So you want to start your own successful online store with WordPress – well I think that is fantastic! Being your own boss is challenging and rewarding. It can even be super rewarding and fun. After you setup the store, the most important part is distribution. How do you distribute the products in your store to people who want to buy them? (don’t worry; this question will be answered)
I’ve been a webdesigner many years ago and I’ve helped clients build successful stores. However, taking all I’ve learned, I went ahead and built my own. In this article, you’ll see some of the best things from my experience in dealing with online stores from creation to promotion.
This is an easy to follow guide for creating your own WordPress-based store. You’ll also see the pages you MUST have on the store for people to trust your brand and press that checkout button to finish buying what they have in their carts. You’ll see how you can think a little bit differently in the way you display your products to make visitors interact with your store better.
Oh, and you’ll also see the two promotion channels that helped me the most in getting my new store off the ground. For the first time in forever, I was seeing over 20 orders in the first month after releasing the store, without PR, without paying for ads. Then about 50 the second month and 80 the third month. I did this, and you will too. (usually stores generate close to zero orders in their first months if you don’t overspend on ads; well, I’ll show you a different path to victory).
Selling goods from a physical storefront isn’t always feasible or practical (Origin, Steam and GOG have been built having exactly this in mind). Especially in this day and age where online shopping has become more and more prevalent. According to the 2016 Total Retail Survey by PwC (a big-four global accounting firm) more than half of all shoppers will make purchases online every month, and more than a third of all online purchases will be made using a mobile phone.
Luckily for all of us, WordPress now has lots of amazing themes that work magically on mobile.
Something that I found out for myself is quoted in the 2017 survey they made:
39% say that social networks provide their main inspiration for purchase.
–> this is awesome! It’s awesome for you. There are clever ways to find people who’d just love to buy from you on Twitter. I’ll show you the steps you need to know to identify them.
Twitter brought in about 50% of my sales from the woocommerce store. Of course, I do believe this method will not work in any industry. However, it might be because there is no great story to tell. And you need great stories for Twitter.
Anyway, this online shopping fact is good news because it means you can find customers without having to overspend on marketing. Something which can’t be said for traditional stores.
Don’t get overwhelmed just yet, I have a clean cut plan for you to build your online store and promote it to help you make your business a success! Time is money, so let’s get right to it!
The Easy Way To Create A Website
Before you can build an online store and start adding products you first need a website. I will obviously recommend WordPress for this, since ChiefContent itself is built on it and works like a charm. WordPress is powerful enough to handle a fully functioning store. You’ll get 3 things, all in one:
- online store
These will be important elements. You may not care about all 3 of them starting out, but trust me, you’ll want to add them later. Especially if you’ll start being successful. I can’t remember ONE client who didn’t end up having all three. (I don’t do webdesign and webdev for ecommerce stores anymore, so please don’t contact me for custom jobs)
Prestashop and OS Commerce, for example, are hell to setup and get running.
WordPress is a breeze.
You’ll get mission-critical elements almost out of the box (seriously, they’re like a couple clicks away):
- great themes
- great plugins
- payment options
- invoicing system
- integrations to make your accountant happy
If You Like The Guide So Far, Please Consider:
I don’t post affiliate links here. I tell you the good and the bad. This is super important for me. If I started recommending tools, themes and hosting just to get a commission, I’d pretty much risk ruining the way I write the guide.
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Great Themes and Great Plugins:
When I started out on my own with developing an online store with WordPress, me and my co-founders went all-in on identifying the best free or paid plugins out there. It was hard to cut through the hype and find the ones that really made a difference.
I regret nothing. The things we did find were amazing and even some of their alternatives, even though we didn’t use them ourselves. Friends we’ve asked have used them and they were happy.
There is a section at the end of the guide where I write about them in detail.
The plugins have been some of the most important contributors to the success of our online store. I don’t remember all of them by name anymore. I will, however, describe exactly what they were doing and why they were useful to the store.
You might know that most developers fear integrating with payment options. There are usually countless reasons.
