The actual creation of your website may be your most intimidating area. Learning to work with web design software or with a team of web designers takes time and, unless you are particularly familiar with computers, software and design, it can be overwhelming. It is certainly possible.
Static or Dynamic Pages
An e-commerce site can be created using static or dynamic pages.
With a static page site (a brochure type site) you will need to manually create a page for each one of the products you offer (for example, http://www.mysite.com/widget.html, http://www.mysite.com/basket.html, http://www.mysite.com/2gb-mp3-player.html etc).
You will also need to transfer each page to your hosting package every time you want to add a new product or page to your website. This brochure type site is easy to setup, and is the perfect starting point to buy you time to create a more complex, dynamic site. However bear in mind a static site is not a professional solution, it is time consuming to maintain, and will limit your growth potential.
Static websites can be programmed using only HTML (HyperText Markup Language). HTML is a very simple language to learn, and is written in the form of labels (known as tags) which define each element on a page. You can find some very good tutorials on html at http://www.html.net/tutorials/html/.
With dynamic pages however, you only have to create one page for each main section of your website. Each main page will interact with your database to display, for example, products dynamically (an example of a dynamic product page is http://www.mysite.com/product.php?productid=15. The actual file name is product.php (the file product.php?productid=15 is not a file, it’s a file + instructions on what to display within that file). The value 15 corresponds to a product in your database. If I want to view product 79 on your site, I would then simply change the url to http://www.mysite.com/product.php?productid=79. Product.php is still the file, the only difference now is that it is requesting the details of product 79 from your database.
This type of setup is much more efficient to manage, and will always pay off by reducing your administrative costs and providing enhanced functionalities for your visitors.
If choosing a dynamic pages setup, the most popular programming languages available to you will be:
- PHP (which requires Linux hosting as discussed in part 3). You can find some useful tutorials on learning PHP at http://www.phpbuddy.com/
- ASP (which requires Windows hosting as discussed in part 3). You can find some useful tutorials on ASP.net at https://www.asp.net/learn
How to Create Your Website
Once you have decided whether to opt for a static design or a dynamic design, and you have chosen which programming language to use, there are three ways you can begin building your ecommerce webstore:
- Do-it-yourself using web design software.
- Use off the shelf content management software that you can fill in with appropriate images and copy.
- Hire a web design company to customise an off the shelf package or build your website from scratch.
The first choice involves the most time, while the third one will usually cost the most. Before deciding what to do, consider the following:
- How much time realistically will it take you to create the site on your own? Do you have the knowledge required to complete the task on your own?
- How much money is your time worth?
- How much money will you have to spend on design software? (A basic editor costs around $35.00, Frontpage is often included free with your hosting package, whereas a more advanced editor like DreamWeaver can cost up to £400.00).
- How much will it cost to have my ecommerce site designed by a web design company? (A rough estimate is around $1,500 for a customised version of an off the shelf website, and between $2,000 to $4,500 for the first version of a website customised to your exact specifications).
Once you know these answers, and considering your skill level, other time commitments and how much your time is worth, decide if you should actually design your site on your own.
Whichever option you choose, start by creating a simple storefront that you can expand once it’s up and running.
There are various choices of editing software you can use. Your provider may also offer tools to create your site. Editing Software is available in two basic versions – text editors (like Notepad, MS Word and Editplus) and “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) editors like DreamWeaver. Prices for both kinds range from free to several hundred pounds/dollars.
Text editors require knowledge of the programming language you choose to use. If you don’t know HTML, PHP or ASP, there will be a learning curve to familiarise yourself with the languages.
WYSIWYG editors are easier to use because they create the code for you based on drag and drop actions. However the final code will be bulkier than normal, unless you have knolwedge of the language you are coding in and know how to clean it up afterwards.
Another option to consider is using tools available through your hosting provider. Many providers offer web design tools that are easy to use and inexpensive. One of the most popular programs is Microsoft Frontpage, which has a wealth of online support, including forums and tutorials. It’s not the easiest program to use, but it’s also not the most difficult.
If you are going with web building software, look for one that will allow you to get a basic site up and running in about 10 hours, that is flexible, and that has its own publishing feature, which means you won’t have to learn about how to transfer files to your web space. Frontpage offers all of these features.
Going the do-it-yourself route involves time, but it is also the most economical option. Once your site is designed, you will need to transfer the files to your server space. You usually do this using File Transfer Protocol (FTP). FTP software costs around £20. A program like Frontpage does not require FTP.
Pre-designed Templates and Off The Shelf Software
Using pre-designed templates and “point and click” software will lessen your choices and make your site look like other websites, but it’s probably the fastest way to get a dynamic pages ecommerce store online.
This is actually a good choice if you are interested in creating your e-commerce site yourself. Did you know? All eSources premium buyer members receive a 100% free PayPal enabled ecommerce store; have an ecommerce site ready in minutes, already designed for you, transfer an existing domain name free of charge, and accept PayPal, Google Checkout, and credit/debit cards directly from your site). Other options will require extra work but may be suitable to your needs. They include: OS Commerce and Zen Cart (which are both free!).
Be aware that the main problem with off the shelf templates and software packages is that your website will most probably look like many other websites. Hosting providers usually offer another option – a storefront builder program. With this type of program, you will create a site that looks less like all the others. There’s an additional cost for using a storefront builder program.
You can also find free website templates at this link (you can use the free design you find or use them to provide you with the inspiration to create your own design). Or you can hire a designer from upwork.com, or the Sitepoint Marketplace to design your very own website’s look and feel (this will cost around $400 to $1000 depending on the designer).
Contracting a Web Designer
The third option is to contract a professional web designer. This can be expensive, but it can also yield great results while allowing you to focus on your business. You could quickly self-design your site using pre-designed templates, get it up and running as a static stie, and then use a web designer to create the dynamic storefront of your dreams.
You have various choices when it comes to hiring a designer:
- Go local, which allows you to meet face-to-face with the designer. This option can be the most expensive.
- Find a designer using an outsourcing site such as upwork.com. These sites have freelancers from around the world and can be cheaper than going with a local company. Providers from Pakistan, India and Russia tend to cost the least. Providers are rated by past clients and bid competitively.
- Do an online search for web designers. This will also connect you with companies around the world, but it offers less control than a site like upwork.com.
Before contracting with a designer always:
- View their design portfolio.
- Have them describe their process.
- Find out how they will communicate with you.
- Produce a very detailed specifications document containing all the work you require, site look and feel, functionalities. Take the time to compile this file, as it will help you identify key features you would like to make available to your buyers + it will legally bind the design company to complete all the features mentioned within the document.
- Determine if they can meet your timeline.
- Find out if they will outsource your job.
- Finalise a total cost for the full completion of the project.
Don’t let price alone determine which company you choose. Cheap may be appealing, however make sure that the company you hire in the end is capable of meeting your expectations.
In our next installment on creating your own e-commerce site, we’ll look at three simple factors that can help determine the success of your ebusiness: product availability, payment options and shopping carts.
To our success working together,