There is a new wave of gurus flooding social media feeds, and they are the self-proclaimed Shopify and e-commerce experts. Just like the majority of gurus, they all claim to have the secret recipe for making millions of dollars online with very little to no work.

Amazing, right?

The truth is, e-commerce is very hard. New stores are launching daily that you have to compete with, not to mention the big boys like Amazon and Walmart that dominate the organic search results that you have to go up against.

I’m not saying you can’t build a successful e-commerce website, because you most definitely can. But, it’s not as easy as some of these gurus make it out to be. Most of the courses being sold throw out a very simple business model, but one that just isn’t realistic.

There are no shortcuts to success, and that is something that I believe needs to be emphasized more these days. Even if you don’t want to compete against the major retail giants in the organic search results, instead focused on paid traffic, you are still going to be facing a lot of competition. This results in a bidding war for relevant clicks, driving up customer acquisition costs.

You have to have a solid product, amazing branding, and a well-thought-out marketing and advertising strategy if you want any chance of building a successful e-commerce business.

I’ve seen so many e-commerce websites come and go over the years, and very few have stuck around and survived. The ones that do come out on top had one thing in common, and that was following a formula that checks off the boxes for several necessary components.

You don’t need a course or a coach to help you — instead, you just need some business common sense and an understanding of what an e-commerce business must do in order to thrive.

I decided to put together a very easy to follow ten-step e-commerce website launch formula, that when followed, can help you create a real business. I’m going to be very blunt and tell it how it really is. It will be hard, so erase all that guru nonsense that you have heard in the past.

If you really want to launch an e-commerce website you need to be prepared to work, so roll up your sleeves and commit to tackling these ten steps head on.


1. Select a niche and then a product or product line.

It’s easy to see popular items being sold online and think to yourself that you can launch something similar and take a piece of the action. It’s not that simple though, as the competition is fierce, and the established brands take the majority of the sales.

You need to find a niche that has a large audience and then find a product that is fairly new or innovative that can easily be branded and has a huge profit margin. This is the hard part. If it was easy everyone would be killing it in the e-commerce space.

There is some luck involved too, as you never know how your target market will respond to a product until you put it out there and give them the opportunity to buy what you are selling. Don’t rush this step, as you need to lock in a manufacturer and line up all production and fulfillment logistics.


2. Determine your business model (drop shipping or private label manufacturing).

Drop shipping is the most popular option, because it enables you to get started almost instantly without having to store inventory or handle the actual fulfillment of orders. The key here is to find a manufacturer that has extensive drop shipping experience, because they will have a direct impact on your success or failure.

If they can’t keep up with production or if they are shipping too slow, it’s a direct reflection on your business. I suggest you start off drop shipping unbranded items and then if you identify a winner, move forward with more customized options, like logo/brand on the item and fully custom packaging. But there is no need to incur that expense until you prove you have a winning product.

Interview several manufacturers and make sure you are confident in their ability before you start. Think of them as a business partner because they play a huge role in the outcome.



3. Get your branding finalized and secured.

As I mentioned above, if you take the drop shipping route, sell unbranded products first in order to validate the product. Then, if there is a huge demand you can then work with your manufacturer to brand the items and create custom packaging, creating a true brand.

It’s important to have your branding solid before you even sell unbranded, as it will all need to tie together — from your domain name to your social media handles. You want to approach it as if it’s going to be a huge success, and think of a great brand name, securing the domain and the social media profiles.

This way you can quickly transition easily. The last thing you want to do is realize you have a product with huge potential and then struggle to come up with a brand name. Also, there is nothing wrong with skipping the custom part — there are plenty of e-commerce websites that drop ship unbranded item and do millions of dollars in revenue.


4. Select the right e-commerce platform to build your website on.

While some e-commerce websites use WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and other options, I recommend Shopify for many reasons. It’s the easiest platform to get started with, they have so many templates available that are optimized for conversions, and they have so many apps available to handle all of your needs.

You don’t need a development team with Shopify, so you can launch fast and validate your product without investing a lot of time and money into your website. I suggest using a free template to start and then if you have a winner, hire a designer and developer to customize the site for your brand. Honestly, you are crazy not to use Shopify.


5. Determine how much of your marketing strategy will be SEO.

SEO is something every online business needs to do, but when it comes to e-commerce, there are some instances that you will want to pump more of your budget into paid ads rather than link building and search engine optimization.

I’ll use an extreme example of an e-commerce website selling TVs. Now, anyone going to Google and searching using any TV-based keyword or query is going to see results from Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and Target. Those are the big players in that space, and you are never going to overtake them for the top SERPs. I’m just being brutally honest.

In that example, you would be much better off running AdWords, which could place you on top of the SERPs. Take into consideration competition amongst authority retail giants when determining how much of your marketing will be SEO-based.


