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

All too often customers come to us looking to start an online store project when they are unsure whether demand currently exists for their product online, but remain convinced that there will be a need for their products in the immediate future.

Optimism is important, of course, but let’s first make sure this optimism is appropriate and warranted. 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, as 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 the Google search engine complements our search words, as it's likely those suggested “terms” 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 that you search through at least three possible ways for every important term and take note of the results, as we would need them in the future, like for configuring the category structure.

We will probably get several proposals for a given term, and the one that is on top is the most searched term and most powerful keyword. Therefore, if we get the right additions to our expectations, it is likely that our products are in high demand on the Internet.

This survey can also reveal that potential customers use different phrases than what we had expected.

Another alternative, free and useful solution for this is the Ubersuggest.org keyword search tool: while typing the proper search term, we are provided with 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 may not have thought of before.

Testing competitors

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.

If we're selling mass products, we have to anticipate dealing with competitors as well. As we go through the first 10 results, let’s take a moment to examine all current online stores (or blogs with possible online stores behind them!)

The following must be inspected and it is recommended that you prepare a chart in the interest 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 a never-ending and ultimately harmful price competition, but to offer something more 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 book it as “marketing” or market acquisition costs to reach new customers.
  • Is there updated content in the online store, and is there any news and / or a blog? When was the last update? How regularly does new content appear and is it useful or are they just a few lines of occasional self-promotion? Can we keep pace with competitors who reguarly update and provide useful content for potential customers? Do we have the capacity to write articles or have someone on staff for permanent content creating – which, apparently, means extra expenses 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 most effective ways of using social media communication is if we do not impose our products on people – that can cause an immediate loss of prestige -, but for example, draw attention to our blog entries that are full of useful information, and to answer all questions as soon as possible.
  • Let’s search for the exact names of the companies running online stores in Google so we can find compliments and complaints on forums and blog entries referring to the company or online store that can give us a bigger picture of the competition and what strengths of theirs we might adopt.
  • We should also consider searching for the product and product groups whose competitor advertisements appear in the first 20 hits in the Google AdWords advertising bar. Doing so provides useful information about which competitors advertise in what product categories or particular products and who doesn’t advertise at all. Do not ignore products and product groups that do not feature advertisements by our competitors – it does not automatically mean that they are not in high demand!
  • It is a good idea to test competitors on a 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, then it mobile-optimized.

With this information, we can more or less measure how great the demand on products we would be distributing is, how many competitors are there, and how successfully they sell their products. For our own (and financial) interest, we have to make an important decision (about?).

Can we assume that we perform blogging, social media communications, and customer service at least as well as the competition?

If we don’t consider ourselves up to these tasks (i.e. would not even work in the medium term), can we realistically expect that this can be fixed by spending a set 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 even start the project, as it is likely to end with poor performance, frustration and failure.

We can only be exceptions to this rule if we have a truly revolutionary product or we add a special value to it (this can be expertise or free ongoing consultation, for instance) that our competitors cannot or do not perform.

Budget planning

One of the cardinal issues, of course, is the online store project implementation costs, which largely depend on the following:

Do we want to have a fully customized online store made from scratch that is 100% uniquely developed for our needs, or do we want to work with one of the professional open-source e-commerce CMS for the opening?

We've already gone over the advantages of the former, but the disadvantage is that it can cost several times more than an open-source solution, and is likely to take considerably longer in development as well. Additionally, due to the unique engine (CMS), 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 opt for 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, meaning the project will cost significanly less. Of course, this does not imply 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).

What we do know is that we save on the cost of developing a professional administrative interface (back-end), and, knowing that Magento’s complex back-end interface meets most of the requirements, that is not a small amount of money.

  • In software development, it can be treated as fact that the projects which have a chance for success, when considering development costs, spend at least 20-30% 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 that they charge. 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 our while to choose a Wordrpress WooCommerce solution, buy a theme and form it. Another (more expensive) WooCommere solution to consider if we want a fully unique design is to hire 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 that they don’t only know how to transform purchased themes but also create their own designs. It is also important to hire a professional sitebuilder who knows Magento and a php programmer who can act in accordance with your unique needs and who has experience in Magento development extensions. Find out which unique developments are carried out as a module or are embedded into the Magento Core. The latter should be strongly avoided, as our unique developments will be lost with future updates of Magento and involves added costs and maximum frustration! We need to have the 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 to look for another development team.
  • We have already discussed blogging and social media management. As a private contractor, it will not fit into the daily operations (customer service, supplies, etc.) of a online store for sure, and an additional employee may be required to handle these particular tasks. 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 them, but if we have a lot of products and would like to apply complex sales and marketing solutions, then it is highly recommended that we 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, template purchasing, and eCommerce design trends. I’m happy to answer any questions and connect with anyone interested in eCommerce technologies, trends, and marketing on my Google plus page.

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