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eCommerce startup guide 2/3 – complete content plan that every web shop needs to have

Content is the key factor that brings users to interact with your brand. Content is king, and eCommerce is no exception. From business plans, general content, and product descriptions, these are the elements that every successful webshop must cover.

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In a previous article, I described why choosing a technological platform is an essential step in building a webshop (and why WooCommerce is objectively a good choice). However, selecting a platform alone won’t lead to the blossoming of a thousand flowers. And yes, it’s indeed easy for experts to claim that every aspect of an online project is essential for success (Thank you, Capt. Obvious).

The idea of this series is to describe the initial moments where you can influence yourself, and today, our goal is to showcase content as the backbone of eCommerce strategy.

Most merchants “fail” at this very step, and the reason is somewhat simple – good content implies hard work in the long run, and there’s literally no shortcut. We’ll eat the frog first thing in the morning (as Mark Twain says) and transform cumbersome content into a layered eCommerce ally.

King of all Kings – content

“Content is king” doesn’t ring as catchy in Croatian as its English original, but all digital professionals agree without an ounce of shame: this is one of the proven dogmas of the online age. The slogan is often attributed to Bill Gates and his eponymous 1996 essay, but Quora points out that the term was actually coined in 1978 within the Photographer’s Market book.

Your customers, whether offline or online, want to interact with content first and foremost. Brand, domain, CX, UX, UI, DevOps (and other technicalities we’ll describe later) are merely princes and princesses in the digital court. From an engineering perspective, all web design and programming essentially help users interact with content in the most meaningful way and across all types of devices. And it’s the quote from the aforementioned book that hits the timeless core: “Content is king. It is the meaning that counts. Form and technical considerations, although important, cannot substitute for content.” Hey, this quote is from1978!

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What does this mean for you, a fledgling merchant diving headfirst into eCommerce?

To start, work on three types of content that we’ll describe in detail, and that will serve as the foundation for building your entire eCommerce system. Keep in mind that “content” isn’t just found on blogs and websites… it’s every textual segment necessary to make a web application legal, informative, searchable, and intuitive to use. This includes:

  • A. Brief business plan – a boring but fundamental frog to swallow.
  • B. General content for the web shop – descriptions of your company, terms of service, brand descriptions, general product category descriptions, contact information, and descriptions of physical stores if you have them.
  • C. Detailed content for the web shop – in-depth descriptions of each product separately, something Google will nibble on daily.

A. Short business plan

Planning is a proven method to actually kickstart your business – studies show that initially writing a business plan increases the operational launch of your company by 152%. Of course, your first business plan will actually be a childish wish list, but don’t let that discourage you. Writing a business plan is the foundation for further content development and determining the direction you want to develop your online store. You’ll never actually stop working on it.

Start developing your business plan in this order:

  • Describe the main point of your business, mission, and vision (describe why you’re in business and the problem you’re solving).
  • Describe the context and environment within which you operate. Here you can use the well-known STEEP (Social, Technological, Economical, Environmental, and Political) framework to describe the context in which the webshop will function. For example, EU companies must comply with GDPR rules, which will affect your design, copywriting, and backend processes when handling personal data. Also, the availability of delivery services, credit card processors, freelance developers, and hosting companies are all external factors that will impact your webshop’s operation. That’s why it’s essential to conduct a quality STEEP analysis, as it will point out threats and opportunities, which leads us to the next point…
  • SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) is the most basic introspective analysis where you need to be honest with yourself and list the weaknesses, threats, strengths, and opportunities of your new business. Although SWOT pops up in all business contexts, don’t ignore it because it’s related to the other points we’re describing here. You can read details and how to create it in this interactive guide. A legitimate “trick” is to present the analysis to a partner, friend, or parent… just to see the reality of your thinking. A typical threat is the availability of products (e.g., current protective covid masks), but this can also be an opportunity if you have a partnership with a factory that produces them directly. Typical weaknesses are the inability to control the delivery process, and an example of strength could be the size of your cash cushion, i.e., the amount of capital at your disposal.
  • Marketing mix 7P (The analysis of the 7P within the marketing mix refers to defining items: Product, Price, People, Place, Physical, Promotion, Positioning). With this, you’ll actually describe what your product is, who you’re serving, and at what prices. The marketing mix is the meaty part of the business plan and the plan itself. Approach this part of the document “strategically” because we write it to define the direction of business development. For example, we can decide to have a webshop that sells garden gnomes, but only premium quality (prices) and only with physical personal delivery. You may have a business reason for something like this, and the marketing mix analysis will help you determine your business focus and target market. Another example – the physical evidence of service, the so-called “Physical evidence,” is an integral part of the marketing mix description. For eCommerce systems, package delivery, delivery methods, and the design of the entire package are typical examples of creative opportunities that open up when developing the marketing mix. Good packaging and effort around the entire delivery process are already proven practices for improving the entire Customer eXperience. The marketing mix is a vast topic – this guide and booklet could help deepen your knowledge of writing that part of the plan.
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Wow Junkie is an example of a local brand that actively invests in packaging, i.e., the physical component of the marketing mix. With such an approach, you can round out the entire user eCommerce experience.
  • Description of the ideal customer. “My ideal customer is a male, aged 35-60, homeowner, who enjoys gardening on weekends.” Of course, I’m talking about our garden gnome webshop.
  • Description of the main competition. You wouldn’t believe how many new traders go through life claiming that there is no competition for their idea. True, competition may not be immediately visible or direct. If you open a webshop selling only cracklings from a special pig breed (and with that, you become the first specialized Croatian webshop in that niche), local butcher shops are indeed your competition. The idea here is not to be lazy, but to think and do your homework.
  • And finally, an honest list of potential revenues, margins, and necessary costs (this will constantly change, but the idea is to have the initial framework for revenue and expense structure). Standard business plans include a detailed cash-flow analysis and description of sales channels, but such detail isn’t as crucial at the beginning as the first 6 points.
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Advertising is just one part of promotion, and promotion is just one part of marketing. These terms and their relationship will become clearer to you once you’ve outlined the entire marketing mix.

