When you start an ecommerce site you realize that there are loads of items that need to be checked, cross-checked, and tested to ensure that your customers have a quality user experience. From the website design to a sleek, quick checkout module, you must set up all of these elements to make the most efficient online store possible. Otherwise, you run the risk of customers encountering broken links, unfinished product page content, or a checkout that's far from user-friendly. That’s why we put together an extensive ecommerce launch checklist to guide you through the initial stages of running an online store.
Consider this ecommerce checklist as your roadmap to success prior to making a single sale. It allows you to create the ideal interface, a beautiful website without any problems, all before the big show of launching your ecommerce store and building your business.
Take a look at the ecommerce launch checklist below, and feel free to bookmark this page in your browser for future reference.
Read through the list and mark off when you complete each item to ensure that your ecommerce site is ready for selling.
Step 1: Design What Your Customers See First – The Homepage
When someone comes to your site they have a choice to leave or keep looking around. If the homepage interface and navigation aren’t appealing for the ecommerce shopper, they immediately hit the road, but with some additions and tweaks to your first few pages, you can guide those customers through your site.
Here’s what you should include and double-check:
- Include a nicely designed logo.
- Make sure the site works on all browsers and devices.
- Promotional graphics and links on the homepage.
- Links to the most popular products.
- Calls to action to push people to important sales pages.
- Have a clear search field at the top of your site.
- Display any specials, promotions, or free shipping options.
- An area for the latest company/industry news.
- Links to recent purchases and popular products.
- An area to search for popular brands.
- A store finder if necessary.
- Language options if necessary for your ecommerce site.
Step 2 on the Ecommerce Launch Checklist: Prepare All Standard Website Pages
The homepage stands out as the most visited page on your website, but that doesn't mean you're done designing the entire website and adding content. Outside of product pages, your customers may want to learn more about your business, seek out ways to contact customer support, or even read information about your shipping policy.
Before linking to these types of pages from your main and footer menus, you must create the actual pages and fill them with content!
Here's a list of standard web pages to consider adding to your online shop, along with descriptions to guide you in adding specific content:
- Homepage: We covered this in the previous step, but it's still worth mentioning here. As a recap, the homepage must immediately show new visitors what your company is all about. What is it that makes your brand unique? Do you have menu buttons, banners, and links ready to go for your categories, product pages, and collections?
- The About page: This page focuses on the story of your brand, the people behind the brand, and the history that has brought you to your current state. The About page is important for branding purposes, but also because some customers want to understand that they're buying from certain types of companies. The About page is a great place to expand upon your unique value proposition, like explaining how your product materials are sustainably sourced or how you're a female-owned business.
- Contact Us page: You can absolutely have a more detailed Customer Support page, but it's also essential to provide a quick, easy-to-find Contact page with a simple list of contact information, such as a phone number, email address, contact form, and address. You may not want to include all of these depending on your type of business, but you should at least have one or two options for customers to get in direct contact with someone at your company.
- FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page: Customers want to learn as much as they can about your products before clicking the Buy button. This is particularly true if your online store offers alternative shipping, payment, or product options like a subscription box or customized items. Compile the questions that customers are bound to ask about the entire process and fill them in with simple, transparent answers. And always avoid trying to bounce around a question or providing an answer that's still too complicated.
- Terms of Service: Here's a page that touches on all legal aspects of your operation, which services are included when someone shops from your store, and what they can expect to receive while on your website. It's wise to consult a lawyer when devising your Terms of Service.
- Shipping Details page: A Shipping page comes in handy for customers who want to know exactly when they can expect products to arrive. It's not uncommon for the average customer to check a Shipping Details page during the holidays, or when they need something for a wedding, birthday, or simply because they want to start using the item this weekend. Therefore, this page should cover everything from shipping times, regions, costs, and the multiple shipping methods provided.
- Return Policy and Refunds page: You can break these into two pages or combine them into one, but the goal is to provide details and processes required for returns, exchanges, and returns. How much time do they have to return an item? Can they print out a shipping label from your site or does the customer have to pay for it themself? Is it possible to make an exchange instead of opting for a full refund? And what happens to the products after they get returned? Finally, you should talk about your return partners, like if your customers must take all returns to a UPS store or if they can opt for the post office.
