an analytics tool, so you can keep track of what’s working and what’s not.
Having all the important data available will give you a good idea of how your website is performing, where your customers are coming from and how they’re behaving on your website. There are various tools available that will all give you different insights regarding the demographics of your customers or their user interaction with your website. Here’s a list of some top tools we’d recommend:
- Google Analytics: you can’t really go without this one. It offers you information about your customers, your marketing and your pages itself – and on top of that, it’s free.
- Crazy Egg: this tool gives you information about how users interact with your website by giving you heat maps and comprehensive graphs
- Kissmetrics: this analytic tool gives you information about your customer acquisition and retention. Unmissable for good marketing results!
Once you’ve sold an item on your website, you should make sure it gets to your customer. When you just launched an e-commerce store, chances are high you will be taking care of the shipping process yourself. This means you have to process the order yourself, pack it, label it and send it.
Once you’ve been able to grow your business, you might want to consider automating this process. There are various integrations possible for your e-commerce store. Examples include Transdirect, Australia Post Shipping Method or TNT Express plugin. By using one of these tools, the work of calculating shipping costs and adding additional costs will be taken over by the integration.
If you work with a drop shipping delivery method, the shipping process will, of course, be different. When you work with WooCommerce Dropshipping, the order confirmation will be sent automatically to your wholesaler. Your partner will then take care of the actual shipping. Of course, giving this process out of hand also means there’s more room for mistakes. Make sure your integrations work seamlessly in order to avoid customers’ complaints.
Promotion and Discount Tools
When you’re selling products online, you’re going to have to find new ways to engage your customers. A good way of doing this is by offering promotions and discounts on your online goods. Promotions and discounts can happen in many ways:
- Create an end of season sale with items that won’t be included in your next collection
- Install a sale category with leftover items in certain sizes and colours
- Offer a discount when people sign up for your newsletter
- Have a 2+1 free sale to encourage purchases
- Offer a discount at the check-out process
- Reward loyal customers with a discount code
- Remind potential customers about their abandoned shopping cart by sending an email with a discount code
Whatever discount you decide to offer, your webshop should be able to process this. You should either show the discounted rate on your product page or have the option for customers to apply a discount code in the check-out process, without it being a big hassle for you. A lot of discount tools and integrations will help you to make this process a lot easier.
One last thing we want to discuss when it comes to e-commerce web development is the expansion of your website. No matter what e-commerce platform you decided to go with, what your design is or how many integrations you connected – you always need to keep an eye on your future expansion plans.
The most important aspect of your e-commerce store that should be scalable is your database. Your database contains all the data of your products and customers and should thus be able to grow with your business. This means the structure of your database should be able to handle the load, whether that structure is cloud-based or spread out over several servers. In addition, enabling indexing and intelligent caching can help handle high-frequency transactions.
Other e-commerce services
We’ve covered some of the main aspects you want to think about when dealing with e-commerce web development. But a successful e-commerce store doesn’t just depend on strong web development. In this last chapter, we’d like to shine a light on some other aspects that come into the picture when you’re launching your first e-commerce business.
A web host is a business that provides the service and technologies needed for a website to be viewed online. Your hosting is a virtual space where you save all the data and files that are on your website. Important with website hosting is that it allows you to have a fast website that is secure and that they offer the necessary support.
The hosting of an e-commerce website isn’t much different than other websites, but there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when deciding on your hosting platform. First of all, you might be dealing with a lot of data. Extensive product catalogues with high-quality pictures should be saved on a hosting platform that can handle this amount without it getting slowed down. Secondly, you need to consider how much traffic you’ll get and if your hosting server will be able to deal with this. You wouldn’t be the first website to crash after a TV commercial sends thousands of new visitors to the website all at once.
Another thing to consider is its safety and security features. Do they offer Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates or do they have a backup functionality in place so your data won’t get lost? One last thing to keep in mind is their support service for if something goes wrong. Is there 24/7 assistance available?
E-commerce Web Design
We only talked about the web development of an e-commerce store until now. However, you will also need a store that looks pretty and functions well. That’s where your web design comes in. Your web design should focus on a user-friendly design, that organises the information in ways that are easy to navigate for your users.
Web design is necessary when you get all the information out of the CMS, in order to give it shape on your actual pages. This means you’ll be defining the size of the images, the colours of the buttons, the number of columns you’ll use to display your products etc. These little details might only seem important for the aesthetic aspect of your website, but they can actually enhance the user experience if done well.
E-commerce User Experience
The User Experience (UX) in e-commerce plays a vital role. Simple and clear interaction components, attractive product presentation, easy check-out processes and effective use of visual elements can all influence the profits you’re making with your e-commerce store.
In the case of e-commerce there are four key aspects of UX that are quite clear:
- Utility: Your website helps the users choose and buy the products they want
- Usability: The webshop is easy to use, no time is wasted on unnecessary steps or no frustration is evoked throughout the customer journey
- Accessibility: A design that can be used by different types of users (including people with disabilities or low tech literacy
- Desirability: The whole experience should be enjoyed by customers making them want to come back again
Applying the principles of good UX to your website is necessary if you want to offer your users a good experience. We wrote a whole guide about UX with tips on how to improve your website.
So you build a beautiful shop online, but without marketing, you might as well have set up a store in the middle of the woods somewhere. You need people to find your store and that’s where a good marketing strategy comes in.
There are many aspects of your e-commerce marketing. First of all, your SEO should be on point so you can improve your rankings in the search results. But next to your search engine marketing, you should also consider other channels to reach your customers.
Social media, for example, is an important medium for your marketing. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram give you the chance to build personal relationships with your customers. They are the ideal channel to focus on both the promotional aspect and your brand image.
Also, email marketing isn’t dead. Sending out newsletters with product updates, new collections or sales will bring your brand to the top of your audience’s mind. Emails are also a great way of getting more engagement since call-to-action buttons usually send your users straight to your landing pages.
SEA and Social Ads
Finally, there’s paid advertisement which can be done on either social media or Google. Google Adwords will give you the option to place ads in the search results. With search ads, you can reach people that are already searching for products like yours and thus more likely to convert. Display ads and YouTube ads, on the other hand, are a perfect way to introduce your brand to new customers. Retargeting ads are the best way to find people who’ve already been to your website but need a little reminder. Google Shopping ads are key for businesses that want their products to show up within the first results.
On Facebook, you can choose between different types of campaigns. These can be focused on either increasing brand awareness, getting new page likes or attracting new visitors to your website. Especially interesting for e-commerce stores are the conversion-focused campaigns because they focus on driving you sales.
Setting up an e-commerce store involves a lot more than just the development of a website. By hiring a full-service agency, you are sure you have a full team behind your business, that can help you with tasks ranging from hosting a website to branding your store. Don’t miss out on any customers because of bad UX or the lack of a marketing strategy, but get an expert to help you out!
Talk to us about your e-commerce adventure and we’ll be happy to show you how we can help.