SEO – How to plan your online presence

monitoring1The plan that you need before you start

Now that you’ve made the decision to put a shiny new business Web site among the tens of millions of others on the internet, you’re no doubt in a hurry to see the face of your company looking back from the screen – slick, professional, inviting, with eye-catching graphics and exciting text that just begs new customers to check you out.

But right now it’s important to take a breath, clear your mind and plan, plan, plan.

A well thought-out blueprint will guide all the other decisions you’ll make in the next ten steps. It can also help you avoid spending more than you need.

Skimp on planning, and you’ll have problems down the road.

Now let’s get going.

What’s your customer target? What’s your mission?

You may think this goes against common sense, but the essence of your Web site isn’t really about you. What? It’s true. Sure, it presents your business face to the world and you’ll carefully make choices later on to put that together.
But your Web site is a specialized tool, one that enables you to reach countless new customers and, if it’s a retail site, sell to them and process their purchases.

Here, your primary purpose is to know your customers so well that you answer any questions they might have before they ask, then make it easy for them to buy what you’re selling.

This bedrock principle applies whether you’re creating a one- or two-page site that simply tells who you are and where you can be reached by e-mail, snail mail and phone; or a fully functioning retail site with hundreds, even thousands, of pages and a “shopping cart” that let’s your buyers collect products and pay for them, comfortable that their financial and other personal data are secure.

Exactly who are they and what do you know about them, what they want, what they need, what they don’t know they need, what gives them the willies on the Web?

  • How old are they? Are they men, women, kids?
  • What do they expect when they come to a company like yours?
  • How smart are they and what specific talents or skills do they have?
  • Where do they live? What are those places like?
  • Are they Web savvy or are they just beginning to use it?

In either case, what are their concerns about doing business on the Web – what scares them off?

Answer those questions, and any others that suit the specific customer you’ve now identified, and you’ll know how to go forward in writing your raison d’être, your reason for being – your mission.
who_we_are
You’ll tell them why you’re qualified to do what you do, and why your company is unique and better than the competition.
You’ll tell them exactly how you’ll serve their needs right here, right now, on your Web site.
You’ll sell your company as one that knows they, too are unique, and that you’ve tailored your goods, services and shopping experience to these special people.
Draw a simple diagram of your Web site, starting with the home page and proceeding – as your customer would – from page to page to page.

Keep it simple – more detail comes later.

Buying a good domain name

As we mentioned in our blog (Choosing and buying your domain name), the domain name that you will use will have to be easy to remember and also contain a few keywords of what you are trying to sell to the people. Are you selling rubber ducks? Why not get a domain name that is exactly that?

Rubber-ducks.com. Now Google and other search engines like the words to be separated either by a dash or an underscore to make sure what you are saying is true. You can get new domains from:

Making your website eye-catching: Text and Images

You might as well get going now on writing copy – the text – for your Web site, and how you intend to use images.

If your writing skills are sharp, follow your diagram of Web pages and decide what you want to say on each. This is a rough draft, so don’t sweat over it too long.

Writing effective Web copy is a special skill, and you need to edit and rewrite your draft along some specific guidelines. The broader ones:

  • If you refer to your company as “we” in your copy, be sure to address your customer as “you.” Engage them in this personal experience.
  • Don’t make your Web site look or read like an ad. You may be planning to attract and sell online space to advertisers, and you’ll confuse visitors dismissed if your content looks like ad material.
  • Keep your copy concise and use bullets (like we are doing now)
  • Keep it simple and kill jargon. The point here isn’t to show your mastery of insiders’ language, but to make your customers feel welcome, at home and included.
  • Write like you’re talking face-to-face, using contractions if it sounds natural.
  • Be succinct. Don’t write: “If you happen to encounter anything that raises questions, we are prepared to address them.” Do write: “Questions? We’re here to answer them.”

 

You’re not done until you spell-check your copy, then print it out and proofread, proofread again, and do it a few more times. Bad grammar, misspellings – especially proper names – and other basic errors will make you look like an amateur, not the world-beating pro you really are.
Invite others to read over your text and point out errors, or hire a freelance copy editor. You’ll find them all over the Web, but check their references. It won’t cost much and will be money well spent.

