Brick-and-mortar business owners put a lot of thought into designing their stores. After all, a store is an extension of a brand. It showcases a business’s unique identity, displays and promotes products and services, and makes it easy—even fun—for customers to browse collections and make purchases.
The same applies to your online store. Think of it as the equivalent of a physical shop—just like a brick-and-mortar store, the ideal online store is beautiful, branded, and easy to navigate.
5 steps to make a website
- Plan your website
- Choose a hosting company and website platform
- Design your website
- Develop your website for ecommerce
- Launch and maintain your website
The website-building process can be divided into five main steps.
1. Plan your website
- Purpose. Identify your website’s purpose and primary goals. The purpose of an ecommerce site is to sell products or services. Its main goals might be to maintain a high conversion rate and to capture email addresses from website visitors.
- Audience. Identify your target audience and conduct market research to learn more about who they are and what they need. This way, you can design your site’s design, content, and features with their expectations in mind.
- Competitors. Review competitor websites and note the look, feel, layout, functionality, and content. Compare these to your market research findings, consider if and how your competitors meet audience needs, and look for ways to one-up their offerings. You can also check search engine result pages (SERPs) to identify and draw inspiration from top-performing competitors.
- Search engine optimization (SEO). Consider your website SEO strategy—the approach and tactics you use to improve your website’s ranking in SERPs. Decide which keywords to target and which webpages present SEO opportunities. If your website contains mostly product pages, you might use blog pages to target keywords that aren’t a natural fit for these pages. For example, if you sell shoes, you could write a blog post to target the keywords “best shoes for walking,” “travel shoes,” and “comfortable shoes.”
- Site architecture. Build a site map that lists all webpages within your domain. Consider your main navigation, how you’ll organize subpages, and how you’ll direct users from your homepage, blog, or individual landing pages to your online store.
- Domain name. Choose a custom domain name that’s short, easy to pronounce and spell, memorable, and relevant to your brand. If you need ideas, use a domain name generator.
2. Choose a hosting company and website platform
Once you’ve planned your site and chosen a domain name, you’ll need to choose a hosting company and a website-building platform. The website host is where your website and services are stored, processed, and served from.
Next up (or simultaneously) is your platform. For ease, you might choose to create your site using an all-in-one website builder, which typically offers website templates and drag-and-drop design tools. They might also offer integrated web hosting services and domain names. Most website builders require little to no experience in web development.
All website builders have a content management system (CMS), which is the back-end interface you’ll use to author, edit, publish, and generally manage digital content. (Don’t worry—you won’t need to write any code.)
Shopify, Wix, and Squarespace are popular website builders. Shopify’s website builder is designed for online business owners. It offers web hosting, domain name registration, and built-in ecommerce functionality. The Wix website builder offers a free website builder option, and both Wix and Squarespace offer a free domain for one year with most paid plans.
Consider the following factors when choosing a website platform:
- Ease of use. Evaluate your level of technical knowledge and choose a website platform that balances the flexibility you need with your web development skills. Make sure you’re comfortable using the platform’s CMS to publish content.
- Functionality. Consider your functionality requirements. If you’re new to web development, look for a platform with built-in ecommerce features to support your online store, like integrated online storefronts and ecommerce reporting automation.
- Cost. Hiring a web developer to build a custom site can be costly. Website builders offer templated design at a low cost—ideal for businesses whose websites don’t require custom work. Some offer monthly plans for less than $30. Some also offer free trials, so you can try the tools before committing. Shopify offers a three-day free trial and charges $1 a month for the first three months after that.
- Integrations. If you use tools like accounting software or a CRM, choose a platform that will allow your online store to integrate with your existing tools.
- Scalability. Your site should be able to grow with you. Look for a provider that allows you to scale up as your business grows.
- Security. Security is essential for online stores, which process sensitive customer data such as shipping addresses and payment information. Look for a provider that allows two-step verification for administrator logins and offers integrated secure sockets layer (SSL) certificates, which encrypt your site to protect business and customer information.
- Customer support. Evaluate customer support options, hours, and contact methods. If you have limited technical knowledge, a complete support system can help you build your skills and navigate any difficulties that arise.
