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Starting an online store isn’t only about having a brilliant idea—you also need to market it right to maximize your reach.
Get it right and you’ll watch the sales start to roll in. Get it wrong and you’ll just have a very time-consuming hobby on your hands.
In this post, I’ll show you how to create an online store today and how to get your first customers to show up.
Top-Rated Ecommerce Website Builders to Create an Online Store
If you want to create an online store, you’ll need an ecommerce website builder. Here are the best options.
- Hostinger — Best for WooCommerce sites
- Shopify — Best all-around ecommerce website builder
- Wix — Best for launching an online store in minutes
- BigCommerce — Best site builder for multichannel selling
You can read our full reviews of all our recommended ecommerce website builders.
6 Steps to Start an Online Store
The sooner you start, the sooner you can pick up on the trends that really matter to your market.
- Pick your marketing strategy
- Find the right product niche
- Pick a name for your brand
- Create your online store
- Do a 60-day marketing burst
- Build your marketing flywheel
Step 1: Pick Your Marketing Strategy
Create a solid marketing strategy that helps you achieve your short-term and long-term business goals. While this may not look too hard, how well you choose your marketing strategy can make or break your online store.
Generally, successful online stores use one of the following three tactics:
- Paid marketing
- Platform marketing
Let’s discuss them in more detail.
SEO for Online Stores
This marketing strategy is pretty simple: find keywords for products that you want to offer, then get your site to rank in Google for those keywords.
In this example, IKEA, Target, and Amazon rank very well organically (the ones underneath the carousel and the ads) for the search term “bookcase.” That means when hundreds of people search the term bookcase every day, they’ll be led directly to these websites where they can purchase bookcases.
If you get this strategy to work for your business, you can make a lot of money with your online store.
SEO has a few benefits that are ideal for a business:
- The traffic streams are very dependable, which means dependable revenue for your business.
- Search traffic usually has the highest volume of traffic of any traffic source.
- Even at scale, search traffic can be enormously profitable.
Dependable, high volume, and profitable. It’s everything you want.
There is one major downside: SEO takes a lot of time and effort. Even if you’re pursuing a product category without any competitors, it can still take a good 3–6 months to see your site appear on the first or second page of search results for a keyword.
And traffic volume will be pretty small until you get your page into the top 1–3 rankings on a keyword. If your category is even modestly competitive, it can take years of effort to get to that point.
If you go with SEO as the marketing strategy for your online store, you’ll focus on three things:
- Optimizing your product pages for product keywords.
- Building useful and engaging content for non-product keywords that are also in your category. This helps your product pages rank.
- Making your content so good that people will link to it as a resource.
When playing the SEO game, there are only two things that matter: content and links. So that’s where you’ll spend the bulk of your time.
Paid Marketing for Online Stores
Some online stores do exceptionally well with paid marketing. This includes sponsored posts on Instagram and Facebook, and paid results in Google searches. Paid marketing involves ad placements you buy.
But is paid marketing right for your business? My general rule of thumb: paid marketing is a great option if your product is the type of thing that could be featured in a mall.
But think of the frame of mind someone has while scrolling through their Facebook or Instagram feed. They’re relaxing for a few minutes, laughing at a few photos, and leaving quick messages for a few friends. They’re enjoying themselves. It’s a lot like how people shop at a mall.
Sometimes, people are looking for a particular item, but a lot of people go to the mall to enjoy themselves. Malls have known this for a long time and stores have optimized around this browsing experience.
Products that sell effectively in a mall are also likely to do well with a paid ad on Facebook or Instagram. These products typically are:
- Consumer products. Business products have a much harder time on these channels.
- Highly visual and eye-catching. This is why apparel companies do so well in malls and why apparel companies have been really aggressive on Instagram in the last few years.
- Simple to understand. The offer needs to be understood within 3 seconds. If you have a more complicated sales process that requires more explanation, people will have scrolled past your ad long before you have a chance to make the sale.
- An impulse-friendly price point. If the price is too high that people need to carefully think through the decision, they’ll skip your ad and quickly forget it.
If your product meets all these criteria, you should seriously consider going the paid marketing route.
Google Ads (formerly AdWords) is one exception to this. Since you’re bidding on keywords within Google, you put your ad in front of people who are already actively searching for that type of product. As long as the keyword has enough search volume and the ad bids aren’t too competitive, it’ll work very nicely.
