30/03/2011

By Chris Barling

Ecommerce is still the fastest growing retail sector and the barriers to entry are now so low that anyone can set up a web store. Selling Successfully Online - Over 300 top tips for running an ecommerce website is a new guide aimed at those just thinking about making money online, as well as the experienced internet merchant.

Featured below are extracts from the book

DECIDE: MARKETPLACE OR OWN WEB STORE?

The last few years have seen the rise of ’online market places’ such as eBay and Amazon. You can use their technology to start selling straight away and more importantly, they will deliver visitors to your store from day one.

These are major benefits and are the reason why huge numbers of merchants have started selling online through this route. Many merchants with their own websites also sell through Amazon, eBay and others. The benefits are clear, so it’s worth outlining the issues.

• The first is cost, where listing and transaction fees will take a significant proportion of revenue.

• The second is control, where you must adhere to strict policies and your business can disappear overnight if you are deemed to have stepped out of line.

• The final disadvantage is slightly ironic. Because it’s so easy to start up, there is a constant stream of new competitors, many of whom are running their business in the evenings. The most common approach of these start ups is to compete on price, which puts pressure on margins for everyone. While some of these businesses do not last long, there is a constant stream of new ones to take their place.


HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO SET UP A SITE FOR SELLING ON THE NET?

The answer varies according to the sophistication and volume of the site. You can get a simple site online for around £20 per month ($30) plus fees to PayPal. More sophisticated software is available for under £1,000 ($1,500) or £200 ($300) per month covering all costs.

It depends on your needs. Professional site design will increase your costs, but you can still expect to pay around £2,000 - £4,000 (or about $3-6,000) for an average site. Just make sure you leave enough in your budget for marketing your site. No visitors = no sales.

* For more advice on every aspect of selling on the internet, readers can download Selling Successfully Online as a free PDF *

UNDERSTAND THE COMPETITION

By entering keywords into Google, you can determine two things. The first is how many search results there are in total for the particular words, which Google reports back along with the first page of results.

Secondly you can see on the results page how many adverts there are. In general, the more adverts there are (particularly at the top of the page), and the more search results, the more competitive the keywords.

You are looking for keywords which have a lower ratio of competitive results to traffic, as these represent the best opportunities.


CONSIDER THE LONG TAIL

In recent years, a new expression – ‘the long tail’ has emerged in business circles. In the context of PPC advertising, this is about advertising on lots of keywords that are rarely searched for, but can collectively add up to a lot of traffic.

Long, specific phrases tend to be used after a person has done research and is close to purchase. Companies have been known to use over 5,000 different groups of keywords because hard work pays off. Rarer keywords tend to be cheaper and convert better.


INTEGRATE SOCIAL NETWORKING INTO YOUR SITE

Provide buttons that allow information and products to be shared. Make sure that you have a Twitter account and Facebook page links.


CHECK YOUR AVAILABLITY

You can check to see if your desired username is still available at dozens of popular Social Networking and Social Bookmarking websites, for example foursquare, Digg and delicious, using a service like http://namechk.com/.


USE VIDEOS AND PODCASTS WHEREVER YOU CAN

Podcasts are great for passing on tips, getting customers to say how they benefited from your product, or interviewing industry figureheads. As they are longer than videos be sure to make them entertaining and not too dry or salesy. Video is good for showing products in use and can help tremendously in the decision to buy, so don’t disappoint your customers.


PROVIDE A CONSISTENT PRODUCT RANGE

As far as possible, have the same range available online and in store. That way, people who research in one channel and then try to buy in another won’t be disappointed.


USE MULTIPLE NICHE SITES

You can open multiple sites each addressing a segment of your overall market. E.g. you sell equestrian products, so as well as the main store you could also have separate domains/sites for things like tack, rugs, clothing, jumps, etc. This enables you to make the site more relevant to your audience and can also improve search engine rankings.


HAVE A SMARTPHONE THEME

The fact that many smartphones can browse the main web can be misleading. Even though it’s true, most sites with their wide screens and nice pictures aren’t suitable for mobiles due to screen size and slow connections. So consider having a theme which has a much more compact version of your store optimised for mobiles.


MAKE BLOGS WIDE RANGING

Don’t make your blogs straight sales pitches. No-one wants to be sold to, and the results will be the opposite of what you intend. Instead, talk around the subjects and demonstrate your expertise with interesting anecdotes and advice. The halo effect will inevitably increase your sales.