Steps to Build a WordPress Ecommerce Website
Building a new WordPress ecommerce website can be an intimidating task. Like any other big project, it’s best to take things one step at a time until you look up and the project is finished. Below, we’ve broken down this job into five steps. Your process may need to vary slightly depending on your specific goals and vision for the project, but these steps are a good starting point.
Step 1: Create a Basic Site
Before you even bother thinking about the ecommerce side of your new site, you simply need to create the “shell” of a site on the WordPress platform. This first step involves all the technical, behind-the-scenes details that must be in place before you can move on to the later stages. Nothing here is particularly exciting or fancy, but all of it is necessary.
As your very first step, we recommend registering a domain name — if you don’t already have one for your business. This is the address where your site will live on the web. Domain names typically cost around $10 per year, so this initial step should not be a huge expense. There are plenty of domain registration services available for this task, with two of the most popular being Namecheap and GoDaddy.
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With a domain name secured, start looking around for web hosting. A web host is a service that stores the files of your site and delivers them, or “serves” them, to anyone who wants to view your pages. You can get started with an affordable host for just a few dollars per month, but you will likely need to upgrade as your site gains popularity to maintain performance standards.
Once you have a web hosting account, there are a couple of final steps to complete before your site is live on the web for all to see. First, you should install WordPress on your site via your hosting platform. Given the popularity of WordPress, most hosting companies make this installation extremely simple — it often takes just a single click.
Finally, follow the instructions provided by your host to direct your domain name toward the hosting platform so that anyone who enters that address in their browser will be pointed in the right direction. When done properly, everything will be connected, and you will have a website. Of course, there won’t be anything useful on that site just yet, but you are moving in the right direction.
Step 2: Choose a Theme
Themes dictate the website’s overall structure and aesthetic. This is a particularly exciting part of the process because choosing a theme is how your site begins to come to life. Once your theme is installed, you will suddenly have a shape and form to your site, and you can then move on to filling out the details and preparing to launch your site.
It’s at this point that you need to begin thinking about the ecommerce element of your website. There are countless themes available for WordPress sites, but only some themes have been designed with ecommerce in mind. Picking a theme that is structured specifically for ecommerce will make your life much easier. ThemeForest is an extremely popular WordPress theme marketplace, and you can shop their collection of themes filtered specifically for ecommerce sites.
With your theme selected, you’ll simply need to download the theme file and upload it to your WordPress site. At this point, you won’t have any custom content on your site, and you won’t yet be ready to make sales, but the site will have a shape, and you will begin to visualize how it can all come together.
Step 3: Create Content
Before you dive into activating the ecommerce functionality of your site, it’s a good idea to create some content to make this new site your own. Content can include written headlines and pages but can also include visual elements like images. If you have branding for your business, such as a logo or a specific color scheme, now would be a good time to integrate those elements into the site as well.
It's worth noting that this will be a time-consuming step in the process. You may have been able to execute the first two steps in just an hour or two, but you’ll spend more time creating and arranging content. Don’t rush the content you add to your site because it may be the first interaction a potential customer has with your business. Make everything look good, and be sure that the words you choose clearly convey what you have to offer.
Step 4: Install an Ecommerce Plugin
Now’s the time to prepare your site to function as an ecommerce store. This means installing a plugin that will add ecommerce functionality to your WordPress website. We’ve reviewed some of the leading ecommerce plugin options, and fortunately, installing a plugin is a quick and easy process that you can complete from within the WordPress dashboard — whichever plugin you pick should be up and running in just moments.
Step 5: Add Your Products
With the technical side taken care of, your last step before officially launching your website is to add the products or services you would like to sell. You’ll need to have all the small details ready to go at this point, including the price of each product, an accurate description, and perhaps some answers to common questions. This is another step that will take up a lot of your time, but it just may be the most important part of the process. These product pages are where customers will decide if they would like to make a purchase. Presenting them with an informative, attractive, clear product page will improve your odds of making a sale.
What Makes a Good Ecommerce Website?
When done properly, an ecommerce site is an excellent way to sell products or services to your customers. Unfortunately, it’s easy for an ecommerce site to go wrong, as there are several moving parts that need to come together. A poorly-built ecommerce site will not only frustrate your users but could also lead to a loss of business.
As you begin working on your new site, keep the following key points in mind.