There are more specific pages–like a Blog page for content marketing, Educational pages, and a Photo Gallery page–but we'll cover those further down in the checklist since they're not always appropriate or necessary depending on your marketing strategy or the type of business you plan on running.
Step 3: Develop Your Overall Ecommerce Site Infrastructure and Look
Every ecommerce website requires constant moderation and management, meaning that a ecommerce launch checklist works nicely to double-check that the whole site is running properly and every page looks nice.
Let’s take a look at our ecommerce launch checklist of items that should be included on every page and things to remember when managing your site.
- Include security certificates and reminders that the transactions are safe throughout the website.
- Keep a minimalist design for easy navigation.
- Test the speed of your site so pages load quickly – Pingdom is a nice tool for this.
- Remove broken links and fill in empty product pages.
- Make sure you have categories on each page and filtering options.
- Have the email signup form show up on every page.
- Add a link to your Career page.
- Make a link to Legal information.
- Create a link to your Contact Page.
- Add a link to the FAQ page.
- Incorporate links to your social pages.
- Add links to return and exchange policies.
- Consider links to supplier information pages, if necessary.
- Add social sharing buttons.
- Include a login box.
- Add tabs at the top of your ecommerce website to categories and products.
- Have a shopping cart icon/button at the top in case people save items.
- Show what payment systems you use and any security measures you take.
- Offer tabs leading to your support pages.
- Make your ecommerce site responsive and test it on all devices and browsers.
- Show the checkout button clearly on each page.
- Apply breadcrumbs on each page to help people find the products or pages they need.
Step 4: Make Category or Collection Pages to Organize All Products
Sometimes referred to as Listing pages, you'll also see them called Category or Collection pages depending on your ecommerce platform. Simply put, these are for grouping common items together on individual pages. These Collection pages offer a way for you to better organize the website and give customers an introduction to a set of products that should logically be paired together.
Here are some examples of common Collection/Category pages:
- Best Sellers.
- Winter Essentials.
- On Sale.
- 3 for $90.
As you can see, collections depend on the products you're selling and the type of navigation you want to provide to customers. Traditionally, you'd start by categorizing items based on their basic functionality: t-shirts, bedframes, pillowcases, phone cases, etc. After that, you can get more creative with collections that recommend specific items, showcase promotions, or guide people in combining multiple products for certain purposes. For instance, clothing stores may offer a Summer Essentials collection. You could also have a Collection page for Popular Items, Sales Items, or even something like Rock Climbing if a sporting goods store wanted to organize products by sports.
Many ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce ask you to create collections on the backend of your website, where you add multiple products to a named group. After that, the ecommerce platforms tend to generate a Collection page for you. If this is the case with your ecommerce platform, we recommend going into each Collection page to customize its elements; sometimes that requires custom coding.
Regardless of how you do it, you should always customize Collection/Category pages to better match your brand and help out customers. Here are suggestions on what to include on those pages:
- A quick introduction about the collection, with mentions about unique elements like materials, brands, and specific uses.
- A featured image to show your product collection in a lifestyle setting.
- A product gallery with details and links to the product pages. These are often added for you when you add items to categories in ecommerce platforms like Shopify.
- Bestsellers and other recommendations within the collection.
- Ratings and reviews for the items inside the collection.
- Any required links for sub or parent categories that may go along with the category.
- A Quick View option for people to examine detailed product information without leaving the Category page.
- Filtering and sorting tools to refine the search on each Collection page.
Step 5 on the Ecommerce Launch Checklist: Craft Your Ecommerce Product Pages
There is a chance that when people find your ecommerce site through search engines they land on a particular product page. This means that you need clear information on each page, along with relevant tools, guides, and media to push people to buy the products.
Use the following ecommerce launch checklist to hit the main product page essentials:
- Include calls to action.
- Have a section for customer reviews and ratings.
- List related products to improve your upsell potential.
- Showcase selling points like free shipping or a clock with a discount if they buy now.
- Provide product images with zoom-in functionality.
- Provide multiple product images and angles (360-degree views).
- Type up all item information and specs.
- Show a field to change purchase quantities.
- Include a creative description that relates to the product uses.
- Include an optimized product title.
