Profiting From Your Business Online
Online marketing has become way too easy to pass up.
Imagine having the ability to market your products to thousands of customers simultaneously, process orders immediately, and create a repeating customer base, all for pennies on the dollar.
Sounds like a fairy tale, right? Well, it isn't. It's the world of e-commerce — one of the hottest tickets in town for small businesses.
The exploding growth of Internet technology combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of small business owners has created a cadre of tools making it easy to market and sell your products online.
Some small businesses are already using the Internet to their advantage while others are just taking their first steps. Whether you are on the verge of getting your small business online or have been online for years, here are some ways you can easily take your online business to the next level.
Network with Pros
Articles like this one are helpful for covering the basics, but the Web changes quickly and you are likely to have many specific questions. To increase your knowledge of online marketing techniques, join an online forum, such as WebMasterWorld, and you'll instantly be tapped into expert advice on how to market products and services via a Web site.
Search Engine Marketing
Search engines (e.g. Google and Yahoo) are the most popular and convenient way for Internet users to find companies that carry the kinds of products they are looking for. The trick is to position your Web site to come up near the top of the list in an Internet search based on your Web site's key words and other factors. For example, if a bicycle shop has a Products page in its Web site, the title metatag shouldn't just say "Products." Instead, it should say "Bicycle Shops in Peoria — Products." By simply adding in that keyphrase to the title tag, the store owner increases the odds that they will come up high in the search engine results when people search for "Bicycle Shops in Peoria — Products."
Pay Per Click Advertising
Search engine optimization takes time. For a quicker approach, you might want to consider paying for a sponsored ad on a search engine. Google's AdWords and AdSense programs are a good place to start.
Improve on Your Metrics
If you don't measure it, you can't improve on it. Come up with a list of key metrics for your site and monitor those metrics. More importantly, take steps to improve your results. One small business owner had a 75% abandoned cart rate, meaning that 3 out of 4 customers started to purchase online but never finished the process. By making a small change — presenting the shipping costs much earlier in the checkout process — they were able to decrease the abandoned cart rate to 35%. Apparently, shoppers didn't like being surprised at the end with high shipping costs.
Have a Selling Hero on Every Page
In Web site design, every Web page has a "hero." That's the item on the page that initially draws the eye, the thing on a page that stands out from the crowd. Make sure that every page on your Web site has a hero that sells — the hero should promote your product or service and tactfully "ask for the order." By being more direct in asking people to do business with you, you will greatly increase the profits on your site.
E-mails are another great online option for getting the word out about your product. However, this can also be a tricky marketing method, especially if you plan to send mass amounts of unsolicited e-mails (also known as spam) to potential customers. Spam marketing is restricted by law, and will generally result in annoying your customer base.
A much better approach is to build your e-mail database by soliciting e-mail addresses from existing customers, referrals, and voluntary enlistment. This not only keeps your company on the good side of the law, but also ensures that your e-mails will end up in the hands of people who are legitimately interested in your products.
Web logs or "blogs" can also be very effective tools for stirring up business online. A blog is simply a journal posted on a Web site that is updated frequently (often daily). It contains a variety of information ranging from opinions, news, ideas, and links to other relevant sites.
The advantage of a blog is that it gives you the opportunity to interface with your customers on a regular basis and creates "buzz" for your products. This is especially helpful if your products aren't very well known or if they fit a niche need in the marketplace. Another benefit is that as your blog grows, your search engine ranking will increase in leaps and bounds, positioning you as an expert in your field.
Stand Out from the Crowd
In marketing, it's important to differentiate yourself from your competitors. The same thing is true of Web sites. If your Web site looks like every other Web site, you're missing the opportunity to do something special that can grab a prospective customer's attention and make them stick around. What's unique these days? Try putting video testimonials or audio testimonials on the site. That's something that is just now starting to get popular, so if you are ahead of the curve and do it right away, your online orders will jump.
Be a Customer
Since you work for your business and are actively involved in building the Web site, it's hard to be objective about how well the site is doing in terms of attracting new customers and getting reorders from existing customers. Try to forget everything you know about your business and pretend you are a prospective customer visiting your site for the first time — would you buy from your site? Better yet, bring a prospective customer and an existing customer in for a focus group in which you watch them visit your Web site and navigate around the site. Do they do what you expected? How can you improve the site to guide them more directly into the ordering process, where interest in your products ultimately transforms into interest on a growing bank balance account for your small business.
Remember, the key is to continually improve your results. The competition isn't standing still, and neither can you. It's unrealistic to develop the perfect Web site in your first iteration. Learn, measure, improve and refine — that's the path to success.