A Guide to Launching Your New Online Store

Four steps to help get customers clicking.

Having an online presence is an increasingly critical piece of an effective marketing strategy for smaller retailers, but getting noticed in cyberspace requires a lot more than tossing up a website and hoping people notice. As with every other part of your business, launching a successful online store requires a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish and a detailed plan to measure your progress and achieve your goals. Here are four steps to get you started.

  1. Create a great customer experience. Your site needs to be attractive and engaging, but it also needs to be easy to navigate and offer a smooth checkout process. Spend some time on your favorite online retail sites, taking note of what you like — and don’t like — from each. Then hire a professional web designer who specializes in e-commerce. You simply can’t afford to cut corners.
  2. Pick your URL. Also known as the “uniform resource locator,” your online address is critical to your marketing and branding efforts. Ideally, you can just use your store name, but that’s not always available. If it’s not an option, try using a combination of the name with a description of the experience you sell. For example, if your store is ABC Scuba Shop, consider ABCdives.com.
  3. Plan your SEO strategy. If you want customers to find you, search engines have to be able to see you. That’s where search engine optimization comes in. Most of the popular search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, score websites based on factors like popularity (including the number and quality of backlinks), the usage and prominence of keywords, and the relevance of the content as it relates to the keywords. The higher the score, the higher your site will appear within the listings. Work with an SEO consultant to maximize your score.
  4. Take advantage of web analytics. There are dozens of software packages available that will track not only who visits your online store, but also how often they visit, how much time they spend on each page and what percentage of visitors make a purchase. The level of detail depends on how much you want to spend, but the most basic packages are free. This data is critical in tracking the success of your SEO campaign, and it will help you determine what’s working on your site and what’s not.

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