How to Start on Shopify | Top Tips for Beginners

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME WHEN I WAS A SHOPIFY NEWBIE

Tips to save time, sweat and tears down the road

Erinn LaMattery
offonawhim.com

Are you just starting your own e-commerce website on Shopify, maybe moving from Etsy or another platform to your own website? Or are you placing your eggs in a few other baskets to protect your business in case Etsy decides to pull the plug and shut you down?

It's sad but oh so true, Etsy, FB, Instagram, Amazon, they can shut you down without notice for arbitrary reasons. A friend of mine recently had her Etsy shop shut down without warning and not because she had done anything wrong. She had moved countries and needed to change her method to receive payments, but Etsy's policy changed and she could no longer get them via Paypal and Etsy doesn't allow a bank transfer for her new country of residence so they shut her down. Period. Damn. She couldn't even access her listings anymore so she could export them to a new platform.

One of my first suggestions is that you export your customer list if you can in case you do get shut down, so you can email your customers and let them know you are on a new platform. 

Second, it's always good to be building up your own platform, even just bit by bit, in case you decide to diversify, move off Etsy or find yourself in the situation as my friend.

It's harder work for sure, you need to drive your own traffic, work harder at building a customer base, but it's also very rewarding because you.own.it. Nobody else does. Yay!

So, on to my top tips for setting up your new shop after selling on Etsy. As time goes on you will learn and find more you want to do, but these initial tips will help you get going and avoid some of the frustration down the road.

1. IMAGES

Decide image size and shape before you upload a single image

This includes product and banner photos. Trust me, this one simple step will make your life so much easier.

Etsy resizes and shapes photos for you automatically when upload them so you never have to think of it. Shopify doesn't.

A few months after setting up my products with images of all sizes and shapes, I decided I wanted all square images with a 2,000 x 2,000 pixel ratio. Then later changed to a 1,000 x 1,000 ratio. What this meant was a LOT of work, I had to go to each product and replace the images. Later on Shopify added a built in image editor so you can do this right in the product now, but still has to be done one by one.

Save yourself hours of time and do it right from the start. When I edit my original images, I square them all, save to .jpg, then run them through a script to resize to 1000px. 

Note: photograph your products in a larger resolution size, it's better to scale images down than to scale them up.

I use the Pixelmator app for Mac, and created a script in the Automator app to batch resize the images from Finder. You can do it all in Pixelmator too, but it's just one less step when dealing with many images at a time.

2. IMAGE NAMES

Choose images names that are applicable and descriptive of your product

For SEO purposes and for sight impaired people, it's best practice to name images something applicable that describes what the item is. Put a dash between each word so that search engines can read the name i.e:
brown-leather-wrap-bracelet-men.jpg

Or run your site through a Shopify app that will do this for you.

I use Minifier Image Resizer every month or so to reduce size and rename images. The app takes the image name from your title and assigns it to each image. You can subscribe for a small monthly fee, or pay as you go if you don't have many images. I usually pay as I go and it's about $3 each time.

2b. IMAGE ALT TEXT

Before you save your product, click on each photo and add alt text describing the image with some details, this is important to your SEO, i.e.:
brown leather wrap bracelet for me with birthstone on wrist

3. TITLES

Don't write your product titles like you do for Etsy 

With Etsy, titles are often stuffed with keywords for search purposes. In your shop, it's better to keep them simple and more descriptive. It'll look better on your home page and make more sense to visitors.

On Etsy I may say 'Natural Stone Leather Wrap Layer Bracelet for Men -Metaphysical Jewelry Him -Moonstone Bronzite Peace Spiritual Journey....' but for shopify I would keep it simpler: 'Brown Leather Wrap Bracelet with Moonstone'

Note: your product title becomes the URL for that product. If you decide to change your product title and want the URL to match, you will need to change the URL at the bottom of the product description page too.

3b. DESCRIPTIONS

Give customers a visual image of your product through your description

Write your product descriptions with a few good paragraphs about your product to entice the customer into it. Use descriptive words and help them visualize how they can use your product in their life, what benefit it has, what inspired you to create it. 

I often use at least 1 H2 heading at the top of my product with a catch phrase. Some information is the same for each product, and I use an H5 header for those, to help differentiate it and make my products look uniform.

See a sample of my product description here:

PHOENIX Leather Wrap Bracelet

4. TEMPLATES

Create product templates for the various types of products you will have

At the time of writing this, Shopify 2.0 is about to be released, and I hear we will be able to create templates in our theme editing section. But up till then, I created a couple basic templates that included all the basic information for each product type and the layout I wanted, including:

  • size information
  • materials information
  • shipping and processing
  • email list join link
  • other information such as where my studio is, how I package items
  • link to other related products to complete the look

It has been a pain when updating this information as I had to go to each individual product and update it manually. There are some apps though that can help with it, apps relating to metafields. However, from what I understand, with Shopify2.0 you will now be able to do this in your backend, yay! So excited!!