Even this will be enough to make the eCommerce path clearer, because as Eisenhower said “Plans are useless, but planning is essential”. I will transfer the discussion to the scientific domain because this is already becoming a lexicon of LinkedIn buzzwords – Domegan and Hastings in their book “Social Marketing” describe well the need for business planning – theories and plans are only guides that can assume consumer behavior.

Plans should help guide the development of the company and the product, but they are not a substitute for research, creative work and critical thinking. This is where we come to the creative part of writing general and detailed content for eCommerce.

B. General content for the webshop

Benefit of writing a business plan is generating creative ideas around the eCommerce business itself. Everything you write should be developed within an online tool like Google Docs, as it will be easier to organize and share the content with copywriters, developers, and designers when the time comes for collaboration. The earlier example of the marketing mix (7P) and describing the packaging could lead you, for instance, to make the package itself a promotional material for your other products. At that point, you might consider adding a QR code that leads to a page with freshly listed discounted products or the nearest branches.

There are many guidelines and articles on how to write general content, and various eCommerce consultants or associations have even published PDF books on the topic. What they all have in common is that they disclaim responsibility for details and suggest consulting a lawyer and accountant to finalize and verify all aspects of these documents. This is a common-sense advice, and I will go a step further and say that in every case, you should hire both an accountant and a lawyer to work with you on all the necessary documents.

The general content for eCommerce should have several parts:

  1. About us.
  2. All contacts with the merchant.
  3. General business rules.
  4. Brand descriptions.
  5. Descriptions of each product category.
  6. Recently, “Accessibility policy” and “ADA policy” (if selling to US customers) have become popular, but you should address this either independently or with the help of a designer and lawyer.
  7. Finally, the name of your brand, i.e., the commercial name of the company.

After that, be sure to consult with a lawyer and invest resources to jointly write:

  1. Terms of service for the online store.
  2. Refund and return policy.
  3. Shipping and delivery policy.
  4. Privacy policy, GDPR, and rules for managing user accounts + any other documents suggested by the lawyer.

In addition, ask the lawyer to explain the legal and business context in which you will operate. For example, customers have the right to unilaterally terminate the contract within 14 days “no questions asked,” the right to have the goods delivered within 30 days, the right to exchange goods, etc. (but there are always exceptions). That’s why it’s essential to invest resources and pay a lawyer. It’s commendable that you independently gather information, but a lawyer will put all those rules and processes into a coherent whole. Good sources of information include the EU Consumer Center and, of course, the Consumer Protection Act.

For example, an inspector from the Market Inspection Sector (Ministry of Economy) analyzed an eCommerce project we worked on, and when I asked, “How did you come across this webshop?” I received the answer, “I googled buying powder in Zagreb,” which is a compliment to SEO but also an indicator that anyone can be put under scrutiny.

During that inspection, only the terms of use, privacy policy, and shipping regulations were examined. On the other hand, the inspector did not look at CX, UX, checkout funnel, and other design elements. The point of this digression is not to skimp on resources for a lawyer. It makes no sense to invest tens or hundreds of thousands of kunas in the entire CX and UX if you fail at such a simple legal step, truth be told.

