So you want to start your successful online store with Shopify – well I think that is fantastic! Being your own boss is challenging. It can even be super rewarding and fun. After you set up the store, the most critical 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 web designer for many years now, 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 to creating your Shopify-based store. You’ll also see the pages you MUST have in 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 precisely 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, Shopify comes with a lot of mobile–friendly features and responsive 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 incredible to you. There are smart 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 Shopify store. Of course, I do believe this method will not work in any industry. However, it might be because there is no significant 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 Shopify for this.
What not many people that start an online store think about is that a Shopify site is not limited to product listings. You’ll get three 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 web design and web dev for e-commerce stores anymore, so please don’t contact me for custom jobs)
Prestashop and OS Commerce, for example, are hell to setup and get running.
Shopify is a breeze.
You’ll get mission-critical elements almost out of the box (seriously, they’re like a couple of clicks away):
- great themes
- great apps
- payment options
- invoicing system
- integrations to make your accountant happy
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Great Themes and Great Apps:
When I started out on my own with developing an online store with Shopify, my co-founder and I went all-in on identifying the best free or paid apps out there. It was hard to cut through the hype and find the ones that 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 apps 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 to integrate with payment options. There are usually countless reasons.
However, Shopify makes it utterly foolproof to set up payment options. You can do that directly from the account in Setting-> Payment providers.
It’s incredibly easy for you to start charging people for the products you have in store. You can also provide them a lot of options to pay if you’d like:
- Credit or Debit Card
- Apple Pay
- Amazon Pay
- or even Cryptocurrency
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. But keep in mind that only :
- PayPal Express Checkout
- PayPal Website Payments Pro (US)
- PayPal Website Payments Pro (CA)
- PayPal Website Payments Pro (UK)
- PayPal Payflow Pro
Are accepted by Shopify. That means if you don’t live in the United State, Canada or the United Kingdom, Paypal might not be the best option for you.
Invoicing and Making Your Accountant Happy.
Shopify helps you generate invoices for all your customers, and it does it seamlessly.
It also allows your customer to check-in and finds their invoices if they need ’em at later times for their records or accounting.
Of course, one might say after being more familiar with running a business that the basic Shopify is merely 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 Shopify-enabled online store to the rest of your bookkeeping system.
A couple of duckduckgo or google searches will uncover apps that help you integrate the payment and invoicing system to FreshBooks or XERO (which are some of the most popular choices for bookkeepers and accountants).
Included Hosting – Huge Advantage When Compared to Other Platforms
Shopify Hosting. Let’s talk about the most significant advantage is that you don’t need to start searching the web for a company that provides the best hosting for your site. You have it, once you set up your account.
But to have a proper Shopify site, you’ll need a domain name. For my clients as well as for my store, I followed the same stack and the same recipe I’ve set up:
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 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).
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 an average person, you can buy your domain through Shopify that way the setup will be done for you.
If you already have a domain for your site you’ll have to go through a 3 step process to set it up:
- Add the domain to Shopify
- Connect it to Shopify
- Verify your connection in Shopify
Their guide will walk you through everything you need to setup to get started.
Choose A Beautiful Design for Your Online Store.
Now, once you have your domain and core Shopify set up, you can change the aesthetics of your website. A beautiful aspect of Shopify is the high-quality design options available through the use of themes.
You can find many themes that will suit your site and fit the look you’re going after.
It’s a great clean design theme. It’s great if you have constant Sales campaigns, new products or featured collections. Although the layout is similar you can choose between 3 different style palettes.
I think the best shops using its full potential are the ones that have a great Instagram marketing campaign as well. The theme lets you incorporate a bold full-width Instagram feed. It helps your buyers, rapidly know of any ongoing promotion you have on this Social Media channel.
It works just right. However, I think it’s not the best option for a store where you plan on selling over ten types of products.
What I like about it most is that it makes it clear to the audience what your shop is all about. Just like in the case of Thread Wallets that are using this theme for their Store. Their collections are showcased on the Home Page so any fast online shopper can find the right product in just a few clicks.
I’ve used this myself for an online store I set up last year for a startup cosmetics firm.
It is one of the most popular free themes in the Directory. I consider it’s a great option if you don’t want to break the bank from day one. It has two styles available and a minimalist design.
