The ubiquity, democracy and power of the internet has enabled millions of people across the globe to enter the ecommerce marketplace, either as a consumer or a retailer. However, accessibility doesn't guarantee success and competition has never been so tough, so here are five top tips to give your ecommerce site the best possible chance of success.
Consumers are smart; consumers are savvy. More so every day. The average customer is capable of comparing prices online in very little time and stats show there is very little brand loyalty. The products you have listed on your site must be competitively priced in order to compete with other ecommerce sites. Unless you are selling a unique product, this should be a priority.
People expect an easy-to-navigate, mobile-friendly site in order to purchase their products. The key word here is expect. Online customers are presented with a plethora of consumer engaging sites that utilise call-to-action buttons, SEO-friendly content and tactically placed advertisements, none of which take away from the overall usability of the site. Quick, convenient and aesthetically pleasing should be your principle boxes to tick.
This is an obvious priority, but an interesting insight. Most products on the high street are priced between 70-80% above their production or purchase costs. This varies between product and marketplace, but ecommerce, as a general rule, is no different. Without the need to store products or pay for distribution (unless you do intend to do this), your costs are automatically lower. Understanding exactly what your costs are, your margins and thus your profit (creating a proper business plan helps crystalise this) is maximised. Every penny counts.
Unlike a shop, where the customer's experience is determined by the store aesthetics and shop staff, convenience and neutrality win the day in ecommerce. An essential aspect of this is quick loading times and engaging call-to-action buttons. A customer will lose interest quickly in your site if the page loading times are long. Customers expect a speedy website that isn't slowed down by dated tech. Time is money.
The customer is always right and engaging with them, either with complaints or requests for further information, is absolutely crucial. Don't leave them hanging on. Angry customers can easily spread bad reviews and negative comments online that dissuade potential customers. Remaining professional and friendly in the public's eye will control those negative reviews. Even bad can be spun positively if you deal with it quickly, efficiently and solve their problem or answer their query.
If you've decided to pay to have a website built for your business, it's important to choose an agency that will listen to your needs, involve you in the planning and then produce a website that exceeds your expectations and attracts new customers. You'll be entrusting them with your brand, so you must choose a professional and well-established team.
It can be quite overwhelming selecting which agency to use, because there are so many to choose from. However, here are six key questions you need to ask prospective suppliers.
A good agency will discuss your exact requirements before sending you a written proposal with a quote for the work and an outline of what's included. Ideally the proposal will be sent with terms and conditions.
You should fully understand what is and isn't included before you make any payments or agreements. Check the following:
It's likely that you'll be required to supply all content and images for your website, however a professional agency will be able to help with content or buying stock images if required. You should talk to them about this during the initial discussions to ensure that they include it in the proposal.
A well-established agency should have an impressive website that includes a portfolio of their projects. Check out other websites they've created to get a better idea about the quality of their work.
Most creative agencies will have testimonials on their website and they may even feature on review sites. Read these. You could even ask if it's possible to speak to a previous client to ask about their experiences.
You need to ask how long it will take for the design and build process, because you must ensure this is in line with your needs. Any time frames given will depend largely on your cooperation with regards to discussing design and functionality, as well as your supplying photos and content when required. The web designer may need to contact you during the development stage, so it's essential that you provide feedback promptly to avoid delays with launch.
You should trust your instincts and think about your first impressions of the agency. Bear in mind that you may be working with them for many weeks during the website design and build process, and possibly many months and years afterwards if they assist you with ongoing web maintenance and development. So, you'll need to have a good working relationship with them. Here are some questions that you should ask yourself:
Consumer behaviour has changed. As a shopper, I literally cannot remember the last time I went into a supermarket superstore.
Virtually everything that I buy I purchase online. My behaviour is not exceptional and I don’t think that the evolution of my buying habits is especially unusual either.
Even if I am, arguably, more ecommerce-active than the average consumer, it seems to me that my online buying behavior will soon become the norm. The shift to e-commerce is utterly inevitable.
And yet, many businesses are stuck in the past.
UK government stats show that in some sectors as many as half UK businesses don’t yet have a website at all. And of those that do, almost half are non-transactional.
The research suggests that e-commerce penetration of the total UK business population is about one third. In other words, two out of every three businesses do not have a transactional website. These are incredibly alarming findings.
There are many reasons why business people choose not go online. Typical comments that I hear include:
And yet, not one of them would argue with the need for a telephone landline.
I know from firsthand experience, having run the business division of O2, that just three years ago the majority of UK business owners were adamant that having a landline phone number was essential to being in business.
Today, British businesses should consider having a presence online as even more important than having an office telephone number. In other words, online is the new landline.
A landline number used to be a mark of authenticity for businesses. The move to a digital economy has meant consumers are now more likely to trust a business with a website and they will consider a business more credible if they offer the ability to transact seamlessly online.
Irrespective of a business’s appetite to win more customers; regardless of the business owner’s desire and ambition to scale-up; in the digital economy I passionately believe that:
Being online is not just about doing business, it is about being found. It is about saving time (for both you and your customers). And most importantly, it is about being trusted.
If you’ve just launched a new website, you may have a form that requires users to register to become a member so they can interact with your site, access premium content or undertake a free trial.
Registration helps you identify serious users who have shown interest in your site, because they have taken the time to complete the registration process.
You should ensure that there is a link to your registration form on almost every page on your site. Using a service such as Google’s analytics will provide you with some wonderful information such as:
A registration form should always be as simple as possible, and collect just the bare information needed to fulfil the process. The more fields you include, the more likely you’ll put users off finishing the registration.
There are many organisations and individuals who target legitimate sites for spamming on forums and posts. A piece of software called a ‘bot’ may try to register for your site so spam links can be posted.
You can help reduce the likelihood of a ‘bot attack’ by making a user confirm their email address through a unique link or by a ‘captchta’ phrase, which displays an image of usually two distorted words that (usually) only humans can read.
The simple answer is just to wait and see what the user does on your website.
This information can give you a valuable intelligence for future marketing campaigns such as:
You’ll immediately have a warm lead that you can follow up. Not only can you get valuable information about your site, but you may also have a good opportunity to sell your product or service and find out more about what the user is actually looking for and what other sites they have researched.
