Before you build out an eCommerce site you should understand the full costs of actually running it. No you don’t just put the store up and people magically come to it and then you’re a millionaire.

Running an eCommerce site (much like any decent site) takes work and some ongoing costs.

Marketing

If no one knows about you then you’re not going to sell anything on your site. One of the best things you can do for your long term search engine visibility is to write at least one blog post a week.

Yeah that may sound like a lot of work if you’re not writer, but I didn’t say write to write 5000 word posts every week I said write one post.

One of my clients is a paddling shop. They write one post a week and often it’s mostly a photo post with a quick recap of where the staff went paddling that week. The biggest investment was in the nice waterproof camera for staff to take along.

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Another thing they write about is new paddling gear that comes in. Take a few pictures of staff wearing it and write about why they felt it was a good product to bring in.

Also remember that you know a lot about your industry already so you have a lot of ‘foundational’ posts you can write that are going to come easy.

For me that’s something like this article. I advise clients on the ongoing work an online store takes every week so to put it down in words isn’t that hard. When I sat down and started to put down titles for foundational WordPress eCommerce posts I came up with 20 titles in about 5 minutes.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is the total cost of your products/services?
  • What type of service should customers expect?
  • Why would someone purchase option A over option B?

If you’re using WordPress you should also be using WordPress SEO by Yoast to give your site the highest possibility of being found in search. If you’re not familiar with how to use it then get a membership to WP101 which not only teaches you how to use WordPress but has a great series on using the WordPress SEO by Yoast.

It will work with any WordPress eCommerce platform and allow you to specify what search engines are going to see on your content and products.

Hosting

If you’re hosting eCommerce you can’t just use a $3/month host because of the security offered. If you’re taking credit cards online then you’re going to need to be PCI compliant which means a bunch of the normal stuff that’s allowed on a server isn’t allowed for your eCommerce site.

My current recommendation is to use Siteground on their GoGeek plan. It’s got everything your developer is going to need security wise and isn’t hundreds of dollars a month.

SSL

To keep things secure you’re going to need an SSL for your site. An SSL makes sure that the communication between your client’s browser and your site is encrypted which keeps their information safe.

If you’re going with the GoGeek plan then you get an SSL for free when you get started. Simply put in a support ticket and their support crew can help you get it set up.

There are 2 main types of SSL certificates. The first is a ‘quick’ SSL and all it does is confirm that the server you’re on is the expected server. They range in price from $75 – $150 and I suggest that you just get them from your host if they offer the option, like Siteground and most others do.

The second type is called an Extended Validation Certificate or EV Cert for short. They range in cost from $150 – $500+. The difference here is that they do a bunch of business validation. So they ask for your address and other information and basically make sure that you are who you say you are.

The EV Cert gives you a ‘fully secure’ green bar in your browser. If you’re a larger business (doing more than $10k/month in sales) then I suggest you get an EV Cert for your site. It shows a higher level of security and can help influence customers trust in your business.

If you’re in the market for an EV Cert then I recommend purchasing from GeoTrust. Once you get it you can work with your host to have it installed properly.

SSL are renewed on a yearly basis. Some are valid for a few years but this is a recurring expense for your eCommerce site.

Backup

You have your site backed up right? If your web developer makes a mistake and the whole site goes dead you can recover from that right?

Mistakes happen so expect them and plan for it.

All of my clients are required to have a backup plan that at least gets the whole site daily and the database 3 – 4 times a day.

If they don’t have anything then I recommend they use VaultPress which does a realtime backup. That means as things change on your site it keeps them backed up for you.

Plugin licenses

No matter what platform you choose (read my guide to choosing) you’re going to have some recurring plugin license costs.

That means if you purchased a payment gateway for Easy Digital Downloads you’re going to need to pay yearly to get the updates for that payment gateway.

Considering the actual cost to build an eCommerce platform (easily in to the hundreds of thousands if you build a custom one) a few hundred dollars a year in plugin renewals is very inexpensive.

Testing

If you’ve got an eCommerce site you should be looking at your conversions and how to optimize them. At the very least you should be looking at Optimizely and A/B testing your sites.

Optimizely has a free plan that can work for many site owners to get started testing. Some other great tools for optimizing your site for conversions are:

  • Feng-GUI which does automated UI tracking testing. Not as good as actually having users on the site testing but better that not testing
  • Inspectlet records user sessions on your site so you can see what real people are doing
  • User Testing lets you hire people at little cost to try out your site and accomplish tasks as they talk through the tasks. Super informative to see where your site is totally confusing.

If you’re not sure how to do conversion optimization I recommend reading Master The Essentials of Conversion Optimization for a great primer or get in touch and we can help.

Payment Gateways

All payment gateways take some percentage of your sales as payment for their service. Fairly typical is around 3% so make sure to factor that in to all your earnings projections.

Development?

Now you may not be able to handle all of the above on your own. You may need to hire someone to take care of your testing/conversion optimization or your marketing program. Prices on this vary so do some research and find a company that fits with you.

That’s all the bigger ticket expenses you’re going to have when you run an eCommerce site. Now you can be better prepared to run a profitable store.

photo credit: stevedave cc

Posted by Curtis McHale

  1. A lot of great tips here! I’ll be checking out optimizely. Thanks, Curtis!

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