- Have an add-to-cart button on each product page.
- Highlight pricing information with potential sales or discounts.
- Show the availability of each product to present scarcity and push people to buy.
- Offer shipping and tax calculations on the product pages.
- Highlight all materials used, dimensions, colors, weight, and washing instructions.
- Include information on available sizes and a sizing guide if needed.
- Add a comments section so people can discuss the ecommerce product.
- Provide a sorting and filtering option for customer reviews.
- Incorporate an Add to Wish List button on each product page.
- Include videos to display how the product works.
- Add a currency converter if needed.
- Insert a live chat option that shows the support team what the customer is looking at.
- Include the product codes for people who might use this for reference later.
- Highlight stats on each product such as social shares, views, sales, and people who placed it on their Wish List.
- Include social share buttons for each ecommerce product.
- Offer deals for people who purchase multiple related items together.
- Use professional-grade pictures and videos.
- Consider a banner that states if a product is sold out.
- Add an area for people to sign up for notifications when a product becomes available.
- Make sure the product pages load up just as fast as your homepage.
- Explain unique features and what makes your product stand out from competitors.
- Include keywords on each ecommerce product page to improve search engine rankings.
- Minimize clutter so the purchase process doesn’t look intimidating.
Step 6: Create Blogs and Media Pages to Add Value to the Site
Additional content helps you stand out from competitors and show search engines that you are more than just an ecommerce site selling items.
Here are some additional items to include on completely separate pages to strengthen your brand:
- Educational pages.
- Product reviews and showcases.
- Company events.
- A blog with recent events and news.
- Comments on your blog.
- Social sharing options for your blog posts.
- Insider company information to connect with your customers.
- Lists that relate to your products.
- An external resources page.
- Articles about the state of your industry.
- Areas for people to submit their own content for competitions and drawings.
- A radio, webcast, or podcast page.
- A page with video testimonials.
- Case studies and interviews with people who have used your products.
Step 7: Structure the Customer Checkout and Shopping Cart
This is the bread and butter of your ecommerce site, so use the shopping cart and customer checkout area to really shine by pushing products and walking customers through the process quickly.
Here are some tips for the checkout and shopping cart modules:
- Don’t make the person create an account until after placing an order.
- Accept several reasonable payment methods, but don't go overboard; you'll clutter the checkout page if you have five buttons for every type of alternative payment method.
- Offer low shipping costs.
- Make the checkout area visual with fun images.
- Add checkout buttons on the top and bottom of your pages.
- Make sure the security and payment seals are most prominent during checkout.
- Ask people to continue shopping after making a purchase.
- Allow people to save their cart to a Wish List for later.
- Suggest Wish List items to upsell during checkout.
- Refrain from asking for a survey response after checkout (save this for email).
- Try free shipping when they spend a certain amount.
- Offer multiple shipping methods.
- Include an area to punch in promo codes.
- Show people how much they saved during checkout.
- Show the approximate shipping date and time.
- If selling digital downloads, explain how they receive the product; is it through email or in a section of their profile?
- Be open about how you use their personal information.
- Offer a sample if they are hesitant about buying.
- If you sell high-priced items, offer financing options like payment installments.
- Test the checkout process to see if it works.
Step 8 on the Ecommerce Launch Checklist: Set Up All Automated and Promotional Email Marketing
Once someone buys from your website there's a chance to offer support and additional deals with emails after their purchase, many of which you can automate through the ecommerce platform or an email marketing app.
Here’s what to include in your emails:
- A receipt with the price.
- A picture of the item.
- Include links to the product, site, support, and related product suggestions.
- Send a one to two-week follow-up to see how the customer enjoys the product.
- Ask for a review.
- Offer a discount code if they haven’t ordered again after a few months.
- Ask them to join a loyalty program.
- Ask for reviews in exchange for specials and discounts.
- Ask if they want future notification alerts for specials and products.
- Sell gift cards in your emails.
- Send a promotion for abandoned carts.
- Thank them for their purchase.
- Show where the product was sent to.
- Have an option to cancel the order.
- Links to share on social media.
- A link to track the shipping.
- The order number and a link to return instructions.
- Include a survey link.
Step 9: Add Support Pages for Your Ecommerce Site
The support links were covered earlier, but it’s nice to see what support pages need to be included on your ecommerce site.
