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How to Make an Ecommerce Website in WordPress

Discover how to create a thriving ecommerce website using WordPress and WooCommerce. This step-by-step guide covers everything from designing your store with custom branding to optimizing your site for maximum performance.

How to Make an Ecommerce Website with WordPress

It’s no secret that ecommerce has grown exponentially over the past decade. In 2023, it was estimated that global retail ecommerce sales reached around 5.8 trillion USD, and this number is only expected to keep rising in the coming years.

That means if you’re considering creating your ecommerce website, now is a great time! The key advantage of having an ecommerce website is that it’s accessible 24/7 to anyone with an internet connection. This means that the growth potential is endless!

If starting your own ecommerce site sounds daunting and you’re wondering where to start, you’re in the right place. Keep reading as we guide you on how you can create an ecommerce website with WordPress.

Why Choose WordPress for Ecommerce?

When it comes to building an ecommerce website, the options can feel overwhelming, and choosing the right platform is truly a make-or-break situation.

WordPress stands out as the leading content management system (CMS) for building all types of websites. In fact, it powers 43.2% of websites worldwide. Along with being open-source and free, WordPress has an undisputed reputation for being Google search-friendly and immensely customizable.

Here are a few reasons it is the go-to choice for many ecommerce entrepreneurs.

  1. Flexible and Customizable

WordPress offers many themes and plugins, allowing you to create a unique and fully customized ecommerce store that matches your brand and specific needs. With thousands of themes and plugins available, you can customize every aspect of your site to match your brand’s unique personality.

  1. Cost-effective

As an open-source platform, WordPress itself is free to use. Starting a business often involves a lot of expenses, but with WordPress, you can keep your website costs low. While you may need to invest in hosting, a domain name, and some premium plugins or themes, the overall cost is often lower than many other ecommerce solutions. Having a vast selection of free plugins also means you can add a lot of functionality without breaking the bank.

  1. Easy to use

An excellent advantage of WordPress is that you don’t need to be a tech wizard to set up your website. Its intuitive, user-friendly interface makes it accessible to everyone, and page builders like Elementor, also make website creation a non-coder’s dream. Even more, the platform's user-friendly nature extends to product management, order processing, and other essential ecommerce functions.

  1. Seamless Integration with WooCommerce

One of the biggest reasons to choose WordPress for ecommerce is its seamless integration with WooCommerce – the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress. WooCommerce transforms your site into a robust online store, complete with product listings, payment gateways, shipping options, and more. It also powers over 30% of all online stores, making it a proven and reliable choice for ecommerce functionality.

We’ll delve deeper into WooCommerce in a later section, but for now, just know that it’s a game-changer for online retailers.

What We’re Covering in This Article

  1. Before You Start
  2. Set Up WordPress
  3. Install and Configure WooCommerce
  4. Design Your Ecommerce Website
  5. Add Products to Your Store
  6. Optimize Your Ecommerce Store

1. Before You Start

Before setting up your ecommerce site, it's important to lay a solid foundation. A well-thought-out plan is the key to building a lasting ecommerce venture.

Here are some steps you should take before building your ecommerce website.

Define Your Niche

First, you need to know what you're selling and to whom. This step is all about finding your sweet spot in the market.

  • Identify Your Target Audience: Who are your ideal customers? What are their interests, needs, and pain points? Create detailed buyer personas to understand your audience better. This will help tailor your products and marketing efforts to meet their expectations.
  • Research Competitors: Look at other businesses in your niche. What are they doing well? Where are they falling short? Use this information to find gaps in the market that your business can fill. Tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs can help you analyze competitors' strengths and weaknesses.
  • Decide on Product Types: What products are you passionate about? What are you knowledgeable about? Choose products that align with both your interests and market demand. Consider factors like product availability, shipping logistics, and profit margins.

Set Goals and Objectives

Now that you’ve defined your niche, it’s time to set clear goals and objectives.

  • Sales Targets: How much revenue will you generate in the first year? Set realistic and achievable sales targets. Break these down into monthly or quarterly goals to track your progress.
  • Traffic Goals: How many visitors do you need to achieve your sales targets? Use tools like Google Analytics to set and monitor traffic goals. This will help you understand the effectiveness of your marketing strategies.
  • Customer Engagement Metrics: Beyond sales and traffic, consider metrics like customer retention, average order value, and customer satisfaction. These will give you a comprehensive view of your business’s health and growth potential.