Depending on your type of site:
Neil Cavanagh is the owner of Xpress Data Systems Ltd and has recently launched CamisOnline, an online business administration and management tool.
Selling online is an art. Not only do you need the right products, at the right time and price, but also your website will need to be an effective shop window, shop floor, sales person, cashier and stock controller.
The three most frequent errors I see on e-commerce websites are:
Including a telephone number may be an issue for small-business owners who do not have a dedicated number or work full-time, but I can guarantee that the lack of contact details will be noted by your visitors and can put off people buying from you. This is especially true for first-time customers who may be worried about trusting you. You can buy telephone numbers from www.ttnc.co.uk and have these forwarded to an answering service or voice mail. Including a number is unlikely to trigger a million calls, so don’t worry too much.
Your homepage is the shop front of your store. It needs to tell people what you sell, who you sell to and invite them in to spend. I’ve seen far too many homepages filled with poor copy focusing on the business owner’s credentials. Statements such as: “We have been established for 10 years and sell our products to the whole of the UK. We take customer care very seriously… blah, blah, blah...” Forget all this.
Simply show your visitors what you do. Fill your homepage with a seasonal banner promoting your current special offers or favourite products; display your most recent products on the page with links; and include a number of entry points into sections of your store. Your homepage should promote your products.
I always check delivery prices before I buy. Many online stores offer free delivery for larger purchases, which can be a real incentive to add some extra goodies to the shopping cart. If your visitors cannot see your delivery prices clearly (ideally on all product pages at least), you risk them shopping elsewhere.
Zoe Brown, B Websites Ltd
“Things can happen all at once and little changes can make a huge difference” –
January was quite a month. In fact, it’s been my business’s (Manage My Website) busiest period since I started it two years ago.
The enquiries are coming in thick and fast – from the UK (where we’re based) and countries as far flung as the USA, Egypt and Holland. We’re working on websites for retailers, charities and even the NHS, plus we’re about to partner with MODA Commerce, one of the teams behind the Mary Portas website. My business is on the brink of exploding.
Some years ago I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. As Gladwell explains, tipping points are: "The levels at which momentum for change becomes unstoppable."
So what’s led my business to this key stage? Lots of little things, really. They may have seemed insignificant at the time, but together they’ve created what we have become today and our business has reached its very own tipping point.
Before starting my business, I hadn’t realised I could sell. But in my eyes, I’m not selling to potential clients, I’m just extremely passionate about what I do and that probably shines through.
Nobody can predict what’s around the corner, but I have a very good feeling about 2011. I hope I’ve inspired anyone thinking of branching out on their own that if you’re passionate about what you do, have the right skills and work incredibly hard, you’ll reach your own tipping point.
Growing a business isn’t easy, but experience has taught me that one of the keys to success is to set yourself apart from the rest. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be expensive.
You want the product or service you sell to become a real hit among your target market, but do you really know who buys it? There are many factors to consider and these could change with emerging trends. It’s important you gain an understanding of who is buying and what the biggest driving forces are that make that someone choose you, your expertise, your brand, your product or service.
The internet is a low-cost billboard for you to showcase your business and perhaps sell your products and services, but the prospect of hiring a web designer can be daunting. Why not take a DIY approach? The good news is that a modern range of software is demystifying web design. There are simple, drag-and-drop visual web design programmes not a million miles away from an office word processor. Some packages boast even more potential, producing feature-rich websites without using any HTML coding. A professional-looking site can be produced and online in a matter of hours, even if you have no prior experience – and without a hefty bill for design and build.
Consider placing an advert in a targeted publication so you can be seen by the right people. Consider your budget – is radio or TV a possibility? How about adverts in mobile phone applications? If you need to keep your costs low, creating your own advert can still work wonders. Distil what you want to say and make it an attractive proposition. Decide what your brand values are and keep messages within brand guidelines. Focus on an easy-to-remember call to action.
Cut out the middle men by producing designs yourself and sending them straight to a professional printer. Some flexible design and publishing programs are ultra user-friendly. Templates offer a quick way to make polished materials and your designs can be shared in a professional, compatible format (eg PDF) for accurate printing in any pro print shop.
First, thoroughly check text for spelling and grammar mistakes. Use software to help, but remember to check for errors with the naked eye, too. There are proofing tools built into popular desktop publishing packages, design products and word processors, but they might not always pick up correctly-spelled words used in the wrong context.
When you decide to produce your own poster, advert or other marketing materials, remember that a clear message will have more impact. Don’t use graphical effects for the sake of it or use too many different fonts, sizes and weights, otherwise the design will look unprofessional. If you have a coloured area or image as a background, you might want it to go right up to the edge of your page, but headlines, text, logos and other important information should be places well inside the edge of your design. What is it you or your customers like about other advertising you consider to be effective? Bear these points in mind when you work on your own materials, whether editing a design template or creating a design from scratch.
Dale Cook, Serif
After years of believing the holy grail of marketing was a flashy website with plenty of SEO activity, online retailers are getting back to basics and placing the catalogue at the heart of their marketing campaigns. It’s a clever strategy and something small businesses would do well to take heed of.
In our age of information overload – hundreds of emails a day, blogs, Twitter and other social media – the catalogue (to borrow an analogy from a famous beer brand) quite literally reaches parts other marketing media can’t reach.
A catalogue is intrusive. It lands on your doormat or desk just when you’re not expecting it, with its “oh so evocative” photography and asks you to sit down with a cup of tea and see what’s the latest must-have.
A catalogue will travel round the house with you: from kitchen table to sitting room, up to the bathroom and your bedside cabinet. A catalogue can be marked, written on and well thumbed. You interact with a catalogue physically in a way you simply can’t with a website. And you can dip in and out of it at your leisure. In fact, you’ll probably revisit a favourite catalogue much more than you will a website. A catalogue is a truly powerful medium.
To sell successfully online, you need an offline strategy, too. The big retailers know that. The White Company, Viking, White Stuff, Boden and Isabella Oliver have been doing it for years. Small businesses understandably see doing away with their catalogue as a way to save money in a tight marketplace – but it’s a shortsighted strategy.
