When you start an ecommerce business, you don’t have to think about renting and decorating a space, and you don’t have to deal with the tangle of regulations that come with a physical storefront. But an online store does have technical prerequisites, platforms, and systems that must be in place before the store goes live.
The decisions a retailer makes before launch affect the store’s performance and the shopping experience, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right before the promotional push come launch day.
In what follows, I’m going to assume that you have chosen and sourced the products you intend to sell, have settled on an ecommerce application like Magento or WooCommerce, and are looking for advice about getting your ecommerce store online.
The technical components that support an ecommerce store are a domain name, DNS hosting, and a hosting platform, which means choosing both a type of hosting and a hosting provider.
A domain name appears in the address bar of a web browser when you visit a website. It looks like this: nexcess.net. A store’s domain name is a large part of its online identity. It is how shoppers navigate to the store and how they recognize it. Choosing a domain name is one of the most important decisions you will make.
What makes a good domain name? Devising a brand is beyond the scope of this article, but there are a few rules that you should keep in mind:
Go with .com if it’s available
The .com generic top-level domain (TLD) is familiar and trusted. You might not be able to get .com domain for your business’s name, but I’d suggest changing your brand before choosing a less-well-known TLD — they are often associated with spammers and shady operators in the minds of shoppers.
Pick a TLD that’s relevant to your business
If you are determined to use one of the newer TLDs (Top-Level Domains) like .shoes or .bike, pick one that is relevant to your business and consider that it may limit your flexibility if you want to introduce new product lines in the future.
Consider whether you need a country-code top-level domain
There is one exception to the .com rule. If your store will sell primarily to a specific geographic market — the UK or Germany, for example — you may want to use a country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) such as .co.uk or .ca. Search engines use ccTLDs as a signal to rank a domain’s pages within the relevant area. You can read more about ccTLDs on Moz.
Domain names are good for shoppers, but the internet doesn’t use them to move data around. It uses IP addresses, a unique number that identifies a server on the web. Every time a shopper visits an ecommerce store, their browser converts the domain name into an IP address with a service called the Domain Name System (DNS).
To be part of the Domain Name System, a domain name’s records are hosted on an authoritative DNS server. DNS hosting is often provided by the domain’s registrar or by your web hosting provider, but it can pay to switch to a faster DNS host.
DNS has an impact on the performance and availability of an ecommerce store. If you’ve ever clicked on a link and waited while the browser does nothing at all, you’ve seen what happens when DNS fails. Slow DNS can add seconds to a store’s load time.
To get the best performance, consider paying for a specialist DNS hosting provider or an ecommerce hosting provider that offers a redundant AnyCast DNS hosting platform with a service level agreement.
Web Hosting Provider
A web host provides an ecommerce store’s data storage, processing, and network connection. There are hundreds of web hosting providers of many different types, and it can be difficult to choose a cost-effective provider that offers the customer support and technical resources an ecommerce store relies on.
A few rules of thumb will help you to choose wisely.
Low-cost hosting is usually a false economy.
An ecommerce store needs more resources than a blog or business site. The cheapest shared hosting is cheap because the provider oversells space on their servers and cuts corners with essential services like customer support.
Managed hosting is a good idea
Managed hosting is a good idea if you aren’t a server administrator. Keeping an ecommerce store fast and available is a full-time job, and your time is better spent growing the business.
Specialized managed hosting
Managed hosting specialized for your preferred ecommerce application is the least risky option. A high-quality hosting provider will provide support for the underlying infrastructure and for the application.
For a new store, you needn’t opt for the most expensive enterprise hosting, which can cost thousands of dollars a month, but it is worth investing in a high-quality hosting platform with round-the-clock customer support.
Type Of Web Hosting
High-quality web hosting providers offer a variety of hosting types that can include shared hosting, dedicated servers, virtual private servers, and cloud hosting. Shared hosting from a reputable hosting provider (see above) can work well for smaller stores, but if you expect your store to grow over time, consider cloud hosting.
Unlike other types of hosting, cloud hosting can scale from tiny to gigantic without an expensive platform migration. Resources can be added on-the-fly so that a store doesn’t run into hard resource limits during periods of peak traffic. Stores can be deployed almost instantly. Cloud ecommerce hosting platforms often include multiple redundancy to make them resilient to hardware failure.
In 2019, cloud hosting is the best option for new stores, but some care should be taken when choosing a cloud host. “Cloud” is often used as a marketing term to refer to everything from shared hosting with a lick of paint to old-fashioned virtual private servers. A true cloud platform uses virtualization and orchestration technology to combine many physical servers into a pool of resources that can be allocated dynamically. Be wary if a “cloud” hosting provider’s platform doesn’t fit that description.
It is easier to build a successful online store if the technical fundamentals are in place right from the start. With the right domain name and DNS hosting and a reliable and scalable web hosting platform, you can focus on what really matters: building a customer base and growing your retail business.
Author Bio: Graeme Caldwell is a writer and content marketer at Nexcess, a global provider of hosting services, who has a knack for making tech-heavy topics interesting and engaging to all readers. Graeme’s articles have been featured on top publications across the net, TechCrunch to TemplateMonster. For more content, visit the Nexcess blog and give them a follow at @nexcess.