 

If you don’t think you can handle the copywriting yourself, you’re probably right. Hire a professional with Web experience. There are thousands of freelance writers online offering to do the job at a wide range of prices.

Graphics Content:

Your only task now is to decide what photos, charts and graphs, illustrations and other visuals you need to help tell your message and show who you are.
Note what they are on each of your Web page diagrams, but not necessarily where they’ll go. We’ll get to that later. And keep these rules in mind:

  • Use only as many images or other graphics as you need to bolster your text and make your pages attractive. Here, as in nearly anything on the Web, less is more. Don’t visually assault your visitors.
  • Good pictures can speak a thousand words. If a photo or other image will save a lot of explaining, use it instead of text.
  • If your purpose is just to put candid snapshots on the Web, your visitors will understand why they’re not slick, crisp and professionally done. For everything else, be sure your photos and graphics are all three.

Budgets, and Who Does What

Setting smart budgets saves money – period. Get your planning done now, and you won’t waste precious cash on things you don’t and won’t need. Set your Web site budget so you can comfortably handle the costs with available resources.
One of the great things about Web sites is their changeability. You can add bells, whistles, services and other enhancements later, as you need them and have more cash to spend.
It’s impossible to tell you exactly how to divide the pot in building a Web site. There are many factors in endless combinations, and countless ways to handle them. But think about these things and you’ll be in great shape to work out the details:

title-image-eshop

  • How many products or services are you selling?
  • If you’re a retail operation (e-commerce), how will you securely process orders? Are you using an verified online merchant like PayPal, SagePay, WorldPay?
  • Do you need professionals for writing, editing, photography, Web design, even budgeting?
  • How many marketing functions do you want? Newsletters? Surveys? Blogs?
  • How much can you spend on hosting, your domain name, your Web design package?
  • Does a free, all-in-one Web site service like Microsoft Office Live Small Business/Yahoo Pages cover you, or do you need more flexibility, an good “shopping cart,” an original look, detailed analytics?
  • How will you drive traffic to your Web site after it’s built?

When it comes time to shop for these things, let your budget dictate your choices. As revenue starts coming in the door, your business Web site can grow, too, in scope, sophistication and ambition.

That’s the plan, right?

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Make It Easy To Buy From Your Site

Convincing your prospects to purchase from you is a hard job, but have you ever thought that you’re making the process twice as difficult for both parties if your prospects are convinced but don’t know how to buy from you? No matter how good you are at convincing your prospects, they won’t buy if they find the process cumbersome.

First, you will want to check that people can find your order form easily and hassle-free. You can write a clear, concise paragraph to direct your prospects to your order form so that you can minimize the chances of them getting lost. You can also reduce the chances of losing prospects by putting a prominent link to your order page from every other page on your site.

Also, do you offer multiple payment options? Some people may feel comfortable paying via Paypal, some may only want to pay with their credit card and others might want to send a cheque. The more options you offer, the better your chances of covering your prospects’ desired payment method. After all, it wouldn’t make any sense to sell hard to a prospect only to find that they won’t be able to pay you when they want to.

On the other hand, you will want to prove that you are a credible merchant. Is your order form secured using encryption technology? You would want to look into SSL for this. You can also offer a money back guarantee so that people will feel confident about buying from you. How about after sales support? Who do they contact when they have problems after purchasing?

Alternatively, you can add customer testimonials, your contact information, address, and so on to boost your prospects’ confidence. Make them feel safe about buying something from you, a total stranger to them on the other end of the Internet.

As a conclusion, it would be very pitiful if you sold hard and sold well to a prospect and something goes wrong when he or she is ready to pay. Eliminate any chances of that to maximize your profits!

Take Control Over the Look, Feel and Function

If you’re building an e-commerce Web site, your ability to control how it looks, the way it feels to the user, and how it works can be limited by your choice of “storefront” or “shopping cart” software.

Even if you’re not planning retail capabilities on your business Web site, we highly recommend going through this step and reconsidering. It can give you a big edge over competitors with an information-only Web presence.