- Ease of Use: This is the starting point for every ecommerce site project. Making any sale is hard enough, so you don’t want to lose potential sales because users get frustrated with your ecommerce interface. Making the site as seamless and simple as possible is in your best interest. You’ll give your users a better experience when you keep the site simple, and it will be easier to build and maintain as well. With everything you do on the site, ask yourself this one simple question — “Is this feature necessary?” If something isn’t essential for your site to look good and function as it should, get rid of it.
- Security: When operating an ecommerce site, you are expecting your customers to give you a significant amount of trust when they make a purchase. To earn that trust, it’s important to make the site as secure as possible from start to finish. That way, when customers enter their payment information, they can be confident that there are at least some measures in place to prevent cybercrime.
- Reliability: You don’t want to lose potential sales because your site is down. Even if your site is technically up and running, you could lose sales because it is running slow, and users run out of patience before they finish the purchase. Building a site that has nearly perfect uptime and delivers pages quickly is one of the best things you can do to create a successful ecommerce operation.
- Great Sales Copy: Finally, it’s important to have quality sales copy on your website. Sales copy is the text that persuades customers to purchase your website’s products, but it is just as important as technical points like security and user experience. The right words will help to build trust, convey the benefits of your products and services, and create a sense of urgency around making a purchase. If you aren’t capable of writing quality sales copy on your own, bringing in a professional writer for the task is highly recommended.
Creating a WordPress ecommerce website will take some time and effort, but that investment will be worth it when you are able to present your audience with an attractive, trustworthy site.
The Best WordPress Ecommerce Themes
To present you with some options for an attractive, reliable ecommerce theme for your new site, we have reviewed some of the top sellers on ThemeForest. The four we have highlighted below are an excellent place to start your search, but be sure to review all of your options before making a selection.
- Flatsome: A huge seller on ThemeForest, the popularity of this theme alone makes it worthy of your attention. One of the best things about picking a popular theme that is used by many other sites is the regularity of updates that are provided for such themes. You’ll notice that new versions are consistently released, so you can feel confident that any bugs are being worked out and new features are being added.
- Porto: Another top seller in this category, Porto shines for many reasons. You’ll receive impressive speed with this plugin, which is something that can be a problem with other, less-established themes. Also, like Flatsome, updates are provided consistently. If you’d like to simply install a theme and have it look great right out of the box, Porto won’t disappoint.
- XStore: This is a compelling pick for those who are interested in thoroughly customizing the look and feel of their site. Some people want a plug-and-play theme, while others would like to spend the time to build exactly what they have in their minds. If customization is high on your priority list, XStore is worthy of a closer look.
- Sober: Our last pick in this category is a theme that plays on the trendy concept of minimal design. Many of the top sites on the web have turned to the idea of a minimalist design to declutter the page and create an excellent user experience. If some of the other themes you’ve seen seem too busy and complicated for your needs, Sober might be the right fit.
The Best WordPress Ecommerce Plugins
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options that are available for WordPress plugins. Even within the ecommerce category, there are tons of choices, and you could easily waste days or weeks trying to pick the right one for you. Instead of getting stuck in review mode, it’s better to just get started. Go with one of the popular choices below to start building your site as soon as possible.
- WooCommerce: Without a doubt, the leader in WordPress ecommerce plugins is WooCommerce. If you like the idea of going with the industry leader and the plugin that countless other websites are already using, this is the easy pick. You’ll be able to sell just about anything you can imagine while using this platform. Also, it is owned by the same company that owns WordPress, and it is a free plugin. The other plugins on our list deserve your consideration, but WooCommerce is a strong pick right off the bat.
- Easy Digital Downloads: As the name would suggest, this plugin does come with a notable limitation — it is designed to support digital downloads as opposed to physical products. However, if you are planning to sell digital items through your ecommerce site, this plugin is a great way to do it. With the ability to manage various forms of payment and plenty of other features, this is a great pick for anyone selling digital goods.
- WP eCommerce: As one of the first players in this space, it’s worth checking out what WP eCommerce has to offer. Plenty of customer support is available through this plugin, along with all of the features you would expect from software with such a long history. If you need help with some aspect of your ecommerce store when using this plugin, you will have the opportunity to hire a consultant to walk you through any issues that are coming up.