However, WordPress with WooCommerce makes it completely foolproof to setup payment options.
It’s incredibly easy for you to start charging people for the products you have in store.
PayPal is the easiest to get running and I’m guessing you already have a PayPal account. So you’ll be getting money from customers in no time.
Invoicing and Making Your Accountant Happy.
WooCommerce helps you generate invoices for all your customers and it does it seamlessly.
It also allows your customer to check-in and find their invoices if they need ’em at later times for their own records or accounting.
Of course, one might say after being more familiar with running a business that the basic WooCommerce simply is not enough.
In some cases, it’s enough.
In some other cases, though… it’s not. But luckily, this isn’t the end of the world. There are clever ways to integrate your WordPress-enabled online store to the rest of your book keeping system.
A couple of duckduckgo or google searches will uncover plugins that help you integrate the WooCommerce system to FreshBooks or XERO (which are some of the most popular choices for book keepers and accountants).
Find The Right Hosting
WordPress Hosting. Yes, there’s a big elephant in this room, and I already know some people will try to make me change my point of view or edit the post, but NO! I want to let people know of great hosting solutions, not ones that destroy your online store after it becomes popular.
You’ll need a domain name and hosting. After I closed down my very own WordPress based online store, I followed the same stack and the same recipe for all the websites and stores I’ve set up since then:
namecheap.com for domain names. They’re not as cheap as they used to be, but they have customer service (which is important because the rest don’t really have it). And their panels got way easier to use. Plus, they have a lot of documentation for anything you’ll need to setup when it comes to domain names (including how to setup your domain for tumblr or medium).
CloudAbove (a U.K. company). Now they have amazing pricing and amazing customer service. The shared hosting works well and recently they added the option to help clients switch from one server to another in case of a downtime. And they reply on the spot. Pretty top notch. Oh yeah, and your first domain name is included in the plan you buy.
I buy lots of domains (I have a serious problem with domain shopping) and that’s why I also had to mention namecheap. If you’re a normal person, you can just start with CloudAbove.
Setting up your WordPress is super easy, because CloudAbove has an installer which helps you get different apps up and ready on the server. You’ll just have to go to the installer and tell it you want WordPress. It will walk you through everything you need to setup to get started, and you won’t have to worry about FTP access, setting a database and then placing details about it in config files.
I’m pretty sure this company isn’t the only one doing something similar. I know that BlueHost also has a thing like this one. I just wanted to mention it to you, so that you can understand how easy it is to get started with WordPress.
Now, you might be tempted to invest a little more money just to make sure that your dream of being an online store owner will come true and that it will be awesome for the rest of time itself. When such ideas start coming front and center in your head, you’ll somehow end up looking at WPengine.com
I would tell you to stop, but I know you won’t listen. However, if you’ve already evaluated wpengine, please hear me out. (your experience with this guide is important to me, so I separated the problem part)
I’m presenting you a guide without any affiliate links. It was important you knew this if you were looking into hosting. Moving on.
Choose A Beautiful Design for Your Online Store.
Now that you have your domain and core WordPress installation ready you can change the aesthetics of your website. A beautiful aspect of WordPress is the huge variety of website design options available through the use of themes.
You can find many themes that work with WooCommerce (the plugin you’ll need to turn your WordPress into an online store).
It’s exactly the theme that I’m currently using for ChiefContent.com
Even though it’s main focus is online magazines, me and some of my friends have used it for ecommerce as well. And it works just right. However, I think it’s not the best option for a store where you plan on selling over 10 types of products.
What I like about it most is that it comes with the DiviBuilder from Elegant Themes, which allows you to make impressive pages with a visual editor that works from both the front-end and the back-end of WordPress.
Therefore, a page like the CART page could be made to look pretty awesome. This will ultimately boost your conversions, because design is a form of social proof, and it helps you win the trust of your potential customer.
I’ve used this myself for an online store I set up last year for some WordPress developers who sell premium plugins.
