The last challenge:
7. Directing user behavior in a very distracting environment. The internet is a very distracting environment. Unlike when you advertise or market on television or else in print or one on one in a meeting, you have no psychological upper hand and the user feels no need to pay you any attention or let you make your case. In a sense it is like he is window shopping but inside the shop and in multiple shops at the same time (does that make sense?) It is also a unique medium (only maybe teleshopping compares) where you can convince someone and make him buy your product immediately. It is also the one medium where you have a storefront for which you may no rent, have no utility cost and where your sales are primarily under your control. Having said that the biggest challenge is to get users to follow a 'sales funnel' where you take them through a typical buying process without them explicitly feeling that they are being taken through the same. The way you do this is to continuously improve your usability as you mine data and figure out the typical buying path that customers are taking. Something easily said but very difficult to do.
So here are some things I feel every online entrepreneur must do:
1. Keep search very broad and implement filters on search results. Techies have a tendency to use advanced search and this is a valuable tool which must be put under an advanced search button. However, in your initial days, you will not have enough variety to satisfy users. Putting a very detailed search is akin to putting up a sign saying restaurant and not having a menu. Customers will come in ask for truffle and cake and other exotic dishes and you will return zero search results. In the initial stages it is much better to offer a broad search and maybe a direct category browse or graphical browse of featured products. Make sure you put the price on the featured products and choose products that are good deals. As you get more information about what customers are searching for work furiously to add to the catalog and feature those products. Make sure that on the search results page you have an ability to further filter these results based on the parameters that you usually would put in the advanced search page.
2. Do an excel sheet SEO exercise as outlined in the previous post. As mentioned take an excel sheet and list out all the keywords and going one by one take each keyword and reword content on your website to ensure it contains these keywords. Obviously, user experience is key and don't do anything that will look or feel stupid and as if you are stuffing garbage into the website but go through the exercise.
3. SEO internal pages. The way to do this is to rename links and ensure content on every page is SEOed and not just your homepage which will be actually the most difficult page to SEO effectively given that it has the most generic content. I'll give you an example if you are a seller of books it is rare that someone will come to your website after typing in 'online book seller india' - Instead it is more likely that there are a larger number of users who will type in particular authors names or the names of particular books e.g. "Selling the wheel" and you want those keywords to not point to your homepage but to an internal page for that particular product. Hence you must use these keywords and the authors names for your detailed page for that book.
4. Contribute to the internet. Create proprietary content which is not present anywhere else on the internet. This is treated favorably by search engines. Try and stay focussed to your business and create a depth of content which your audience will find useful. More importantly, try and syndicate the content to other websites who have higher Page Ranks and ask them to link back to you. This will ensure your page rank moves upwards.
5. Direct user behavior by keeping the number of pages to the minimum. Here is what I mean by this. Typically most websites will have a search results page and then on clicking on the search results you go to a product detail page. I would recommend instead of redirecting to a product detail page, try and see if you can replace the same with a HTML5 pop up. This is where there is no new page but a section pop out on the page itself and disables the background page. The popup must have all the information for the user to make his purchase decision and a two action buttons - to either close and go back to search results or else to purchase. This is called providing a strong funnel and I would recommend everyone do this.
6. Build an engaged audience and encourage contribution. This is really the toughest part of internet marketing. Build an engaged audience and get them to contribute to their website. Some of you might have seen on my About Me page that this is something I find very important ("businesses which can get more valuable not by attracting customers but by what customers 'leave behind') - I feel this is because a lot of websites feel that the way to get user generated content is to get user reviews and ratings on the website. This is not gonna help you get customers as it will be something that kicks in only after you have a large number of disgruntled customers :-) - Get inspired by Wikipedia. Is there a way to get other content on the website enhanced by the users?? Spend significant time and energy on this as it is a non trivial problem to solve. However the payoff of doing this is immense - you will build a great and loyal community and search engines and other directories will notice and reward the dynamism as part of their algorithms.
7. Use alt tags for images. A simple tip but one that not many webmasters do. Remember images cannot be read by bots. The only thing that can be read is the meta data about them i.e. the alt tag. Ensure the alt tag is well formed and has content that is relevant to the particular image. Don't stuff it with crap.
8. Spend time to figure out your facebook and twitter strategy. I will do detailed posts on using each of these tools and so at the moment I will not say much but to say that these are powerful tools and ones that cannot be ignored in todays internet. However, there is like all things in life a world of difference between the obvious and insight. Don't do stuff without spending some time to understand the implications of your actions and mapping out your goals from these exercises.
9. Use Search Engine Marketing to get immediate results. SEO can never give you results in the same way. SEO is a gradual process. Search Engine Marketing or Online Advertising guarantee you immediate results at a price. In a sense it is like paying to get to the top of the queue. Use them effectively and you will be able to grow your business quickly and effectively. However, very few people understand how to use Online Advertising effectively. My view is that you need to prepare a business plan and ensure that you start with traffic that is coming vritually entirely from Online Advertising and gradually trending to where it is 40-50% of your total traffic. I say 40-50% of your traffic should come from online advertising as I feel you must grow your revenues by 100% every year. If you are able to get a base traffic from regular customers and SEO, then online advertising should be able to get you to this figure. However, remember with SEO that you must set a goal and dollar values and probability figures for every step of the selling process. Here you are spending real money and you need to get tangible results i.e. money in the bank. I like to think of SEM as pushing the gas on the accelerator because you don't have a lifetime to waste. Personally, I strongly advocate Search Advertising as opposed to Facebook, Display and other forms of Advertising. I have found it to be value for money.
10. Research creating an affiliate program. An affiliate program is where you partner with other websites, bloggers and online communities to promote your program in return for a success fee. Think of it as similar to online advertising but in a different format. A great affiliate program is the one from Amazon where once I sign up as an amazon affiliate - I get an affiliate code and then whenever I like a book, I can blog about it and my readers can click a link to view details of the book on amazon.com - If they purchase the book, I get a commission from Amazon - as simple as that. I have used a simplistic example of a blogger as an affiliate but there are many managers of large passionate online communities whose primary income stream is affiliate programs they participate in. Have a focused approach to creating a win-win affiliate program and reaching out to the right affiliates and recruiting them to your cause.
Hope this was useful and I will write posts dedicated to facebook and twitter in the near future. Welcome comments and other feedback from others!!