A catalogue is your branding tool. It will underpin your web and retail propositions and help your business become memorable. According to The Catalogue Exchange, when you mail a catalogue, 45% of recipients will visit your website. You compare that to an email campaign where if you get a 17% click-through you’re doing well and you can see why the big companies haven’t given up on direct mail.
For every £1 spent on a catalogue, The Catalogue Exchange says you’ll get back between £2 and £5 in store or online. And if you run a luxury brand – or any brand come to that – you need to differentiate or die. A catalogue, with its evocative brand images, space to properly communicate and the way it intrudes on your customers, will help you do that.
I’m not for one moment saying you should ditch your online marketing methods, but what I am suggesting is you look at where your marketing spend is going, and invest it in the activities that are going to give you the greatest return. Put together a proper strategy that you believe will bring you a real return. If you’re spending anything on advertising, you can afford to create a catalogue. Advertising will build brand awareness if you’re lucky (and you chuck lots of money at it). A catalogue will bring you a return on your investment.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
You have put together your business plan, your competitor and customer research and written your marketing plan. Hands up who thought about the simple matter of a domain name or a website?
“It doesn’t matter,” some of you will say, because you aren’t going to be selling anything online, but where do you think more than 90 per cent of the UK population now looks for information on a business? The days of flicking through Yellow Pages for a local plumber are long gone. Nowadays, people use their PCs or their smartphones to see who is local – and what other people have been saying about them. Would you buy anything from Ebay if the seller had 100 per cent negative feedback? Exactly. The same is true of any business today. People will want to know who you are and the first place they will go to find out is online.
So, setting up a website is complicated, time consuming and expensive right? Not at all. Anyone can build a website now, thanks to simple tools available freely online.
Every business should have a website, even if it’s a simple one-pager saying who you are, what you do and how people can contact you, it’s a start. Your website is your most vital employee, one that can work for you 24/7, 365 days a year, across the globe. It’s your virtual shop, one where you can communicate to your potential clients and they can communicate back with you.
So where do you start? Well, getting a domain name is your most important step. A simple domain name check will give you the answers to what is available. And for as little as £4.99 per annum you can take the first step in protecting your burgeoning brand online.
Remember, domain names are unique, which means once you have it, no one else can. So immediately you have a competitive advantage and you can start thinking about how you will take over the world. Well, maybe just your town or city for starters…
Stuart Fuller is the Business Manager for Nordic Region & Online Markets (UK & Denmark) at Easily.co.uk. He is an expert on websites and Internet services.
Deadly is the Female is a Frome-based boutique and web shop specialising in fabulous quality faux vintage fashion from head to toe. Both in store and online, the shopping experience is designed to make their customers feel like old-time Hollywood starlets.
Claudia has been using social networking websites since opening her shop in November 2008.
“We started out with a MySpace page,” she remembers, “which was the site with which I was most familiar, but I soon realised many of our followers were more focused on Facebook. We now mainly use Facebook and Blogger with some Twitter on the side.
“We try to find a balance between updating regularly and bombarding people to the point of irritation. Generally, we post something on Facebook every day and on Twitter a couple of times a week.”
Do she have any good social media tips? “I find it useful to follow other people with similar businesses and learn from them. This is easiest when they do things that are annoying. I hate getting slight variations of the same picture posted again and again, so don’t do that. Try to keep things fresh and don’t focus on selling all the time, a little bit of personal stuff is a good thing, too.”
Claudia recently started using Google Analytics, to find out more about site usage. “You wouldn’t ever guess some of the keywords that lead people to your site. Occasionally, we’ll run Facebook exclusive sales, too - which is a great way to see if people are paying attention.
“Social networking is a great way to connect directly with your customers. You can ask opinions or for help and advertise events. It’s also useful for keeping an eye on trends and gauging popular opinion, which even in a niche market has an impact.”
She says her favourite thing about Facebook is the variety of ways it can be used and how visible everything is. “You can make people feel involved by tagging them. Twitter is great for short, sharp information sharing. I feel less comfortable with Twitter, but I’m still learning.
“Social networking can be quite time-consuming but it’s worthwhile. The instant feedback and volume of information shared is like nothing else and it can help with making important day-to-day business decisions. I sometimes still feel a bit silly typing my thoughts out and sending them out into the unknown, but it’s worth it.”
And if Claudia could only use one social networking site? “It would be Facebook,” she replies. “It’s so easy to add attractive links to specific pages of the website as well as endless photos, videos and just about anything you can think of. You can have your own identity without the clutter of some MySpace pages and you can make people feel part of your brand. Using social media for business marketing takes time and practice to find out what works, but my advice is stick with it and stay positive,” she concludes.
The first thing a potential customer is likely to do after meeting you, or hearing about your business, is look at your website.
If it makes the right impression, hopefully, you can move onto making your first sale and build the relationship from there. If your website falls short of the mark, it’s likely to put them off and they will go elsewhere.
So where do you start? If this is the first time you’ve needed a website, it can seem overwhelming. But, if you get a good designer onboard, it shouldn’t cause you any problems. You can benefit from their knowledge and experience, providing you commission them effectively. But how?
Your website must reflect your brand. It should be a tool that enables you to achieve your marketing goals. So before you even think about commissioning a web designer, you must know what your brand stands for and how your website fits into your marketing strategy, otherwise, you’ll waste precious money.
So what’s your brand? Think of it as your business’s personality – how it speaks, looks and behaves. It’s something far greater than a logo, typeface or a few colours.
The essence of a brand is voice, look and behaviour. Often, these are defined by brand values, so take time to work out what these are. Before you ask a web designer to start work on your behalf, be clear in your mind about your brand values. Draw up a list of five or six brand values, if necessary, seek advice from those with knowledge of your professional or commercial values.
Now think about your marketing strategy – how you will sell your products or services. Your website will be part of this, even if you don’t intend to sell online. Your website must seamlessly complement your other sales efforts, whether that’s cold calling, distributing leaflets, direct mail, newspaper adverts, using online social media such as Twitter or quite possibly a mixture of these.