UPDATE: Shopify 2.0 is now live and with the new themes you are able to create product templates, fun!

5. TAGS

Tags on Shopify and tags on Etsy are very different beasts

Where tags on on Etsy are used for customer search purposes, tags on Shopify are for your backend organization. Keep them simple and always use the same tag for the same information (i.e. always use accessory, don't have accessory and accessories).

For my bracelets I have 'leather wrap bracelet, and then one tag for each stone and that's about it. If it's male specific, I'll add 'mens' to it, or if it's a winter theme, I'll add winter, etc.

Why is this important? When you start working on creating and sorting collections, they are often built around the tags. So if you wanted a 'Father's Day' collection, you create the collection with the tag (in my case 'mens') and it will pull all the items tagged with that into the collection.

So tags have nothing to do with SEO or external search. (I'm not very good at SEO, not at all really, lol! I can't give much advice on it.)

5b. SEO box

Edit the SEO box at the bottom

I didn't realize this for a long time, but the SEO box at the bottom of your pages is an important thing to pay attention to. Use this box to set up how your product will display in Google's Search Engine Results and take advantage of the space. 

I usually delete almost everything in the box and re-write the main paragraph of my description to be more precise and to the point, with the goal of capturing someone's attention when they read the blurb on Google. You can also edit the Page Title, and the URL. It's advised to remove unnecessary words from the URL like 'and', 'the' 'of'... and keep the main keywords to your product.

Image of the SEO box for the Phoenix Leather Wrap Bracelet 

6. EMAIL LIST

Sign up for an email list provider

An email list provider will collect customer emails and they will be there when you decide it's time to send them a message.

This is one huge advantage to Etsy which doesn't allow you to contact customers outside of the sale. I use MailerLite, which has a free plan available. Another popular provider Klaviyo, which also has a free plan, but a more robust (though more expensive) paid plan. Shopify also has a built in email program, but I never used it so can't give much advice about it.

7. APPS

Don't rush to add a bunch of apps to your shop

Unless an app has been developed by Shopify, it can be hit or miss as to what you'll get, and what other apps it may conflict with. I've lost money due to apps not playing well or not working smoothly. And removing them from the shop can be troublesome sometimes. Though I hear with Shopify 2.0 it should be much easier to remove all traces of an app.

Once you have your shop running for a bit you'll start to see what things you need that the Shopify basic platform doesn't do. 

For me, I use Advanced Product Options which is billed at $14.99 monthly. I wish it were a little cheaper, naturally, but it has saved me hours of work and as my shop relies heavily on customized products, APO gives me the ability to set up detailed product options and add ons for customers. Shopify's variant setup is super basic and not that great for shops that do a lot of customization or personalization for products.

My favorite apps:

  • MINIFIER | image optimization (pay per image or by monthly fee)
  • STAMPED.IO | for gathering customer reviews and posting to your site (free plan available)
  • MAILERLITE email marketing | free, you need a mailerlite account to use it
  • MLVeda | currency converter that works with Advanced Product Options
  • ADVANCED PRODUCT OPTIONS | $14.99/month, gives you unlimited option choices with add-on pricing and conditional logic and more
  • VELA | a fantastic tool to copy your Etsy listings over to Shopify or vice versa, and more. It used to be free but is now $5/month.

NOTE: Before you install a new app, always make a copy of your theme first. If the app doesn't work out, you can roll back your theme without having to dig out all the bits of code apps leave behind that can cause conflict down the road.

8. LAYOUT INFORMATION

Keep a post it note or a small file on your computer of what fonts and colors you decide to use so you can quickly refer to it when you do your emails or logos or whatever you need, making sure your colors and fonts are all synced

9. A .COM

Secure your own domain name

I recommend doing it outside of Shopify (I use godaddy) so if you ever move off shopify you will still own your domain name. You can hook your shopify shop to the domain name and it will always display as [offonawhim.com] and not [offonawhim.myshopify.com]

10. AUTOMATED EMAILS

Set up your automated emails

In the Shopify--> settings--> notifications section, you can set up your automated emails. I recommend you get your ORDER CONFIRMATION and SHIPPING CONFIRMATION emails set up first. Then later when you've got stuff basically up and running, go back and look at abandoned cart and other emails you think necessary to your shop.

TIP: with my order confirmation email I include a discount code in case customers want to add to their order before it's been shipped. They can use it to get free shipping within 24 hours of the order.

11. SHIPPING SETTINGS

Set up some basic shipping profiles

Set this up in your settings--> shipping and delivery section. I try to keep it as simple as possible with a flat rate shipping for domestic and flat rate for international, and free shipping for orders over a specified amount. 

Offering FREE SHIPPING for all purchases is an option. If you do that, calculate this expense into your product price so you don't lose money.

Have fun and get in touch if you have any questions or suggestions to add to this article! 

You may also like:
How to Set Up an Online Shop on a Budget

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