Storefront Software Packages

Many providers offer all-in-one “turnkey” storefront software that promises to handle all of your business Web site needs, and it probably does – to a point.
While it may include a variety of design templates and other graphics to give your site its look (some free, some for added cost), you’re limited to what’s offered unless you know enough about writing code to alter the templates.
It might not include all the functions you want, and may even be written in the provider’s own combination of codes, again making it tough to customize without technical expertise.
Besides flexibility in design and function, these are some other important features to look for:

  • Growth Potential. Can the software grow with your business? Does it limit the number of products you can add to your Web site?
  • Special Offers. Just like brick-and-mortar stores, will it allow you to offer easy-to-use coupons, gift certificates, gift wrapping and other customer incentives?
  • Cross-selling. Does it include an option to automatically show products that are related to those already in your customer’s cart, and make it easy to add them to their purchase? This can be a significant boost to your sales.
  • Marketing. Does it include newsletter, e-mail, guestbook, blogging, affiliates linking and other marketing tools?
  • Top Sellers. Is it easy to highlight top-selling products on the home page, and allow shoppers to buy from there?
  • Track Sales. The best storefront and shopping cart designs include analytics for tracking sales, customer behavior and other vital data.
  • Volumes Sales/Wholesale. Does it allow you to offer volume pricing and/or wholesaling?
  • SEO. Be sure it can optimize your site for search engines. The best packages include a function that generates search keywords and meta tags based on your content.
  • Feedback. Encouraging customers to write reviews and comments is good for business, as are their testimonials about your excellent service, prices and quality.

3 Ways to start selling online

  1. You can start by simply adding a PayPal button to your existing site so customers can pay you directly. PayPal can also help you build a basic order form to integrate into your site.
  2. You can list and sell your products on one (or more) of the big marketplace sites like eBay and Amazon.com. Using one of these online marketplaces can be a good way to gauge demand, pricing and competition for your products.
  3. You can start from scratch and build an e-commerce site at your own domain name using either a Web designer or a template-based Web store building tool.

8 Steps for Choosing E-Tail Storefront Software

Most of a business Web site is defined by style – how it looks and feels. Your shopping cart is different: It’s defined by functionality.
In e-commerce, function trumps glitzy graphics, flash and bold color palettes every time. The best storefront Web designs are glam-free and built with service and simplicity in mind.
The purpose of Web site shopping carts is straightforward: to collect a customer’s payment easily, accurately and securely. There are two primary types of software: those you buy and install, or those leased from your Web site host for a monthly or annual fee.
Hosts who offer this service will design and manage your cart, keep it secure and add new features as they become available. One of our recent favorites is an audio component that walks tech-challenged customers through the checkout process.
Here are some good places to start your search:

Amazon.com: The Gold Standard

Amazon has one of the most widely admired – and imitated – storefronts and shopping carts on the Web. Among its best features:

  • An “Add to Shopping Cart” button on every product page
  • Online bridal and baby gift registries
  • A “Tell a Friend” button for to e-mailing the page to others
  • Password-protected personal contact and financial information, with the ability to save your address and those of gift recipients
  • “One-click” completion of your order form
  • A “Wish List” for saving products you might decide to buy later
  • Intuitive customer relationship management (CRM) that remembers your previous purchases, then automatically offers recommendations for similar products
  • Customer product reviews

If you decide to add a shopping cart to your business site, study Amazon.com for guidance and cues. One of the best: It is low-key, flash-free and doesn’t bombard you with jarring, annoying audio pitches or distracting visual gimmicks.

When to Hire a Pro

Shopping cart/storefront software can be very complicated, and most small business owners don’t have the expertise or ability to create their own. If you do decide to try this yourself, make sure to choose a named provider that has a solid reputation. If you’re unable to find software with the features you must have, hire a professional to develop your own. He or she should have both the technical skill to make it work reliably, and the design sensibilities to make it look good.
Be sure a design mock-up is part of the deal, so you can test the shopping cart before your customer does. The process, including testing, shouldn’t take more than a month. But don’t rush it. You’ll need some time to catch and fix any bugs that show up or design elements you don’t like.
And include site management in your deal, at least for the first few critical months. You might have to pay more, but will rest easier knowing your online storefront is in capable hands.

Carra Lucia Limited – Shopping cart development and e-commerce solutions from the party planners to the wholesale sellers