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Developing an online business

Six steps you need to know to successfully have an online business

By Ronnie Soud

When it comes to developing an online business, there are six things you need to consider for it to be a success. You need to form your business idea, do your online market research, create a business and marketing strategy, develop a website, perform online marketing, and then test, expand, and refine your online business.

Your business idea

Every business starts with an idea, but in today’s world; most business ideas need some refinement. Often times, the best strategy is to create a unique business that appeals to a niche market. Center on the unique features your product or service offers versus the competition, or how your product or service solves a unique problem within a particular market. This makes marketing and growing your business easier because it allows you to concentrate your product, service, and sales/marketing materials to a well-defined market.

Conduct online market research

Online market research determines target audience and online competition within your market. Online marketing research will identify:

•Top competing websites and what each is offering;

•The top search terms entered to find information about your topic/product/service;

•The competing websites that rank for those search terms; and

•The cost of gaining visibility on these related keyword searches.

Keyword research sets the foundation for online marketing strategy and initiatives, which include website design, content creation, search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC), blogging/article strategy, and social media. A few keyword research tools available include Google AdWords, Wordtracker, and WordSteam.

In addition to keyword research, you should do an online competitive analysis. It looks to answer such questions as:

•How many pages does each competitor have on their website?

•What type of content do they have?

•Are they offering special/exclusive products and deals online?

•What keywords are they targeting?

•What special Web design elements are they using?

Conduct a search for your target keyword phrases and note the sites that show up for those searches. Visit each website looking for answers to the above questions.

Create the strategy

Once a thorough review of the online market and competition is done, create a business and marketing strategy by defining audience demographics, website traffic and sales goals, and an online budget.

A clearly defined market helps develop targeted website messaging, content, and design. Figure out your audiences’ age, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, income level, interests, etc.

You also need clearly defined goals to keep the marketing process on track and well organized. Define short- and long-term goals for your website.

Use the information from the keyword research and online competition analysis to develop a professional looking website and an online marketing strategy. Some areas to consider include website content/copy, SEO, PPC, e-mail marketing, and landing page development.

Develop a website

Now design and develop the business logo, website, and website copy. Market research, keyword research, and the competitive analysis will help define the creative marketing elements and messaging that needs to be incorporated in the creative/branding elements.

Don’t forget who you’re trying to target—make sure you focus your copy and messaging on that audience, and don’t offer website functionality that that particular market segment doesn’t understand. Keep it simple. Keep it targeted.

You will need to develop a unique message, copy, and logo. Your message needs to be about what makes you, your product, and your service unique within the market. Be as descriptive as possible.

Make sure the logo is unique amongst the competition and get a good quality logo because it will be used to make all of your sales, marketing, and advertising materials for years to come.

Your website is your online storefront, and is often the first impression your potential customers have of your business. Make it easy for them to use, read, and buy/contact. Don’t get carried away with flashy design elements—keep it simple.

You also want to get as many visitors as you can to perform some type of action on your website, whether it’s entering their e-mail for more info, deals, coupons, and new arrivals or they leave a comment on a blog, photo, or video. This way, even if they don’t buy during that visit, they have given you information about themselves, their interest, or buying habits. You can then use this information to make edits/additions to your website.

Also, make sure your website will be easy to expand when the time is right. You will want/need to add new pages, photos, and videos; possibly even a blog, forum, online contest, etc., as you grow.

Perform online marketing

If you are concerned about getting traffic from search engines, then SEO and PPC are two areas to pay careful attention to during the initial research and strategy phrases.

SEO techniques are separated into two different areas: On-site optimization and off-site optimization.

On-site optimization is the foundation for all further SEO efforts. On-site optimization factors include keyword research, website content structure, custom title tags, meta description tags and H1/2/3 tags for each page, and internal page linking structure.

Off-site SEO factors help the site gain more visibility through a variety of methods, such as link building, online press releases, and writing articles/blog posts/photo/video on major online publications such as News4Jax.com or Jacksonville.com.

PPC allows advertisers to bid on specific keywords relevant to their products, services, and target audience. The advertiser has full control over which keywords they want to upload, how much they want to bid on each keyword phrase, and full control over the content of their ads.

E-mail marketing is still one of the most powerful online marketing channels. When users submit their e-mail address,  they are giving you permission to advertise to them. Take advantage of this opportunity, but don’t abuse it. Do two or three e-mail blasts per month.

Today, communication on the Web moves faster than ever. It’s quicker and easier to reach a large amount of people than ever before. Most of the speed of online communication can be attributed to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Ensure you are among the social communities as well.

Test, expand, and refine

A website is a work in progress. Set up website analytics so you can monitor your site growth each week. Analytics gives you great insights to how visitors are finding and using your site, the keywords that are bringing in the most visitors, which search engines are giving you the most visibility, etc. All of which allows you to make any necessary changes to the website in order to boost user engagement levels.

Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics) is a free website stats tracking system. Sign up for a free Google Analytics account, and Google gives you a code to place on every page of your site. Once that code is placed, you will start tracking your website visitors.

Once visitors are on your site, it’s important to monitor how many pages they visit on average, how long they stay, and what are the most popular/visited pages. From this monitoring, you can refine your website content. Pay attention to pages with high-bounce rates as those rates are an indication that users are not happy with the content or credibility of the page. You can add more relevant/detailed content or images or graphics to the page to help clarify your points.

Websites need to expand their content offerings in order to grow. Continue to add content that your audience will find useful, such as articles or a blog that focuses on “how to” articles, FAQ’s section, or start a forum or online discussion group to connect like-minded users and share information.

Final thoughts

Users choose to interact with online businesses that are a trusted and good source of information (read: they educate the user). Remember, positive credibility and reputation go a long way online. Be the company that educates the most and you will be the company that sells the most.

Ronnie Soud is the Marketing Director for Evision Worldwide. He can be reached at 888-957-0002 or through www.evisionworldwide.com.


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