Owning and operating a successful ecommerce business is a dream for many.
You can sell products and services online without fancy face-to-face sales pitches, you don’t have to rent out an expensive physical storefront, and best of all, you can make sales while you sleep!
Who wouldn’t want to start a business like that?
The reality of ecommerce is that it’s relatively easy to get a store up and running. However, operating a successful store is a whole different ball game. This is a realization that many, many people have learned the hard way.
Ecommerce is the future of retail. In fact, it’s estimated that online sales will hit $4.8 by 2021!
Building successful ecommerce businesses starts with the right platform. In this article, I’ll discuss five of the top components to consider when you are shopping around.
1. SEO benefits
Plain and simple, if you want to enter any aspect of the online business world, you are going to need a surface level understanding of search engine optimization—at the very least.
What is SEO? To put it simply, it’s everything that goes into making sure your site is visible to search engines like Google.
Over 90 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine. The way your online store is optimized for search has a direct impact on how people discover your website and find what they are looking for.
Now, SEO for an ecommerce website requires a great deal of due diligence by the site owner, regardless of the platform. This involves persistent keyword research, attention to link building, the creation of fresh, keyword-optimized content, SEO-friendly product pages, title tags, image tags, and so on.
When you’re choosing your ecommerce platform, take a step back and assess your SEO needs, your own skills in web development, and how you see your store in the future. If you are entering the world of ecommerce with entry-level knowledge, there are a handful of SEO features you need to understand.
Navigation links: The text that appears for your products and categories within the navigation menu of the website.
These links bring shoppers to the product listings. While many platforms generate these automatically, having independent control over these links is ideal for SEO purposes.
Page titles: The titles that are shown on the tabs in the browser. These tabs give you the opportunity to include trending search terms identified in your keyword research.
Page URLs: The words present in an actual link in the browser. The URL should give people a good idea of what the page is all about.
The proper use of keywords here gives you a great SEO advantage—both in the eyes of the search engines and the users.
Meta descriptions: This is the short paragraph that appears under your link in the Google search engine results.
This acts as a preview of the page. As you could imagine, it is a hotspot for keywords.
Image ALT tags: This tag refers to the text on an image that acts as a description for the search engine crawlers.
The keyword optimization here determines how the picture shows up on a Google Image search.
H1 headings: This is the main heading that appears on a product listing or category.
If these headings are optimized around trending keywords, it will be much easier for people to discover your site.
Canonical URLs: In an ecommerce site, it’s common that some products can be found in multiple locations throughout the catalog. When this is the case, you do not want to get penalized by Google for having duplicate content.
So, you can tag your pages with the ‘REL CANONICAL’ tag that tells Google which page should be viewed as the primary, which is known as the canonical URL.
Blogging: Blogging is one of the best ways to give your ecommerce site fresh, keyword-optimized content. Plus your blog posts give you content assets that can be used for link building.
On a basic level, the ecommerce platform you choose should include a blogging feature.
Social buttons: The search engines love sharable content.
Adding social buttons on your product pages, blog posts, or anything else on your site makes it easy for people to share it with their social networks, which in turn, boosts your SEO value.
XML sitemap: This is a file located on your website that helps the search engines index your website’s content. Maintaining your XML sitemap is crucial to your search rankings. If you have a larger catalog, you definitely want an ecommerce platform that manages this for you automatically.
These terms cover the basic elements of an ecommerce website. There are lots of platforms out there designed to make search engine optimization easier.
If you are just starting out with minimal background knowledge, mainstream platforms like Shopify, Magento, and WooCommerce are a few options.
2. Payment options
The most critical part of the online sales process is payment. When you start an ecommerce business, you need to be able to accommodate a range of payment options.
Think of it this way: How often have you walked into a restaurant or diner only to be turned away because you don’t have cash on you? If you only take a select few types of credit cards or other payment options on your ecommerce site, you will end up turning potential customers away.
In recent years, the scope of payment options has grown quite a bit in the ecommerce landscape. The name of the game here is simplicity. Very few people (if any) particularly enjoy pulling out their cards, entering in their 16-digit number, expiration date, and CVV code whenever they make a purchase online. In addition to being a hassle, it gives them plenty of time to reconsider their decision to buy.
There are a number of ways you can alleviate friction. For starters, shoppers should have the ability to create an account on your website. Not only is this good practice for gaining email addresses and information, but it should also ideally enable the shopper to save their credit card information for future use. At this point, this should be one of the foundational capabilities of any ecommerce platform.
However, the most important thing here is security. Be sure the platform you choose uses SSL encryption. When a shopper sees the green lock on the URL in the browser, they know the site is safe.
In addition to credit/debit cards, your ecommerce site should accept quick and painless options like PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.
Lastly, if you paid attention to the news in the past year or so, you’ve probably heard something about cryptocurrency. As there are all kinds of benefits attached to paying with crypto (and not to mention a huge interest in it), looking into a platform that accepts this option is a smart move.