Create a Business Plan

A detailed business plan acts as a roadmap for your ecommerce journey. It outlines your goals and strategies and helps secure funding if necessary.

  • Budgeting: How much money do you need to start and run your ecommerce store? Include costs for web hosting, marketing, inventory, and other operational expenses. Remember to factor in a buffer for unexpected costs.
  • Marketing Strategies: How will you attract customers to your site? Outline your marketing strategies, including SEO, social media marketing, email campaigns, and paid advertising. Having a clear marketing plan will help you allocate resources effectively.
  • Inventory Management: How will you source and manage your products? Decide whether you'll keep inventory in-house, use dropshipping, or employ a hybrid model. Invest in inventory management software to track stock levels, manage orders, and reduce the risk of overselling.

With this solid foundation, you’re ready to set up WordPress!

2. Set Up WordPress

Choosing a Domain Name

Your domain name is your website’s address on the Internet. Choosing a domain name is like choosing the name of your store; it needs to be memorable, relevant, and easy to spell.

Tips for Selecting a Domain Name

  • Keep it Short and Simple: Avoid long and complicated names. Aim for something easy to type and pronounce.
  • Use Keywords: Include keywords related to your business. This can help with SEO and clarify what your site is about.
  • Avoid Numbers and Hyphens: These can be confusing and more challenging to remember. Stick to letters for a cleaner, more professional look.
  • Check Availability: Use tools like Namecheap or GoDaddy to check if your desired domain name is available. If your first choice is taken, try different combinations or extensions like .net or .shop.

Selecting a Hosting Provider

Your hosting provider is where your website will live. Think of it as renting space on the internet. A good host ensures your site runs smoothly, loads quickly, and stays secure.

Types of Hosting

  • Shared Hosting: Multiple websites share the same server resources. It’s cost-effective but can be slower and less reliable during traffic spikes.
  • VPS (Virtual Private Server) Hosting: A middle ground between shared and dedicated hosting. You get a dedicated portion of a server’s resources, offering better performance and stability.
  • Dedicated Hosting: You get an entire server to yourself. It’s the most expensive but offers the best performance, security, and control.
  • Managed WordPress Hosting: A specialized hosting service designed specifically for WordPress websites. It offers features like automatic updates, backups, and enhanced security.

Recommended WordPress Hosting Providers

  • Bluehost: Known for its reliability and excellent customer service. It offers easy WordPress integration and is beginner-friendly.
  • SiteGround: Offers robust security features, top-notch performance, and advanced WordPress features.
  • WP Engine: A premium option with managed hosting that is great for high-traffic sites.

Installing WordPress

Once you’ve chosen your domain name and hosting provider, it’s time to install WordPress. Most hosts offer an easy, one-click installation process.

One-Click Installation

  • Log in to your hosting account's control panel (often cPanel).
  • Look for the "Website" or "Software" section, which usually contains the one-click installers.
  • Find and click on the WordPress installer icon. It might be labeled "WordPress" or part of a larger installer like Softaculous or Fantastico.
  • Click "Install Now" or "Install WordPress."
  • Choose the domain where you want to install WordPress. If you're going to install it in a subdirectory, specify that as well.
  • Configure your installation settings:
    • Site name
    • Admin username (avoid using "admin" for security reasons)
    • Admin password (use a strong, unique password)
    • Admin email address
  • Choose whether to install any additional themes or plugins (if offered).
  • Review your settings and click "Install" or "Finish Installation."
  • Wait for the installation to complete. This usually takes a few minutes.
  • Once finished, you'll receive your WordPress login credentials. Make sure to save these securely.
  • Click on the provided link to access your new WordPress dashboard.
  • Log in using the credentials provided.

Manual Installation

If your host doesn’t offer one-click installation, you can install WordPress manually.

