Finding the right platforms and tools to build your eCommerce site
If you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to set up an online store, you’ll know that it’s a really exciting time. You’ll also know that it can be an overwhelming time, too. With so many routes to take, it’s hard to feel confident in picking the right one.
In this article, we’ll be taking a whistle-stop tour of our favorite platforms and tools for easily launching effective online stores; right through from building your site, to analyzing its performance later down the line.
1. Choose your ideal platform
This is the first big decision you’ll have to make as an online store builder: what platform shall I actually build my store with? Your three main DIY options are website builders (like Wix and Squarespace), eCommerce platforms (like Shopify and BigCommerce), and using a CMS (WordPress being the most popular).
Website builders are typically really easy to use, especially if they use drag and drop technology (as many now do). You can work off a basic template and customize it with all your own content, and get up and running really quickly. They’re perfect if you’re just looking to sell a few products casually, but ultimately they fall down on power and scalability.
This is where eCommerce platforms excel. With sophisticated inventory management, shipping and tax calculations, and the ability to add multiple product variants easily (such as size and color), serious sellers should opt for an ecommerce platform. Shopify is generally considered to be the most advanced.
Unless you’re a coding wiz, we wouldn’t recommend you try building a store with WordPress. It’s relatively easy for anyone to make a basic store, but it’s the customization part that’s hard. It’s difficult to get a WordPress site looking and working exactly how you need it to, without playing around with the code. That said, DragDropr can make the process a lot easier – read on to find out how.
2. Pick your apps and plugins
Once you’ve set up an account with a platform like Shopify, or downloaded WordPress, you’ll want to customize it with your own content, but also add some apps or plugins for functionality.
This is really no different to adding apps to your phone or computer; most platforms have a store, and for each one you can see the user rating, and price if applicable.
That’s actually our first tip for finding good apps and plugins: check the ratings, reviews and comments. This is where you’ll find the most honest and useful information.
While it’s true that there is an app or plugin for just about everything, it’s important that you only sign up for things you’ll actually use, and avoid getting too ‘app happy’. Unused plugins are dead weight for your site, slowing it down and harming its chances of ranking well (something we’ll cover a little more later on). So for now we’re just going to focus on our favourite apps for making your life a little easier, and for saving you time.
Remember earlier when we said that website builders were really easy to use (because most use drag and drop technology), but that they weren’t powerful enough for scaled-up selling? The DragDropr plugin/app brings the ease of drag and drop building to your eCommerce platform or WordPress site, meaning you get the best of both worlds.
Build pages by simply ‘dragging’ and ‘dropping’ content, just as you would assemble a PowerPoint presentation. Next, simply copy and paste these into the backend of your site – no coding required. DragDropr is compatible with all major CMS systems and eCommerce platforms. Find out more.
2. Yoast SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a confusing topic for many, but mastering it is essential if you want to get found by people searching for your products using a search engine.
Understanding the importance of SEO is critical, but understanding how it works is not; by installing popular app Yoast SEO, and following its advice, you’ll be well on your way to SEO success.
Getting people to come to your site instead of a competitor’s is hard, and even then so many things need to go right before you get the final sale. In fact, it’s estimated that the success rate of selling to a new customer is only 5-20%. Selling to an existing customer, on the other hand, has a success rate of around 60-70% – in short, it’s a lot easier to keep customers than it is to find new ones.
This is where a good CRM strategy can really help with customer retention, and an email plugin/app like MailChimp is vital for this. By automating emails to customers at key moments (e.g. sending a discount code a little while after a customer has abandoned their cart without checking out) is an easy way to maximize value per user. Here’s an in-depth take on Mailchimp pricing with all available plans and offers.
3. Max out on free tools
Having forked out to build (and furnish) your online store, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of free tools out there to help, too. Let’s take a look at some of our top picks:
For downloading and compressing images:
There are plenty of royalty-free image sites available. Here are three of our favourites:
Beautiful, high res images with a similar edit, so your site won’t look mismatched. It’s best for landscapes, travel, and generally ‘stock images that don’t look like stock images’
Kind of like a free equivalent of Adobe Stock or Shutterstock, Pixabay is a good option if you need a photo of something quite specific. You’ll often need to sift through some quite garish options, but there are definitely some gems to be found.
In terms of images, Picjumbo is kind of a mixture of the two sites above. The selection is much smaller, but is well worth checking in conjunction with the other two.
The downside of using such quality, high resolution images? The file sizes can be pretty hefty. This is a big SEO no-no as it can really slow your site down – your users don’t like to be kept waiting, and so neither does Google.
Fortunately, there’s an easy (and free) solution: image compression. This involves uploading each image to a free image compression site, such as Kraken.io or TinyPNG, which will then spit out an image that looks identical, but has a file size which is around 70% smaller.
Image compression is especially important for eCommerce sites, which typically have a lot of product images – keeping these as small as possible will have a big impact on your site’s performance, which is something you can measure using the tools below.
For monitoring and improving performance:
There’s a ton of free, useful tools out there for one-off site health checks and everyday monitoring. Here are some of our top picks:
1. Google Analytics
Every site owner should be sure to install and get to grips with Google Analytics. Google Analytics will tell you who is coming to your site, which pages they are looking at, and how long they’re spending on them. You can also set up ‘Goals’ to see how often users are taking a desired action (e.g. interacting with product images, or adding an item to their cart). It’s absolutely vital for finding what works on your site, and for spotting any problems early on.
There’s a Google Analytics Academy with comprehensive training videos that we’d recommend whether you’re a complete beginner, or looking to step up your skills.
This is another free Google tool which is great for analyzing the speed of a particular page. Just pop the page URL in and you’ll get a rating, and an indication of how long each element takes to load. This makes it really easy to spot any problem areas if the page has a poor speed rating.
This is a really handy Chrome extension for anyone working across multiple markets. If you’re struggling to rank for key terms in other countries, open the Nightwatch Search Simulator to see the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) in your desired country. Spot what your competitors are doing better than you, and adjust accordingly.
Wrapping it up
This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. If you’re ever in doubt, remember that most platforms and tools have either a free plan or a free version, so your best bet is to take it for a spin yourself and see if it’s worth upgrading.
Arming yourself with the right tools to build an effective online store is essential – but doing so needn’t cost you an arm and a leg.
And our last bit of advice is this: don’t spend so long processing how to build your online store that you never actually get around to building your online store! Start with what seems like the best method, make mistakes, learn from them and improve – starting really is the most important part.