The 10 rules of online store project preparation
- Make keyword research and demand analysis
- Inspect competitors
- Plan your budget
- Choose eCommerce CMS
- Decide upon a unique look or ready-made template
- Examine current design trends
- Find the appropriate development team
- Make „use-cases”
- Create wireframe mockups
- Do not want everything on startup!
Keyword research and demand analysis
It is a common problem to face requests where the customer is not sure whether there is a demand for his/her product online or not – but want to start an online store project because he/she is certain that there will be a need for the products.
Optimism is important indeed but let’s make sure that we are right about it. Unfortunately, the Google keyword tool is only available for AdWords advertisers but a free “replacement” option is still available, the Chrome browser, which means:
- If you do not have Google Chrome, install it
- Do NOT sign in to your Gmail account, because previously typed searches and pages visited affect the results of your market research.
- Start typing the name of the products or groups of products that you want to distribute into Google Chrome’s address bar.
Let’s pay attention how Google search engine complements our search words, because probably those “terms” suggested are in greatest demand for the chosen subject.
Let’s try to find different terms in connection with the products and product types for our prospective online store, as people do not formulate in the same way.
It is recommended to search at least three possible ways for every important term and to note the results, as we would need them in the future, like configuring the category structure.
We will probably get several proposals for a given term and the one on top is the most searched term and the most powerful keyword. Therefore, if we get the right additions to our expectations, it is likely that our products are in demand on the Internet.
It can also reveal from this survey that potential customers use different phrases than we expected.
Other alternative and also free and useful solution for this is Ubersuggest.org keyword search tool: while typing the proper search term we are provided numerous additional useful suggestions and ideas based on the actual searches.
Another useful feature is Similarsitesearch.com: here we are able to find a lot of competitors we would not have thought of before.
Once we have selected the optimum keywords, search for the terms to obtain an accurate picture of who our competitors are for several keywords in the first 10-20 results.
If our product is highly unique, there is a big chance that we will not find any competitors and in such case the product should be introduced to the market using blogs and social media, and customer demands should be raised on the products.
In case we sell mass products we have to deal with competitors as well. Let’s go through the first 10 results at least, so let’s examine all current online stores (or blogs with possible online stores behind them!)
The following should be inspected and it is recommended to prepare a chart in the interests of clarity:
- Compared to us, what price level do they work off, and can we maintain the competition? The aim is not to engage in the never-ending and long-term harmful price competition, but something more to offer for the customer if the price is higher; this is the added value
- What is the added value offered by competitors? For example, delivery guarantee, free delivery, or a small gift product for each order that they can probably get for a really low price or they book it as “marketing” or market acquisition costs to reach new customers.
- Is there updated content in the online store, so are there any news and / or blog? When was the last update? How regularly do new contents appear and are they useful or are they just a few lines of occasional self-promotion? Can we keep pace with the competitors who reguarly update and provide useful content for potential customers? Do we have a capacity to write the articles or to have someone for permanent content creating – that, apparently means extra expense for us
- What social media are the competitors active in (Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin)? How often are these interfaces updated and and how useful is what they communicate? One of the best ways for social media communication is if we do not impose our products on people – that can cause immediate loss of prestige -, but for example to draw attention to our blog entries full of useful information and to answer all the questions (as soon as possible).
- Let’s search the exact names of the companies running the online stores in Google so we can find complimenting and complaining forums and blog entries referring to the company or online store that can show us a further picture of the competition and about what we might do better or adopt.
- We should also check that searching the product and product groups which competitor’s advertisements appear in the first 20 hits in the Google AdWords advertising bar, because that is also useful information which competitor advertise in what product categories or particular products and who doesn’t advertise at all. Do not ignore products and product groups that may not be advertised by our competitors – it does not automatically mean that they are not in need!
- It is preferable to test competitors on tablet and mobile as well (or switch off full screen in the browser and gradually make the browser window thinner) to see if the online store interface adapts to the window size or not – if it does, than it mobile-optimized.
