Thinking an Online Store: 15 Tips To Get You Started

With the Internet all around us, selling your product, service or even both is much easier and affordable than ever before.

But at the same time…

It’s vital to study all of your options first, before falling victim to one of many pitfalls. From finding yourself “trapped” in a contract with services you don’t need to building a website that doesn’t attract the customers nor convert them into buyers, you could wind up in the middle of a mess.

Here are 15 tips to setting up your first (or second or third or fourth…) online store, all while maximizing your profit potential.

1. Start with THE best offer

Before creating your online store, it’s imperative to have an offer which will blow your customers away. It’s time to figure out what your target buyers really want, and make your product or service revolve around that.

After that is accomplished, get busy crafting an influential  unique selling position (USP – what makes you different than your competitors), to go along with the can’t-believe-it value, and double-check your method of delivery.

2. What’s in a name?

When it comes to the Internet, consider your domain name as being the big sign outside your store broadcasting your business to the entire world. It is how many prospects will remember your site. While making your domain name easy to remember, you can also make sure it provides an accurate description of what your business has to offer.

3. Choose a website host with your success in mind

There are no two website hosts which are exactly the same. Some are just better suited for ecommerce purposes than others for example. Consider what you need for your own site, and start comparing notes.

A website builder like Internet Based Family makes building your online store a breeze. There’s even a built in shopping cart, so no more worries about compatibility issues. Plus, there’s really no need to worry about webmaster slavery ever again. Adding new products, or anything else for that matter, can be done without having to know how to code.

4. Maximum usability design

While thinking of your site’s image and design, consider it from the point of view of the user. Can they find what they need quickly? Have you provided enough product information for them to make an informed purchase? Is the order button easy to see?

Remember some of your personal online shopping experiences. Take note of the biggies, such as Amazon while also considering some of those you vowed to stay away from at any cost.

5. Creative copy conversions

Creative copy, from the headline right on down has a lot of responsibility on an online shopping page. Attractive headlines to keep buyers on the page, accurate descriptions with a little pizzazz added in. All the important aspects of success on a page, right down to the calling out to action “Click here to order”.

6. Great Services

When planning an online store, you can’t do it without a shopping cart to receive and process orders. Shop around for one, but be sure to remember the importance of reliability, affordability, the ability to manage affiliates and providing fantastic customer service.

7. A growing business needs a merchant account

To receive payments online, a merchant account is a must. PayPal is fine in the beginning. It’s important to remember that you may eventually need to upgrade and process credit cards directly. Ask about any online merchant accounts your financial institution may have to offer.

8. Balancing act between need and want

There is any number of options available to you, and it can get out of hand. With each set of options however comes a new price. It’s important to keep your budget as well as needs in mind, so you aren’t tempted to pay more than what is required.

9. Search Engine Optimization or SEO

Now that your store will be on the internet, making it easy for search engines to find you as well as rank your site high for level for relevant keywords. By the way, Internet Based Family can provide you with tools and free training to help you site rank well with search engines.

10. Systems you can use

You’ll have the need to update your website often, with new products and updates, so it’s important your site uses a system which will let you these things easily, as well as handling orders as well. If you’re calling on your webmaster to do each task on your site, it won’t be long before you end up overwhelmed with the online store.

11. Capturing leads

You’ll have many customers who won’t make a purchase the first time they see your site. In this case, you want to retrieve at least some contact information – their email address for example, in order to keep them updated on offers and other information they may find useful.

12. Keep it simple

Online stores covered in animations, images and graphics simply slow down your site’s loading time and can annoy potential buyers. Stay with the minimum elements to keep your visitors’ attention on your call to action.

13. Keep costs front and center

Marketing Sherpa has quoted 60% of buyers online will abandon their online shopping order at the shopping cart stage. This can be avoided by hidden charges. All costs should be stated upfront, where possible, so your customers don`t end up being caught off guard at check out time.

14. Interactivity works

Amazon.com is one of the most interactive sites there is. There are a number of steps you can perform, from submitting ratings or reviews to enquiring about other buyers. This is a positive note for online stores, as shoppers like this type of interactivity.

15. Always leave the best for last…

Your online store is up and running, but your work is far from complete. Now it`s time for marketing, using such methods as article marketing, sending press releases, video marketing and social networking.

5 Often Overlooked Web Spaces For Presenting Marketing Messages

On any given web site (which includes all the processes that goes on behind the scenes), there are always pages that could be monetized or get a marketing message across. Very often, these are what I call utility pages. Stuff that aren’t part of your regular content like blog posts or product description pages, but they exist because you need to confirm an action that the customer or visitor has taken, like the thank you page after subscribing to your newsletter. Many marketers are already aware of the value of this page and have taken steps to insert a message there. But there are other pages that are also overlooked.346/365 - oops!

After login screen

If you have a membership site, blog or forum where you require people to log in to participate, the page they land on is really important. I believe in guiding people and making things as clearly laid out as possible, like presenting a ‘dashboard’ page with quick links to all the key areas of your site. Beyond that, this page should also always have a space where news and offers are prominently displayed. Once they wander into the deeper regions, it would be difficult to get their attention.

After logging out

On 99% of the sites I’ve seen, once people log out, there’s a page that tells them they’ve logged out and probably branded with the logo. That’s it? While logging out does indicate someone is ‘done’ with your site for that session, it doesn’t mean you can’t lead them into something else that might interest them. How about adding an affiliate offer or a free download associated with an affiliate product.

Email confirmation page

Depending on your email newsletter service, some allow you to customize or direct people to your own page after someone confirms their subscription to your mailing list. Many of chosen to shift the freebie download to this page instead of getting people to check their emails once again. If you don’t deliver anything right away – maybe an RSS by email subscription. Add a promotional message there.

