A step-by-step guide to building your online sales plan and making your website a selling machine.
Building a website
Even a simple site can be a powerful income-producing tool that will win your business leads and generate sales. If you have put off starting a site because you are too busy running your business, don’t postpone it any longer. Ask other business owners for a referral to a good web designer or marketing firm that can help you build your site, so you can reap the rewards of a strong online presence immediately. There are also plenty of affordable “off the shelf” web design applications that you can use.
You probably already know that most sites have a basic set of pages, starting with a home page, an “about us” page that describes the company’s products or services and a “contact us” page to tell people how to reach the business. Some sites also include pages for client testimonials, press mentions and a photo or video gallery. If you sell merchandise, you’ll need pages for each product and a shopping cart built into your site. You will also need a merchant or PayPal account to allow customers to pay you with credit cards. You may also want to consider creating a mobile version of your site for better viewing from a cellphone.
Every site needs compelling content. That means text, images, and videos that grab the consumer’s attention and lead him or her through the sales process. When working with a graphic designer, pay special attention to your site’s navigation. Make sure it’s easy for visitors to find things and take action, whether it’s to buy a product, visit a page, request information, or sign up for a newsletter. By clearly delineating the benefits and features that make your company stand out, and giving lots of free information and a variety of offers, you’ll start turning visitors into clients. If writing isn’t your strong point, hire a good copywriter to help you communicate effectively with your customers. You can find one through sites such as mediabistro.com.
Driving customers to your site
Your site won’t be valuable if no one comes to it. To get people to visit your site, you’re going to need an aggressive marketing plan. Here are some low-cost tactics that you can use:
Sales are all about repetition. The more you remind customers and prospects of your products, the more likely it is that they will think of you when they’re ready to buy. That’s exactly what TV commercials and print ads try to do. E-newsletters go one step further. Instead of broadcasting the message to a wide audience, users who are interested in what you sell can sign up to receive information through a link on your site. One plus of e-newsletters is that they are a lot cheaper than a 30-second spot but allow you to offer much more information. By embedding links in the content of your newsletter, you can direct readers to specific pages on your website to help traffic. The more you keep your contact list updated with “news they can use” like special promotions, a line you’re launching, or tips on how to use your product or service more effectively, the more they’ll reward you with referrals and sales. Make they can easily unsubscribe, so your list is well-targeted.
Savvy businesses are quickly taking advantage of the phenomenal growth of sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Try to build a strong presence on as many of these social sites as possible to increase the chances of people finding you. Facebook, the largest social site, lets you create a customized “fan page” for your business and load it with content that can then be easily shared among members. It is a great way to build a following and get exposure for your brand. It also lets you create special applications (called Facebooks apps) and ads to further direct users to your site. Another networking site is Twitter, which lets you tell the world what you’re up to in message of 140 characters or less. If you want to write longer posts, blogs—which are like online journals—are the way to go. They allow you to stay on customers’ radar screens so they’ll remember you when it comes time to buy. Some small businesses find it helpful to link a blog to their website. WordPress, a free blogging software, is easy to use. Social-bookmarking sites like Digg and StumbleUpon can also be helpful to the growth of your business. Here, users share links to their favorite articles and sites.
Also check out community discussions, and online directories like Yelp, CitySearch, Yellowpages, and Google Maps, where you can place business listings. Bear in mind that some such sites include reviews by customers. You obviously can’t control the reviews that people post, so make sure your business is ready for the scrutiny.
Many people prefer to watch a video over reading text, which is why video hosting sites like YouTube are wildly popular. According to Comscore, almost 178 million U.S. Internet users watched 33.2 billion videos in December 2009. That’s 86.5% of total U.S. Internet users. The average number of videos viewed per user was 187, or about 6 per day, with an average length of 4.1 minutes. Companies like Smirnoff and Blendtec have gotten huge exposure online through their hilarious clips, which have been forwarded by one user to another. You don’t have to be funny to market your business through online videos. Many businesses find that video tutorials or demos can be useful in showing people how to use or put together products. Travel and real estate companies can benefit from creating virtual tours for clients. Videos welcoming visitors to a company’s website or for executive biographies or special event coverage can give potential customers valuable information. Don’t have a lot of money to invest? You can use a webcam, a digital camera, or even a cellphone to shoot the footage you need and then edit it using software such as Movie Maker or iMovie, which usually comes bundled with a computer. Video-hosting sites like YouTube are indexed by search engines, so make sure you put a link to your website and a keyword-rich description next to your video so it can drive traffic to you.
Word-of-mouth tools like social media are great ways to spread information about your business, but it’s also important to consider paid online advertising to expand your reach. Virtually every site that’s built today has the ability to host ads and generate income from the traffic it drives to an advertiser, and that translates into an incredible amount of advertising space that’s available. Programs like Google’s AdSense pool millions of these small sites to create economies of scale—so that advertisers get their names out to a broader base of potential customers and small sites that host the ads can make money from them.
One choice for businesses looking to advertise their products or services are sponsored listings, in which search engines like Google or Yahoo match the content on a website to queries that Internet users type into their search boxes. Buying ad space in e-mail newsletters that target your market is another way to draw attention to your site. Mobile text campaigns and ads are also gaining in popularity.