Now if you plan to go all out and sell over 50 types of products, then this might be the perfect option. If not the store might look a little empty.
Nonetheless, your customer will have an easy time buying from your store if you use this theme.
If your shop is all about visual storytelling, then this is the right theme for you. Even if the three styles pallets are pretty similar, the real design statement comes from the pictures you upload. The wide layout lets you showcase a process or the full story behind the product.
Yes, product. Not products. I’m pointing this out because this theme helps you tell the story of one single product, so it’s not ideal when you’re trying to sell a wide variety of products.
But it’s a great design when you have your first product on the market. It’s incredibly mobile friendly with the menu element included in the top menu.
You can also take product storytelling one step further with a video on the homepage.
How To Build An Online Store
Now you have a domain name, you have Shopify, and you have a great looking theme. It’s time to add online store functionality to your shop and add your products for sale.
1. Getting Started with Shopify
This is actually as simple as browsing the internet. There’s no installation needed, you just go to the Shopify site and create an account. It’s the reason my less tech-savvy clients love it. It’s much easier than for example Woocommerce. There you need a WordPress site first and then go to the process of installing the plugin and activating it.
Shopify Set up: Key Pages
For your shop to succeed, you need it to have its image. This will give your audience an apparent reason to buy from you, not your competition. Many sellers consider the price is the only way they can convince people to purchase from them. But it has been proven time and time again it ain’t so.
The most successful online businesses don’t win because they have the smallest prices but because they have a brand. In your Shopify store, this translates into some key pages that you need to set up.
First one is the “About us” page. It’s easy to start creating it from your Shopify admin go to Online Store > Pages and click Add page. Next, you’ll have to enter a Title and Content for this page.
Consider your main keywords when starting to create this. Optimizing this page for brand and core keywords will help your whole site in the long run.
Keep in mind that by default when you click save on this page, it will become visible on the site. If it’s just an early draft, make sure to select the Hidden option.
After the “About us” the next page you need to create is the “Contact us” This is essential for online stores as most online buyers check to see if they can contact you through different channels. You can use this page to redirect buyers towards return and refund policies.
It’s also a great way to encourage them to contact you if they have any questions during their decision period.
Shopify Setup: Store Details and Information
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.
You can customize this information from Settings->General. You can even customize how the price format is shown. The whole process is here if you need it. Keep in mind that even if you choose to show you prices without decimals on the product page, they will show up on the check-out page.
Shopify 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 can be found in Settings->Shipping. They will allow you to enter flat rates for domestic and international shipping (if 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).
In the Settings->Taxes, you’ll get a bit of help on setting this up. You can choose that all taxes are included in your price or enable them separately. I consider the first option is the best when setting up your shop, even if this means that in some cases you might lose some money.
In the Tax Rate Panel, all the countries you choose to ship will automatically be added to their taxes rates.
Shopify Setup: Payments
The last part you should look over in your Shopify quick setup is 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 in the Settings->Payment providers. Shopify also includes built-in options for payments that we’ve talked about at the beginning of this article.
Once you’ve finished enabling the payment you’ve finished your main setup.
2. Important Additional Shopify Settings for a Successful Online Store
Next, you can continue to create products, but we recommend to spend a bit more time in your Shopify admin so you can finish establishing all of your crucial Shopify settings.
Shopify Free Shipping
In the Shipping section, you’ll find additional options for, well, shipping. But the one we want to point out is the option to add free shipping. This is something you might want to offer for all orders over a certain amount or weight.
Just edit one of your regions and add a new rate. Then make sure to check the “Free shipping rate” box after setting your requirements.
Moving along, under the Notification 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.
You can just type in an email for any particular notification or choose from your staff list.
The last Shopify option you might want to take advantage of before you start adding products is coupons. To create a new coupon click on the Discounts option in your Shopify admin then “Create Discount.” 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), or even free shipping.
You can choose the period it will be available for, but you can also limit the total number times it can be used. You can also specify the collections or products you’ll want it to be available for. In the future might choose to make coupons available only for specific groups of customers.
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 a fantastic 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 get to learn two ways of telling stories that have worked really well for my 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 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 a successful online store with Shopify 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 others 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.
Due to following great SEO 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, 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 on 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. 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 always to 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 this over 4,600 words guide. If you got this far, I want to 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 Shopify or even building a completely new one from scratch.