This one is really easy to setup and it used to be one of the most popular free themes on the WordPress Directory. The guys who develop it (ThemeIsle) had some problems with the WP core developers who manage the Themes Directory on wordpress.org and for a while, it was taken down.
It works really well with WooCommerce and your customer will have an easy time buying from your store if you use this theme.
The company I set it for sold over 2000 units since then, so I think that’s a clear sign that it can work with an Online Store.
I never felt the need to use its Premium version, therefore I can not tell you if it’s worth it.
The first two on my list were useful for smaller online stores.
Now if you plan to go all out and sell over 50 types of products, then Mill might be the perfect choice.
It’s what we’ve used when we had GameDealsOnSteam.com
To this day it remains one of the best woocommerce themes I’ve seen.
It’s easy to customize, so you can make it look really good. If you know how to get a little technical you can easily implement in it everything that you find while playing with Inspect Element in Chrome. It has a box where you can place your own CSS and it will override any other CSS code for the elements you’re customizing.
You’ll be able to setup one of many view modes. You can actually play with it a lot until you reach a decision about how you want your visitor’s browsing experience to be.
And it works really great on mobile!
How To Build An Online Store
Now you have a domain name, a host, you have WordPress and you have a great looking theme. It’s time to add online store functionality to your WordPress site and add your products for sale.
While there are premium storefront options, I highly recommend (already have in the above section) the free, popular and powerful WooCommerce e-commerce plugin (which now also happens to be maintained by the same people who started WordPress). WooCommerce is easy to use, quick to setup and there is a wide variety of optional premium add-ons that you can purchase to add more functionality to your online store.
1. Installing WooCommerce & Quick Setup
To begin you first need to install WooCommerce. This is easy enough since it’s readily available from the WordPress.org free plugin repository which you can access right from your WordPress dashboard.
Simply log into your WordPress installation and click on the Plugins item in your dashboard, then click on the Add New option. Search for “woocommerce” and the WooCommerce plugin should show up as the first result (it’s the one with 1+ million active installs and the cute dolphin icon). Click the Install Now button. This will automatically download and install the plugin files and should only take a minute.
Once the plugin is installed you need to click the link for Activate Plugin to start using WooCommerce.
WooCommerce Quick Start
Next, you should be prompted to begin setup. It’s much easy to follow along so click on the Let’s Go button to get started.
WooCommerce Setup: Pages
Setup will first ask if you want WooCommerce to automatically create your key pages for you. These pages include your main shop, shopping cart, checkout and a default customer account page. You definitely want all these pages, so click Continue.
WooCommerce Setup: Locale
The next step is to setup your store location, currency format, and units of measure. This is important so your customers know how much you’re charging and what they are getting for their money. So make your selections and then click Continue.
WooCommerce Setup: Shipping
Depending on what it is you’re selling you may also need to enable options for basic shipping and sales tax. If you are selling physical goods you’ll need to enable shipping (but if you plan to sell digital goods just skip this part). The basic shipping option on this setup page will allow you to enter flat rates for domestic and international shipping (in you’re in the US and plan on using the USPS flat rate boxes just enter those rates here based on the boxes you’re most likely to use).
If you are selling anything you may have to enable sales tax. Some states require sales tax to be collected on every sale (I’m looking at you Hawaii) while other states exempt purely digital goods (like good ol’ Nevada). Taxjar has a great interactive sales tax map if you live in the US, but no matter where you’re located you should check with your local tax authorities to see what rules apply to you or possibly consider hiring an accountant proficient in state and local taxes (SALT for short). Once you’re done with this page click to Continue.
WooCommerce Setup: Payments
The last part of WooCommerce quick setup is to set your payment options. One of the easiest ways to collect payment for goods is with PayPal so if you’d like to accept payments that way remember to enter your PayPal address on this page. WooCommerce also includes built-in options for payments via check, bank transfer or cash on delivery. Plus you can always use a premium extension for additional payment gateways like Authorize.net or Stripe.
Once you’ve finished enabling your payment method click Continue to finish setup. WooCommerce will ask permission to collect data (this is up to you, although I personally lean towards kindly declining).
