You’ve developed some exceptional products and you can’t wait to start selling them online. There’s just one small hurdle to overcome first: choosing the right ecommerce platform for your online shop.
A functional, user-friendly ecommerce platform is an essential ingredient for business success. It allows you to create an enjoyable shopping experience for your customers, helping to drive growth, increase sales and attract more people to your website.
So what makes an excellent ecommerce platform? There are hundreds of options on the market – here are some key features to look out for to help you separate the great from the not-so-great.
What to look for in an ecommerce platform
The best ecommerce platforms can be easily customised to suit your business. Look for platforms which offer a high level of flexibility, especially around product display and product information. The more control you have over how your products are presented, the easier it will be to create an online shop that is user-friendly and unique to your brand.
Make sure your customers can find your online shop by choosing a platform which is SEO friendly. In a nutshell, SEO friendly platforms allow you to edit important SEO elements, such as URLs, page titles, meta descriptions and alt tags. This means you can include searchable words and phrases throughout your shop to increase your chances of ranking highly on Google. If a platform doesn’t allow this flexibility, you could miss out on valuable search traffic.
There are ecommerce platforms to suit all budgets, however we would advise against making a decision based on cost alone. While it might be tempting to go for the most affordable option, it’s important to take a long-term view. Look for a platform which allows room for growth, so that if you would like to expand your online shop in the future, you are not limited by the platform itself.
Most platforms offer low-cost entry-level ‘starter’ packages for small businesses, with options for you to increase functionality as your budget grows. This can be a good place to start – although watch out for any hidden costs and make sure you understand which features are included in the base rate before you sign across the dotted line.
Hosted vs. self-hosted
Another decision you will need to make is whether you would like a self-hosted or hosted ecommerce platform. A self-hosted platform requires you to take care of the hosting yourself; this is usually managed by contracting a third-party web developer. A hosted platform, on the other hand, is hosted by the platform provider.
There are pros and cons to both options. In general, self-hosted platforms are highly flexible and customisable (providing you work with a great developer that can make the most of functionality and take care of maintenance, updates and security). Hosted platforms offer less flexibility but are low maintenance and great for the ‘DIY’ business owner who wants a simple, ‘drag and drop’ platform without too many bells and whistles.
So which ecommerce platform is best?
Now that you know more about which features to look for in a great ecommerce platform, you’re probably wondering: which one is for me? With so many platforms available, it would be impossible for us to profile them all – so here are three top SEO-friendly contenders for you to consider.
Described as ‘the leading digital commerce platform’, Magento is an award-winning, self-hosted option. When used in conjunction with a strong web development team, Magento offers almost unlimited possibility for customisation and expansion.
Magento at a glance:
- Open source software
- Highly customiseable
- Well suited to all business types and sizes
Created specifically for WordPress users, WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin. If you already have a WordPress site, using WooCommerce makes perfect sense. Another self-hosted option, it is best used with the help of an experienced developer.
WooCommerce at a glance:
- WordPress plugin
- Open source software
- Flexible and easy to customise
A hosted, SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, Shopify is popular among small business owners who want to take care of everything in-house without contracting a web developer. As such, Shopify is a low maintenance option but offers much less flexibility than Magento or WooCommerce.\
Shopify at a glance:
- Hosted SaaS platform
- Ideal for small businesses
- Hard to customise
When it comes to choosing an ecommerce platform, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ option. The platform that’s right for your business will depend on a number of factors, including the product you’re selling and your plans for expansion.
Magento is the most flexible option – but it’s also the most costly. It’s best suited to established companies and mature ecommerce businesses.
WooCommerce is light weight and flexible, and, at a slightly lower cost than Magento, it’s perfect for ecommerce startups.
Shopify has a low upfront cost, but it’s less flexible. It’s best for startups or companies that don’t have complex business requirements.
We hope this guide helps you find a platform that works for you. Starting an online shop is an exciting business step – the world of ecommerce is fast-paced, fun and full of possibilities. Good luck!