Think about adding the following support pages, links, and information:
- Listed emails and contact forms.
- Listed phone numbers.
- A Live Chat area.
- A knowledgebase or help center if necessary.
- Shipping details.
- Sharing buttons.
- Offer 24/7 customer support.
- Provide an extensive return period.
- Show buttons to social media pages.
Step 10: Optimize All Ecommerce SEO Across Your Website
Many newer online stores turn to online advertising, social marketing, and paid content to bring more customers to the website. However, there's no denying that search engines will eventually have an impact on your conversions, so it's wise to start now.
The idea isn't to go through your website and try to cram as many keywords in there as possible. Instead, you should focus on writing brand-relevant copy that's engaging, fun, and conversion-optimized. Search engines recognize content based on a myriad of factors such as its readability, value to the customer, and relevant keywords. Therefore, after completing your well-written product and website pages, you can go through to naturally add high-performance, low-cost keywords that will eventually register with the search engines and drive more conversions.
Yet, the written content isn't the only element that's essential for boosting search engine optimization. Here are some other thoughts to improve SEO:
- Complete extensive research on the keywords that are easier to target yet still have the potential for results. Utilize paid or free keyword research tools, and make a list of the ones that you can use on the general company pages as well as the specific product and category pages.
- Get rid of all duplicate content. If you're just getting started, avoid all desires to simply copy and paste content from one page to another.
- Utilize the selected keywords in other areas like URLs, product descriptions, page headers, alt tags, blog posts, and meta titles and descriptions.
- Consider rich snippets to improve the visual schema markup on your search engine listings.
- Look into getting your products listed on Google Shopping.
- Make sure your pages are optimized for speed. Much of this has to do with the hosting from your ecommerce platforms, but can also be improved by using optimized media, caching, and lazy loading.
- Make it a priority to link to your top pages like the homepage, product pages, and collection pages. If internal linking to those pages is organized (not haphazard and random just for the sake of making internal links) you'll find that search engines appreciate the structure.
- Generate a sitemap for the website. After that, submit it to the search engines for crawling. Sometimes your ecommerce platform completes and submits a sitemap for you; check with their customer support to make sure.
Step 11 on the Ecommerce Launch Checklist: Optimize the Site for Increased Conversions
From the homepage to the product pages, every step of the way has opportunities for boosting conversions. Buttons, banners, menus, text, and media all come together as one driving force, pushing customers to purchase items from your store.
It's very possible you have a beautiful website. It's very possible you have everything optimized for the search engines. It's very possible your products are appealing. But your sales could suffer if you don't have the right conversion elements essentially telling people what to do in order to make that purchase.
Here are some must-haves for conversion optimization:
- Design landing pages when using online ads. This way, customers go directly to a specific, sales-oriented funnel page instead of your homepage. You may even confuse them if you only link to the general homepage.
- Offer videos and images to demonstrate your product. Knowledge is key for the customer, so it's imperative you make them feel comfortable before buying.
- Enable social sharing buttons on product pages, the checkout module, and the shopping cart to prompt users to share their purchases with other people. For instance, Pinterest has Pin It buttons for people to automatically create a pin from your product image.
- Add large, noticeable Buy buttons that follow along with scrolling. Often called “sticky” buttons, these are helpful for keeping the option to purchase an item in view for the customer.
- Make a simple, informative menu with categories, subcategories, and the essentials for learning about your products. The more complicated pages don't belong on your main menu. For instance, it's better to put a Refunds and Returns link in the footer than the main menu.
- Consider popups or countdown timers to create urgency. Be careful, however, since these can also be seen as annoying.
- Make sure your entire site is responsive for use on smaller devices.
- Add and test a search field on your site, allowing users to quickly locate items, collections, and blog posts.
Step 12: Consider Apps That May Help in Growing Your Business
It's easy to go overboard with apps on ecommerce platforms.
It's fun to mess around with apps, but they can open up security vulnerabilities, clutter your dashboard, and slow down the site. Therefore, we're not encouraging you to start adding dozens of apps.
Instead, only stick to the essentials and the apps that you may need to add a required feature that's not included in your ecommerce platform.