  • Download WordPress:
    • Go to wordpress.org and download the latest version of WordPress.
    • Unzip the downloaded file on your local computer
  • Create a MySQL database and user:
    • Log in to your hosting account's cPanel.
    • Find and open MySQL Databases.
    • Create a new database, noting the name.
    • Create a new database user with a strong password.
    • Add the user to the database, granting all privileges.
  • Upload WordPress files:
    • Use an FTP client (like FileZilla) or your hosting's File Manager.
    • Upload the contents of the unzipped WordPress folder to your website's root directory (usually public_html).
  • Configure wp-config.php:
    • Rename wp-config-sample.php to wp-config.php.
    • Edit wp-config.php with your database information (name, username, password, and host).
  • Run the installation:
    • Open your website in a browser.
    • You'll be redirected to the WordPress installation page.
    • Select your preferred language and click Continue.
  • Complete the installation:
    • Enter the following information:
      • Site Title
      • Admin Username (avoid using 'admin' for security)
      • Password (use a strong, unique password)
      • Your Email
    • Choose whether you want search engines to index your site.
    • Click "Install WordPress".
  • Log in to your new WordPress site:
    • Use the admin username and password you just created to access your WordPress dashboard

After installation, it's recommended to:

  1. Update WordPress core, themes, and plugins if needed
  2. Delete any default content (sample posts or pages)
  3. Configure your site's general settings
  4. Set up your permalink structure
  5. Install essential plugins for security, backups, and SEO

Remember, the exact steps may vary slightly depending on your hosting provider.

3. Install and Configure WooCommerce

What is WooCommerce?

WooCommerce is a powerful, flexible ecommerce plugin specifically designed for WordPress. Think of it as the engine that powers your ecommerce vehicle. It offers various functionalities, from product listings and inventory management to secure payment processing and shipping options. Whether you’re selling physical goods, digital products, or even subscriptions, WooCommerce has got you covered.

Here’s how to install and configure WooCommerce to get your store up and running.

Installing WooCommerce

  • Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  • Navigate to Plugins > Add New.
  • In the search bar, type "WooCommerce".
  • Look for the WooCommerce plugin by Automattic and click "Install Now."
  • Once installation is complete, click "Activate".
  • The WooCommerce Setup Wizard will launch automatically. Click "Let's go!" to begin.
  • Enter your store details:
    • Store address
    • Select your country/region
    • Choose your currency
  • Select your industry from the provided options.
  • Specify the types of products you plan to sell (physical, digital, or both).
  • Add information about your business model (number of products, other sales channels, etc.).
  • Choose whether to install recommended free business features (e.g., WooCommerce Admin, Jetpack).
  • Select a theme for your store:
    • You can continue with your current theme
    • Choose a free WooCommerce theme
    • Purchase a premium theme
  • Set up your tax options:
    • Choose whether to charge sales tax
    • Select automated tax calculations if desired
  • Set up payment methods:
    • Choose from options like Stripe, PayPal, offline payments, etc.
    • Follow the prompts to set up each selected payment method
  • Personalize your store:
    • Opt in or out of usage tracking
    • Choose whether to subscribe to the WooCommerce mailing list
  • Click "Continue" to complete the setup.
  • You'll be directed to the WooCommerce dashboard where you can start adding products and customizing your store further.

Remember, you can always modify these settings later in the WooCommerce > Settings menu.

4. Design Your Ecommerce Website

With WooCommerce installed and configured, it's time to make your ecommerce website visually appealing and user-friendly. The design of your site is vital as it directly impacts the user experience and, ultimately, your sales.

Wireframe & Customer Journey Map (CJM)

Think of your website as a house. Before the building begins, you work with an architect and interior designers to design the blueprint and 3D mockup of the house.

The same goes for an ecommerce website. Before building or customizing your theme, a web designer will create a Customer Journey Map (CJM) to construct a blueprint from when your custom becomes aware right through to advocating for your brand (reviews and referrals).

This helps the development team understand the creative assets, copywriting, plugins, and third-party tools required for your website to convert browsers into buyers systematically.

Next, your web designer will build a wireframe, which is a detailed visual representation of your final website design. Wireframes prevent costly revisions by allowing you to provide feedback on the final design without paying for development time.

Once your wireframes are ready, the developer will suggest either a custom or pre-built theme. Let’s dive into your options and considerations.