6. Identify the paid channels and platforms you can leverage.

You have to think as your buyer when determining what paid marketing you should focus on. Buyer-intent plays a huge role here. Using the same TV example above, let’s go over the options.

Everyone automatically says “Facebook ads” when it comes to the number one platform, but in this example, you have to be careful. Just running random ads offering TVs won’t generate results, as most people scrolling ion their Facebook feed aren’t going to make an impulse TV purchase. Instead, you can run a retargeting campaign, only showing ads to people who have visited specific pages of your website. So, if someone was looking at a particular 65-inch TV, serve them an ad for that model. AdWords would be another good option, as someone typing that search into Google has buyer-intent.

On the other hand, if you are selling a $40 beauty item, then Facebook and Instagram are great, as you can run ads against a very specific audience, and the low price point makes it a realistic impulse buy.



7. Begin the process to secure third-party platform relationships.

Imagine if you could have someone else drive traffic and sell your products? Well, you can, and the two biggest opportunities exist on Amazon and Walmart. These two websites receive millions of visitors daily and you can get listed on their website as long as you have a legitimate product that doesn’t violate their terms.

Even if your overall margins are smaller, you have to think of the big picture. You are receiving priceless brand exposure and introducing a large audience to your offer with very little cost to you.

Rather than compete directly with Amazon and Walmart in the SERPs wouldn’t it be easier to just let them sell your product for you? You can get more information about Amazon’s program here and Walmart’s here. You will want to apply as soon as your website is functional.


8. Go live as quickly as possible.

It is never too soon to go live, because they sooner you can test the market and validate your product, the sooner you can take the required action to scale and prepare for growth. Also, if it’s a failure, the sooner you can identify this, the less time and money you will waste.

What if I told you that I know several e-commerce websites that went live before they even had a product to sell. It’s true. Many launch and run ads to make sure there is interest and they can acquire customers at a cost that makes sense, before they invest money in inventory.

While this takes a lot of skill to execute correctly, it can be done. If orders flood in you better be prepared to quickly satisfy them, as you don’t want negative reviews to hit before you even get started.

You may have to do a little damage control and explain the demand has caused some delays, but sometimes this is the better option than laying out a large sum of money for inventory without any data to let you know whether or not it has potential to succeed.

Flip the switch live as fast as you can and validate the product.


9. Map out and execute a 30, 60 and 90-day marketing plan.

The biggest mistake most e-commerce websites make is not having a concrete marketing plan in place, and just operating from the seat of their pants, making decisions on the fly. This will never end well, because this often leads to making desperate decisions without much thought behind them.

Instead, you need to have 30, 60 and 90-day marketing plans in place, with budgets and revenue goals established. This keeps you on track and allows you to really determine whether or not the website has potential to make money or if it’s just a money pit that will eventually fizzle out.

You need budgets established, as well as where the funds will be allocated, sales goals, customer acquisition goals, and revenue goals. No plan is the easiest way to fail. Mapping this all out holds you accountable and keeps you on track, which gives you the best chance at survival.


10. Analyze all data points and either pivot or scale.

The reason I said you need to have all that information mapped out above is for this, which is the final step. You have to know, without a doubt, whether or not there is potential to scale the product into a successful business, because if not, you need to cut your loss right away and move onto the next idea.

If the brand has potential, then great. Scale it quickly while you have momentum. Increase your ad spend, identify new referral partners, launch an affiliate program, etc. When you have momentum, you need to take full advantage and move fast.

You also have to have enough pride to know when something isn’t going to work. There is nothing wrong with closing shop and trying something else, because the longer you try to operate under water or barely staying above water, you are only preventing yourself from starting another idea that could find success.




It really comes down to being fully committed, as skipping any of the steps above (of half-assing them) will have a negative impact on your results. You will hear many gurus claim that you can get a Shopify store up and running in a matter of hours, and sure you can, but you need to have a great product and a mapped-out strategy with goals in place, and that takes time to do correctly.

Everyone wants instant results, but if you rush too fast you are going to fail. This is the main reason why so many e-commerce stores launch and within a couple months their website is down because they stopped paying Shopify the monthly fee.

I can’t tell you how many domains I come across that lead to the Shopify error page, prompting the store owner to contact them to pay their bill. The barrier of entry is so low, which is why everyone and their brother is an e-commerce entrepreneur these days. You can start with little to no money, as Shopify offers a free trial.

Don’t be one of the failure statistics — take time to follow the formula above to stand the best chance of creating an e-commerce website that actually sells products and makes money.

If you have any questions regarding e-commerce, please drop them in the comments below and I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible.

Tommy McDonald

Tommy is an SEO professional with years of experience running highly successful SEO companies, founded SerpLogic after noticing there was a major void when it came to options for SEO agencies needing a reliable and professional one-stop outsource solution.You can read all about me in the “About” page here on our blog!

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