Taking Your Business Online Requires More Than A Web Site
A worthwhile article from the Wall Street Journal came up in my Google Alerts this morning (what? You track your boss’ name too, right?), and it’s some pretty interesting stuff. It tells the story of the challenges that go into bringing your offline business online. I think it caught my eye because of all the times I’ve seen people botch up the process. They hear about the Internet and that people are making money on it and immediately want in. They head over to their computer, spend a few minutes trying to figure out how to turn the darn thing on, and then create a single page Web site that does nothing but mark their territory and make them look really old. This kind of “Internet marketing” is as effective as writing your company phone number on the wall inside a public bathroom and waiting for the phone to ring.
Obviously, making an offline business successful online takes a lot more work than that. That’s why the search engine optimization industry even exists. If all you needed to rank and increase sales was a page hosted on Geocities, we’d all be making a lot more money than we currently are, but it’s not. Developing an online presence actually takes work. And more than that, sometimes it requires that you have an entirely different skill set than you currently do.
Running a business offline is very different from running one online. Your customers are different. They have different needs. You have to market yourself differently. You have to provide support differently.
If you’re getting ready to take your business online you have to realize these differences and work towards addressing them. In the article, Bruce mentions that Web sites need to actually be developed. You can’t just throw up that single page and think that the search engines are going to take notice and rank you as an expert. You have to create an authoritative site, one that meets both the needs of users and the search engines. And it’s very likely that if you’re running an offline business and selling products, that Web development isn’t a skill you possess. When that reality hits, it’s time to hire out. You could take the time to learn how to do it, but who’s going to run your offline business while you’re doing that? You can’t do it halfway. If you’re going to take your business online, you have to entrust it to people who know how to do that.
You have to create a Web site that builds trust and that will serve to answer customers’ questions 24 hours a day. This is something I’ve seen a lot of offline companies forget. And it’s understandable. They’re used to dealing with customers face to face. They can sense their reactions and alter their sales pitches appropriately. They can answer any questions they may have in the moment. They can let customers hold and touch and feel the product so that they get a sense of what they’re buying. None of this is available on the Web. So you have to address these concerns and offer the same visuals with words and images and video about your product. You have to describe your product, explain how it works and how it will help them and make their lives better.
You have to find out where your customers are on the Web and how they search. Just because you take your site online doesn’t mean you’re suddenly targeting everybody. You’re not. You’re only targeting the people who would be interested in what you offer. But it takes knowing who those people are and how they think and what words they use when they search.
You have to earn your attention. In real life you get attention because people pass by your store on their way to work. Your businesses is located on their street or in the local mall or because your ads run in the local paper. On the Internet, you’re not just competing with those in your area, you’re competing with everyone. If you don’t know how to market and position yourself in that new sea of competitors, you’re dead in the water. If your site doesn’t rank for the terms your customers are going to use to look for you, you may as well not even have invested the time in creating a Web site. If they can’t find you, you don’t exist. Being online takes a new kind of research.
Your online business is more than just your offline store copied and pasted to the Web. To do it right you have to pay attention to and address the limitations that come with interacting with a Web site instead of a sales person inside a store. That may mean hiring people with different specialties than you, spending a few months testing designs, or taking the time to really “sell” the products on your site through your content. Do that and you’ll be rewarded with a booming online business. Fail to give your site the attention it deserves and the online counterpart to your brick and mortar doesn’t stand a chance.