Custom Theme vs. Pre-Built Themes

The choice between a custom theme and a pre-built theme depends on your budget, time constraints, and design complexity. For mid-large budgets with high design complexity, we recommend a custom thme to reflect your unique branding and set you apart from competitors. In addition, custom themes are generally lightweight, meaning they load faster, reducing frustration and improving User Experience.

For smaller budgets or startups looking to build a proof of concept with low design complexity, pre-built themes can be customized to fit your brand. It’s a good idea to consult a professional web developer to guide you on the right theme choice for your business.

Choosing a Pre-Built Theme

A good theme does more than make your site look pretty; it ensures that your store is user-friendly, mobile-responsive, and optimized for speed. A well-designed theme not only makes your site look professional but also ensures it’s easy to navigate, responsive, and optimized for conversions.

Recommended Ecommerce Themes

  1. Astra: Lightweight and highly customizable, Astra is perfect for any ecommerce site. It offers pre-built templates and seamless integration with WooCommerce.
  2. Flatsome: Popular for its sleek design and extensive customization options.
  3. OceanWP: Known for its speed and flexibility, OceanWP is a popular choice for online stores. It’s packed with features and extensions to help you build a professional site.
  4. Storefront: Developed by WooCommerce, Storefront is a solid, reliable theme that offers deep integration with WooCommerce. It’s a great starting point for any ecommerce site.

Installing a Theme

  1. Go to Appearance > Themes in your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Click “Add New” and search for your chosen theme.
  3. Click “Install” and then “Activate.”

Customizing a Theme

  1. Navigate to Appearance > Customize.
  2. Here, you can adjust various aspects of your theme, such as colors, fonts, and layout.
  3. Use the Live Preview to see changes in real time before publishing.

Customizing the Layout

A great theme is just the start; customizing the layout ensures your site meets your needs and provides an excellent user experience. Your site’s design should guide visitors smoothly through your products and towards purchasing.

Page Builders

Page builders make customization easy, even if you have yet to gain coding experience. Two popular options are:

  • Elementor: A popular drag-and-drop page builder that allows you to design complex layouts without touching a line of code.
  • WPBakery: Another powerful tool that offers drag-and-drop functionality. It’s versatile and integrates well with most WordPress themes.

Customizing the Header and Footer

Header Customization

Ensure your header includes a clear logo, navigation menu, and search bar. You can also use customizer settings or a page builder to add elements like contact info or social media icons.

Footer Customization

Be sure to include essential links such as privacy policy, terms of service, and contact details. You can also add widgets to quickly access categories, recent posts, or an email signup form.

Designing Product Pages

Your product pages are where customers make purchasing decisions, so they need to be compelling and informative.

  • High-Quality Images: Use clear, high-resolution images that showcase your products from multiple angles. Consider adding a zoom feature for detailed viewing.
  • Detailed Descriptions: Write persuasive and informative product descriptions. Highlight key features, benefits, and any unique selling points.
  • Customer Reviews: Enable and prominently display customer reviews to build trust and provide social proof.
  • Clear Calls to Action: Make your “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now” buttons stand out by using contrasting colors and clear, concise text.

Enhancing User Experience

Mobile Responsiveness

Ensure your site looks great and functions well on all devices. A significant portion of online shopping is done on mobile, so a responsive design is non-negotiable. Most modern themes are mobile-friendly out of the box, but always test your site on various devices.

Site Speed Optimization

A fast-loading site is crucial for both user experience and SEO. Here’s how to speed up your site:

  • Install a Caching Plugin: Use plugins like WP Rocket or W3 Total Cache to improve load times.
  • Use Image Optimization: Compress images without losing quality using plugins like Smush or ShortPixel.
  • Minify CSS and JavaScript: Reduce file sizes by minifying your site’s CSS and JavaScript. Many caching plugins offer this feature.

Easy Navigation

Make it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for:

  • Intuitive Menus: Organize your menu logically, with clear categories and subcategories.
  • Breadcrumbs: Use breadcrumb navigation to help users understand their location on your site and easily navigate back to previous pages.
  • Search Functionality: Implement a robust search feature to allow customers to quickly find products.

5. Add Products to Your Store

With your ecommerce website designed and ready, it's time to stock your digital shelves. Categories are an important part of your store because they help customers find products quickly, improve SEO, and make your store look more organized.