The biggest downside to paid marketing is that you’ll have to invest a bunch of money upfront before you know whether or not you can turn a profit. Many of us don’t have those thousands of dollars to invest without a reliable chance of getting it back.
Most paid campaigns don’t turn a profit initially; they usually take a lot of iteration and work before they start making a profit. Most professional paid marketers need 3–6 months before their campaigns become profitable.
So be careful and make sure you don’t invest more than you can afford to lose here. If cash is tight, choose one of the other marketing options.
Platform Marketing for Online Stores
This is a completely different direction than the two methods above.
Instead of creating your own store and using a type of marketing to acquire traffic, you’ll leverage one of the main ecommerce platforms:
It’s definitely possible to be successful at any of these three. I recommend most folks go after Amazon. Amazon’s audience is much larger which gives you more upside and just about every product niche already exists on Amazon.
The main exception is if you’re doing a craft business of some kind, like making your own bookends to sell to people. In that case, Etsy is a better fit since the audience expects more craft-oriented products.
eBay is still great if you’re doing a bunch of buying and reselling. But if you’re producing the same types of items consistently, the potential on Amazon is much greater.
You treat whichever platform you choose as your marketing channel. First, you’ll create your store on that platform and list all your products. Second, you’ll optimize your store to the best of your ability so the platform wants to feature your products.
Optimizing your store usually involves focusing on two areas:
- Targeting your product pages to specific terms searched for within the platform
- Getting as many 5-star reviews on your products as possible
As you improve your search terms and reviews, more people will see your products on that platform, which will produce more sales for you.
How to Choose the Best Type of Online Store for You
The type of online store you open will be directly tied to your marketing strategy. Those options include:
- SEO — Focusing on content and links, which requires time and patience.
- Paid Marketing — You’re paying for exposure. This strategy requires money upfront, an easy-to-understand product, a friendly price point, and about three to six months of work to pay off.
- Existing platforms like Amazon, Etsy, and eBay — You’ll focus on winning the search terms within that marketplace and stacking up 5-star reviews. Success here requires a commitment to that platform.
I strongly recommend that you pick one of these and build your entire business around it. That’s right, just one.
Why can’t you do more than one?
I’ve made this exact mistake so many times myself. After a decade of working in online marketing alongside some of the most well-respected marketers out there, I’ve noticed one overwhelming trend—businesses that are good at one type of marketing are generally pretty bad at the others.
Here’s why it’s hard to be good at multiple types of marketing:
- Every marketing channel is completely unique. While some marketing principles apply across all channels, you’ll have to learn all the tactics from the ground up. Constantly trying to learn new channels really slows you down.
- Online marketing channels constantly change. What works today won’t work next year. Even though I’ve spent a decade doing SEO, I still feel like I’m relearning it every year. If you’re focused on a single marketing channel, you’ll have a much easier time keeping up.
- Online marketing channels are power laws. This means the majority of the profits go to a few big players, and everyone else fights for scraps. If you’re not one of the winners, you won’t be making much.
If you stick with one marketing channel, you’ll get through the learning curve a lot faster. The faster you unlock your marketing channel, the sooner you’ll be making real money with your online store.
This step is crucial, so don’t rush through it. Landing on the right choice here will set up the foundation for your online store.
Step 2: Find the Right Product Niche for Your Online Store
After choosing your marketing strategy, picking your product niche is the most important decision you’ll make.
One tip: Don’t just jump into product categories. Yes, being personally interested in the category really helps with building the business. But it’s also an easy trap.
You might pick a category that won’t support a thriving business. It doesn’t matter how much time and energy you put into it. If there’s no demand, the business won’t succeed.
Here are some of the things I look for in a good product category for an online store:
Avoid picking a category that’s too niche
A common best practice in marketing is to differentiate yourself. And this is powerful advice — it’s a huge advantage when you have it.
It’s also tricky to find a genuine way to differentiate yourself that the market is willing to pay for. There are countless ways to differentiate any given product, but only 1–2 actually matter.
Does the top-rated toothbrush holder on Amazon need to do something wacky and unique? Not at all. It needs to be simple, easy to use, reliable, affordable, and have a ton of reviews on Amazon. That’s it.
