3 Ways to Build an Online Website
Running an online website and business is hard.
So hard in fact that nearly a decade of studying it, interviewing successful entrepreneurs on how they did it, conducting market research on the best acquisition and conversion tactics, and running online webinars and conferences on how to do it all without losing your mind still doesn’t help you understand the full extent of it.
For years, I told entrepreneurs and small business employees that I didn’t run my own online store. Instead, I interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of people who did –– and then synthesized the most common solutions to the most common problems.
And my audiences were generally very OK with that. Curated advice is good advice. I saved people a lot of time.
Then, when I launched my own online website, Doris Sleep, in December 2018, I realized something very important: Theory and practice are two very separate things.
Since then, I have:
- Accidently overspent on Facebook ads by $500. Ouch.
- Underestimated 3PL costs and inventory management needs to the tune of $700 in extra inventory.
- Tested Google AdWords, and then promptly turned it off 28 hours later due to the high price tag. But hey, I got a sale!
I am getting smarter about my cost of customer acquisition, and settling in to my new “I thought I knew how to do this, but I had no idea” mindset. After all, it’s good for the soul to be a novice at something –– even for analysts.
But if I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, here are the 3 top tips I have for building a website. May you learn from my very real, very costly mistakes. Not just the ones other people told me about.
1. WordPress is your friend.
Rising customer acquisition costs are hurting brands of all sizes. It’s why you see so many brands taking part in traditional advertising channels like direct mail or billboards.
It’s because those traditional methods are currently cheaper than Google PPC and Facebook ads.
The other way brands are acquiring traffic, though, is through earned traffic rather than paid.
Paid Traffic Sources:
- Facebook Ads
- Google PPC
- Instagram Ads
- Influencer Marketing
Earn Traffic Sources:
- Blog content
You still have to pay with your time or hire someone for their time to build up earned channels, but earned channels can’t be stripped away from you in the same way your paid traffic sources can be.
Facebook, Google and other channels change their algorithms frequently. Not to mention their costs often change by the hour.
The content on your site, and the domain authority you build via PR and SEO, is a longer-term traffic play. WordPress is the best tool to use for this because you can plugin an ecommerce component like BigCommerce or WooCommerce to handle the backend ecommerce functionality like checkout, PCI compliance, payment integration, tax integration and more.
Here are a few examples of brands using a content-first approach.
2. If you choose stand-alone, plan for the future.
When building your online website, if you choose to use a stand-alone platform (Shopify is a good example), think through your particular use case.
Stand-alone platforms can be great for a few reasons:
- You can often find developers to build on top of the site or just plug in a theme you like.
- There are hundreds of integrations readily available.
- They are easy to use.
- Hosting is managed for you – unlike with WordPress, where you must also purchase that.
There are a lot of benefits. The biggest downside, however, is in a stand-alone solution’s monolithic structure and belief. As your business grows, there will likely be a day when something breaks. On a monolith, stand-alone solution, you’ll have to fix the entire thing in order to get your store to work properly again –– or scrap the whole thing.
For many brands, that much reliance on a single provider and solution is, well, way too much. Instead, those folks look for headless or microservice architecture platforms that allow them to plug and play different parts of the tool so they can build the tech stack they want and need.
The best metaphor here is your car. If your tire goes flat, do you want to have to sell the car and buy a new one or repair the whole engine in order to get that tire issue fixed? No, you’d rather just fix the tire and get on with your day. That requires a headless or microservice architecture.
Headless / Microservice Architecture Tools
- Elastic Path
3. Don’t do it alone.
These are nuances to building an online site that way too many online articles or agencies don’t tell you. For instance, when I had my site built, large portions of it had to be hard-coded. That means that I have to go back to my developer every time I want to change minor things like the headline of my homepage.
That’s not a huge deal if I’m friends with my developer. And despite my frustration at the situation, I’ve been told by brands on all platforms from Magento to Shopify to BigCommerce that if you customize your site, this is just the way of the world.
Great! That would have been helpful to know beforehand.
You know who knows that kind of information? Other entrepreneurs! So, connect with them –– and then get deep into the details of site build out. Because once your site is live, you’ll want to start driving traffic –– and figuring out a profitable channel for customer acquisition is a whole other ball game.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure that the site you’ve built works for you… that you can edit it when you need to, A/B test as necessary, and build the brand and website of your dreams.
Contributed by Tracey Wallace, the editor in chief at BigCommerce, where she covers all things ecommerce including marketing, design, development, strategy, emerging trends, omnichannel and cloud replatforming. She is also the founder of Doris Sleep, a bed pillow company selling 100% certified recycled plastic bottle filled pillows in three custom sizes.