Be clear about the contribution your website needs to make. Do you need it to sell, generate sales leads/enquiries, capture information or simply tell people more about your business and its wares?
Your choice of web designer will depend on several factors – and budget will be a key. Big agencies don’t work for small fees, while a self-employed web designer could create just as good a website for your business anyway.
Decide on your budget and stick to it. You could search online for web developers, but I’d recommend seeking recommendations from other businesses you trust. Give them a call and ask about how happy they are with the service and value for money they received. Ask whether they encountered any problems.
Shortlist at least three potential designers/agencies; check out their work and ask what solution they recommend for your business. One of the important questions, of course, is price. That’s not to say go with the cheapest – it’s more a question of value for money. Negotiate a set price before any work commences and get all work set out in black and white. There should be no unexpected additional charges. Most web designers often offer ready-made packages, so make sure your website will meet your individual needs.
Once you’ve decided on a supplier, you’ll need to brief them properly. A good brief is the cornerstone of any successful design project. They don’t have to be wordy, multi-page documents; aim for concise and clear guidance on the form, look and content of the site you want, totally in step with your brand and marketing strategy.
When it comes to key decisions (eg site structure, fonts, colours, images, etc), the designer should explain your options, which will enable you to make well-informed decisions. If you’ve picked the right one, you should have confidence in your designer’s ability and opinions, but that doesn’t meaning settling for something you don’t like. You should also be prepared to have your choices criticised where necessary, as long as this is accompanied by suggestions for better alternatives.
The process might involve having to make a few changes (hopefully minor) along the way, but soon enough, come launch you should end up with an important tool that enables you to start and grow your new business.
It’s tempting to think that a website will solve all your marketing problems. Once that new site’s built, the customers will come flooding in. Or will they?
I speak to far too many business owners who have invested (usually not enough) money in having a website built for them. They’re struggling to make ends meet and genuinely can’t understand why their website isn’t generating the enquiries they need. So they chuck a bit more money (again, usually not enough) at someone else to try and fix the problem.
The thing is that I think the problems are usually much deeper. Take a contact I spoke to at the beginning of the week. He’d just had a site built by a company and was frustrated that his site wasn’t being found in the search engines. A quick look at the site told me the problems were greater than just being able to Google him.
The copy was weak. It didn’t show prospective clients how he could help them. Instead he talked first about himself and his business. Secondly, there were no “products” that people could easily “buy”. But crucially, his marketing plan started and ended with his website.
Your website is a piece of the marketing jigsaw. But it’s only a part of it. If you haven’t thought through your offering; if you haven’t created a process for managing and converting your enquiries into clients; if you haven’t identified other ways of spreading the word offline as well as online, then I think you’re going to struggle.
So before you invest all your time, energy and hopes into your website, just think for a minute: do I have a robust marketing plan that will help me win the clients I need? If not, then start looking there first and come to your website when you know what you want it to say.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
If you’ve set up a Facebook page, you’ll probably be wondering how to (a) attract fans and (b) keep the fans you already have interested. You need to focus on the fact that your fans are people like you and me, so this isn’t a ‘business to business’ transaction. You need to be fun and keep it light.
The idea behind a Facebook page is to create a public profile that enables you to share your business and products with Facebook users. They’re very easy to create by going to Facebook, clicking on “Advertising” at the bottom navigation, and then on “Pages”.
Here are some top tips on creating an interesting page with updates that people will want to read:
1. Make sure you add an eye-catching profile picture to your page that represents your business.
2. Add pictures, photographs or videos to your page as you would with your personal account. Images of your products, events, services, employees or even the office dog will add interest to your Facebook page and give it a personal feel. Remember to tag your friends!
3. Before you start inviting your friends or business leads to become fans of the page and recommend you to others, try to pre-populate it with relevant and interesting updates. You could even ask friends and colleagues to start up a discussion or wall post that fans can get drawn into.
4. And this is intrinsic to point 3: Make sure your updates appeal to your fans. Bear in mind that your fans could be teenagers, pensioners, builders, bankers or bakers so it’s essential that your updates are inclusive, and friendly with a distinct tone of voice.
Let’s use a chocolate shop as an example.
BAD status updates:
10am: “Buy our chocolates! They’re delicious!”
2pm: “Have you tried our chocolates yet? They’re delicious!”
4pm: “Check out our website!”
6pm: “We love chocolate.” and so on…..
GOOD status updates:
10am: “If you could invent your very own chocolate, what would it be? The most inventive answer will win a bag of our delicious Pecan Pralines!”
2pm: “Did you know a piece of dark chocolate a day is good for your heart?” (link to a news story)
4pm: “Stop press: New shipment of Willie’s Chocolate now in! Get yours before they’re snapped up!” (link to relevant page on your website)
6pm: “Order anything in our shop between 1pm and 2pm GMT tomorrow and we’ll give you 20% off! Quote ref: FB03” (link to your website)
Hopefully you get the idea. Put yourself in your fans’ shoes – if they get inundated with mundane, corporate sales messages they’ll soon switch off. But make your updates varied, interesting and interactive, and your updates will be shared, commented on, and recommended to others.
5. Check in to your page regularly and respond to comments from your fans. It’ll reinforce your brand and personality as well as proving that you’re not just logging in to make updates now and then.
6. Don’t neglect your Facebook page. It’s all too easy to forget about it when you’re busy and you could end up leaving it sad and lonely for a few weeks. In the meantime your fans will have forgotten you exist or they might even “cull” your page if they don’t deem it interesting enough. Like a pet, keep your page fed and watered!
7. On the other hand, don’t over-do it either. If your fans are getting 30 updates a day clogging up their news feed, they’re not going to be impressed. It’s all about quality rather than quantity.
8. Have a go at “hacking” your profile picture. You can make so much more of the space available if you have the time to learn to do it. A simple Google search will find plenty of websites that can teach you how to do this.
9. Upload pictures or videos that you can tag your fans in. Unfortunately you can only tag your Facebook friends, but if you’re inventive you’ll find a way.