Here's how to create product categories.

Creating Product Categories

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Go to Products > Categories in the left-hand menu.
  3. On the left side of the screen, you'll see the "Add new category" section.
  4. Enter a Name for your category. This is what customers will see.
  5. (Optional) Enter a Slug. This is the URL-friendly version of the name. If left blank, WordPress will generate it automatically.
  6. If this is a subcategory, select a Parent category from the dropdown. Otherwise, leave it as "None".
  7. (Optional) Enter a Description for the category.
  8. Choose a Display type. This determines what's shown on the category page. You can leave it as "Default" if unsure.
  9. (Optional) Upload a Thumbnail image for the category if your theme supports it.
  10. Click the "Add new category" button to create the category.
  11. To add products to this category:
  12. Go to Products > All Products.
  13. Edit the product you want to categorize.
  14. In the right sidebar, find the "Product Categories" box.
  15. Check the box next to the category (or categories) you want to assign the product to.
  16. Update the product to save changes.
  17. Remember, you can create multiple categories and subcategories to organize your products effectively. You can also edit or delete categories later if needed

Adding Products

Once your categories are set up, you can start adding products. This process involves more than just filling in basic details; it's about creating an engaging and informative product listing.

  1. Navigate to Products > Add New in the WordPress dashboard.
  2. Enter the product title and description:
    • Add the product name in the title field
    • Write a detailed description in the main content area
  3. Set the product type:
    • In the "Product data" box, select the appropriate type (Simple, Variable, Grouped, or External/Affiliate)
  4. Enter product data:
    • Set the Regular Price and Sale Price (if applicable)
    • Configure inventory settings if needed
    • Set shipping details for physical products
  5. Add a short description in the designated field.
  6. Assign product categories and tags in the right sidebar.
  7. Set the main product image:
    • Click "Set product image" in the "Product image" box
    • Upload or select an image from your media library
  8. Add additional product images to the gallery (optional):
    • Click "Add product gallery images" below the main image
    • Upload or select multiple images
  9. Configure any additional options based on your product type (e.g., variations for variable products).
  10. Review all details and click "Publish" to make the product live on your store.
  11. (Optional) Use the "Copy to a new draft" feature in the "Publish" box to quickly create similar products.

Don’t forget to optimize your product titles and descriptions for SEO, use high-quality images, and provide accurate and detailed information to help customers make informed decisions.

Writing Compelling Product Descriptions

A great product description can be the difference between a sale and a bounce. Here’s how to craft descriptions that sell:

  • Know Your Audience: Write in a tone that resonates with your target customers. Use language that speaks to their needs and preferences.
  • Highlight Benefits, Not Just Features: Focus on how the product will improve the customer’s life. Instead of just listing features, explain the benefits.
  • Use Engaging Language: Be descriptive and vivid. Paint a picture of how the product can be used. Avoid jargon unless your audience commonly understands it.
  • Include Keywords: Incorporate relevant keywords naturally to improve SEO and help your products appear in search results.

Uploading High-Quality Product Images

Images play a crucial role in online shopping. They’re the closest your customers can get to touching and seeing the product before buying.

Tips for Product Images

  • Use High-Resolution Photos: Ensure images are clear and detailed.
  • Show Multiple Angles: Provide photos from different angles to give customers a comprehensive view of the product.
  • Include Contextual Images: Show the product in use to help customers visualize it in their own lives.
  • Consistent Style: For a cohesive look, maintain a consistent style across all product images. Use the same background and lighting setup.

Managing Inventory

Effective inventory management ensures the right products are available without overstocking or understocking.

Stock Management

  • Enable Stock Management: Go to WooCommerce > Settings > Products > Inventory and enable stock management.
  • Set Stock Status: For each product, set the status to “In Stock” or “Out of Stock.”
  • Track Stock Quantities: Enter the stock quantity for each product. WooCommerce will automatically update stock levels as orders are placed.
  • Backorder Settings: Decide if you want to allow backorders. This means customers can order products even when they’re out of stock, to be delivered later.
  • Low Stock Notifications: Set up notifications to alert you when stock levels are low. This helps you reorder products in time to avoid running out.

