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How to build an ecommerce website / online store guide
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How to build an ecommerce website

How to set up an ecommerce site

How to build an ecommerce website : Set up an online store guide

Welcome to the only ecommerce guide you will need to start your own online store and sell online. It's been written in a way that can be easily followed, no matter what your level of technical knowledge is. Not only that but the guide will also show you how to do this for the best possible price including having credit card processing without any expensive fees.

This guide will take you through the following steps in intricate detail:

  • Step 1 : How to set up a domain name and hosting
  • Step 2 : How to set up an online store / e-commerce shop
  • Step 3 : How to integrate credit card processing into your site
  • Step 4 : How to get traffic to your site

The guide will also give you information regarding any free alternatives to a paid service where applicable. What does this mean? Well in short you can have a website online, accepting credit cards and customised to suit your business within one day for under £50.

TIP : If you are in a rush (or don't like reading) you can simply follow the summary/quick guide boxes to get your site online using Prestashop and Nochex for card payments (recommended).

Step 1 : How to set up a domain name and hosting

Before we can set up a domain name and hosting, you need to be clear on what they are. If you haven't heard of these terms before, take a look at our what is hosting guide. This will explain to you what hosting and a domain name is and compare them to a real life equivalent so anyone can understand how they work.

Choosing a good domain name

A domain name is the first thing you will want to purchase. It is the virtual address/name to your new shop and it's how people can visit it directly. The tricky part here is finding a domain name which isn't taken. You can use the below search box to see what domain names are currently available.

Once you have found a domain name you like e.g. www.yourcompany.co.uk see if the .com and .net are available. Although it's not vital, we would recommend purchasing them as well. There is nothing worse than putting all the effort in building up an online store to only lose sales to someone who bought the .com version of your domain.

Choosing good hosting

The first thing to realise here is not all hosting is the same. Two companies selling what appears to be identical hosting can in reality be totally different. A good way to think of this is comparing it to two TV's for sale. They may both claim to give High definition pictures but the cheaper one will use poor quality parts and eventually these parts will fail. It is the same with hosting. A cheap company will cram way to many sites onto a server. Even though on paper it looks like you're getting the same service (same webspace, same bandwidth etc etc) the server will fail or run slow and in turn your site will be slow or even worse, will go offline (usually at peak seasons like Xmas).

Now you know the risks, make sure the hosting company you choose has good (genuine) reviews and if unsure ask around on forums.

Should you decide to use us for hosting we would recommend our 1 Nut hosting Package at £47.40 per year (this can be ordered when you purchase your doamin above). This package uses a server which is optimised to run many of the latest e-commerce systems which we will cover later. It can also install them for you automatically.

Step 1 : Summary / Quick guide

If you want to purchase a domain name and hosting from us, search for your domain name in the box above then once you have found the one you like, tick it to add it to your cart. On the next step, select 1 Nut Hosting Linux and go though the checkout as usual. You can ignore the add-ons section when going though the checkout as you can come back to this at a later date if needed.

Step 2 : How to set up an online store

Once you have purchased your domain name and hosting, you're ready to choose your e-commerce software. There are many to choose from and the best news is a lot of them are not only free but are included on our servers. The most popular choice at the moment is Prestashop. At Squirrel Hosting, we prefer Prestashop due to its ease of use and fantastic features such as reviews, reward points, coupons and much more. You can see more information regarding Prestashop here or on their official site here. Not only is it free but it's also very easy to set up. You can of course also look at using Zencart (also free) or Tomato Cart

How to set up Prestashop

To keep this guide simple, we are going to use Prestashop as an example. To set this up on your hosting you will need to do either one of the following:

  1. If you are using another hosting company : Download the Prestashop files and upload them to your hosting via FTP. Set up a Database then run the Prestashop install program.
  2. If you're using us for hosting : Follow the Install Prestashop Guide using our 1 click install system. This installs Prestashop for you in a few clicks (much simpler).

