I found a series of articles that I wrote more than 10 years ago. But, amazingly enough, all of this information is still valid and true. It’s a great primer on what you should, and should not do before launching any website, especially an e-commerce website.
Before Any Code is Written
1. Determine Product Viability
Will The Product Sell Over the Internet?
Seems like a no-brainer right? It isn’t. At least for a good number of potential clients. Will people order eggs and milk over the internet? I had a request for an “essential foods” site. It doesn’t happen often but people will ask you to optimize a site that has very little chance of success.
Find A Unique Selling Point
This is where market studies come into play and the USP is often overlooked, or worse, never even considered. If you can’t find a unique vantage point for selling a product, why bother? Why should anyone visit a site that has nothing new to offer or simply repeats a tired strategy.
Will The Margin Support The Site?
People are conditioned to believe that the Internet relies solely on volume for profit, often without regard to margins. If the margin is small a single support issue can eat up the profit. Fraud, chargebacks, etc, can all spell disaster for a site operating on a slim margin.
Order Fulfillment and Customer Service
Does the site rely on a single dropshipper? How are out-of-stocks handled? Damaged shipments? Returns? What is the turnaround time? Is there a backup? Who answers the phones? Mail? Email?
If they’re selling Levi 501s there’s a market, if they’re selling candles why bother? Candles are heavy, shipping costs tear into the margin or force prices higher and unless the candle is a work of art, it’s just a candle…
Nail that down before you start. Make sure the client can get a merchant account and that they can afford a cert. Yes, PayPal is an option, but on every site I’ve ever worked on sales increased after a real live CC option was in place. PayPal is cumbersome and it confuses people.
The Cart and The Backend
Before you touch an e-comm site it’s important to know what cart will be used and what backend is needed. Some carts are SEO nightmares and that fact will change how the site is set up. Don’t assume the client knows anything about the backend or shopping carts. It’s only after he purchases that StoreFront cart that you’ll find out that he promised to host his site on his friends *nix box.
Determine what system and with what company the site will be hosted on. You can avoid all kinds of problems by doing a little bit of research about the host. Some of those problems include trying to figure out how to get that .asp cart to function on a Unix box or finding out that raw logs aren’t available and you’re stuck with Joe Bob’s Vunderbar Stat Package.
Summary: If you followed all the steps above you know that you are working with a product that will sell over the Internet, the product has a unique selling point, the margin is big enough to make a profit, how the orders will be fulfilled and who is taking care of customer service issues. You also know whether or not you’re shipping overseas, how payments will be processed, what type of cart and backend will be used and you’ll have enough information on the host service to know what challenges are in front of you. And you’ll know all this before any code is written if it’s a new site. Now you can start working on some of the SEO aspects.
The Pre-Game Plan
1. Finding Those Keywords
(coming in Part 2) This is much too lengthy to cover in one post, so I’m breaking it into 3 parts. Rest assured I’ll cover every whitehat tactic and blackhat trick I have ever used. It won’t be comprehensive, hell, I don’t know all the tricks, so I’ll only write about what I know. Oh yeah, this is also what works and has worked for me. It’s not the only plan, or the best plan, but in the interest of sharing and keeping scarcity from being a factor, I figured this might help.