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A guide to building your online shopping business

marketing online shopping websitesYou have cornered a niche market, created a beautiful, easily navigable website; what now? Sit back and watch the bank balance? Not quite yet. Creating an online shopping business requires constant input. The internet has changed commerce over the last 30 years, and while the traditional rules of off-line customer service are still vital to the success of any new online shopping venture, online shops must follow a different route to success. The learning curve will be steep, the setbacks numerous, but if your product has a market, it is very possible to create an online empire.

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Bringing customers to your shopping site requires making the site easy to find. Search engines are the key. Whilst targeted marketing off-line may being in local business, to reach much further afield, and for much less financial input, search engines are a commercial gem. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is vital. The specifics of SEO are a hard art to master, with the main search engines keeping their page ranking specifics close to their chest, but there are certain simple ways to ensure that your page brings in good quality, high value customers.

Know your market, build your business online

First of all, you must know your market. What are people searching for? Many new online entrepreneurs get obsessed with driving traffic to a new site through targeting many keywords, even if they are not entirely relevant to their product. Attracting traffic looking for “car rental” may bring in many visits, but if the website advertises vintage wedding car hire, for example, will any of that traffic generate business? By using web analytics tools, internet marketers can quickly see which keywords are generating profitable traffic and can focus on these keywords alone.

Using Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC) is a great way of testing what works. Both in terms of the keywords that drive traffic to your site and for analysing what headlines and calls to action create the urgency to close a deal. For a new online shopping websites, this knowledge is essential to ensure that the correct keywords are targeted to maximise success. PPC, used alongside some simple A/B testing will quickly show what headlines, which calls to action and which campaigns have the most credibility and therefore, which will continue to build a brand online.

Information as a brand builder

The information content is essential to the success of an online shop. Websites are not just used for purchasing products and services. They are used for information and increasingly, entertainment. Having expert information is key to building and online presence. If you are perceived as an industry expert, trust builds in the brand. Without the reassurance of a face to face sale, trust and confidence are vital in ensuring that potential customers cross that line. In providing detailed, expert information, you are not only building trust in the brand and product, but also providing naturally SEO rich copy, building trust with the search engines and customers in one clear go.

Reviews are an excellent way to generate trust building copy, for free. Studies have shown however, that many online customers treat reviews with suspicion. While in the majority of cases, reviews are overwhelmingly positive, it is the few negative reviews that hold by far the most persuasion. Positive reviews are often dismissed as being either paid copy or seller generated. More has to be done to establish a site as an industry expert.

Providing good quality information about an industry, product or service not only establishes trust in both the product and the brand, but used wisely, can increase brand awareness naturally. If an article, video or site is a genuine source of good information, other e-commerce sites, bloggers and customer review sites will pick it up, providing backlinks and brand advertising. Once a product is ready, make it easy for bloggers and online industry experts to run with your products. Provide plenty of free information, good pictures and readily available prototypes and the online world will start getting the word out quickly. Faster than paid advertising will.

Know your customers – Build their Business

Knowing your customer allows you to tailor your product, service and promotions directly to them. And it is not only the satisfied, happy customers that validate your business that need listening to. It is the disillusioned, perhaps angry customers that often provide the most valuable information. Perhaps their complaint is blown totally out of proportion; perhaps their experience is a mistaken one off in which is highly unlikely to occur again. However, their experience, and reaction to that experience, is all the more valuable to you. It helps you understand the frustrations, and potential barriers to engage, that your business model has, or is implied to have on its customers.

It is at this point that social media can really help. Social media is much more about the individual customer than the brand. By the time that an individual recognises your brand online, they are most likely to connect with questions, challenges or responses to experience. Here, engaging the individual on a personal, individual level is vital. Relieving fears, or gaining an understanding to the perceived positives and negatives are vital. On doing this, you are not only provided with exceptional and detailed feedback, but you are also gaining a social media ‘advertiser’, that will engage their friends and social spheres of influence towards your brand. They are likely to engage a similar demographic through their online social media platforms, providing a trusted, targeted and free advertising campaign on your behalf.

If there are any industry specific blog writers or social media groups dedicated to your industry, become known. Create an account and become involved in discussions and groups, not to try and sell, but simply to become known. Become a valued member of the community. A few free samples will provide a change to gain feedback, reviews and further industry targeted copy online.

Constantly Evolve

You will not know all the answers immediately. Building a business, online especially, requires constant innovation and change. It is not only essential in ensuring that the products or services on offer are absolutely up to date in a constantly changing commercial world, but it also inspires trust and loyalty from an ever increasingly knowledgeable customer base. Keeping your product close to your chest may avoid a few intellectual property violations, but more likely, it is preventing the input, leads and networking that a product requires to really get off the ground. The immediacy of feedback available online means that you can get direct feedback from potential customers; those that have already bought into the idea, have connected via social media or forums, and are interested enough in the product to provide feedback in the first place. Ensure that you listen!

This is especially true in social media. Each new social media stream offers a new way to market. Some of them will not create an online ‘buzz’, and fall quiet fairly fast. Who would have thought that a media site offering restricted character posts would grow to become the almost unstoppable Twitter? Get in early, secure your brand name and see what the new format can offer. Innovation in social media can cause adverts or content to go viral, bringing your brand incredible exposure in targeted market places. Beware however, that very, very few adverts go viral. It is much more likely that social media involvement will produce greater discussions and brand awareness among a small, targeted demographic with a genuine interest and deep knowledge of your industry sector. These consumer experts, if on side with your product, are the most influential groups online. They have a wide sphere of influence, through their blogs, review site and personal accounts and can be highly persuasive to less knowledgeable consumers. Court them through information, attractive campaigns and a personal touch.

Provide a Good Service

It seems simple to say, but in online commerce, the customer experience is a public one. Studies by leading brands, including Dell, Amazon and others have shown three reoccurring strands of online customer satisfaction; product quality, promise delivery and post-sale support. By simply delivering what you promise and offering a robust method of customer support (a highly visible contact number is an underestimated trust builder), a new business can greatly increase the satisfaction of its customers. This has natural knock-on effects, as on site reviews, blogs and social media start to see a naturally positive image of the company flooding through.
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