As an example, you shouldn't have to add a social media sharing app; there are plenty of them, but it's better to find a theme/template with social sharing buttons already included.
However, you may find that you need a more advanced email marketing app, or maybe something that helps you sell subscriptions, or even an app for integrating with your accounting software. These are all wonderful tools, as long as you can't already find them in the ecommerce platform or your website theme.
Overall, you should always think about how to add functionality without the need for an app. If custom coding is possible, go with that. If you can find a theme with the feature, go with that. Otherwise, look into an app. Just keep them to a minimum.
Step 13: Link to Other Sales Channels
At some point, you may want to start selling on other sales channels like Amazon, eBay, or even social networks.
Start by adding one or two sales channels where you have some experience. If you don't have experience with any of them, you're at least beginning the multi-channel sales process with a limited collection of channels, allowing you to become an advanced seller on one before you move onto another. There's no reason to spread yourself too thin at the beginning of your business.
Look into the following types of sales channels:
- Online marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, and eBay.
- Social networks with sales platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
- Advertising networks like Google Shopping and Instagram Ads.
- Alternative sales methods like a point of sale or mobile card swiper.
Step 14 on the Ecommerce Launch Checklist: Add a Payment Processor (And Choose Payment Methods)
Online merchants can only collect sales by way of a payment processor. Some examples include Authorize.net, Stripe, Square, and PayPal.
Your payment gateway options depend on the ecommerce platform; many require you to stick with a preferred payment gateway while others have options to integrate with hundreds.
Regardless, it's important to go through the process of creating a payment processor account, getting approved, and running test transactions to see if it all works.
This is also a good time to add multiple payment methods to your site. Multiple methods are helpful with conversions since some people prefer certain payment options over others.
Here are some payment methods to consider:
- Major credit cards.
- Debit cards.
- Google Pay.
- Apple Pay.
- Money Order.
- ACH payment.
Step 15: Configure Analytics and Testing Elements
Varying degrees of analytics tools come with your ecommerce platform. The basic insights usually include real-time graphs, monthly reports, and information on sales, revenue, customer information, and more.
However, we recommend taking it a step further to improve your ecommerce business insights:
- Set up a Facebook Pixel and Analytics to track all traffic coming in from the social network.
- Consider adding tracking elements from all social networks you have.
- Configure a Google Analytics page to expand upon your ecommerce tracking.
- Register your site with all search engine tracking and optimization tools such as Google Search Console and Webmaster Tools.
- Utilize shortened URLs, QR codes, and URL query strings to track all links that get shared.
- Utilize tracking for all other aspects of your business, like activating reports and insights for email marketing clicks, shopping cart abandonment, and customer lifetime value.
Testing your ecommerce store goes hand-in-hand with analytics. All store owners should test the functionality of their sites before launch, and they should continue this testing on a monthly or quarterly basis, often paired with analytics and performance reports that may show problems or potential for the website.
In order to test your online store, use the following tactics:
- Activate A/B testing campaigns for all aspects of your site, from the buttons to the text, and the email messaging to the checkout process.
- Test the entire order process multiple times, from landing on the website to viewing a product, and adding an item to the cart to checking out and processing a payment.
- Run all instances of email marketing automation, checking to see if receipts, email subscription emails, and all other confirmation messages go to inboxes.
- Comb through the entire website to view content, images, buttons, links, popup forms, and other elements on every page shown to the public. This is also a good time to make notes on the page load times and any problems you encounter with site security (like with your SSL certificate).
- Analyze the overall SEO of the website from the backend interface and by using SEO checker tools to see if everything is optimized.
- View all pages on multiple browsers and device types to figure out if the site is fully responsive and compatible with everything.
- Run multiple test payments to see how well the payment processor works. It's also important to process real payments before assuming it's all good for your customers.
- Figure out if all of your integrated apps are working.
In Conclusion: Bookmark This Ecommerce Launch Checklist for Future Reference
That’s all there is to our ecommerce launch checklist! With this guide, you're able to confidently create an online store with just about any ecommerce platform, all without missing any of the essentials like Collection pages, Terms of Service pages, or the most important customer support elements.
Let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below. Also, share your thoughts on any other must-dos when starting an online store.
Featured image curtsey of Mike Rogers