Instead of trying to differentiate yourself from every other product in your category, find a category with competitors that aren’t dominating their marketing channel.
Are the Amazon reviews low for all the top products? Are the SEO results of low quality? Are there no companies putting serious ad dollars behind a product? If the answer is yes, there’s an opportunity for you to out-compete them with your marketing.
A moderate price is key
Avoid any product category with too low of a price.
After all, if you only earn $1 in profit for each sale, you’ll have to sell 100,000 products every year to support yourself. After taxes and overhead, that’ll give you about $50–60K per year to live on.
Selling 100,000 of anything is a lot of work.
Is it terrible? Not necessarily. Could it be better? Definitely.
Now let’s assume that you’re selling something for $80 and making $40 in profit on each sale. To make $100,000 per year, you’ll only need to sell 2,500 items. That’s much more manageable.
However, you also want to avoid selling something at a price that’s too high. As pricing changes, so does buyer behavior. Prospects demand more proof. They may even demand a completely different buying process.
How many people buy cars without test driving them first? Not many. They want to see the car and talk to a real person before making a purchase that big. Cars require a lot of extra work and sales skills to sell effectively because of their higher price point.
We recommend finding a product that you can sell for between $50 and $100 dollars. It’s high enough that sales will add up quickly for you. Yet it’s also low enough that the buying process will be straightforward.
When trying to find the right price for the product you want to sell, it is important to accurately assess the costs involved.
Setting the proper price for your items requires a lot of research. Determine what it will cost for you to obtain, store, and ship the products. Check out the competition for what kinds of price ranges you will be going against.
If you estimate you will make a $40 profit, but you really only end up making a $20 profit, you will need to sell twice as many items to make that $100,000 per year we referenced. It is vital to accurately research your costs when you are looking for a product with a moderate price.
Make sure there’s demand.
You can tell if there’s demand by doing some easy research using the marketing channel of your choice.
For SEO, Google Ads has a Keyword Planner that tells you how many times something is searched in Google every month. If the keyword for your product gets less than 1,000 searches per month, it’s probably too small to build a business on.
Same with Amazon. If you have trouble finding products in your category with more than 100 reviews, it’s probably too small.
These days, I’d much rather pick a category that I have zero experience in but has genuine demand. That’s much better than realizing that a passion category of mine has zero demand later on.
Step 3: Pick a Name for Your Brand
Heads up: This is a TOUGH step.
That’s because a lot of the good names have been claimed. The websites are taken, the best names have been trademarked, and you’ll feel like you’re hitting dead-end after dead-end.
You might feel tempted to cut corners. You might even want to choose a less-than-ideal name just to get on with it.
Do not do this.
It’s 100% worth the effort to find a good one. It will pay off.
Here’s the naming checklist I use:
- Easy to spell. I never want any friction when people are trying to find my site.
- 3 words or fewer. I like to keep it as short as possible so it’s easier to remember. One or two words is ideal, three is still good…more than that is too many.
- Pass the bar test. I should be able to say the name in a noisy bar without repeating it. That’s a great sign that it’s easy to understand. This is huge for word-of-mouth marketing later.
- Can get the .com domain. Every online store needs a .com. It’s become too much of a standard. Some folks use weird domains like company.online or company.io. In my opinion, this causes problems later because whoever owns company.com will know how valuable it is once you try to buy it. I either buy the domain early or find one that’s instantly available.
- Relevant to your category. Make sure the name relates to your product category in some way.
- No trademark conflicts. Any corporate law firm can do a quick check for you on this. Since legal time is expensive, find 3–5 name options that check all the above items. Then have an attorney check for the trademarks all at the same time. It’s rare to not have at least one of them work.
We have an in-depth guide on how to pick and buy a domain name here.
Once you have your name picked, grab the domain using your domain registrar. Or if you’re buying the domain from someone, get it transferred into the domain registrar that you want to use for the long term.
Step 4: Open Your Online Store
If you’re pursuing an SEO or paid marketing strategy, this is a crucial step.
Why? Simple: The quality of your site has a huge impact on how much of your traffic will turn into buyers.
To make sure you make the highest-quality site, we recommend you use Hostinger.