Step 2 : Summary / Quick guide

Pick an e-commerce script and install it onto your hosting. We recommend Prestashop and if you're on our servers you can use this guide. This will take care of all the uploading and database set ups for you.

Step 3 : How to integrate credit card processing into your site

OK, so now you have your domain name and hosting with an e-commerce website set up but no way of accepting credit cards. When it comes to accepting credit cards you have two options, either accept credit card on your site or accept credit cards but send the user to a 3rd party to process the payments (the latter is strongly recommended).

You will also need a card processor and a merchant account which can often be purchased from a single company, for example Nochex or PayPal.

Accept credit cards on your site

Accepting credit cards directly on your website means that the users stay on your domain whilst they input the card details. This means that should anything go wrong e.g. if card details are stolen, then the blame and the fine lies with you. Since fines can be on a per card detail lost basis and can be in the thousands, this is a very risky choice for new startups. The other downside to this is you will need to purchase an SSL licence which is an additional yearly cost of between £40 and £350.

Accept credit cards via a 3rd party

This method involves sending a user to another site to accept the payment. Often this 3rd party site can be customised to look like your own site so that the customer is non the wiser. The best thing about this method is that the 3rd party is responsible for making sure that the page is secure and is liable for any card details leaked.

We ourselves use two 3rd party card processors. The first is Nochex and the second is one most people have heard of - PayPal. Personally we prefer Nochex as PayPal tends to push the customer into creating a PayPal account during payment. Also the Nochex payment page can be completely customised to look like your site.

If you choose Nochex you can follow our install guide here. Please note most e-commerce websites will allow you to use more than one payment processor. So if you wanted to use PayPal to capture users with a PayPal account and Nochex to capture users with just a card, you could do so.

Step 3 : Summary / Quick guide

We suggest signing up to Nochex for a UK Trader account. It's free to set up and you can accept payments up to the value of £100. If you want to accept higher value payments, you can upgrade to a merchant account.

Click here to sign up.

Follow this guide on how to install Nochex on your Prestashop Site.

Step 4: How to get traffic to your site

By this stage, you should have a website set up with an e-commerce script (e.g. Prestashop) and a card processor integrated. So what's next? Traffic. You have three main avenues to investigate which we will briefly explain below. We will also be doing guides on the below in more detail in the future.

SEO : Search Engine Optimisation

This is the main avenue you should be looking into. It comprises in its simplest form of getting your site high up in the search engine rankings. In short, the best way to do this is to have content on your site that is so good that people will naturally want to link to it from their site. This can often be done via a good quality blog and this is the main method we use - your'e reading it right now! As SEO is a HUGE subject to cover, we will do a blog post on its own explaining this in the coming months.


The most popular of these is Google adwords which will charge you a fee every time someone clicks your advert. This can be a good source of traffic as you can target which words your adverts show up for. You place a 'bid' per each word (keyword) you want to show up for. If your bid is high enough, you can get your advert on the first page. Be careful though as these costs can spiral quickly. Use the Google keyword tool and try to find keywords which get the highest possible searches per month that are also a) relevant to your site and b) have little competition. It's better to have 20 less searched for keywords over 2 major keywords as you will not pay as much for the same amount of traffic.

Other advertisement platforms consist of Facebook (very specific targeting), forums (banner text adverts), Sponsorship and of course Bing (let's not forget Google's rival!)

Social Networking

Social networking is where you use sites like Twitter, Google + and Facebook to get traffic to your site by engaging with your customers. This can either be by interacting with them directly or sharing what is going on in your business in your social timeline. Social networking can be very time consuming but can have much higher conversion ratios than other platforms so it's seriously worth trying.

Final Thought

The above guide has been designed to help you get an e-commerce website online as easy as possible. Please note that there is a lot more to selling online than the above guide. However, the above should be a great starting point for you.

If this guide has helped you or you would like more information, drop us a comment below. We are always happy to hear any feedback.

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