For example if our chocolate shop awarded a bag of Pecan Pralines to a fan they were also Facebook friends with, they could post a picture of the bag and tag it with the fan’s name and a caption “Congratulations Joe Bloggs! You’ve won!” Joe Bloggs’ various Facebook friends would receive the news in their feed and it could tempt them to also become a fan of your page.
10. Although you’ll ideally grow your page and fan base organically, if you want to kick start your Facebook fan attraction campaign, advertise your page by using this link. Make sure your advertisement is eye catching and unique or your investment could be wasted, and above all do some research on your target demographic before you start your ad campaign.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) involves taking steps to improve the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines such as Google via natural or unpaid search results.
The higher your website appears in the search results list, the better its chance of attracting visitors – and converting that interest into a sale, of course.
If you have recently paid an agency or freelance to create a website for your business, they should know all about SEO and it should have been a key deciding factor in the finer detail of the work they did for you.
If your website is many years old or if you are planning to create your own website, then you will need to get to grips with a few SEO basics, if your website is to be fully optimised for search engines.
Where to begin? Buy or (better still borrow) a good introductory guidebook. I recommend Getting Noticed on Google by Ben Norman. For more detail, try Search Engine Optimisation for Dummies by Peter Kent or When Search Meets Usability by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica.
If someone else has designed or maintains your website, check with them that your site has been fully optimised for search engines. This applies to headings, alt tags, meta tags, page structure, page titles and meta descriptions/keywords. Each is essential to improving your SEO results.
Keywords must appear with sufficient frequency in main copy on each page. For example, if you are offering plumbing services in Wiltshire, then the words ‘plumbing’ and ‘Wiltshire’ should make up about 5-10 per cent of all words used. The trick is to be natural in use of language, as (apart from reading badly and so putting people off) deliberate/ham-fisted repetition of the same words (or deliberately hiding keywords) will make search engines ignore your site.
Submit your site to the major search engines. Make sure you register your website with Google Analytics, so that you can measure your traffic. Check out Google AdWords if you want to pay to advertise, they have a starter package that is very easy to use.
Try also to source appropriate websites that can link to yours, but avoid those that promise to put your link on 600 other sites (most of which are often totally irrelevant), it will just look as though you’re spamming.
Google your keywords and check which sites come up in the results. If there are directories on the list or websites open to having relevant links (sometimes linking from yours back to theirs in return), contact them.
Analyse your results carefully and learn from them. Check Google Analytics, search on the major search engines at regular intervals to check your position in the results and keep your content fresh and up to date.
By following this simple advice, you should be able to make your website more likely to appear in search engine listings. If reading this has left you none the wiser about SEO, then you should probably seek the services of a specialist, otherwise you could be left counting the cost in disappointingly low visitor numbers to your website.
I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company, Atom, I admire SMEs more than ever.
Why I started the Donut
I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company Atom, I admire SMEs more than ever.
Running your own show is tremendous fun, especially if you know what you’re doing and can manage the 101 challenges that come your way every month. Which is where Atom content comes in.
We’ve been producing our expert how-to guides, sponsored by blue chips and government organisations, for nearly two decades. But, of course, as an entrepreneur, I wanted something new to do. In a (rare) idle moment online, I scouted about for a really good marketing website for small businesses. There wasn’t one.
So we decided to do it, launching on 20 April 2009. We built small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) their own site with everything they needed to make their marketing thrive. Founding partners Google and Royal Mail backed us all the way, as have our ever-growing list of sponsors such as Vodafone and Yell.
What we’ve achieved in a year
As well as Marketing Donut, we launched two more Donut websites to cover starting up and law. We’ve just announced that the fourth site to launch will be IT Donut, scheduled for the week commencing 23 August.
We use 300 top people to provide the expert advice on the Donuts, but, for me, the real experts are also the users. Before we started work, we asked people running small businesses what they wanted from a site. They told us they needed fast, practical and accurate answers to their questions. The Donuts give SME managers that, free. Tools, templates, checklists, the lot: plus the news their business needs to know.
All the Donuts report live on major small-business happenings - we were the first business advice site to break news of the rise in minimum wage on Budget Day. MyDonut, the e-newsletter, now goes out to tens of thousands of people a month – next year numbers should top 100,000. (This is in addition to the 300,000 subscribers to the SME newsletters that we publish for our clients. Life at Atom is one big deadline.)
Since the launch a year ago, the Donut sites have fast become a key player in the UK small-business scene. Our Twitter accounts have over 40,000 followers and our Twitter team picked up two national awards last year.
Local versions of marketingdonut.co.uk, startupdonut.co.uk and lawdonut.co.uk are syndicated to our partners, both nationally and in the regions. Thirty-five organisations already have their own Donut websites and more are coming on stream every month.
The Donut is a strong business model, because it is a win-win for everyone involved. Crucially, Atom had already invested several years building up the strategic relationships and the content before launching the first website. As with most successful SMEs, we always knew that the Donut project would not be a sprint to success, it would be a marathon.
2010-2011: what’s in it for you?
As we expand the core "answers to your questions" pages of the Donuts, we will continue to cover news and key topical issues for you. For instance, this month the Law Donut explains how to cope with recruitment and redundancy as the economy remains fragile, as well as what to do when all your staff want time off for June’s World Cup.
We’re currently building the IT Donut, which will be a comprehensive resource for demystifying IT, troubleshooting and trading online. It will become the first place any small business turns to when they have a tech problem that needs sorting fast. We're currently recruiting experts who will rid us all of pesky IT stress forever, I hope.
We’ll also be providing a local service for users, thanks to our partners. Law firms, chambers of commerce and enterprise agencies are all getting involved. This is really exciting, as it gives users the best of all worlds - a huge library of constantly updated advice from experts throughout the UK, combined with local content.
An SME owner's work is never done, so I'm signing off to tackle the above. Before I go - thanks to you, our users, and all our partners and experts, for a great year.
One of the main reasons I’m approached by new B2B clients is they feel frustrated having spent £X on a new website expecting customers to flock to it and make contact so sales teams can simply ‘finish the job’. This simply doesn’t happen.