3. End-user experience
Ultimately, the end-user experience (UX) is the most important piece of the puzzle in creating a killer ecommerce site. If the checkout process is complicated, the navigation is shoddy, the product information is tough to find, and so on, people will have no problem finding the X button.
That said, a good UX needs to be your top concern when shopping around for ecommerce platforms.
This involves the following major aspects:
Utility: This concerns the very nature of your website, product listings, layout, and overall flow. Most importantly, this entails making sure every facet of your website makes it easy for shoppers to find what they need.
The ecommerce platform you select should enable you to provide users with easy access to menus, categories, customer support, and more. It should also include features like a search bar with keyword relevant suggestions.
Always remember, even the prettiest website in the world can be rendered useless if it doesn’t have the utilities needed to provide a good UX.
Usability: The usability of a website refers to how well visitors can grasp and navigate through it.
Keep in mind, today’s online shoppers are not exactly known for their patience. This is because they can simply turn to thousands of others if yours is too complicated to figure out.
A website’s usability is dependent on simplicity. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary clicks, slow loading times, or extra steps in the sales process, as these can quickly complicate things.
Accessibility: Perhaps the biggest advantage of ecommerce is operations are not limited by geographic location, time zones, or anything else of that nature. An ecommerce business can sell products all over the world.
That being said, you need a platform that understands this and can properly cater and alter the website to different demographics. This includes automatically adjusting the online storefront around location, language, currency, shipping information, and so on.
Versatility here is crucial for reaching more shoppers—and more shoppers equals more sales.
Desirability: Desirability in the UX is all about the appeal and making people want to return.
The feel of your online store should be such that it gives shoppers a welcoming vibe, as well as leave a good taste in their mouth when they leave.
Fortunately, many of the big ecommerce platforms out there have large selections of themes and customizable templates created by seasoned experts. These are designed to play to many of the common psychological triggers that keep customers coming back.
The end-user experience is the most important part of an ecommerce store and must remain at the forefront of your platform selection process.
4. IT support
Solid IT support tends to be one of the unsung heroes when it comes to the features of an ecommerce platform. Many of these platforms will try to sell you on everything being overly user-friendly to a point where you don’t think IT support is a big factor.
If your site goes down, you need answers right away.
When you are making your choice, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to support. If you go with one of the bigger platforms, there will be a large support community to help find quick answers, which is why many people go with ecommerce giants like Shopify or WooCommerce.
Next, you need to take into account the size and complexity of your store. If it’s more extensive, you are going to need a platform with dedicated support to help you whenever something goes wrong.
Another thing to consider is working with an agency for IT support. If you don’t have a firm knowledge of backend website management, having an agency specialized in ecommerce IT support is a very wise choice. Many agencies are well-versed in the major ecommerce platforms and will proactively keep a close eye on your website to eliminate issues before they turn into problems.
Prolonged technical difficulties will eat into your revenue and turn people away in droves. At the end of the day, IT support determines the life or death of an ecommerce store.
5. Integrations and add-ons
The integration capabilities of an ecommerce platform are what allow you to customize the site around what you need and what will benefit the overall experience.
You need to take into account how far-reaching and in-depth your online store currently is, as well as what your short and long-term goals are.
For instance, if you are just starting out, an email marketing program might not seem like an essential. However, once you start gaining traction, email will be a prime communication avenue to promote things like personalized deals, product recommendations, or anything else to boost site engagement.
Regardless of the ecommerce site, the platform you choose should have these crucial integrations:
Analytics: This should include the proper reporting capability to help you gauge your traffic numbers, ranking keywords, traffic sources, and how people are interacting with your website.
Additionally, you need monetary analytics that show your revenue reports, sales volume, and all other POS data.
Payment options: To reiterate, you need a platform that has the integrations to accept a diverse number of payment options.
Marketing: This includes capabilities for things like email campaigns, social, remarketing, personalization, automation, and so on.
Loyalty: If you plan on competing in your niche, you need to have some sort of loyalty program in place. This gives people a good reason to return to your website.
It could include options for a point-based system, recurring purchase rewards, or anything else that helps gain repeat customers.
Sales funnel: The sales funnel refers to the steps people take on their way to a purchase.
In the ecommerce world, this involves integrations for things like cross-sells, upsells, conversion optimization, and more. One of the hot button items on this list of integrations is chatbots.
Review management: Everyone and their grandparents knows how important customer reviews are in purchasing decisions.
That said, having a good customer review management integration is one of the most powerful weapons in your ecommerce store. From an SEO perspective, the review management system you integrate should be a verified Google Review Partner.
Keep in mind, there are certainly more valuable integrations and add-ons that go beyond this list. However, these six need to be at the top of your list when comparing platforms.
Over to you
The world of ecommerce is a diverse, complex, and constantly-changing entity. The platform you choose to represent your online business is the most important factor that determines your long-term success.
There are lots of options out there that offer a lot of great things. However, even though your needs may gravitate to a certain selection, be sure you keep these five major components in mind. Do not make your decision lightly.