Counting “Hits” is a Miss

In the early days on the Internet website traffic was measured in “hits”. It was never an accurate guide to the number of visitors to your website but it took off anyway.

Over time many of us in the biz have tried to educate people about the correct terms to use (page views, visitors, unique visitors and so forth) with varying success. And it’s always frustrating when you hear someone refer to “hits” as you know just how much education is going to be required. So it was with great joy that I read the following quote in Lance Loveday and Sandra Niehaus’s fantastic book Web Design For ROI:

If your standard answer includes the words “hits” please take a moment to close this book and whack yourself in the head with it. There. Now remember that every time you’re tempted to use that term again. It’s an open secret in the web design community that anyone who uses the word “hits” in reference to their website most likely has no idea what they are talking about. Just don’t tell anyone we told you.”

Hehe. Seriously though analysing your website traffic is a vital part of running your online business. It can take a bit to get a handle on but is well worth doing. Here are some resources to get you started:

Web Analytics Demystified – by Eric Peterson
Google Analytics – probably the best free web analytics program around.
Measuring Your Web Site – great forum threads from Cre8asite.
Hurol Inan – web analytics guru.
Web Design For ROI – get the book.

The Recipe For Online Success

I’ve spoken to, and worked with, numerous people who have decided to set-up an online business. And as with bricks and mortar establishments some succeeded spectacularly and some fail badly. I’ve analysed these success and failures and have found some common traits in the successful online ventures. So without further ado here’s my straightforward recipe for running an online business, successfully.

Research Your Market

It seems obvious but this is one of the most overlooked areas of starting an online business. Which is all the more strange when you consider how easy it is to conduct research into a market and it’s competitiveness on the internet.

Researching your market will help you determine whether there is a need for your idea, whether that need is already being serviced, and if so how well. Using a search engine, such as Google, can help you determine the level of competitiveness of your chosen industry. You can use it to see how many relevant businesses come up in common searches (the more results the more competitive it will be) and then check out those websites to see how they are run.

Think about your audience, will you be focusing on a small regional area or aiming for a global market? Is there a reason why a particular demographic would want to choose you over another business? Can you, for example, promote a favourable exchange rate or the ability to work while the rest of the world sleeps?

Finally, it’s important that you take into account whether your idea translates to being sold online. For example large, heavy, fragile products will be harder to ship and therefore sell than smaller, easy to post items.

Set Realistic Budgets

I know I’ve talked about this before but I am again as I can’t emphasise enough how important setting a realistic budget is. If you’re planning on running a successful online business you will need to budget for both the establishment and the ongoing marketing of that business.

If you’re reluctant to divulge your budget when talking to online service providers at least provide them with a ballpark figure so they are able to tailor a solution to fit your needs. You’ll probably find that costs vary from company to company – take the time to do your research and choose the one that not only fits your budget but the one you feel will best help you succeed (more on this below).

Surround Yourself With a Good Team

In order to succeed in your online business you will need to ensure you’re working with a web team that can help you achieve your goals. As a starting point you will need the services of the following people:

  • Web Hosting Company
  • Web Design Company
  • Search Engine Marketing / Internet Marketing Company

You can choose to go with separate companies or select a full service business who can help you with everything. Whatever you decide the most important thing is to make sure you pick a company you feel is a good fit.

The right company will understand the principles of business and selling online, they will understand how to get a website to rank in the search engines and most importantly they will be able to build you a website that prospects find easy to use and converts those prospects into customers.

Budget is important, obviously, but it’s just as important, if not more, to work with a company who understands your requirements and is able to help you to realise your goals and turn it into a profitable business.

Invest in Online Marketing

Once you’ve got your website online you need to market it to attract targeted prospects. A mix of the following internet marketing efforts will be a good start:

  • Search Engine Optimisation – usually best done in conjunction with building your website. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of creating a website that ranks highly in the search engines for keyword phrases related to your business. A motel in Cairns would want to rank well for phrases such as “cairns motel” for example.
  • Link Development – links from credible, related type websites will not only bring targeted prosects to your website it will also help you with your search engine rankings.
  • Advertising & Sponsorships – seek out other websites that you can advertise on. Look for sites that attract an audience you think would be interested in your products and/or services. Consider banner ads, sponsorships, competitions and newsletter advertising, to name a few.
  • Pay Per Click Advertising – the two main players in the Pay Per Click (PPC) market are Google and Yahoo! PPC allows you to create advertisements that only display when specific keywords, chosen by you, are searched on. When your ad is clicked on you pay an amount (or bid), set by you. Bids start from about AU$0.10 and a campaign can be up and running in a few minutes.
  • Online Newsletters – online newsletters are a fabulous way to communicate with prospective customers. It’s an opportunity to showcase your knowledge, provide information about your products and services and promote special offers.

It’s the old adage, you’ve got to spend money to make money. With the right marketing mix and a focus on creating a positive return on your investment (ROI) your online marketing efforts will help you build and run your business successfully.

Finally, remember that the above suggestions are just a starting point. Talk to your internet marketing expert who should be able to help you develop an online marketing plan that will grow your business.

Be Prompt and Responsive

You’ve found a site that sells the exact widget you want. You place your order, and… pray. It sounds awful I know but I commonly hear people say that they’ve contacted a business via their website, or placed an order, and are now wondering if they’ll ever hear from them. You don’t want to be one of those businesses. Clearly state the best ways for people to contact you, let them know when they should expect a response and what to do if they’ve not heard anything.

On an e-commerce site have the order response page acknowledge an order and provide a shipping timeframe. Follow up with a confirmation email again letting the customer know when they should expect their goods. And finally, send them an email when the package has actually shipped.

The internet can seem very anonymous. By continually communicating with your customers and reassuring them along the way they will be confident in doing ongoing business with you. And perhaps even recommending you to their friends.

Measure Your Results

A website that’s not being measured and tracked is like running around in the dark, with sunglasses on. Are you getting lots of visitors and few sales? Are you getting a few visitors but most of them make a purchase? Where are your visitors coming from? What do they look at? How long do they stay?

One of the great benefits of running an online business is the ability to collect and analyse website visitor data. All this data will help you tailor your website and refine your marketing to ensure you’re bringing in maximum visitors and converting them into customers.

There’s no substitute for hard work but with some careful research and planning and ongoing effort into promoting and managing your online business you too can be one of the internet success stories!