Actively developing leads through a B2B website isn’t necessarily an aspect of your sales strategy that requires a major cash injection. The real investment is time; time to understand your visitors, their motivations and requirements. Only then will your website provide a successful lead generation platform.
So what key mistakes should you avoid?
1 Jargon and unnecessarily complex language
If the content on your website unnecessarily technical it will drive visitors away. Keep the language plain and accessible – only include more complex information data if absolutely necessary. You must quickly capture visitors’ attention, so tell them what makes you special and explain how your products/services will benefit them.
2 Missing conversion opportunities
Time and again I speak to new customers who struggle to convert readers into leads. Why? They’re not drawn to communicate. You’ve earned the right to request contact details from visitors, but don’t bombard users with “CLICK HERE” and “CONTACT US” messages throughout your site. A simple, clean and professional call to action on every page will do. Don’t have one laborious contact form. Use simple tools throughout your website to engage new visitors and quickly build your subscriber base.
3 Badly thought out AdWords campaigns
The key to a truly successful Adwords campaign is to match your ad and subsequent landing page to the requirements of the Google searcher. Give them what they’re looking for. Deliver visitors to a landing page that is tailored to their needs. Talk to them in a language they understand and engage them by showing how your business can meet their needs.
4 Ignoring Analytics
Google offer site Analytics for free. It’s essential information. It tells you how site visitors found you, what they did on your site and from which page they left. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing perfectly relevant site traffic without conversions. Spending just five minutes a day looking at your daily Analytics report can answer a whole range of key questions that can help you understand where you’re going wrong.
5 The ‘build it and they will come’ mentality
They won’t – it takes a lot of hard work. You might have Tweeted a couple of Tweets (please, not how much snow there is outside – people aren’t interested), setup your Facebook business page and updated your Linkedin profile. Well done. How much traffic will this generate for your business? Probably none. You’ve got to work your social media outposts as hard as website traffic generation.
6 Ignoring your local attraction
If the price and quality is the same, many (most?) people prefer to ‘buy local’, so let people nearby know you’re there. Look at your website – how obvious is your location? Maybe you have a few locations? Fantastic. Tell your prospects. Not only does location assist with search engine rankings, it also leaves you better placed to convert prospects not your doorstep.
7 Borrrrrrring content
Want to drive away potential leads from your website? Dull and uninspiring content will do it every time. You must grab visitors’ attention. Ask them questions, inspire them, engage them, amuse them, let them know why you’re special, show them you can meet their needs or solve their problems. Don’t merely focus on features – people buy benefits.
8 Give it all away for free
Even if you’ve got loads of content ready to be made available to your website users – hold back some of it. Produce an e-book or simple PDF download that offers information in return for visitors signing up. You can make your site into a definitive resource to build ‘authority’ within your industry. Maybe an additional income stream can be built using a ‘premium’ subscription service to your website?
9 Giving up the chance to be an authority
Your lead-generation process can be as simple as requesting visitors’ email addresses in return for your free monthly e-newsletter. Building frequency with prospects not only assists your business sales strategy significantly, it also allows you to build ‘authority’. Being seen as a leading voice within your industry makes things much easier throughout the sales funnel.
10 Assume web users have loads of time
If a prospect has found your site, they’ve probably found your competitors, too. No SEO or content structure can ensure visitors’ first click is their final click. Optimise your online campaigns around every click your potential client may make and keep the process simple. Some visitors will happily sit and read your content. However, most simply won’t have the time, which means your site must capture their attention immediately and tell them what they need to know.
It’s never been so competitive, but the rules of online selling remain the same. Keep your message simple, fully engage your site visitors and know exactly how to differentiate your site messages for those who are simply browsing and those much closer to buying.
Ian Rhodes, Webformula
Create a professional looking site in under 30 minutes: Easy things to install on your web hosting
If you need to create a presence on the Internet and you already have web hosting, then there are a few things that you can do to create a professional looking site in under 30 minutes.
Blogging - WordPress
Using a blog is one of the most effective ways to build a following and create a professional web presence with little fuss. The results won’t be immediate, but with continued blogging, you’ll soon start dominating your key search terms. Blog frequently, with no less than 300 words on topics related to the words that you’ve discovered people use when searching for your products or services.
WordPress is software that is completely customisable and can be used for practically anything you need. There is both a downloadable version, suitable for parking at your web host (e.g. www.myblog.com), as well as more limited online version (e.g. myblog.wordpress.com).
Due to the flexibility of Wordpress, you can tailor the look of your blog accordingly by downloading hundreds of free WordPress themes, or by purchasing one that better suits your needs. You can also engage WordPress designers to create bespoke themes at a later stage if you wish to add to the unique nature of your blog.
These days, it’s possible to use specially designed software to convert or transform your WordPress blog into a Joomla Site so that if you want to give your blog greater functionality and potential later, then it’s possible.
CMS - Joomla
Joomla is a powerful Content Management System, or CMS, which easily allows you to build your own website. Many successful businesses that do not want to spend a fortune on designers fees and wish to retain complete control of their website choose Joomla software. Joomla is easy to use, flexible and can be tailored to your precise needs. It’s completely free to download and there’s a great deal of help and support both on Joomla’s website and across the Internet.
A content management system will help you to get found on the Internet. The CMS organises and maintains all of the content on your website and presents it to you in a way that makes it very easy for you to create, edit and publish your content to the website. With Joomla you can add music, text, photos, video - whatever you need, it’s all very simple. The main advantage of using Joomla is that CMS systems like this do not require you to have any programming skills, so once you’ve mastered the basics of Joomla, you can quickly create great looking pages without the need for technical expertise or experience.
Forums/Community Site - SimpleMachines
A great way to create interest in your site, build online credibility and drive traffic towards your products or services is to create a forum or community site. You can add an online community to your website using Simple Machines Forum. They offer a professional software that’s completely free and only takes a few minutes to setup and get running. It has a completely customisable layout and unique technology allowing your website and the forum software to work together seamlessly.
A forum is the perfect tool for bringing people to your site. There they can express their opinions on a range of subjects, all under your watchful eye, and every comment or question they add helps you to attract more people to your site.
So what are you waiting for?