- WP EasyCart: Our last suggestion for a WordPress ecommerce plugin is WP EasyCart. Integration with some of the other tools you may choose to use on your site is one of the big selling points here. Also, you’ll be able to get started with a free plan, so you can check out how this plugin performs before you invest in the premium version to open up other features.
Services That Will Help You Build Your WordPress Ecommerce Website
With a good theme and a reliable plugin, you’ll be ready to get started with your WordPress ecommerce site. In this section, we are going to touch on some services that may be helpful as you go through this process. Unlike a theme and an ecommerce plugin, these are not essentials — but they could help take your business to a higher level.
- HubSpot WordPress Plugin: Anyone running a WordPress ecommerce website should strongly consider adding the HubSpot WordPress plugin to the backend of their site. This plugin is a marketing powerhouse, and it can help you get more out of each visitor that lands on your pages. We can’t begin to scratch the surface of everything this plugin can do, so we encourage you to check it out and learn more for yourself.
- Enhanced Ecommerce Google Analytics Plugin for WooCommerce: This option only applies if you are using WooCommerce on your site. If you are, this plugin can help you get more information out of your Google Analytics install, making it easier to spot holes in your ecommerce process and opportunities for improvement.
- Compass Consulting: Sometimes, doing it all on your own can be a bit too much to handle. When that is the case, turning to a consultant may be the right choice. You’ll need to spend money on these services, of course, but the help you’ll get may take your site from being stuck in development to ready for the world to see.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is ecommerce?
eCommerce is an umbrella term that covers selling products or services online. You could run a business that is solely an ecommerce operation and has no physical location. Or, you could add ecommerce functionality to an existing “real-world” business that already has a location and customers. Either way, building an ecommerce site will make it possible to complete sales online at any time of the day and on any day of the week. Given the modest upfront costs of building a WordPress ecommerce store, this is a compelling option for almost every business owner.
Why should I use WordPress?
As the most popular content management system in the world, WordPress is the platform behind millions of websites. If you are new to the world of web development and site building, you may not know that many of the sites you visit on a daily basis are built on WordPress. The benefits of WordPress deserve an article of their own, but some of the key points include the tremendous functionality, availability of plugins and themes, and open-source code. Also, because of its popularity, it’s easy to find help working on a WordPress site, which is particularly valuable for those who are just getting started.
What makes a good website?
There are a few key factors that contribute to the quality of a website. While the goal of any site will be specific to the underlying business and what it wants to accomplish, the components of a good site are consistent from case to case. First, a site should be easy to use. Complicated, confusing websites are beneficial to no one. A clean, simple user experience is an appealing trait that should be one of the main focuses of the design process. Other site quality factors include prompt page load times, solid security, and quality writing. Every website is a constant work in progress, so any shortcomings on a current version of your site can always be targeted for improvement later on.
Is WordPress free?
On a basic level, yes — WordPress is free. The WordPress content management system is free to use, open-source, and has become the most popular website platform in the world. With all of that said, there are typically costs associated with running a WordPress site for commercial purposes. For starters, you will need a web host to serve your files to site visitors. Web hosting can cost just a few dollars per month for basic service on a shared server, and the cost will go up from there as your needs grow. Also, you’ll need to register a domain name, and you may want to purchase a premium theme to give your site a specific look. So, while WordPress itself is free, there will be some costs associated with the development and ongoing operation of your site.
What can be sold on a WordPress ecommerce site?
Almost anything can be sold on an ecommerce site. Of course, anything you sell should be legal, but other than legality, the only limit is your creativity and your ability to deal with logistical challenges. For example, selling particularly large or heavy items could lead to shipping difficulties, but there are usually ways to get around these hurdles. You can even sell services on an ecommerce site. In this case, the transaction will be handled through the site, but the service will be delivered in the “real world.” Basically, if you have anything to sell to customers, an ecommerce site can help you do it.
Is WordPress hard to use?
One of the biggest benefits of going with WordPress is the ease of use provided by this platform. You don’t need to be an experienced web developer to create an attractive, functional site in a short amount of time. With that said, there is a learning curve associated with getting up and running on WordPress. Some people get discouraged early in the process because they run into a few stumbling blocks and can’t figure out how to manage some of the steps needed to get a site live on the web.
The best advice is simply to remain patient and give yourself some time to figure everything out. WordPress is easy to use once you get over the initial learning curve, so it would be a shame to quit without giving yourself the time necessary to learn the basics.