6. Optimize Your Ecommerce Store

Analytics

Add Google Analytics (GA4) to your store to track user behavior, setting up enhanced ecommerce tracking. This allows you to see where users are dropping off (quantitative analysis) and, thus, where you should spend time optimizing.

You can either use a GA4 plugin for WordPress, implement the tracking code manually or use a tag management tool like Google Tag Manager (recommended).

Let’s go through an example of how you might use GA4 in combination with other tools to optimize your website.

You might see large drop-offs at the cart stage, indicating a need for further analysis. With a tool like Hotjar, you could run session recordings and surveys on the cart page (qualitative analysis) to better understand the reason for drop-offs.

After analyzing the qualitative data, you might see users leaving straight after seeing the cart page, indicating that they need a little more convincing. You then hypothesize an update: “Adding testimonials to the checkout page will reduce our drop-offs at cart by X%.”

This process is called Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) and is a fundamental part of scaling ecommerce websites.

We recommend engaging a CRO professional with a strong track record in improving ecommerce conversion rates.

SEO Best Practices

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is like putting up signposts that guide customers to your store. Implementing SEO best practices helps your site rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs), making it easier for potential customers to find you.

On-Page SEO for Product Pages

  • Title Tags and Meta Descriptions: Ensure each product page has a unique, keyword-rich title tag and meta description. These elements appear in search results and influence click-through rates.
  • URL Structure: Use clean, descriptive URLs that include relevant keywords. Avoid using generic URLs with random numbers or characters.
  • Headers and Subheaders: Use H1 tags for product titles and H2 or H3 tags for subheadings. This helps search engines understand the structure and content of your pages.
  • Keyword Optimization: Incorporate relevant keywords naturally throughout your product descriptions, headers, and image alt text. Avoid keyword stuffing, which can hurt your rankings.
  • High-Quality Content: Provide detailed, informative product descriptions that answer potential customer questions. This not only improves SEO but also enhances user experience.

Using SEO Plugins

  • Yoast SEO: Yoast SEO is a powerful plugin that helps you optimize your site for search engines. It offers features like keyword optimization, readability analysis, and XML sitemaps.
  • All in One SEO: Another popular SEO plugin that provides comprehensive tools for optimizing your ecommerce site. It includes meta tag generation, XML sitemap support, and Google Analytics integration.

Security Measures

A secure site protects your business and customers from cyber threats like data breaches, malware, and phishing attacks. It also helps maintain your site’s reputation and avoids legal complications related to data protection.

Recommended Security Plugins

  • Wordfence: Wordfence offers comprehensive security features, including firewall protection, malware scanning, and login security. It provides real-time threat defense and monitoring.
  • Sucuri Security: Sucuri is a well-known security plugin that includes features like malware scanning, blacklist monitoring, and security audits. It also offers a web application firewall (WAF) for enhanced protection.

Regular Backups

Regular backups ensure you can quickly restore your site in case of data loss or a security breach. Here’s how to set up and manage backups:

  • UpdraftPlus: UpdraftPlus is a popular backup plugin that allows you to schedule regular backups and store them in remote locations like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon S3.
  • BackupBuddy: Another reliable backup solution, BackupBuddy lets you easily create full backups, schedule automatic backups, and restore your site.

Conclusion

Managing and growing your e-commerce business requires ongoing effort and strategic planning. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ve laid the groundwork for a thriving online business.

To recap the key points we covered in this post:

  1. Plan Your Ecommerce Website: Define your niche, set goals, and create a business plan.
  2. Set Up WordPress: Choose a domain name, select a hosting provider, and install WordPress.
  3. Install and Configure WooCommerce: Install WooCommerce, complete the initial setup, and configure settings.
  4. Design Your Ecommerce Website: Design a wireframe, choose a theme, customize the layout, and enhance user experience.
  5. Add Products to Your Store: Create product categories, add products, write compelling descriptions, and manage inventory.
  6. Optimize Your Ecommerce Store: Implement SEO best practices and ensure your website’s security.

Remember that continuous learning and improvement are key to staying ahead in the competitive ecommerce landscape.

Finally, congratulations on completing your ecommerce journey with WordPress and WooCommerce! Keep experimenting, analyzing, and optimizing to grow your online store. Here’s to your business success!

Developer & Marketer
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