Peter Gradwell, Gradwell
“Small firms should increase their website presence,” urges BBC entrepreneur expert Howard Graham in a new piece on the BBC website.
He cites the well-established business wisdom that growing your firm depends on creating a unique selling proposition (USP) and communicating it to your target market. “The web is simply the best way of doing that,” he argues.
In many cases, he’s right. For example, an independent bookshop selling rare first editions could make invaluable use of a website to make its unique publications known to a wider audience, and of course sell them via an online shop.
But I’m surprised that Graham should believe it’s “extraordinary” that fewer than half of all small businesses have a web presence. Is it really that astounding when, as the Federation of Small Businesses says, “the vast majority of small businesses serve their local markets”?
I spoke to my greengrocer this week. I suggested the very thing Graham is advocating, that he should consider investing in a website. I expected a negative reaction based on likely cost, but I was wrong. He simply replied: “I’m based in Bristol, why do I want someone in Leeds to know who I am? He won’t want to buy from me, and even if he does, by the time he gets to me, the carrots will have rotted!”
My local grocer was more concerned with making sure families down the street know he was open for business. Graham’s firm carried out a survey that backs this claim up: “A recent survey we carried out at Made Simple Group clearly showed that… specifically improving visibility to generate new business was a key concern for many.”
But is a website always the best way to achieve this? How vital is a web presence to a plumber, mobile hairdresser or local newsagent? Surely good old fashioned word-of-mouth, attention-grabbing signage and business cards do the job just as well – if not better – than an expensive website?
This is not to say small businesses should ignore other avenues of online marketing - social networks such as Twitter, Ecademy and Facebook, as well as blogging. All can provide excellent, low-cost exposure for your business. The Start Up Donut has some great videos that provide an introduction to online social networking.
But a purely web-based approach to publicising a small business can be ineffective if not suicidal. Small firms should increase their website presence – but only if there is true value in doing so.
Mark Hook, BHP Information Solutions
Sitting down for the first time to outline online objectives for your new business can be particularly daunting. Typically, you’re entering a sector where competition already exists and you may look upon competitors as tremendous obstacles in reaching your own business targets.
Perfectly true, but you have to remember with ‘search marketing strategy’, every online business, big or small, started with a blank canvas, not necessarily a structured plan with objectives.
I was involved with my first online business in 1997. The ability to reach certain search ranking targets was far simpler then – the market was much less saturated. Conversely, the opportunity to track, analyse and develop a search engine marketing strategy gives the 2010 start-up the necessary ammunition to build their SEO (search engine optimisation) arsenal.
As you begin to prepare your online marketing objectives, keep the following five tips in mind, to ensure your time and energies are optimised just as much as your search strategy:
1 Brainstorm and produce a list of 20-25 key 'phrases' that make up your SEO ‘dream ticket’. Do they look like realistic targets within your first year? You probably don't know. If they're single words, I’d suggest they aren't achievable within your first year of trading. My advice would be to add to each of these words or phrases another demographic term, for example, “Widgets" should become “Widgets Hertfordshire” or "Hire Widgets". Setting your SEO expectations too high, too early, can take away from what should actually be seen as tremendous ranking results for any start-up.
2 Track everything and leave no stone unturned. There are a range of tools available, mostly free, which allow you to see exactly what is happening on your website – how people find you, which pages they visit and the all-important terms they type into Google to find your website.
This information can produce the building blocks for a highly optimised search campaign and throw up new and innovative ideas to capture additional levels of traffic. Put the necessary packages in place from day one and review accordingly.
3 Understand - but don't become an expert. Starting a business and having access to reams of data can be tremendously offputting. I had a tendency to look at data on a daily basis, overanalysing each search ranking movement and trying to understand why certain keywords performed in certain ways.
My advice in hindsight? Research your key data on a monthly basis – especially if you’re starting up from home on a budget. As a new website, it will take time for your search positioning to bed in. Seeing rapid movements up and down the ranking can strike fear into most, but it needn't. Concentrate on your core business efforts and compile your analytics data for monthly review
4 Context is king. Your site content will make or break your online business. Poorly drafted content not only detracts from the usability of your site, it provides Google with little opportunity to grant your site authority. Write your content with the end user in mind.
Keep it simple, know when to produce both internal and external links and always field the opportunity to allow your site visitors to communicate. Don't let them wander your site trying to find your contact page or telephone number. Keep everything within context and your site will quickly develop it's own SEO pattern
5 Don't take your eye off of your initial business goal. The web is constantly evolving. New opportunities present themselves each and every day. Try your best not to deviate away from your initial online business objectives. If you receive a call from business X promising to send an email to 100,000 recipients for £x – be wary. Is your business in a position to capitalise on this opportunity? Does this opportunity make good business sense? Does this opportunity seem to good to be true?
OK, so you’ve thought about a fantastic name for your company and it’s time to purchase your website domain. Before you hit the purchase button, it’s always a good idea to run your decisions past someone else.
Why? Because, by shortening two words or more by simply removing the spaces in your business name, your domain name could attract an unwanted audience.
All of the businesses below didn’t spend quite enough time considering how their URLs might appear – or be misread…
The serious point is, always check your domain spelling and the way it reads. It saves on embarrassing marketing issues or red faces in front of clients later on.
Start up business owners absolutely can’t ignore the opportunities that are available online to market their small business. As great an opportunity as there is, it’s also a pretty daunting task for a new business – especially if you’re not an expert in getting attention on the web. The good news is, keeping it simple is one of the best ways you can ensure that your website is ticking all of the boxes and serving the purpose it needs to for potential customers or business partners.
Stefan Tornquist, Research Director of Marketing Sherpa, talks about improving your search rankings organically through relevant website content. As a small business owner, how easy do you find it to write copy and articles for your business? Is it something you can do yourself, or do you prefer to outsource this job?
This is our first blog post for Start Up Donut and for this post we wanted to explore something that was close to our hearts, and also something that every small business has to go through – coming up with a business name.
This article is a combination of thoughts and actions we took from our branding exercise, where we explored our rationale for using the name Resonata Consulting.