With this information, we can more or less measure how big the demand on products we would distribute is and how many competitors are there and how strongly do they sell their products. For our own (and financial) interest we have to make an important decision.
Can we assume that we perform blogging, social media communications, and last but not least, service at least as good as the others do?
If we don’t consider ourselves to be suitable for this (would not even work in the medium term), do we take it on that we spend a fix amount of money (roughly the average salary of an office administrator) every month for ongoing content creation and social media management?
If the answer is negative, we should not start the project because we are most likely to end with deficiency, nervousness and failure.
We can only be exceptions to this rule, if we have a revolutionary product or we add a special value to it (this can be expertise or free ongoing consultation as well) that our competitors cannot or do not perform.
One of the cardinal issues is obviously the online store project implementation costs, which largely depends on the following:
Do we want to have a fully customized online store to be made from the start that is 100% uniquely developed for our needs or do we agree with one of the professional open-source e-commerce CMS for the opening as well?
I already descibed the advantage of the former one but the disadvantage is that it can cost several times more than the open-source solution and it is likely to take considerably longer in development as well, in addition – due to the unique engine (CMS) – if necessary, transferring the code to another developer can also mean an extra cost, since the new developer has to study the code and undertand the thinking and development method of the former developer as well.
If we choose one of the open-source CMS systems, we will probably find many companies that deal with customization in terms of design and functionality.
In case of open-source CMS (such as Magento eCommerce and WordPress supplemented with WooCommerce plugin) there is a perfect base to build on, therefore the project cost is less, which of course does not mean that it is cheap to carry out the unique looks and features as a lot of of specific functional demands may be associated with it and have to be developed as an extra (for example, due to the marketing strategy).
It is for sure that we save the cost of developing the professional administrative interface (back-end), and, knowing Magento’s complex back-end interface meets most of the requirements, it is not a small amount of money.
- In software development, it can be treated as a fact that those projects have a chance for success where, considering development costs, at least 20-30% is spent on technical design (system design, functional specification). To avoid misunderstandings, this 20-30% is not included in online store development. Obviously, we would like our project to be handled by the right developer team, so be sure to ask for 3-5 active online store references. Developers’ experience can also highly affect their fees. If we run a small business (a private company or we produce our products ourselves) and trade only several (tens, possibly hundreds of) products, it is worth for us to choose Wordrpress WooCommerce solution, buy a theme for it and form it. Another WooCommere solution but more expensive: if we want a fully unique design then we need a professional designer and a skilled WordPress sitebuilder.
- For medium-sized and large enterprises with hundreds or thousands of products I would definitely recommend the Magento eCommerce CMS with a completely unique design. Make sure that the selected developer company has quality Magento references, and they don’t only know how to transform purchased themes but they create designs themselves. Their sitebuilder who knows Magento and the php programmer who is necessary for implementing unique needs and who has experience in Magento development extensions should both be professional. Find out that unique developments are carried out as modul sor they are embedded into the Magento Core. The latter one should be strongly avoided, because our unique developments will be lost with the future updates of Magento and means extra cost and annoyance! We need to have an expectation that individual improvements in the code are sufficiently documented. They all add to the upfront costs, but also provide long term security for us, if we want to update the framework or perhaps we want to look for another development team.
- I have already mentioned blogging and social media management before. As a private contractor, it will not fit into the daily operations (customer service, supplies, etc.) of a online store for sure. Practically, this multi-channel social media communication and the weekly two to three and at least 750-word (Google recommendation) quality content writing needs a whole person.These examples show that the cheapest option is a WordPress + Woocommerce plugin with the purchased therm, buti f we have a lot of products and would like to apply complex selling and marketing solutions, then it is highly recommended to choose the more expensive but also professional Magento.
In the next part of the article series I’m going to compare Wordpress Woocommerce and Magento systems and template purchasing and eCommerce design trends will be also discussed. I’m happy to answer any questions and to see anyone interested in eCommerce technologies, trends, and marketing on my Google plus page.