How to set up a website for free, or without spending much money at all. Article by XOXX and Pooch & Mutt owner, Guy Blaskey, originally published in the trade magazine Pet Product Marketing.
New year – new website.
The stats say that 10% of UK sales are now online, but in the pet trade it is closer to 1%. There is nothing inherently different about the pet trade, it is just lagging behind. This means that the percentage of online sales in the pet trade is going to grow in 2012. As high street retailers it is easy to fear this growth, but there are many ways that you can take advantage of it.
First of all you need a website. Making websites used to be very costly, difficult and confusing. That is not the case any longer… despite what some people selling web design services may tell you!!
There are thousands of ways of getting a great website without spending a fortune. Here are some of my favourites:
A free website with free hosting
You can create an easy to manage simple site free of charge by going to www.blogger.com. You can even have a free URL, which will be www.yourshopname.blogspot.com or you can pay a bit extra and have www.yourshopname.com. Blogger offers free hosting and is owned by google, which helps (a little) get your site shown in google searches.
You can also offer, free of charge, to have your updates sent to customer email addresses and the blog can be set to appear in your facebook page and automatically tweet. For an example of a blog site have a look at our own blog at www.poochandmutt.blogspot.com.
Selling your stock online is a great way to make money, as you already have the stock. Around 8 years ago when you had to build e-commerce sites from scratch the agency where I worked charged around £30-40,000 for a fully functioning e-commerce website. Nowadays you can go to a site like www.shopify.com and set up an amazing e-commerce site in a matter of minutes with far better functionality than the sites we used to make, and for just a small monthly fee.
Shopify offers a wide range of templates and the system is very easy to use. They are even offering (as I write) a 30-day free trial.
One word of warning however… if you set up a sales site and just offer all your products for sale you will be competing with the big boys, the likes of www.petplanet.co.uk and www.petsathome.com. You have to think what is going to get people to buy from your webshop instead of these, and how they will find your webstore online.
One reason why some people prefer to buy our Pooch & Mutt supplements from pet stores instead of online is because they don’t want to wait in for a delivery or have a parcel delivered to work. What Argos, John Lewis and many other high street retailers do is offer “Buy online and pickup in store”. If you offered this option it could be a good way of getting business.
You could also look at offering free delivery within a certain area of your store, and promoting this using a localised AdWords campaign (See November’s article about localised AdWords at tinyurl.com/cf4gmbx)
The other option is to make your site a specialist site, for example specialising in natural products, BARF feeding, exotic reptile accessories etc. To do this you need a site that is information heavy – so that you come across as an expert – and has an e-commerce function.
Information and e-commerce sites
There are many ways to set up these kind of sites. The easiest way, in my opinion, is to go to a hosting company like www.names.co.uk where you can buy your URL and hosting. Names.co.uk offers “one click installs” of WordPress. WordPress is a free content management system with thousands of templates to choose and hundreds of extremely useful plugins to help with anything from search engine optimisation to linking your site to Facebook.
WordPress does have a shopping cart plugin, but I prefer to use Roman Cart (www.romancart.com), where you upload all your product info, then just get a tiny bit of HTML code, that is very easy to put into your site using WordPress. Roman Cart can handle all of your invoicing, promo codes etc too.
If all this sounds bewildering you can get a company to set up the barebones of the site for you, then you fill in all the info, once they have shown you how. This is something we do quite a lot XOXX.
Quick note 1: Affiliate marketing
An easy way to make money from your site is affiliate marketing, where you place ads on your site, or promote products, in exchange for a percentage of sales made from links from your site.
You can sell any product that is available on Amazon by joining the Amazon affiliate program (www.affiliate-program.amazon.co.uk). You can join an affiliate network like Commission Junction or some companies offer their own affiliate programs – for the Pooch & Mutt program visit www.poochandmutt.com/affiliates.
With these programs you place an ad or link on your site, then if someone click on the ad/ link and buys within a set time (normally 30 days) you get a commission on the sale. At Pooch & Mutt we offer a 10% commission. The company running the program takes care of all the delivery, payment etc. You just sit back and get paid!
Quick note 2: URLs.
If your store is called ABC Pets and you are based in Grimsby and you are looking at getting most of your business locally you would be better to have www.grimsbypetshop.com as your URL instead of www.abcpets.com. You can also buy www.abcpets.com and redirect it to www.grimsbypetshop.com, but having your site hosted at www.grimsbypetshop.com will get you some more local business.