Your First Five Steps to Launching an eCommerce Site🚶♀️
When you're launching a new website, even if you've been through this process many times, you need a checklist for all your site's vital functions. Most of the essential steps and key pre-flight checks are the same for every type of site, but eCommerce sites have some unique requirements that are absolutely vital to them making any sales. We've covered all the fundamentals to get at what's essential (but not overwhelming) for our eCommerce website launch checklist. You can do this!
Who is this website launch checklist for?
We've broken down the whole eCommerce site launch process into ten major steps. This post contains the first five, which define your prelaunch phase. If you are putting together your eCommerce site now, this is for you.
If you're an absolute beginner…
- Are you still planning your business concept or developing a marketing strategy? In that case, you should start with our free eBook: How to Start an eCommerce Business in 10 Steps. 💼
- You might also want to browse through our “Getting Started” material for people who are totally new to online commerce.
Not sure about your choice of eCommerce platforms? 🤔
- Take a look at our comparison, “WooCommerce vs. Shopify: Which is Best for You?” If you're going to host your own site, we recommend going with GoDaddy's managed hosting for WordPress/WooCommerce. It comes with a heap of added benefits, like a huge library of premium extensions at no additional cost. What WooCommerce extensions should you use? Here are our top picks. 🌟
Once you have your business plan in place and are building your site with WooCommerce or a platform like Shopify, then you're ready for this — your final countdown!
If you need inspiration and guidance to get started, we're here for you.
Oh, there's one more thing — I bet you could use an inspiring pep talk as you take the plunge into your own journey. Here are Cory and Brian talking about the fear of starting out in eCommerce — and how to overcome it. 💪 They've also got podcast episodes on building your tribe, envisioning your business as a mythical quest, and building a future vision for your own commerce journey. Listen and get the fuel you need to build your business online. ⛽
Are you excited yet? 🙌
Remember, You're not alone! Any new venture will be challenging, but we're here for you at Commerce Journey. Drop us a line any time with your questions or feedback. What worked for you? What didn't? We want to hear from you.
🚀 Your eCommerce website launch checklist — the first five steps:
The first five steps in our launch checklist are essential to any online storefront or website with an eCommerce component. You can consider them the key parts of your site's prelaunch phase. You must do them before going live.
- Firstly, your domain name must be configured to carry your brand and its trustworthiness to your customers.
- Secondly, all the automated emails your store generates need to clearly come from you and not look generic or too impersonal.
- Thirdly, your shopping cart checkout experience must be positive and as simple as possible. Carts can be an obstacle to sales — yours must not be.
- Fourthly, you need to plan out the path you want customers to take to a sale and your checkout page.
Take time to make sure your payment process is flawless.
- Fifthly, the most important step is your online payment system. It is absolutely vital. This is the single most important item to understand and set up properly. Test and retest your checkout process, and monitor it closely. If your customers can't easily pay you, they won't!
Almost everything else on this checklist can (and will) be done less than perfectly. Everything else can be improved post-launch, but you cannot recover lost sales if payments are not working. If customers cannot complete a purchase, you're sunk. Launch failure! This may seem obvious, but if you're not looking out for problems they will inevitably find you. 👀
1. Set up your domain name and make sure all the relevant settings are in order 📛
Your domain name is foundational — get a good one.
If you don't have a good domain name picked out, take a moment to review branding and eCommerce expert Justin Nealey's tips in our webinar, How to choose the right domain name and get your WooCommerce store started. Justin's branding advice applies no matter what platform you use.
You'll only have to do this once — if you do it right.
When you purchase a domain name from GoDaddy or Google, there are also services included that relate to the Domain Name System (DNS) for directing web browsers to your site, securely encrypting transactions, and routing email to and from you. You need to make sure these things are all in order:
- Set the canonical URL (Will you use www. as part of your root address or not?)
- Set up SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption with your host and/or a service like Let's Encrypt. (GoDaddy will walk you through this.)
- Set up DKIM and SPF records to ensure deliverability — so your emails don't go into spam folders! When you have your eCommerce platform and maybe a newsletter like Mailchimp sending mail “from” your domain but actually originating on separate servers, you need to show all those emails are really from you.
- Make secondary domains resolve to the primary domain. If you have secondary domains, like the .net for your .com, or a name that is similar to your primary domain, set a permanent 301 redirect that points them to the primary.
- Create any email aliases and forwarding you may need — and keep close track of them. You can set up addresses like email@example.com that receive submissions from forms on your site and pass them as emails to one or more “real” email addresses. You may also want to ensure some critical recipients like “firstname.lastname@example.org” are always copied and forwarded to two or more destinations to make sure you never miss a customer's communication.
All of these tips about email configuration are meaningful in relation to how they establish trust in your customers and efficiency in your operations through well-planned and well-supported communication.
