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How and where to get started with an ecommerce website.
by Peter Day

Setting up and operating an ecommerce website to sell your goods online can appear a daunting and confusing task. There are a multitude of things to consider and understand. From choosing and registering your domain name, deciding on an e commerce web site design, complying with Australian and international laws, adding products to your ecommerce website, photographing and creating images of your items, writing search engine friendly text and copy, choosing the right online payment and delivery system, to optimising your ecommerce website for search engines and promoting your e commerce web site throughout the world wide web. Following is some information to help you unravel the mysteries of setting up and running your ecommerce website and online business.

Where do you start?

Start with your research, look at your options, work out your budget and be realistic about what you will get for your money. Select a reputable and experienced e commerce design company, not just a well known one and avoid using students who want to learn at your expense. Overseas based companies, whilst they might sound cheap, can be difficult and frustrating to communicate with. Allow plenty of time. While some ecommerce web site solutions can have you online and ready to sell in a few hours, these are usually the template style ones which lack the ability to change with your business. Most ecommerce design companies will take a few days to several weeks, it entirely depends on your requirements and what modifications might be needed. Some ´bespoke´' proprietary design solutions can take many months. Allow time to populate your e commerce website with your goods. This is what will take up most of your time, as you may have to photograph goods, source images and write product descriptions.

8 main steps to get your ecommerce website ready to sell your goods online.

Step 1. Register your domain name.

Do you need more than one? If you do, it may cost you extra money to have these point to your ecommerce web site.

Step 2. Choosing your ecommerce website design solution and design company.

This is the most important decision you will make, as its the biggest factor in determining the success of your online business. Whether you decide to do it yourself, or spend a small fortune with a design company building you ´bespoke´ built from the ground up ecommerce website, make sure you know exactly what you are getting, how long it will take and what it will cost.

Step 3. Get a logo designed for your e commerce web site.

Do you have a logo for your business? A good logo design is essential in projecting professionalism and helps inspire confidence in customers to buy from you. If you already have a logo design, it will need to be modified and optimised to be used as a banner size logo for your web site. You will also need your logo to be made suitable to appear on your Invoices, Orders, Emails and Newsletters that are generated on your e commerce website.

Step 4. Organise the hosting for your ecommerce website.

Ecommerce websites require more features and extra web technologies from a hosting service than a basic, static web site does. For example, ecommerce websites rely on a database to work and require additional services to run certain program languages, like PHP, ASP, or Pearl. Make sure the hosting service is compatible with your e commerce web site design. You will also need more than one email address to properly operate your online shop, so budget for at least 3 email addresses.

Step 5. Install your e commerce web site.

If you have chosen to a free off the shelf e commerce website solution, you will need to install it on your html web server, which is part of your hosting package. You will also need to install your MYSQL database and make sure your ecommerce web site is secure and safe from hackers. If you have chosen to use an e commerce web site design company, they will do all this for you, freeing you up to start adding your goods.

Step 6. Add products your to your ecommerce website.

For businesses that have a large product range, it can be very time consuming, so allow plenty of time to do it. This may be able to be automated, so ask your ecommerce website design company if they can do it for you and what it will cost.

Use images that showcase your goods.
Unlike a traditional shop where shoppers can get a good look at a product, ecommerce websites rely completely on the product images you decide to display. Thats why it is very important to have well photographed images that showcase you goods and entice shoppers to buy them. Its easy to use images downloaded from a competitors, or another web site, but you risk infringing on their copyright and given time, you will be found out and sued. Everyone has a digital camera and the temptation will be there to use these to photograph your goods. If you do decide to do this yourself, ensure you use good even lighting, shot on the same background, with the images in proportion to each other. Better still, employ a professional photographer. They have the all the equipment and skills needed, are fast and you wont need to spend allot of time and money retouching poorly photographed images. Also make sure you optimise your images for the internet, so your website pages load quicker. If you cant do this yourself, ask your e commerce web site design company to do it for you, its well worth the expense.

Have informative and in depth product descriptions.
In the traditional shop, a sales person is there to tell the customer about the product and answer their questions. Your ecommerce website cant provide this face to face and personal approach to selling, therefore you need to have detailed and informative information about your product. Try and include as much technical data as you can and include things like reviews. Dont just copy text from a competitors, or supplierswebsite, instead write your descriptions using your own words. Not only does this make it easier for shoppers to decide to buy from you and not your competitor, but search engines willtend to list your goods higher on a search results page, sending more shoppers to your ecommerce web site and returning you more sales.

Step 7. Optimise your e commerce website for Search Engines.

Having customers find you amongst the millions of websites out there, is paramount in having a successful e commerce business. Budget for search engine optimisation of your ecommerce web site. This can include creating and submitting sitemaps with various search engine companies like Goggle, to ensure your websites pages are properly listed.

Step 8. Promote and market your ecommerce web site.

Promoting your business and goods is essential in generating sales. Allocate time to build links to appropriate industry related web sites and portals, as well as be active on blogs, social networking sites. If you find you pressed for time, or dont know how to do this budget to engage a company to do this for you.
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