A main-street business owner can see if consumers are entering their store or walking right by; they know what products are selling off their shelves and which ones aren’t selling at all.
And why should an online business be any different?
Consumers are increasingly making more online purchases each year. Retailers that have both a physical storefront and an online presence have reported an average of 23% growth. So whether you’re a small business or a global corporation, maintaining a strong online presence is a necessity.
It all begins with design and clarity. A beautiful and clear website is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to generate leads for your business, especially if it’s built and marketed properly. And conversely, a poor site will create lost business opportunities and enable your competitors to eat into your segment of the market.
But as essential as having an attractive, professional site is, it’s only half of the equation.
Constant monitoring of how your site is performing—and tweaking your site to improve performance—is just as important.
Once you have built a solid website for your business, it’s critical to take a step back and sift through the data to see where your visitors are going when they come to your site and what they are doing when they get there so that you can figure out ways to engage them even more.
Here are the top five things that will poise you for online success in the ever-growing online market:
More than 50% of all searches start on a mobile device. So if your business is not displaying mobile-friendly experiences for your customers, you’ve lost more than half of the opportunities for new business right off the bat. That’s the bottom line.
Mobile friendly means that your existing site grows and shrinks with the size of the device it’s displayed on, which is called responsive design. You could also have a separate mobile version of your website, though a responsive site is believed to be better for search engine optimization.
In a few years, responsive design will be the standard architecture for all websites, but for now people are still trying to catch up with the times. If you look at any major, successful online business, it will have a mobile friendly website, and it’s usually responsive.
Business owners must know how users behave on their websites—this is crucial data you need to grow your online business.
There is a simple way to find out this valuable information and it’s free! It’s called Google Analytics.
This easy-to-use tool will tell you detailed user behavior on your site, which will help you fine-tune your online offerings.
Another good tool, Crazy Egg, shows a heat map of your site and details exactly where users are clicking. Gathering these facts and figures will enable you to create effective pages and, ultimately, higher sales.
Be sure to review your analytics at least once a month.
There’s a different mindset and level of attention when reading a website as compared to a print document. All too often, there are long blocks of text with small print. Nothing can turn a customer off more.
Online, you need to get to the point quickly and use bigger type. Visitors are coming to you to solve their problem, so your website should answer their question quickly and easily.
If, for example, you’re selling women’s running shoes online, show your customers what they are looking for and why there’s value. Why should they make a purchase from your site? Is there free shipping? A special offer? Have your messaging followed by a call to action, such as "Shop Now!"
Don’t make users try to figure it out for themselves. That will only make them shop elsewhere.
Just like a store changes its window display every month, you should frequently have fresh content on your homepage and landing pages. People don’t want to see the same thing over and over.
Take Amazon, for example: Every time you visit, they have deals, sales, and new content. This immediately conveys the message that they are relevant, up-to-the-moment retailers, and leaders in their space.
It’s also important to give your visitors the ability to share your content. This allows them to become your greatest marketing ambassadors. And their sharing helps your SEO.
Driving customers to your homepage is great, but directing them to landing pages that drill down deeper into the site is much more valuable.
Most businesses offer a variety of products and services and need landing pages for each category of product and service. That is the only way to build presence in that market.
Take the women’s running shoes example: That site probably sells many types of shoes. You can’t put them all on the homepage. That would be a terrible idea aesthetically—and you could miss opportunities when a customer does a very specific search. You should have a category of shoes, and within that category, you should have a specific landing page for running shoes.
Furthermore, when you run a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign on Google, make sure you take the visitors to that landing page, rather than your homepage. Be sure that landing page has effective messaging and calls to action, and the title of users’ search is in a header on your landing page. This will help your site also rank organically on search engines and lower your PPC costs.
If you follow these rules, you will be on your way to establishing yourself as a leader in the online space. Remember to stay on top of trends, monitor your results, change your site accordingly, and enable sharing. All these steps will keep you ahead of the competition.
—Gabriel Shaoolian is a digital trends expert and CEO and founder of Blue Fountain Media, a digital agency in NYC focused on growing brands online through effective websites and online marketing. From startups to Fortune 1000s, Blue Fountain Media helps generate more leads and increased brand recognition.
[Image: Flickr user Jeffrey Zeldman]