Although once established, with plenty of daily visitors, and generally considered almost a license to print money, the fact is that setting up and then running an online store is never as easy as it first appears. Indeed most of today’s thriving and successful online stores were probably the end result of much hard work, dedication and heart searching.
Choosing to earn a living in this way is a major decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially in the current financial climate. Probably the most important considerations are choosing the right software, working out how to convert your site visitors into proper sales and the overall impact of your website.
It is foolhardy to think that any old design will do just so long as you can get your products on the web as soon as possible. Never underestimate the value of an attractive, easy-to-use website, for not only is the overall look of the site important, there are also other vital aspects to consider.
For instance the structure of your site should be such that there is a straight forward navigation system and everything downloads easily. To succeed a website needs must be visually appealing to your customers; don’t be tempted to put up a website simply to satisfy your own taste. On almost any type of ecommerce site it is always best to avoid gaudy flashing banners or hard-to-read dark backgrounds. An overdose of flashing text and unsolicited music or, worse still, a vocal highly intrusive hard sales pitch is guaranteed to drive customers away.
There are numerous options for shopping cart software but your choice should governed by its ease of use; this is one of the most important aspects to consider when setting up your new online business. No matter how great your products, over-complicated software will lose you potential customers at the cart level of the check-out process this is where tried and tested reliable ecommerce software such as Zen Cart comes into its own.
When planning to sell online it is essential to select your product lines carefully so that they fit in with your personal circumstances. It is best to avoid products that are difficult to deliver or need costly investment. The best products to sell online are those that can be packaged and shipped easily and can be bought without the customer feeling they need to see or touch them.
Choosing a good domain name is an important step in setting up your online store. Try to give your website a relevant and easily remembered name and where possible one that includes a popular keyword; this is because Google, in particular, appears to favour sites that have relevant keywords in the domain name. Keep the name precise and make it memorable so that people will talk about it; a domain name ending in .com. is best if you are planning to sell overseas but .co.uk is advisable if you are aiming at a purely British market.
It is always best to automate your online store, preferably before you launch; the better known ecommerce companies automate as many tasks as they can to allow them to streamline the order processing system. So to ensure the same success for yourself copy as many of their already tried and tested methods to improve your chances of making it big.
Remember that the majority of people searching for products on the web have an incredibly short attention span and are usually in such a hurry that they can overlook the obvious and lose patience with a slow system, so make it as quick as possible for someone to get to the checkout area. A good rule of thumb is that there should be no more than 3 clicks from a visitor coming to your site to buying a product.
If you decide to have your online store built from scratch by a web designer do make sure he follows your instructions and understands the brief. Actively discourage animation or Flash, especially as the latter is barely acknowledged by Google. A good designer should be aware of your viewpoint while guiding you towards to most commercial outcome. Sometimes it is worthwhile you both taking a gander at lots of different ecommerce sites and work out what makes the appealing ones stand out, then applying those standards to your own site.
Don’t skimp on your hosting company – you always get what you pay for. A cheap deal is no use if the company can’t guarantee that your site has minimum downtime, and never go with a company that can’t offer 24-hour support. Make sure that the hosting company is not overloaded and can show your site quickly at all times. Slow loading sites are a real turn-off for customers and are often penalised by the search engines.
Once up and running always provide five star customer support. To build a successful online store is to recognise that excellent customer support is paramount; that is if you want to build customer loyalty and trust. Answer customer queries immediately, reply to emails within 24 hours and try to pick up the phone as often as you can.
A marketing campaign is vital. Nobody is going to buy from your online store if they are not aware that know it exists. Different ways to promote your site can include putting your details on free directories, posting to various mailing lists and news groups, writing for article sites, exchanging links with other ecommerce websites and even doing banner exchanges. You could also run an email newsletter campaign where you can review new products or focus on special deals as well as submitting regular press releases to online press release sites.
Unless you have money to burn it is not worth paying for marketing methods such as Google Adwords, putting adverts in the press or employing a PR company; pay-per-click alone can eat up literally thousands of pounds in a year.
Make a big fuss of your existing customers; they form the heart of your business. Keep them informed of any product updates, send them regular newsletters, have a rewards program, offer a discount on future purchases and anything else you can think of to encourage repeat buying. You will constantly need to evaluate what your customers think of your store, so try to gather information and take heed of their responses.
Google especially, loves original content and will automatically rank your site higher than any competitor sites that have very little or no content. This said never be tempted to steal content from other sites or your site will be penalised and will drop down the rankings or even disappear all together.
Good quality content on your site, so long as it is relevant, can provide information about your products and product use; in addition it builds up your credibility and thus customer’s confidence in your site, which in turn will result in more sales.
Last of all don’t be shy and hide away from your customers. Be accessible, show a trading address and phone number. A faceless site won’t give your visitors the trust and confidence they need to spend money. Failure to display easy-to-find contact details is a gives out the message that visitors can buy the goods – but shouldn’t expect any help if things go wrong. Most visitors will search for contact page details before they part with their money if they can’t find a way of contacting you they will automatically leave your store and shop elsewhere.