Everybody who has gone through a similar exercise will agree it is incredibly hard to be original. Not only do you want the name to reflect your business activity, but it should also have a familiar ring to it – making it easy for people to find our company and remember you. At first we explored the straight-forward options such as for example MI-Consulting or IM Consulting. But not only were the names already registered, we felt both options reflected poor creativity and didn’t explain our services or how we wish to be perceived.
To build a strong brand we would have to find a name that would:
How our name stands out:
Resonata stands out from the crowd because although it has a familiar feel to it (resonate or resonating) it also incorporates data and when you see that resonate is brought together with data it immediately gives you a connection of resonating with data, therefore it stands out, speaks softly yet firmly and is ultimately memorable to others
How our name explains our services:
We came to the name Resonata Consulting, which reflects the essence of what we do and how we do it.
Resonata is a unique word, though it has a familiar feel to it making it memorable to clients and partners alike. Depending on your interpretation of the word Resonata, it is made up from the words resonate, research and data.
Therefore, it gives you an immediate impression of how our company interprets best practice: we resonate client’s data needs and actively research on data – a process driven exercise with the client at heart.
Many branding experts, consultants and our advisers consistently told us that our brand/company name had to incorporate the term data or even data acquisition – because that is what our service is all about.
We struggled at first to incorporate it, but by merging the word data with resonate and research we did not only manage to satisfy the most critical of branding specialists but we also found a way to express exactly how we bounce ideas of clients, actively help them and research around their data needs – this is partly to do with our philosophy of not making our client’s briefs fit to the prospect data available but making the data fit to our client’s brief – hence the research that we do on data, trends and insights to gain best the best possible prospect data for our clients.
How and why Resonata could be recognised internationally:
Because both directors have travelled extensively (Asia, Europe, North America, Central America, and South America), speak a number of different languages (English, Dutch, Spanish, French and German) and have both lived and worked abroad in various parts of the world (Europe, North-America and Asia), we knew that our services would have an international appeal. Because the word ‘Resonata’ was created by us it would have no negative cultural barriers concerning its interpretation.
Why our business name had to have a consultancy feel to it:
Resonata Consulting had to have consulting or consultancy within the company name to emphasise that we want to engage with our clients in the process and we are essentially Research on Data Consultants.
Coming from an international sales and business development consultancy background ourselves, this is the kind of company philosophy we want to be part of and are confident our clients will buy into as well.
What does Resonata Consulting mean to us:
We listen to our clients' needs and act as an extension of their organisation; building on existing internal knowledge and processes, and resonating clients’ needs by understanding the clients' goals and helping them to achieve the highest quality data in the most timely and financially efficient manner.
What have clients' reactions been?
In the main clients feel positive towards our company name and are often curious as to where it came from and how we came up with it. Although sometimes if it is a bad phone line we have to spell it – something I did not expect!
All in all the naming of our consultancy was an interesting and involving exercise that in the main has had incredibly positive results!
You can see more about us on our website: http://www.resonata.co.uk where you are able to see more about our brand and how that has translated into a logo and overall feel of a Fresh Player to the Market.
Matthew Baker is the Co-founder and Director of Resonata Consulting.
For many Start-ups, the website is an early investment, and for many more an early headache. To avoid common mistakes, it can be good to adjust the way you think about your site. Rather than thinking of it as a project or a tool, think of it as your first employee – a valued member of the team to be nurtured and developed.
Key ways in which a website is like an employee:
A website has a permanent, full time, role in your business: It never ceases to amaze me how many small businesses think of a website as a self-contained project – with beginning, a middle and (even more worryingly) an end. You wouldn’t recruit someone into your business and think that, once they’d signed the contract, their job was complete or that they’d stay exactly the same as the day they walked through the door. Neither should you think the same of your website.
A person comes to your company with some skills and knowledge, but over time they will gain more specific knowledge about your company, and become more skilled as they learn on the job or undergo formal training and development. A website is just the same – however well conceived and delivered, it is only when real people start to interact with it that you’ll know what really works, and what doesn’t, on your site. Through reviewing analytics and undertaking user-testing and feedback, you will be able to constantly refine and improve your website’s performance. Which brings me to performance… you’re likely to set of minimum performance standards for your staff, have you done the same for your website? And, do you have the tools to measure against those standards.
And of course, things change. Think also of a scenario in which your employee’s area of the business is subject to some sort of change (legal, environmental, new product, etc.) – they’ll need to adapt and respond. Your website is no different. Just because it was beautiful when you launched it, it may not be in a new context. What’s more, this is technology we’re talking about. The tech big boys work to a circa 6 month product development cycle – the pace of change is fast and furious. If your website is to stay current, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the new trends, like Twitter, Tag Clouds, etc… and whatever is just around the corner.
But, it many ways it is even better than an employee:
Useful people management techniques you can apply to your website:
For many businesses, the website is probably quite an early investment – thinking of it as your first ‘employee’ is a healthy starting point – meaning you’ll feel happier with seeing it as an ongoing task rather than a one-off project. For other businesses, particularly ecommerce businesses, your website is more like a team of employees, rather than just the one – and just like a team of people you’ll need to think about the way that individuals interact, etc.
This is even more critical in a Startup. By the very nature of your business being new, you’ll need to test and learn. And what’s more, money is tight at the beginning of any business – if you simply invest and ignore, you’re wasting precious funds. By going into a relationship with your website, based on the certain knowledge that it is an ongoing task, your initial and ongoing investments are money well spent.
So, if you think your web project has come to an end because you’ve gone live… I advise you to think again. I advise you to think of your website as a valued member of your team and to treat it accordingly.
Whether it is spring, summer, autumn or winter, when did you last take a look at your website and see it from your customer/clients’ point of view? I’m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to neglecting my website, but with the search engines lurving new content you can’t afford to ignore it. Sit down, make yourself a cuppa, then spend just five minutes with my top tips and spring clean your website:
A bad online impression of your company could mean more business for your competitors – don’t hand them your (potential) customers.
Trust and credibility are big, big issues on the web. There are millions of websites out there, and not all of them are reputable. We web users are a suspicious bunch. How can your new start up website win our confidence?
Here are 10 ideas: