By Mark Iverson

Good software developers create good software. They generally don’t have the expertise to create optimal sales and marketing programs. That’s understandable. After all, successfully selling software online is a unique skill — one that takes as much specialised knowledge as the most highly trained GSSP-JAVA engineer.

However, independent software publishers can shorten their online sales learning curve by following a few trade secrets.

Whether they go it alone or partner with an e-commerce and e-marketing expert, below are a few of the most important rules to follow when selling your applications online:

1. Target the U.S. early. If you’re planning to sell your software outside your local market, the most logical first place to consider is the United States.

A good market expansion strategy is to begin with the United States, then expand to the United Kingdom, Western Europe and then beyond. Be sure you have a clear understanding of who your core customer is, because payment habits vary by age group and country. For example, gaming applications that appeal to 18-to-25 year olds are likely to be paid with an online wallet like PayPal, Moneybookers or Neteller; older customers typically prefer to use credit cards or wire transfer.

It is equally important to offer local credit cards that maximise fulfilled purchases and minimise cart or checkout abandonments. For example, statistics have shown that 65-70 percent of the local credit cards in Brazil are not useable outside the country however if you don’t offer them, you’re walking away from at least 30-40 percent of your potential sales.

2. Security ranks high. Software publishers must assure shoppers that their transactions and personal information will be secure and private. When publishers are able to create a high level of trust, customers are more likely to make an initial purchase and become repeat buyers.

In order to protect your consumers, you will want to employ various methods of fraud screening to ensure you are taking viable orders. Some e-commerce companies offer basic fraud screening software to analyse orders, while others offer a combination of techniques that include heuristics, business rules and fraud elimination teams who are skilled in manually screening suspicious orders.

Having a secure shopping cart logo at checkout — the padlock graphic is a recognisable sign that you are a protected site — provides reassurance to customers. And to protect you, a careful approach to fraud screening helps to not only prevent fraudulent orders, but also ensure that valid orders are completed quickly and easily.

3. Win with a consumer-friendly website. Intuitive navigation that reflects common buyer behavior, and a website design that creates an enjoyable shopping experience will always help to close a sale. Ignore this principle, and you’re risking loss of sales to more convenient online stores.

You should always merchandise your products “above the fold” — in other words, without having to scroll down the Web page — wherever possible. Similarly, an efficient checkout process is always simple. Fewer clicks correspond to higher close ratios; streamlining shopper navigation throughout the buying process helps buyers make decisions at the point of sale.

4. Protect your intellectual property. Sophisticated software pirates can take the profit out of the best software offering. The most durable defense — and surprisingly, one not often engaged — is a Digital Rights Management (DRM) tool or program.

5. Strategise your website promotion. With your website finally live and your software protected, now is the time to decide how to increase its exposure. After all, an online store is useless if customers don’t know it exists.

Conventional wisdom says that listing with an app store is a surefire way to promote your product. It’s also a great way to get lost. With tens, even hundreds of thousands of applications sold through app stores, do you want to compete in that crowded marketplace?

Instead, focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), in combination with Google AdWords. More than half the traffic to a website can be driven simply by associating your product with the right search engine keywords.

Another effective strategy is to tap into affiliate networks and online consumer retailers. Affiliates are both important and cost-effective, since you don’t pay until they help you sell your product.

Some publishers experience as much as a 20 to 30 percent lift in sales by offering their products through affiliate channels — which is why e-commerce partners with especially strong affiliate networks can often more than pay for themselves..

With all the talk about social media, remember that Facebook and Twitter are better used to maintain customer relationships than to create them. Use social media to listen and interact, rather than sell

6. Use good sales tactics. A few simple sales strategies can make an immense difference in how many sales you can close — and in how big each sale becomes.

To convert more shoppers into buyers, make use of bundles, coupons and up-sell/cross-sell offers (however, don’t resort to pop-ups which are considered both old-technology and a nuisance). Buyers respond especially well to personalized coupons, pricing that caters to buyer loyalty, and quantity discounts.

Coupon sites like Groupon and MyCoupons.com are also valuable; these kinds of companies like to work with software publishers because commission rates typically are higher than with many other types of products.

Offering trial versions of your software through a software network can be a very popular and effective way to increase your sales and installed base. Simply find a vendor that offers a program that will convert your software to trialware. They will help you create “Try Now” and “Buy Now” versions and set trialware limits such as time, functionality or usage.

More than anything else, as you plan your online sales strategy, keep in mind the power of e-commerce to level the playing field. Independent publishers actually enjoy many of the same advantages that large publishers with well-known names do — if not more, since their small size allows them to be nimble against their slow-moving competitors.

If you have a good product, you’re way ahead of the game. Use the power of the Internet to become visible and convenient to your core customer; protect yourself; encourage your customers to form a relationship; and consider using an e-commerce partner with both resources and expertise. Follow these six secrets, and you’re sure to achieve your online sales goals.

Mark Iverson is the group vice president, globalDirect for Digital River, a leading provider of global e-commerce solutions.