It has never been easier or more cost effective to market online. There are numerous Web sites, consultants, software packages, and other tools to help you implement a successful online presence.
Here are 10 key steps to successfully marketing your business online:
1. Obtain a Good Domain Name. Before you establish a Web site for your business, you need a domain name. A domain name is the internet address that allows computer users to find your Web site, such as www.Microsoft.com or www.BananaRepublic.com. Good domain names are difficult to obtain, as millions have already been purchased over the years. The most common domain names end in ".com" or ".net" and are seen as the most desirable.
It's easy to check whether a domain name is available. For example, GoDaddy.com has a domain name service check and you can do a check in under a minute. The cost on GoDaddy to purchase a domain name is under $10.
A few key tips on domain names:
- Make sure the domain name hasn't been trademarked by someone else (check www.uspto.gov);
- Make sure it's easy to spell;
- Make the name easy to remember. But simpler and descriptive may be better — you don't have to come up with something as catchy as "Google" — and non-descriptive names require more branding effort.
2. Build a Professional Looking Web Site. Your Web site is a reflection of your business. People who come to your Web site can be impressed or turned off by the professionalism of your site. There are several approaches to building a Web site. First, there are plenty of sites (including GoDaddy) that will give you templates for a site either for free or very cheaply. Second, there are professional site building consultants who will custom-build a site for you. (But see our Checklist of Issues for Web Site Development Contracts to see what you need to do to negotiate a contract with such a consultant). And, third, there are multiple software packages available to help you build your own site.
3. Make Your Web Site Easy to Navigate and Make it Easy to Find What You Are Trying to Sell. Don't get caught up in trying to come up with dazzling flash and color for your site. The key to a good site is to make sure the viewers can easily find what they are looking for. This means a clear navigation bar and a good "search" box. Take a look at some of the great sites out there, and sites from competitors. That can help you plan how your site should be designed.
4. Build up Your E-mail List. One of the best and cheapest ways to sell online is through e-mail marketing. It's a great way to communicate with customers and prospective customers. So it is very valuable to collect e-mail addresses from visitors to your Web site. Offer them something worthwhile for their e-mail address — such as a discount or a free newsletter.
- Keep it reasonably short. Nobody wants to read lengthy e-mails.
- Make it well designed and visually interesting. Include photos and graphics. Provide multiple links back to your Web site.
- Make it look professional. Don't have typos, a sloppy look, or broken links.
- Include an easy way for the viewer to contact you and to unsubscribe from your e-mail list.
- Constantly test and track how your newsletters are doing.
E-mail newsletter programs can be established through companies that provide turn-key solutions, such as Constant Contact.
6. Buy Banner Ads. You can enhance visibility and traffic to your site by buying banner ads. The keys to effective banner ad campaigns are:
- Make the ad visually interesting with links to a particular offer or "landing" page on your site.
- Place the ads on sites relevant to your business.
- Constantly monitor and test the efficacy of the ads, measuring not only click-throughs from the ad to your site, but also the actual resulting sales and return on investment ("ROI").
7. Optimize Your Site for Search Engines. Hundreds of millions of searches a day are performed on the Web through Google, Yahoo, and other search engines. The search engines "spider" billions of Web pages. There is a fast growing area called "search engine optimization" that refers to efforts you can employ to get your Web site to show up higher in search results. For a good introduction to this topic, read What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
8. Buy Keyword Ads on Search Engines. Many businesses are finding that key word advertising on search engines can be quite beneficial. Here's how it works: If you sell computer books from your Web site, you might buy a small ad or listing on Google that would show up when someone types in the search box a term that you designate (such as "computer books" or "PC books"). If the searcher sees your paid ad and clicks on it, he is transported to your Web site and you pay on a "CPC" basis to Google (a cost per click, such as 30¢ a click). The goal is to get qualified prospective customers to your site.
The key elements of successful key word ad buying programs include:
- Purchase the most relevant key words.
- Write the ads in a way to compel qualified buyers to click on the ad.
- Send the user from the ad to a landing page to your site that sets forth the precise product or service related to the keyword ad. Sending a viewer to your home page is generally not as effective as sending them to a specific product page.
- Constantly review the amount you are paying per click, and the conversion of that click into buyers.
- Constantly test different ad copy and different landing pages to determine what works best for your site.
9. Make it Easy to Buy From Your Shopping Cart. If you are selling products from your site, you will need a shopping cart system and a credit card authorization process. Many companies provide such systems off the shelf, such as Yahoo! Small Business. The key here is to make sure the shopping process is fast and efficient. Many Web sites have found that their checkout process was too cumbersome, and that they lost potential buyers who became frustrated with the amount of time and effort involved.
10. Provide Great Customer Service. A satisfied customer will return to your site. So go out of your way to give great customer support and service. And for those who are not happy with their experience, try to turn them around with an offer of a discount, a free product, or some other benefit.