How to Launch an eCommerce Site in 5 Days or Less

Given the wide range of tools and resources on the internet today, a person could literally launch a web site in under an hour.  You could purchase a domain and hosting that either includes a site builder or allows you to install a popular and user friendly content management system and set up something basic in less than 60 minutes.

So why do we say 5 days or less and not 60 minutes or less?

Let’s face it, you probably don’t want your business’s front door to look like it was built from a cookie cutter GoDaddy template.  That said, you also don’t want to spend months launching the site.  So here is the list of activities that we undertake when building a site. This will give you an idea of where you want to trade off to meet a 5 day deadline to launch.

(1) Select a Platform
(2) Purchase Hosting
(3) Install  Required Software (if applicable)
(4) Design the Look and Feel (Wireframes)
(5) Implement Theme/Design
(6) Populate With Content
(7) Optimize for Search Engines (SEO)
(8) Set Up Analytics
(9) Customize Check Out/Shopping Cart
(10) Check and re-check everything for functionality and quality
(11) Launch
(12) Publicize via Social Media, Press Releases and Email/Internet Outreach

When we were faced with this challenge, we launched a custom eCommerce site for our client, Fried Thanksgiving Dinner, in 5 days flat. Sure, we could have done it in a couple of hours, but our client wanted it to look professional, so we traded off a few things and got it done.

Here were our constraints going in:

(1) Time.  We needed to get this done within about a week because the product is seasonal in nature and advertising needed to start almost immediately.

(2) Cost.  While the product was expected to sell well this year and hopefully repeat the trend in years to come, this site’s objective was to sell one $30 product well for a short period.  It logically follows that this needed to be a low budget endeavor in order to ensure profitability for the client.

(3) Design.   The client had some explicit ideas and desires for the look and feel of the site.

(4) Content.  The content for the site was already in existence albeit piecemeal and spread out in various locations online and on the client’s hard drive.  Ultimately, with the exception of some minor edits and tweaks, we did not have to actually create anything.

What We Did:

(1) Select a Platform Getting this right was imperative to ensure proper function and cost effectiveness.
(2) Purchase Hosting We needed an affordable solution with a track record for good quality as well as customer service.
(3) Install  Required Software (if applicable) This provided us with the skeleton around which we would build.
(4) Design the Look and Feel It was very important that we capture the client’s vision with our design.  We sketched a prototype based on their input and revised as needed.
(5) Implement Theme/Design We took the concepts we came up with and integrated them with the site’s framework using a WordPress theme and a small number of customizations.
(6) Populate With Content This was incredibly important.  We needed to get the product online with all of the necessary supporting information, contact information, photos, etc.
(7) Optimize for Search Engines (SEO) It does no good to build a great website if it’s invisible to search engines.  We adhered to best practices that would facilitate visibility in search results.  These include proper formatting and content for page titles, URLs, etc as well as a logical linking structure between the site’s pages.
(8) Set Up Analytics Transactions are a high level way to assess a web site’s success but they do not provide a complete picture.  It’s not only important how many sales are made but how many people are visiting the site, how long they spend looking, what pages they tend to dislike (evidenced by their departure from the site), etc.  Google Analytics provides a way to track all of this information and more.
(9) Customize Check Out/Shopping Cart This customer had some special needs for their check out process so this was a mandatory element.  The items for sale had to be scheduled for customer pick up vice shipping and we also needed to have the customer select a location and pickup time.  This required using a WordPress plugin and customizing it accordingly.
(10) Check and re-check everything for functionality and quality We had to do comprehensive checks on every page of the site to ensure it functioned as intended (cross browser compatibility, proper display of information, correct hyperlinks, etc).
(11) Launch Once everything was built and tested, we went live.
(12) Publicize via Social Media, Press Releases and Email/Internet Outreach We had a narrow window of time to get the word out about the web site because the product was seasonal in nature and the season was already at hand.  This meant it was imperative that we perform aggressive outreach online.

First, because we are experienced with the best options for eCommerce sites such as Shopify, MagentoGo and WordPress (more to follow on those in a future post), we knew which platform would work best given our goal and constraints.  Given the client’s needs and shopping cart customization the would be required, we selected a Woo Commerce WordPress solution.

We immediately purchased hosting and installed WordPress and got the basic plugins in place.

Next, we installed the WooCommerce plugin to facilitate the product information and sales.  There are many versatile and user friendly eCommerce plugins for WordPress but WooCommerce is among our favorites because it has a proven track record and is highly customizable.

We then selected a WordPress theme with an eye toward the client’s design wishes.  The theme we chose was a simple, responsive (meaning it adapts seamlessly to mobile devices, different screen resolutions and browsers, etc) and highly customizable with very little need for file editing.  We knew this would enable us to not only make any changes quickly, but also provide a user friendly interface for the client to make changes later on if they so desired.

Next, we got firm input from the client about the look and feel of the site.  We obtained font suggestions, color pallet proposals and even some images via simple email interaction.  We customized the theme in accordance with these.

As we were modifying the theme to the client’s taste, we were also populating the site with content.  We kept it simple with essentially 6 pages (home, order, product history, press coverage, information about the product and frequently asked questions) in the navigation menu.

As we configured the WooCommerce portion of the site to facilitate the display of product photos and detail as well as the ordering function, we needed to customize the process.  This particular product was to be picked up by the customer at one of 3 specified locations so we needed to configure the checkout area to allow for and require the customer to specify a location as well as an approximate time for pick up.  And we needed to remove references to shipping and delivery since they would be moot.  We accomplished this by using a WooCommerce plugin called WooCommerce Local Pickup Plus.

Shopping Cart Customization

The standard cart was not going to work.  The product needed to be picked up at a specific time and location by customers. Another reason we picked Woo Commerce instead of Shopify or Magento – we wanted to be able to make customizations in the back end without spending a fortune.

We also realized that we needed to provide detailed location information and hours of operation to the customer so we created a page with this information and an embedded Google Map that would easily facilitate driving directions.  We linked this page to the checkout page.

All that remained to do at this point was to review each page in detail and ask the client to do the same.   We made some final edits to the look and feel and then we were ready to launch.

What We Also Did

On the day of launch we also did the following:

  • Sent out a press release
  • Posted an announcement with a thumbnail preview of the site on the client’s Facebook page
  • Reached out to several key media outlets that had published articles and videos about the product to let them know about the web site and request inclusion of links on their articles/video

Key Factors In Our Success

There are several reasons we were able to succeed in getting this site done right and quickly.  Had any of these been absent, the scenario might have gone very differently.

(1) We had the right knowledge going in.  If we hadn’t been well versed in our options for creating this site and therefore been able to make a sound decision quickly, we would have wasted time on research.  That would have taken precious hours or days from our already short deadline.

(2) A dream client.  The client was engaged from the very beginning, had clear goals for the site and stayed engaged and responsive with us for the entire span of the project.  This component is CRITICAL for a rapid fire project like this.  Had the client not had well defined goals and been available to communicate, meeting a one week deadline would’ve been a pipe dream.

(3) Content was already in existence about the product and client.  Had we needed to generate content, photos and details from scratch this would’ve taken much more time than we had.  We did have to scavenge and compile, but getting that done on our time frame wasn’t difficult.

(4) Teamwork.  Good old fashioned collaboration.  All of us at BLD had a hand in this project so we were able to accomplish more than one thing at a time.  And then on the day before launch we met in person to review the site and work together on finishing touches.  This not only netted results for our client but was great for our internal team building.  Bonus: we had fun.

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