2. Additional (Important) WooCommerce Settings
Next, you can continue to create products, but we recommend clicking the Return to Dashboard link so you can finish establishing all of your crucial WooCommerce settings.
Once back in your WordPress dashboard navigate to WooCommerce then click on Settings. This first page has your general WooCommerce settings. We recommend that you change the default customer address. Having Geolocate enabled could potentially slow down your site significantly because you’re relying on data from a third party.
WooCommerce Free Shipping
Under the Shipping tab, you’ll find additional options for, well, shipping. But the one we want to point out is the option to enable free shipping. This is something you might want to offer with a valid coupon code or for all orders over a certain amount. Just check the box and enter your requirements.
Moving along, under the Emails tab you can go in and change the recipient email for various standard emails for orders. Perhaps you have multiple people managing your online store, so you might want new order notifications to go to the shipping department while canceled orders should probably go to finance.
The last WooCommerce option you might want to take advantage of before you start adding products is coupons. To create a new coupon click on the Coupons option under WooCommerce then Add New. From here you can create coupons for a set dollar amount or percentage plus add restrictions for usage (such as orders over $100, or create one-time use codes).
3. Adding Products
Okay, so I use this thing called Don’t Hit Publish every time I write a new post. (find it here).
It helps me figure out exactly what I need to write to bring value to my readers, so in this guide, I’ll want to teach you important things about adding products to your online store. Not the basic stuff like “go there” and “click on that button”, but like the aspects that will make people find your products on Twitter and Google search and then fall in love with your store.
Most store owners that I know think about adding products like: “Okay, so let me add the model name, the tech description and maybe a photo if I can find one”.
Seth Godin wrote an amazing book that shows you how you will get much better sales once you start telling compelling stories. He proves that selling products with the help of stories always brings higher returns.
Remember that my promise for this guide is:
In this part of the guide we’re looking at: Tell a better story and get Money.
You’ll actually get to learn two ways of telling stories that have worked really well for my own store.
The Easy Mode (the safe mode) to Tell Stories When Adding Products
The description of the products in your online store is exactly like a great blog post. Keep that in mind. You should even use a content helper like “don’t hit publish” to remember elements that you should place in the copy of your product.
My successful online store with WordPress was called Game Deals On Steam .com
The main story of the whole shop was that everything you bought from us was much cheaper than on the Steam Marketplace.
The whole website, blog and store were built around this main story that we were the only ones who could bring you computer games at all-time low prices.
Now, if we had a product that we had to add to the store (let’s say Need for Speed), we didn’t add it like:
“Need for Speed Most Wanted”
“It’s a PC racing game where you can drive different cars. It runs on Windows 10, requires x GB, x GHZ, etc.”
We went ahead and said “Need for Speed Most Wanted – Competitive Prices. Competitive Sports”
“Get your licensed copy of Need For Speed Most Wanted with this cheap Steam offer that you can’t find anywhere else. We drive the competition away so that you can drive a Nissan Skyline better than Paul Walker in Fast and Furious”
Then we went on and added new images, new stories of how the player will feel once they start playing this marvelous game.
This way of adding products to your soon to be successful online store with WordPress is guaranteed to help you with three aspects:
- SEO VALUE. SEO is a useful thing which some online store owners overlook, even though it drives amazing sales. Because many shady people have done shady stuff to outrank other in Google search, it got a bad name. However, if you want to see what SEO is without all the fluff, read this guide.
- Twitter Feed Impressions
- Conversions from the state of “Hey, I just reached your site” to “Oh yes, I’ve just purchased an amazing product. I had to buy it. It was the best decision for me.”
You will get SEO value by using this method because all the other stores in your industry copy and paste the same product descriptions over and over again. It’s not original content. People don’t spend more that 1 minute on average to read that. Google knows this and will bring those sites down in rankings when it displays search results to your potential customers.
Telling the story will improve your bounce rate, your time on page (for real.. I’ve tested these things on and on) and will help you get original content.
