Integrity Trader is taking you on a whistlestop tour through the world of digital marketing for merchants. We started by explaining how to assemble a new digital marketing strategy, and today we’re moving onto one of the most important parts of your strategy: websites. We’ll discuss whether or not it’s worth investing in a website and how to start an ecommerce site.


Does my business really need a website?

Some marketers would have you believe that a website is essential for every business – without it, you’d be invisible. This viewpoint isn’t entirely accurate; there are several ways you can be found on the web:

·         Create your own website

·         Create a social media page/blog on a free third party platform (eg. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress)

·         Verify your business with Google and Bing

·         Two or three of the above.

First, let’s talk about verifying your business with the search engines. By completing this step your business will show up on Google Maps and other Google services such as Search (and Bing if you verify with them, too). You can carry out this process here for Google and here for Bing. You can then claim your company’s listing on these search engines and add contact details and opening times. This is a solid foundation for your online presence, but interested users won’t be able to find out more than the basic info about your business.

The next step could be to create a profile on a third party site. Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Instagram pages are free to set up and maintain (apart from the cost of your valuable time), and you can use them to continually post new photos, videos and status updates and interact with current and potential customers. Social media pages will be the first place users will look for info about your business if you don’t have a website. We’ll talk more about social media in a later article.

To give yourself full control over your online presence, you’ll need to create your own web page. This is the only one of the three options that costs money, but it also adds a huge amount of credibility to your brand.


Setting up an e-commerce store


Again, you don’t necessarily need a website to sell your goods online. You could use a third party site like eBay for transactions. This will cost you nothing to set up and all of the technical processes will be handled for you, but you’ll have to pay PayPal fees (or similar) for each transaction.

If you’d like to sell products through your own website, here are the steps you need to take:

1.       Decide on a domain name and register it. There are dozens of websites where you can register domain names. You’ll need to check that your domain name is free before you can register it, then you'll have to pay a small amount each month to secure it.

2.       Decide on how you’ll handle hosting. The content of your website needs to be based on a server in order for it to work. You can have web hosting companies handle this for you. It is possible to buy your own hardware and host your site yourself, but this requires plenty of technical expertise and equipment. Hosting costs most small sites between £5 and £10 each month. Consider a cloud hosting solution so it can grow with your business.

3.       Shopping cart software and handling payments. You’ll need to part with more cash to set up shopping cart functionality on your site (so your users can add products to their ‘basket’), and also register with a payment processing company like PayPal, Worldpay or Google Wallet so you can handle payments.

4.       Website design. This is often the trickiest part of setting up a website – creating an intuitive design. Unless you are in a position to hire a full time website designer and developer, you’ll most likely need to work with a web design company or use a service such as Squarespace which will give you webpage templates to work from.

5.       Add and update your content. You’ll need to manually add every single product you want to sell as a separate listing on your website. This process will become straightforward after a while, but you’ll find it a little clunky at first.

The above is a very basic overview of the processes you’ll need to complete to start your own e-commerce store. You’ll certainly need to invest plenty of time and money into an online store to make it work, but successful ecommerce stores can vastly expand your potential market and increase revenue.

In the next article in this series, we’ll examine the role of social media in merchants’ marketing strategies.