Starting an online business has many parallels to establishing a bricks-and-mortar store. You have to estimate expenses and profits, secure a good location, and create a business plan to guide and grow your business. And if you want loyal customers, you have to make sure their first experience with your business is satisfactory. Unlike a shop on Main Street, though, your online business will face the major challenge of being found online. Disciples of the “if you build it, they will come” way of thinking don’t survive on the web. Your customers are out there but they have to be able to locate your business among the clutter of the internet. Tackle that challenge head on and build a solid foundation for your new online business with our tips below.
Select a Domain Name
The very first step of establishing your online web presence is finding a domain name. An effective domain name includes essential keywords, is memorable, relatively short, and descriptive. If you select a domain name with these thoughts in mind, customers and search engines will find your site easily.
There are a lot of domain name choices, so how do you narrow down your options? If you’re in the business of selling patio furniture, for example, and your business name is Walker and Sons Patio Furniture, walkerpatiofurniture.com is a stronger domain choice compared to walkerandsons.com. When you include essential keywords such as “Walker” and “patio furniture,” customers will instantly be able to recognize your brand and will be able to identify what products you’re selling. Search engines will also be able to deliver your website as a result in a “patio furniture” search query, expanding your website’s reach on the internet.
Search for variations of your ideal domain name to see what options are available on BuyDomains.com. BuyDomains’ premium domain names are ideal for businesses looking to establish a strong presence online. Premium domain names often fit the criteria of a “good” domain name because they include descriptive keywords and domain authority that can help boost your SEO efforts. You’ll also notice that a majority of domain names on BuyDomains.com contain trusted domain extensions such as .COM and .NET. And with a memorable domain name, your customers will be able to return to your site time and time again.
Find a Web Host
A web host is a service that stores, maintains, and publishes your website online. Finding a web host isn’t as simple as choosing any old hosting service you find online. Most importantly, you’ll want reliability and good customer support. You want your website to experience little-to-no downtime and you’ll want helpful support agents for when you do have an issue. You’ll also need to determine which kind of hosting package is appropriate for your website. A certain amount of bandwidth is needed to be sure that your website runs quickly and smoothly. Bandwidth and other specifications are based upon your individual website, its content, and its needs. For some businesses, a shared server is more than enough, but for others, VPS hosting may be necessary. You’ll want to select the package that can adequately support your site because the faster your pages load, the better your website performs on search engine queries and the happier your customers are. You should also look into the services your web host provides, including content back-up services, WordPress, SSL certificates, website builders, and email services. These kinds of add-ons will help your ecommerce site have full functionality and will help your business look professional to outside parties. Companies like Domain.com or Bluehost.com will have all of their packages and options listed on their website. Review your choices to find the one that works best for your site.
Design Your Website
The do-it-yourself approach is tempting for new online entrepreneurs. It looks easy enough to design a functional and appealing website. But in the end, you could be going down a rabbit-hole of new skills: coding, graphic design, and much, much more. Luckily there are website builders available to make your life a little bit easier. Consider Weebly or Impress.ly for a simple approach to building an intuitive website with relatively little effort. If you need some guidance, check out our blog on what not to do when designing a new site.
Set Up Clear Communication Channels
Customers should never have to question how they can get in contact with your business. Your contact information should be clearly displayed on a header or footer on every page of your website. Whether it’s a phone number, an email address, or an online form, your business needs to be available to answer your customers’ questions.
To assist with building clear communication channels, email addresses associated with your business should reflect your branding and domain name. Info@walkerpatiofurniture.com looks more professional and trustworthy compared to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your domain registry or web host should have email services available to create custom email addresses.
If you need help collecting leads, your website should have an online form. The form should have required fields including name, email address, and phone number along with a box for customers to address questions or concerns. A well-placed online form on your website will steadily collect leads with little to no effort on your end, helping you drive sales and increase customer satisfaction.
However you choose to communicate online, consistency and availability are key. Customers should be able to contact you, and in return, you should provide timely answers.
Promote Your Website with Search Engine Marketing Strategies
You won’t be highly visible on the web unless search engines find you and decide your site has relevant content. We’ve mentioned various SEO strategies so far in this blog, such as choosing a premium domain name that includes essential keywords. There are other strategies you should consider, such as utilizing AdWords, using inbound links to boost traffic, appropriately tagging pages, and consistently updating your site’s content. If you’re not the do-it-yourself type, your business could always hire an SEO expert.
Streamline the Ecommerce Process
It’s critical to have a smooth and trustworthy checkout process for your online store. This includes a well-organized product catalogue, a secure shopping cart feature, straightforward pricing and shipping costs, and clear return policies. Since trust is a major barrier preventing customers from shopping online, you should consider purchasing an SSL certificate. This will help keep personal data safe and will help instill confidence in your online store. All of these elements combined will create a positive experience for your customer and can encourage them to purchase from you again.
On the other end of your online store, your business should have a timely response to order inquiries and a rapid fulfillment process. You should communicate with your customer when their order is received and when their order will be shipped. Your business might also benefit from providing a phone number or email address that is solely for questions about customer orders. Keep lines of communication open for an efficient and satisfactory ecommerce business.
Build Your Brand Through Differentiation
While the internet can give you access to millions of potential customers, it has also lowered the barrier of entry for your competitors. Because customers have so many options, and because your business will also be competing with established brands, you’ll need to have a solid marketing plan that includes strong branding initiatives.
You should identify the key selling points that set you apart from your competitors. You should be asking yourself, “Why would a customer choose to buy from my business?” A larger discussion between you and your team should delve into this topic further. How is your company different? Is it because you’re able to beat competitors’ prices or is there another advantage to choosing your company? Does your company have an interesting history that you can capitalize on? Are your products superior because of a special characteristic or manufacturing process? Do you have a social mission? Explore all unique aspects of your business to establish the basics of your brand.
Upselling and Cross-Selling Your Products or Services
Once you get someone to your site, you have a powerful opportunity to educate them about other products or services through upselling and cross-selling. Upselling would include “two for the price of one” deals or an upgrade to an existing service. Cross-selling presents customers with other opportunities, such as selling health insurance to customers who already have car insurance with your business.
These tactics can result in more profitable sales but it’s important to offer customers add-ons or new products that will provide value. A customer who purchases patio furniture might receive a pitch to purchase a fire pit at a discount to go along with it. For a customer who wants to spend more time in their backyard, this fire pit could be an enticing purchase. But if that same customer is on a budget and purchasing lower-priced items, offering expensive landscaping services may not be the most successful cross-sell. Choose upselling and cross-selling techniques strategically for the most effective results.
Analyze Website Traffic
The trick to understanding your customers’ on-site behavior is to analyze your web traffic with analytics tools like (the free!) Google Analytics. What percentage of your site’s visitors click on links to your products or services? How long do they stay on each page? Are visits from search traffic producing more sales than visits from referring sites or vice versa? Is your paid traffic delivering ROI? These are just some of the questions that can be answered using an analytics program. Use these insights to A/B test pages on your site or to make adjustments for better performance.
Maintain, Manage, and Improve Your Business
An online business isn’t a fire-and-forget venture. The information on your site must be current, correct, and reliable. Product information, prices, and shipping costs need to be accurate and updated. You may need an occasional site redesign, adjust SEO strategies, or make changes based off your analytics program. To see success, you need to be constantly re-evaluating the effectiveness of your website. Any activity you engage in should align with your long term business goals. You should regularly assess where your business stands when it comes to achieving these goals.
Your success as an online entrepreneur is a function of the effectiveness of your web site. Invest in your online business as you would in a bricks-and-mortar office and enjoy the benefits of an increased customer base.