At FE International we are committed to keeping you up to date with the most useful tips and tools on the market promising to put you one step ahead when building your e-commerce business.
Working so closely with business owners we are constantly being asked ‘What tools do you recommend when I’m just starting out?’ so we have put together the most essential e-commerce tool kit to help you hit the ground running and stand out from your competition.
The list of resources and tools listed below have come recommended from our years of experience in running online businesses and the experiences of our very successful, insightful clients.
Who Shall I Use to Host My Website?
If you have checked out the resources tab on our website you will have noticed that Web Hosting Hub ranks highly on our recommended list. The affordable monthly rates with a money-back guarantee if you change your mind means Web Hosting Hub has become a go to service for those just starting up online.
For as little as $4.99 a month you will have access to cutting edge hosting which includes a free website builder, virtually unlimited number of websites and email accounts to create and a unlimited bandwidth.
Web Hosting Hub only offers shared servers with no cloud upgrades currently available. So on the flipside, if you are a fast growing business who could outgrow a shared host you may want to consider other options.
Below is more about Rackspace, a high-end cloud hosting tool suitable for more established e-commerce businesses.
For all of your higher performance cloud hosting needs, Rackspace comes with premium services starting at around $150 per month (depending on your requirements). As expected from a host in this price bracket, you can expect the industry’s best server response time, unlimited access to 24/7 phone support and ultra-high security industry-strength infrastructure coming as standard.
It is easy to scale upwards with their high end dedicated server packages, so if you are a more advanced online business owner looking for a host that can handle huge amounts of traffic or you’re expecting skyrocketing success in the near future, Rackspace is definitely one to be exploring further.
What E-Commerce Platform Is Best for Me?
Shopify has a varied level of users from beginner, to intermediate, to advanced, however it is primarily seen as a great start-up platform for those who are new to running an e-commerce business and are looking for something easy to set up and maintain (plus no need to have a separate hosting account). With cost-effective pricing starting from $29 per month, a range of beautiful, free themes to start you off and powerful SEO that gets you seen, there isn’t much stopping anyone from becoming an e-commerce business owner using Shopify!
Shopify is a very intuitive service to setup and use with all the key features that you’d expect plus a large number of seamless add-ons such as MailChimp that we talk about in greater detail further along in this post.
We have heard endless positive reviews about Shopify, however it has a few minor niggles to note. For example when using the lower price bracket payment gateway you will be charged a transaction fee of 2%+ on every sale recorded. The good news is that the transaction fee decreases as your business grows and you move onto the higher priced professional plans which start at $79 per month.
The simplicity of Shopify that attracts many e-commerce business owners to the platform can actually be a limiting factor once your business outgrows the small fish pond and a bigger feature-rich solution is required.
Magento is a good choice for more advance stores with the previous experience and a budget in place to set up and maintain its upkeep. The learning curve is rather complex with Magento, so we would suggest against this tool for beginners as training may be required (an additional cost you won’t have encountered using Shopify).
Magento is considered to be an extremely powerful and flexible service with lots of additional features not commonly available in lower end solutions such as the ability to manage multiple store fronts, with multiple language and currency options. There is also a mobile friendly extension known as GigantoTM that has been designed by e-commerce owners and optimized for conversions to make your website look great on smart phones.
Magento also has a huge selection of extensions to choose from. Some highlights include MageMail which helps store owners recover lost revenue through triggered email.
However, for this resource-hungry platform to work at a reasonable speed you’ll need to invest in a high quality web host such as Rackspace to support it. The good news for you is that Magento and Rackspace have been working together since 2009 so they hold a successful and proven partnership.
As you can see there are a lot of different options to choose from when running your online store, all with their own pros and cons depending on your business model. Bigcommerce is recognized as one of the most influential shopping cart providers, powering some of the world’s fastest growing online businesses and home to over 70,000 e-commerce start-ups since 2009.
For $24.95 a month you can expect an advanced set of features at your disposal as Bigcommerce is regarded as a flexible platform regardless of your store type. Anybody can learn the basics and build knowledge from the bottom up with the Big Commerce University which is a learning platform providing video tutorials on everything you need to get you started.
In addition to the standard shopping cart and marketing tools, other helpful Bigcommerce features include a mobile-friendly version of your site for customers shopping on smartphones and the ability to customize your checkout process which is a feature not supported by Shopify.
What Are the Best E-commerce SEO Tools?
Ahrefs is in use daily in the FE International marketing department as an essential tool for link discovery and analysing backlink profiles.
Ahrefs is a very intuitive suite of tools that uses their own index of live links (updates every 15 minutes) to provide you with valuable SEO data. The tool is most known for Site Explorer, which is the powerful backlink checker used at FE International, but Ahrefs can also be very useful for Backlink Reporting, Domain Comparisons and Batch Analysis.
A drawback of Ahrefs can be for some the pricing when you find yourself relying on the service. A free account will only let you pull out a few results a day with packages starting from $79 a month. However when you compare this to their competition (opensiteexplorer = $99 per month) it is great value for what is, in our opinion, one of the best site crawlers out there. You can see why others believe Ahrefs is better than Majestic.
