A successful Internet-based business requires more than just an online presence. It demands a great deal of planning, patience and attention. It can be a very involved process that can reap many benefits if done successfully.
Like traditional startup businesses, many new Internet-based businesses fail to generate enough revenue to keep them open. However, the benefit of an Internet business is that it does not require real estate. Simply put, an Internet business requires a lot less revenue to get started than a traditional business, and can be discarded relatively easy if things don't work out.
Although Internet-only businesses can be successful, statistics show that the most successful online businesses already have successful brick-and-mortar presences, particularly in retail. Other statistics point out that although many brick-and-mortar stores may not get as many online sales as they would hope for, the online presence typically enhances offline sales (traditional sales from the store itself). This is because although many users will research a product online, a number of users still prefer to purchase products offline.
A successful Internet-based business plan can be generally separated into two parts: attraction and retention. In other words, driving traffic to your site is only half the battle. Once you get people to your site, you need to convince them there is enough value to keep them there.
Driving users to your site is probably the most difficult part of the process. How do you let people out there know that you're site exists?
1) Consider earning the business of your local community before trying to tackle the rest of the world. Chances are, if your site is successful with the locals, it will probably be relatively successful with other users outside the area. Moreover, it is a lot easier to "go global" when you already have a successful base to start with, even if it is small.
2) Ensure your web address is prominently displayed on business cards, advertisements, letterheads, and other business-oriented materials. Make users aware of your website and that it is a serious part of your business.
3) Make your site search engine friendly. Many studies have shown that over 80% of online consumers use a search engine (Google, Yahoo and MSN are popular examples) to find the products they are looking for. Making sure your site is search engine friendly can increase the chances of your site appearing on search results pages.
4) Manually submit your site to search engines. Although many search engines "crawl" (index your site) into their databases, it is often a good idea to manually request submission. Most search engines have a "Add a site" (or similar) link at the bottom of their search pages. Follow the directions given by the search engine.
5) If your site is a retail business, consider partering business portals like Froogle, Amazon or eBay. This is a good way to make consumers aware of your Internet presence.
6) If you choose to advertise on other web sites, pick where you will advertise carefully. Consider if the site draws in visitors that will be interested in your products. If you sell flower bouquets, you will probably not want to advertise on an auto parts site. Also consider advertising with local newspaper, radio or television station web sites to garner local business.
7) Never, ever send advertisements via mass email. It will be treated as unsolicited bulk email (spam) by most users, and will decrease the credibility of your business.
8) Banner ads and adwords can be fairly effective if the proper audience is targeted.
9) Give yourself a competitive advantage by offering something that differentiates you from other retailers - like a unique product, better price or better service. Also make sure this differentiator is a focus of your search engine optimizations.
10) With retail sales, be upfront about shipping time, and don't miss your shipping date.
11) Ensure data security. If you are processing billing information (credit cards, etc) online, be sure such information can be transferred securely and confidently. Use credible providers to ensure the process is safe and secure.
Once you have users coming to your site, retaining customers is important. How can you do this?
1) Make sure your site is ready to roll before you begin to promote it. Don't go public with your site if it is incomplete or broken. If your site is incomplete, it will send the wrong message to your customers. Remember, first impressions are paramount - if visitors are not impressed or satisfied with your site, there is a good chance they will never return.
2) Ensure your site is user friendly and easy to use. This is one of the most critical aspects in site preparation and is often overlooked. If the customer has major difficulties with your site, they will leave, and aren't likely to return.
3) Make sure your site has a professional image. Sloppy graphics, flashy colors and hodge-podge content management will only discredit your business image.
4) Ensure your site is built in accordance with industry standards and is accessible with all major browsers. If your site can only be viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer, you are alienating users of Mozilla Firefox, Netscape, Safari (Apple), Opera and others.
Online businesses take time to become established. Don't expect success overnight. It can take months, even years before an Internet-based business starts to realize profits. A little business savvy, some research and a whole lot of patience goes a long way to making your site successful.
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