Make sure that you also read this guide by Florin. He was one of the co-founders when we had Game Deals on Steam. He was obsessed with SEO value, so he writes about how important it is to optimize your pages, your tags and the categories in your WordPress.
Due to following these methods, we were ranked in Top 5 of the first page of Google all the time for Counter-Strike GO, Need For Speed cheap (people who also type cheap are already looking to spend money, so it’s great if you can bring them to your site), Space Engineers, DarkSiders and a couple other titles. It was to “blame” for 50% of all our sales.
Twitter Feed Impressions.
If you build a customer base on Twitter for the products in your store you’ll do them a great disservice by posting generic products in their Twitter Feeds. Some might start getting annoyed and you’ll lose your hard-earned followers.
Our other 50% of sales were coming in from Twitter. Our followers were people interested in PC games, especially PC Games available on the Steam gaming platform. We had a good targeting system that helped us make this happen. If you want, drop a comment and ask me to write about it, and you may be responsible for my next post 🙂
If we’d sent them generic products with generic titles, we would have lost them. Instead, by making our titles and descriptions appealing (while telling the story that we have the best prices) we brought them onto our site.
Now that we had people who came to our online store, we were happy. This method, this safe mode I’m writing about helped us convert many of our visitors into paying customers.
The story was so good that it convinced them to pay now via PayPal and get their license code ONLY 24 hrs later. Talk about trust. Great stories build trust. We were successful at this.
It helped us build constant revenue for our business. And if we didn’t start having stock problems, we would’ve kept going to this very day. (that’s a story for another time)
Then there’s the other mode of telling the story.
The Complex Mode. A bit risky, but: High Risks. High Rewards.
Most online stores that you land on have a homepage where they display products. They also have some filters you can use, in order to see more interesting products and begin clicking on them.
That’s nice. And it works.
However, I’ve found that there’s something which works a lot better. I’ve had many disagreements with my co-founders over this and I’m not sure if it applies to any business out there.
Still, it was the better way of adding products to our online store, and I want to show it to you because few people are doing such things. Few people are thinking about a solid strategy. Most people just do what all the rest of them are doing.
Key things to notice:
- if people search on Google and they land on your product pages, they start interacting with the product page itself. Few of them will go to the homepage. Especially if you show the link to the shop and other related products.
- if people find your post in twitter feeds, they also land on product pages, NOT your homepage. The same thing happens.
Then who goes to your homepage?
Some of the people from Google and Twitter, but most people who have heard about your brand or who saw it mentioned somewhere on Quora, Reddit, etc.
Your homepage can also be a Product. Tell a better story on your homepage. Make them feel this is a different, better and more personal experience. Make their Browsing choice easy. Don’t get them to add filters, budgets and what not.
Show them something you want to push forward in that period of time. A special deal, special offer, a coupon. Maybe a story you want to tell about the way you run your store differently.
Your goal is to be top of mind for them.
A basic listing of products won’t do that for you.
I decided to make our front page like AppSumo.com!
They sell awesome tools, software, and guides for freelancers, marketers, and designers. They are a daily deals site. They also have other offers that they sell, which you can reach, but not from the front page. Not directly.
This gives them the ability to always have something new and something awesome to announce to their audiences. Which is perfect for Twitter and their newsletter subs.
They show the deal with the huge discount, how much time there still is to grab the offer, they show reviews of the product and they tell a compelling story where they make you understand the great pains those products solve and how they can be successfully used.
^^ this is what I ended up doing for our store as well. Of course, it also had the long story and everything else.
It was so much easier to bring people into the store. Especially those who already purchased a game from us. I always had something novel to display. I always told a great new story. I always showed a new product that was cheaper than anywhere else.
Our customers could easily identify us. Whenever they thought about new games they should try out, we came to mind. “Hey, let’s go to gamedealsonsteam and see what else they have today”.
Some edits will follow to this over 4,600 words guide. If you got this far, I want to super thank you and say how awesome you are. Ask me anything about this guide in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer.
You should now have a great start with growing your online store with WordPress, or even building a completely new one from scratch.
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