DARIO PAOLINI PROVIDES INVALUABLE ADVICE TO BUSINESSES LOOKING TO VENTURE ONLINE
5 ways to tell if your business will work online
Article published online by NETT Better Business Advice Magazine
Your business might be thriving in the world of bricks-and-mortar, but that doesn’t mean things are certain to go as well if you take your operation online. The assumption that they will is essentially what fuelled the madness that was the ‘dot-com’ boom in the 90s. The reality – that not all businesses are born to thrive on the internet – is what brought many back to earth when the bubble burst. But still, businesses flock to build online stores in the hope that doing so will land them the big dollars.
Whether you’re starting online or aiming to update your offline offering, it’s essential to carefully consider whether your business is suited to the internet. Some simply don’t work online; if yours happens to be one of them, then you could stand to save a considerable amount of time, effort and money.
1. Are your customers online?
If your target customers don’t use the internet to purchase things, then you have no business being online.
“One of the first things a business must do before even thinking about tackling online is know their customer,” says Carl Taylor, founder of The Marketing Matrix.
It’s essential to be sufficiently familiar with the shopping habits of your target demographic. You need to know how they know where to buy the products you sell, where they go to buy them, and what motivates them to choose their elected online store.
“Who does the business service? Do these people go online regularly?” asks Taylor. “Do they buy online? What are they currently buying online, and why are they buying online versus in a store? Is it because it’s cheaper, it’s easier, less crowds, or because they can shop at their leisure?”
Once you know these things, you’ll have a much clearer idea of whether your business should be online or not.
It’s also important to consider whether your business needs an online store, or a website that works to complement and drive offline sales.
“Most businesses can work online, but what it’s about is whether or not your business should sell online or whether it should generate a lead,” continues Taylor.”
“A good, easy rule is how high priced is your product? Are you low priced, like are we talking under $100 or even under $500, or are we talking over $500? That’s usually an easy rule, because if it’s over $500, you’re probably going to need to generate leads and have some human contact to convert someone over.”
2. Online demand
It isn’t enough to know that your customers do buy things online. You need to be confident that they’re already using the internet to buy the products you’re selling.
“If they’re not buying from you, where are they currently going?” asks Taylor. “Is it a company that’s overseas, or is it another company in Australia that’s selling online, and you’re not?”
Once this has been established, you need to extrapolate exactly why they might buy from that competitor instead of from you. Motives are most often driven by the appealing price or the simplicity of shopping online. Often, customers will be more inclined to shop with a competitor simply because of the information their site offers, from product specs to demonstration videos.
“People need to be searching to buy your product or service online,” says Dario Paolini, director of advertising and design at Grand Brands. “If your product or service is not being searched for online, then you are fighting an uphill battle to create the demand you need in order to sell it.”
There are a number of ways to gauge the demand for products that you’re planning to sell online, but few are more to-the-point than Google’s Keyword Research Tool. The search company created the tool to help businesses match ads to search queries. If you’re planning to trade online, write up a list of keywords and enter these into the Tool to see how commonly used they are.
“With this tool, you enter search phrases that people might use to find your product or service in Google, and you get a report for how many searches per month are conducted,” explains Paolini. “This is a great way to see if people are already hunting for what you have to offer. My advice on this would be that if a few of your search phrases are being searched for 2000 times per month or more, then it’s a green light to try selling online.”
The information gleaned from the research tool will also form a strong basis for your first online marketing campaigns.
“Once you understand the customer and their reasons for shopping online, you can develop a strategy that gives your customers exactly what they want,” says The Marketing Matrix’s Taylor.
“There is absolutely no reason to set up an online store through a Facebook page if your customers only use Facebook to keep track of their kids when travelling overseas,” he continues. “Eventually this might be the right strategy, but in the beginning stages, it’s about getting the best bang for your buck and doing the simplest and most effective rollout of an online strategy that you can.”
Your business’s prospects may be online-savvy and hungry to buy products from your new online store, but if you’re going to run into problems actually getting these products to them, then you should carefully assess whether an online store is a viable option for you. Often, online businesses attract customer bases well beyond their usual watershed. This means that by starting an online store, you might need to consider how to fill orders from other states, or even other countries. While the volume of unwanted leads can be offset in how you target consumers with online marketing campaigns, you still need to be prepared for the occasional errant international sale.
Quite apart from the geographical range your online store can service, your products need to be shippable in the first place.
“Is your product or service something that can be sold online? Are there issues to consider such as delivery costs and fragility?” asks Paolini. “If it is a food product, you might need to think about refrigeration during transit and if the cost of that will make your product too expensive.”
He uses the example of a client of Grand Brands that chose to offer a particular brand of gourmet baby food online. The business had to contend with the logistics of delivering the product so that it remained at a certain temperature from fridge-to-fridge.
“The packages needed to be sent in a special esky with dry ice so that when delivered to the customer, the food would stay cold enough for a number of hours if left at the doorstep,” he says. “It’s challenges like these you need to seriously think about and whether they can be overcome.”
4. Is it marketable?
Having gauged the online demand for your products and projected any difficulties associated with logistics and fulfilment, you need to establish how you will actually get the ball rolling by attracting customers to your site.
The simplest and most direct way of getting traffic straight away is to take what you learn from Google’s Keyword Research tool and put it into practice with search engine marketing (or SEM). SEM is the practice of paying for a linked text ad to appear alongside search engine results. Businesses bid to have their ads placed above or to the right of organic search listings. The highest bidder gets the most coveted listing, and then pays for each click that the ad attracts. Not only does this provide a very quick way of getting people to your site, it’s also a good first step in learning more about what your customers want and how they look for it in search.
“As a more long term strategy you should definitely consider search engine optimisation (SEO),” suggests Paolini.
SEO is the practice of altering the words on your website – both in the on-page writing and in the code of each page – to demonstrate to search engines just how relevant your site is to the people searching for it.
“The result of good SEO is that your website will appear higher in web search results for popular keywords, which means you have an excellent chance of getting highly targeted traffic to your website,” he continues. “The great thing about SEO is that while it might take a while to build momentum, its effects are long-lasting and will continue even once your campaign is over and you are no longer spending money on the strategy.”
5. Test the waters
At the end of the day, the best way of telling if your business will work online is to test the waters, albeit tentatively.
If you’re convinced that there is a market for your products online, then choose a small selection of your most popular wares that are best suited to being shipped all over the country. Offer these in an online store that doesn’t go overboard with the bells and whistles that your web designer will try to foist upon you. Then, use search engine marketing to generate links to your site, take care to track the traffic using Google Analytics. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.
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