Another favourite at FE International, we believe that SEMrush is one of the best SEO keyword research tools out there and crucial for search engine marketers. You can use this tool to check up on those competing with your top keywords and to check which phrases are bringing the most traffic to your site. The tool will also give you an estimated cost that this organic traffic would have been if it were paid.
Among its many functions, the site audit will not only give you a great overview of the traffic to your site, but it will highlight if your site has been hit by any penalties.
With prices starting from $69 per month this is an investment that you will not regret. We even built our Website Penalty Indicator using SEMrush data.
LinkAssistant is part of the SEO PowerSuite that helps e-commerce business owners set up and manage the best link partners to improve SEO and to push their sites higher in search engine results. Since the changes to googles algorithms to stop over optimized backlinks, it’s more important than ever to build quality links that are logical for your users.
LinksAssistant works by looking at the most relevant and powerful websites in your desired niche, attaining their contact information and provides a platform for a connection to be made and monitored. You can track link popularity and growth while ensuring the links being built are relevant and beneficial to your website -This will save you hours of digging yourself!
Rank Tracker is a great piece of software that scrapes search results gathering new data from the web about your rankings. It can track, filter and sort results accurately based on many variables such as location, search engine or specific area such as videos, images or places.
This user interface is extremely easy to use and other notable features include a connection to Google Analytics that tracks how many visits you received for a particular keyword and clear ranking history.
WebSite Auditor is a tool that ensures your website and individual pages are well optimized for SEO purposes as a whole and also for your targeted keywords. Running the site auditor will identify problems with your website such as broken links, missing meta tags and duplicate page titles. WebSite Auditor will then generate a report based on its findings for you to go through and address all the issues to safe guard your current rankings.
SEO SpyGlass works by finding over 100,000 of your competitor’s backlinks to identify different link building opportunities. SEO Spyglass can also be used to pull up your own backlinks to check and remove any bad links that could be affecting how you rank in search engines.
How Should I Manage Customer Support?
Zendesk is a top helpdesk software that provides a cloud-based support service for your customers to contact you. Zendesk is designed to be used across a wide range of e-commerce niches from small to large and retail to technology – The possibilities are endless.
Its features include a fully customizable front end portal, live chat services and possible integration with other useful applications such as google analytics, sales force and social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Additional access capabilities from mobile devices means users can contact you from just about anywhere internet allows with access to data stored in the cloud.
Zendesk overall is a very simple interface which is easy to use and maintain. It has a very small learning curve so no formal training is required. You are able to create automated replies to your most common queries, track a customer’s complete history and interactions and assign specific issues to specialized members of staff.
Who Platform Should I Use for My Email Marketing Campaigns?
Building a substantial list of subscribers and contacting them through an email marketing provider is a fantastic and cost effective way to reach new and existing customers. Whether you are selling a product, promoting your new blog post or running a competition – Email marketing is the best way to get in the palm of your reader’s hand and engage them directly.
Get Response is perfect for small to medium sized businesses who need a user-friendly email marketing tool. Simple setup and an easy to navigate interface can have you up and running in a matter of minutes with a choice of over 350 beautifully designed email templates with 1 GB of picture hosting to get you started.
Get Response prices start at $15 a month for up to 1,000 subscribers with fees increasing as your list grows. Or a 30 day free trial for up to 250 subscribers is available if you are hesitant about committing to monthly fees. Other useful features include Google Analytics integration, detailed reports analysis of subscribers and the ability to ask unsubscribes to fill out feedback form, giving you important information on what to improve and where to alter future campaigns.
MailChimp has over 8 million users around the world championing it. It is an essential tool to aid sending bulk emails and gain insight into the behaviours of our client base to better segment future emails. E-commerce business owners can also track a customer’s purchase history, niche trends, subscriber engagement and customer location.
Using the “Forever Free” option you can send 12,000 emails and have 2,000 subscribers until you will be charged. From here, affordable pricing brackets mean that small business owners won’t break the bank while their business is still in its infancy. Prices then increase to $10 per month for the next tariff and you will receive added features such as auto responders (can be very important depending on your business).
It’s no surprise then that brands big and small are investing in email marketing when figures show you could receive an amazing 4300% return on investment (Isn’t $10 a month is pocket change to try it and find out!?)
A Bonus Tool You’ll Be Glad You Didn’t Miss!
As the name suggests, this tool makes building highly converting lead pages, opt-in forms and popup pages for your website extremely easy with no HTML knowledge required. From $37 per month you will have access to a constantly updated array of expertly designed templates ready to be altered to your exact needs and convert your page browsers into qualified leads for email marketing.
Here at FE International we used LeadPages to create a landing page for the upcoming release of our Buyers eBook.
As you can see there seems to be endless choices of e-commerce tools out there but we hope our overview of our recommendations has given you a clearer picture of what will work for your business.
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