2. Automated emails to your customers can make — or break — a sale 📧
Automated email campaigns are set up to trigger messages to customers or subscribers under certain conditions or at certain times, like a customer's birthday or in response to some action they take — or do not take — on your site. Following up on abandoned carts automatically with an email to nudge customers, for example, can turn those lost sales around as much as 20% of the time.
👉 Check out our webinar: An Introduction to Automated Email Marketing. 📺
Personalize your default transactional email templates! 😃
There are two more steps everyone should take to ensure their store's messages are both received and appreciated by their customers.
Even if you don't use a marketing automation system for your automated emails, you should take a close look at the emails your store sends out by default. These are often called “transactional emails” that are triggered by purchases and other customer activity. Your storefront sends them out all the time by itself with no work on your part. Make them count!
- Put your brand and personality into your automated and transactional emails — Why be boring? 🥳 Stand out as the unique, interesting, offbeat, or caring brand you are. Personalize your default email templates for invoices and more. We strongly recommend these five automated emails every storefront needs. ✉️
- Set up external mail services — If you are using WordPress and WooCommerce, by default they may use your host server to send out automated messages. You can use more reliable transactional email services like SendGrid, Mailgun, and even Gmail to handle the messages that go to your customers when they make a purchase or use a contact form. Make sure your mail settings are correct and get this all done in one place using a WordPress plugin, WP Mail SMTP by WPForms. 🔌
3. Think through your conversion funnels carefully 🤔
Conversion or sales funnels are the main paths visitors take to your site and through your content to reach the point of a sale or other action that “converts” them to customers, newsletter subscribers, or people who have given you their email address in exchange for a gift of some type like we do here with our free eBook. Your goal is to build awareness, interest, and desire in visitors over time so they eventually become customers. How you do that should be part of your marketing plan and your email automation strategy.
Build Awareness, Spark Interest, and Retain Customers
Katey Ferenzi over at BigCommerce breaks down the subtle art of customer engagement and retention through funnels really well. It's a subject all of its own, so you'll need to spend time thinking through your funnels as you build your site. After your launch, you'll want to revise your funnels based on your analytics data and what it tells you about what works and what doesn't.
Here's a “Just Get it Done” Tip: If you have only one conversion funnel mapped out, make it your main sales goal — maybe it's a particular product and your main checkout page. Look at all the links leading there. Work your way back to the individual product page, blog posts about it, a newsletter article you might use to promote it, social media shares, ads — the list is as big as you make it through your marketing efforts. But once people hit your site, the funnel closes in toward the cart and checkout. What do you see there that might help or hurt the sales process? In the future, you'll ask this again and again as you refine your strategy, messaging, design, and site layout based on customer responses and analytics data. 📊
4. Payment gateways are the one thing you can't do without
Before you can start selling anything online, you first need a way to accept payments. And for that, you’ll need a payment processor. Here's our detailed advice on that subject: how to choose a payment processor. It's a big enough subject to take on all by itself.
Once you've chosen a payment processor, set it up and test it out. Test and retest. Make doubly, triply sure it works for the customer and for you.
5. A painless checkout experience maximizes sales and customer loyalty
We have a brief primer on building the ideal checkout experience as well! The key tasks for you are:
- Strip down to the essentials in the checkout navigation controls. All roads should lead clearly to the end goal: completing the transaction. 💸
- Provide social proof your goods or services are valued — testimonials, blurbs from customer reviews. (Here's how to get your first review.) 👍
- Add something extra … on occasion — Sweeten the deal with promotions or highlight your free shipping. 🎁
🛠️ Launch and post-launch steps for any eCommerce website — the next and final five steps in your checklist
At this point, we're halfway through, and the next post in this series will cover the last half: The Essential eCommerce Website Launch Checklist, Part 2. Maybe you feel like this is almost enough to launch if you've come this far. You may be right; you might have a minimum viable product already.
Let's assess exactly where we're at now.
Are you ready to launch your new eCommerce website yet?
When you have completed the first five steps above, you will have set up your core pages and store inventory too. We didn't talk about that, but you probably realized you've got to build out your site to complete these first five steps! There are a million little details we could discuss, like clever 404 error pages, but we're going to leave them to you.
If you have your automated emails all set up, you are probably closing in on your launch date. If you've mapped out your conversion funnels and optimized your shopping cart experience for your customers, you are probably eager to open your doors. You know the ins and outs of your payment gateway, right? You've tested everything and it all works? Yes?
If you turn it all on and go live now, you are in business. If.
Getting ready for the final steps
Yes, you could launch now if you were in a hurry. But there are more steps you should take if you have the time to be more deliberate and careful. If you have a big, complex products inventory, you had best spend more time optimizing your site.
👉 Continue your commerce journey by learning how to optimize and launch your new eCommerce website.