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“My first inspector’s audit.” Austin Distel, Unsplash

As a final note in this section, never play around with copying someone else’s content, as it is a literal theft of intellectual property.

A stolen document is not created for your business (and you will immediately be in violation of inspection regulations). If you want to check whether someone is stealing your content, there is a considerable amount of tools available: from the free Copyscape to the excellent and always professional SEM Rush. Kinsta has published an extensive list of good online tools for checking grammar and duplicated content.

C. Detailed content for the web shop itself

Products or services are the fundamental content of every webshop and the main reason why users interact with your brand. Developing this content is intentionally done after points A and B, as you now understand the context and recognize the scope of the entire eCommerce market.

One of the main questions if you are already using an ERP or accounting system to manage products is: can I import products from an existing system into my new eCommerce? In short, the answer is YES, but you need to be careful about a few things: accounting and ERP systems usually only have the name, price, and SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) of products, which is not enough content for an eCommerce system. In such cases, you will always need to enrich the existing product content with additional attributes, multimedia, and descriptions.

For example, WooCommerce supports a vast set of data that can be associated with a product. Here we will cover only the basics you need to start with. The basic minimum information you need to create for each product includes:

  1. Title: Extremely important for the entire user experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO).
  2. Excerpt: Also important for SEO.
  3. Featured image: Important for both UX and sharing on social networks.
  4. Main description (Main Content that supports multimedia): The more original and content-rich, the better.
  5. SKU (product code): Essential for later synchronization with other parts of your IT system, such as ERP, CRM, or WMS.

Remember to pay attention to these essential elements when creating product content for your eCommerce system. They will help ensure a smooth user experience and support your SEO efforts, ultimately leading to better visibility and success for your online store.

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“Think carefully about product categorization and which parameters affect filtering > price, size, color, shape, packaging, weight, number of parts, material…” Markus Spiske, Unsplash

Content Creation Rules

  1. Use a tabular writing method like Google Sheets or Excel. This will later allow you to enter products into your eCommerce system. WooCommerce also supports automated content entry, integration with Zapier, extremely complex content entry tools, and of course, the option to create your own plugin that will enter content the way you want.
  2. Always write original content. Do not copy-paste from an existing online product catalog or old materials, as Google will penalize you by not displaying your products in the search engine, considering the content unoriginal.
  3. The product title should be informative and meaningful for the user. A good title is “Brand Sunscreen Oil with Olive Oil Factor 250 ml”. A bad title is “250 ml – oil – Brand”.
  4. Keep the summary up to 160 characters. The idea is to make it a complete short description of the product, not an introduction. This content will later be linked to SEO fields and social media sharing.
  5. Main image. Save it in a separate folder, but name all images as Title + .jpg. For example, a good image name is “Brand-Sunscreen-Oil-Olive-Oil-Factor-250-ml.jpg”. A bad image name is “IMG_1991.jpg”. This is important for SEO because Google will position your images and link to your content when someone searches “Google Images” for Sunscreen Oil. You can either take pictures, agree to use the manufacturer’s images, or use graphics/icons from your own creative workshop. Unsplash is also a great tool for finding good, free photos for your website.
  6. The main description supports all possible types of content, multimedia, and videos, but for now, just write as original and meaningful text content as possible for a single product. Follow these guidelines from the Neuralab blog when writing larger online content.
  7. SKU or product code is a unique identifier for your product. You should discuss the SKU concept with your accountant. It can be a simple serial number or a more elaborate name like ELS200XT. This identifier is important if you plan to integrate with various accounting systems and warehouse management programs.
  8. Enriching content, pricing, stock status, categorization, adding additional images and multimedia will be done later within WooCommerce itself, which is already a topic beyond the scope of this content (but think about it as well). The official WooCommerce documentation is also a commendable help where you can find all possible rules for editing content.

With points A, B, and C completed, we have a well-structured foundation for the eCommerce project. In the next article, we will cover how to technically set up a web shop yourself (Do-It-Yourself), and in the last part of the series, we will discuss working with an eCommerce agency or professionals who can implement this entire job with you.

Other articles from this series:

  1. eCommerce startup guide 1/3 – WooCommerce and democratization of eCommerce
  2. eCommerce startup guide 2/3 – complete content plan that every web shop needs to have
  3. eCommerce startup guide 3/3 – Do It Yourself with custom domain, hosting and WordPress theme
  4. Addendum: eCommerce project – a cost or an investment?
Krešimir Končić
Krešimir Končić Owner at Neuralab

Ex QBASIC developer that ventured into a web world in 2007. Leading a team of like-minded Open Source aficionados that love design, code and a pinch of BBQ. Currently writing a book that explains why ‘coding is the easier part’ of our field.

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