3. Design your website
Consider your brand guidelines, target audience, and competitors when designing your site. Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Brand identity. Your site is an extension of your brand identity. Follow your existing brand guidelines when choosing design elements like color and typography. Make sure elements of your site’s user interface (UI), like buttons, reflect your branding.
- User experience. Visitors are more likely to become customers if your site is easy to use and navigate. Identify the paths you want a website visitor to take—you may want to direct them to your online store or specific product categories—and ensure your design makes it easy for them to get there.
- Asset quality. High-quality photos are critical for ecommerce businesses. Online, customers can’t pick up and try your products; your photos and video are all they have. Use high-quality images to showcase product details and features. If you don’t have any, hire a product photographer to create some.
- Themes. Many platforms offer free and paid themes, which can simplify the design process by defining elements like color palettes, typography, backgrounds, headers, and footers. Most include customization options, and some themes also have several embedded website templates, which are individual page layouts.
- Responsive design. Responsive websites automatically adjust the layout to accommodate the size of a user’s device, from phones to desktops. Many platforms offer responsive or mobile-optimized themes. If yours doesn’t, review each page on a mobile device and build separate page layouts for mobile, as needed.
4. Develop your website for ecommerce
Developing your website for ecommerce depends on the features your platform offers. At a bare minimum, you need to integrate your payment gateway—the virtual terminal, or point of sale (POS), for online payments—to start selling products through your online store. Here’s how to optimize your site for selling:
- Integrate your payment gateway. To connect a payment gateway to your ecommerce site, choose a provider and follow their integration instructions. This process typically involves creating an account, obtaining API keys, and adding payment buttons or forms to your site’s checkout pages.
- Connect your web host. If your site doesn’t offer integrated hosting, you must connect your web hosting account to your domain name and CMS. To do so, upload your site files to the server using your web hosting provider’s file transfer protocol (FTP) client or file manager. Then, configure your site’s domain name settings to point to the server’s IP address, typically through a domain registrar or DNS provider.
- Install ecommerce plug-ins. Install necessary plugins. For example, if your own website platform doesn’t have a native shopping cart function, you need to integrate one from a third-party provider. Analytics, social media, and contact page plug-ins can also be beneficial.
5. Launch and maintain your website
Review all of your pages, and when you’re ready to launch, post your website so it’s live to share with the world. Then, continuously review your site. Test payment gateways and use tools like Screaming Frog to check for broken links or BrowserStack to confirm your site displays correctly on different browsers.
Here are a few ongoing website maintenance tasks:
- Keep your software current. Like your computer’s software, CMS platforms and plug-ins require regular updates. Look for update notifications on your site’s back end (server side) and consider enabling auto-updates for critical applications.
- Monitor analytics. Use analytics tools to monitor traffic and search engine rankings. These can tell you who your visitors are, how they found you, and what they do on your site. For example, you can monitor the bounce rate to learn what percentage of users leave your site after viewing only one page.
- Make adjustments. Use insights to adjust your site content and design. Add or modify content to improve your SEO performance and tweak design and content for webpages with high bounce rates.
How to make a website FAQ
What do I need to make a website?
Every website needs its own domain name, website hosting provider, and platform. Some website builders provide all three, making it easy for users with limited technical knowledge to design and launch an online store.
Can I make a website for free?
Yes. If you’re willing to forego a custom domain name and are comfortable displaying ads on your site, you can create a website for free. Because free sites typically have limited functionality, design options, and storage, many online store owners choose low-cost plans for smaller ecommerce businesses.
How do I optimize my website for search engines?
These best practices can help improve your search engine rankings:
- Create keyword-rich, user-friendly content
- Optimize metadata, including headers, titles, and meta descriptions
- Create alt tags for images
- Index your site by submitting a sitemap to crucial search engines
How do I make my website mobile-friendly?
Some website builders offer responsive themes. If you use one of these to build your site, each webpage automatically adjusts to the dimensions of the visitor’s device. If your platform doesn’t offer this option, review each of your pages on a mobile phone to see how they display at the smallest likely screen size. Then build separate mobile designs as needed and instruct your site to display mobile versions when a viewer’s screen size is below typical desktop dimensions.