It’s just that Hostinger offers a great deal on WooCommerce (starting at $3.99 per month), and they make the setup of your online store as easy as humanly possible.
Even if you have never built a website before, let alone an online store, Hostinger offers a truly plug-and-play solution. You can be adding your first products in less than an hour of signing up, even if you’re an ecommerce rookie.
Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough of how to set up your WooCommerce store with Hostinger. There’s a much more detailed process there.
If you plan on carrying thousands of items, or have multiple inventory locations (brick & mortar stores, warehouses, etc.), you probably want something like Shopify or BigCommerce that is built to scale. WooCommerce is still a solid choice, but those two platforms handle bigger operations better.
But for most people starting their first store, running WooCommerce on Hostinger is all they need at a lot lower price.
Every ecommerce platform I’ve recommended comes with built-in marketing tools. You” also be able to connect your online store to social networks, like Instagram and Pinterest, as well as marketplaces, like eBay and Amazon.
Let’s talk about how to drive some digital foot traffic to your new shop.
Step 5: Do a 60-day Marketing Burst
There’s a good chance you’re starting small when your online store launches.
So looking for quick wins to build momentum will really help you out in these early stages. You still need to get your first review, first page that ranks on Google, and first purchase from a paid ad.
Don’t worry about scalability, efficiency, and optimizing your systems in these first few days. Instead, find easy ways to build momentum—even if it takes lots of personal outreach and effort on your end.
- Tap into your personal network to see if anyone is willing to do an interview, and publish it on their own website. This will help you get your first few backlinks.
- Ask personal friends and relatives to leave reviews on Amazon.
- Spend some of your own cash on paid ads to test the offer.
These obviously aren’t sustainable strategies over the long term, but they’ll get you some quick wins.
Do some research on your marketing channel and create a list of 50 ideas that you could do on your own. Then prioritize those ideas and create a 60-day Marketing Bust. The idea here is to ship as many ideas as you possibly can within those 60 days.
Be reasonable with your time and effort here. You don’t need to put in 90-hour weeks and burn yourself out. But expect to roll up your sleeves and put in some work.
By the end of this 60-day burst, you should have your first handful of sales. That sales stream should be enough to start building your marketing flywheel.
Step 6: Build Your Marketing Flywheel
Once you have some initial momentum, it’s time to start building the marketing flywheel that will grow your business around the clock without you having to personally accomplish every task.
What’s a flywheel? It’s a big wheel in an engine that helps create and preserve energy. We’re taking the same concept to your marketing plan to create big growth.
In the early days on Amazon, you’ll need to personally ask for a lot of your first product reviews. But that’s not sustainable.
Instead, look for marketing tactics that help create Amazon reviews for you without you asking for them.
Here’s an example:
A popular tactic on Amazon is to ask customers to leave a review. Some will even promise a discount code on the next purchase if a review is published.
You can automate that tactic. Have an assistant send the same templated email to every new customer, asking for a review and promising a discount code on their next order. All the platforms allow you to message customers personally through the platform.
So while you shouldn’t email blast all your customers at once, you can have an assistant send messages out one by one every week on your behalf. That’s a repeatable flywheel that doesn’t take up your time.
There is a ton you can do with email marketing that doesn’t cost a dollar.
A quick side note on this review tactic: Before you try something like this, make sure to check the guidelines and policies of the platform you’re on. There are always rules about these sorts of things and every platform is slightly different. Be careful to not push things too far, putting your store in danger of getting removed entirely.
Look for as many of these repeatable marketing flywheels as you can.
Instead of creating content yourself, can you pay someone for content?
If you did the keyword research, made a list of requirements that you want on each piece of content, and hired someone else to write the post itself, you could create a lot more content to help you win with an SEO marketing strategy. That’s a flywheel.
Instead of optimizing your paid ads yourself, can you delegate that? If your conversion rates are consistently improving and your cost to acquire a customer is going down, that lets you buy more customers with the same amount of capital. That accelerates your business without your personal effort. Another flywheel.
Focus on your core marketing channel and then build a marketing flywheel that will keep your online store growing without any effort from you. This is the key to opening an online store, generating sales quickly, and accelerating its growth.
So what are you waiting for?
Start your free trial with Hostinger today and start your online store in just minutes. Then follow the rest of my tips above to get an edge on the competition.