Recurring subscription email

This will depend a lot on the shopping cart/subscription system you use. On some systems, you can set it to send out an email every month notifying people of an upcoming payment or upon successful re-bill. Take the opportunity to cement your relationship. Edit that message to thank them and update the email every month to include a link to a small gift just for staying a subscribed member. Your free gift should include links or further recommendations that lead customers deeper into the other products and services you offer.

Mailing list unsubscribe page

If your email list service allows you to edit the unsubscribe page, why not enter a little message there? You could say you’re sorry to see them leave, to part on a good note, you’d like them to have a (insert freebie). Once again, the freebie can and should lead people to other areas or offers you may have. If you don’t have this option, you can do it in an unsubscribe confirmation email. Some providers do that. I find this a little annoying though because once someone unsubscribes, they’ll not want to get another email from you confirmation or not so this email will likely not get opened. It could be worth testing.

Hope this short list gets you thinking. There is a reason why these spaces are overlooked because they aren’t in front of you all the time, like your home page or blog may be. So don’t feel bad if you missed them but how do you find other spaces you may have missed? One of the best ways, is to step through the subscription, order process or registration process as a visitor/customer. Better yet, grab a friend and get them to record themselves as they go through the motions. You’ll often see right away where each screen could be improved to make the process clearer, smoother and where is a perfect spot to add a marketing message.

photo credit: B Rosen

Who Really Owns Your Domain Name?

Are you sure it is you?

There was once a client who contracted our services to build him a new e-commerce site and to rescue his domain name from the previous host. The host was one of those companies who sold their services by phone only, claiming to be everything this small business owner needs when it came to his business online.

Not knowing too much about web sites and how it all works, he figures this is a job best outsourced. He’s right about that. Unfortunately the company chosen was not. Long story short, the site was built, it had a lot of limitations and the bottom line was, it’s not what the client wanted. He had paid a lot of money for a useless web site in his eyes. He was done with them but they weren’t done with him.

When he inquired about transferring domain names, they simply told him it would cost $30. Now, $30 is not a big amount, but those of you who have worked with web sites know that it doesn’t cost anything to transfer a domain other than a few minutes of administrative time. They were holding his domain name – his brand if you will – hostage.

By now, he’s so angry that he wasn’t going to pay it whether it was $1, $30 or $100. Lucky for him the old domain was not established and instead of arguing and hoping to swipe the domain on back order which is hit and miss, we simply went for a new domain and started fresh.

This is sadly, not uncommon. Many businesses have web sites they invested so much money, time and effort in but when you check the records, they don’t have control over the domain. Don’t let it be you.

Here’s the thing. It is OK if you let your web designer handle all the ‘technical’ stuff of your web site down to the domain. Especially if you truly trust them. But, I’d advise that you at the very least demand that the domain be under your control. It’s no different than your office. You can allow people to come and work in it, designate staff as contact for different departments but at the end of the day you must be the one holding the keys to your office.

To check your own domain’s details, visit Whois.net, and enter your domain name to look it up.

Like staff, web designers come and go. You may have a superb relationship with them now and in the past but things change. Either the relationship goes sour, they decide they are no longer interested in that business, they sold the business, your needs change etc. Having control over your domain is crucial for your branding and business overall. Do not let any one convince you that the domain has be controlled by them or it won’t work. It is just not true.

Ideally, you should be able to log in to a control panel, where you can manage the details of your domain. If you do not have this or are told you cannot do this, chances are the host or designer has registered the domain under them. In this case, your best bet is to tell your host/designer you want the domain transferred to you. Get an account at a domain registrar like GoDaddy and request a domain transfer. This will add another year to your domain and ultimately get it in your control 100%.

Do not wait till there’s bad blood between you and your host/designer because they can always reject your transfer request and still hold your domain hostage.

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Purchasing Similiar Domains

Domain names need to be chosen carefully.  Your business and your domain name are intertwined.  It represents you and who you want to be in the market.  When choosing a domain name is it a wise idea to purchase others that are similar to the one that you chose for yourself.

Let’s weigh the pros and cons of this question.  Whether you should buy other domain names that are close depends on how well your name was chosen.  Just like you conduct research before choosing a niche for your business, do the same before choosing a domain name.

Domain names can be triggered by keyword searches.  If part of your domain name contains a keyword that is popular in search engine searches it could be a future winner.  Ideally, you want your domain name to appear on the first page of a search.

A winning domain name will have others trying to get as close to it as possible without infringing.  Buying those domain names yourself means that they will have to come to you for those names.  You may want to use those names in the future for other websites that you will create.  Having names that are similar will ensure that others can find your sites with their keyword searches.

If your domain becomes a household name, the other domains will become even more valuable to you in the future.  You will have the option of selling them for a fair amount of money or holding on to them.  Selling them will mean that someone else will get to ride your popularity with a name similar to yours.

One reason to buy similar domain names is for misspellings.  Do you know what homophones are?  They are words that sound alike but are spelled differently.  If you are doing a podcast or talking about your business website to someone and tell them your domain name, it is possible that they could misspell it when they type it into the URL address space.

If someone misspells it, that person could be directed to another website.  Thinking it is your site they could recommend it to someone else or buy from that site.  It could end up being a costly faux pas on your part.

When you enter your own address, purposely misspell it and see what comes up.  If there are no matches, then you might be safe — for now.  You may want to think of all the spellings that could come up and buy those domains as well to avoid this problem in the future.

There is a lot to know about domain names besides just coming up with the names.  Before you choose your name, look into all the possibilities so that you are sure that a good name that can’t be duplicated is chosen.

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