eCommerce is rapidly taking over the way business is traditionally conducted all over the world. In 2020, that trend was fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic which forced people to stay at home and brick-and-mortar businesses to shutter their establishments. According to a recent study, approximately 1.92 billion people made online purchases in 2019, a number that rose to nearly 2.1 billion in 2020 despite a global economic downturn.
Online businesses are the new normal and consumers have been quick to adapt to it. According to Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify, at least 8 in every 10 people surveyed across 11 countries said they bought something online during the pandemic. Moreover, 80 percent said that they will continue to do so even after the pandemic subsides.
If your business hasn’t already pivoted to online, it’s imperative that you do so as soon as possible, not just to tide through the pandemic but to sustain it in the long run. Here are 5 tips to get you started.
1. Register a domain name
Registering your domain name is like buying your office space. It is the first brick you lay when building your business online. While it’s possible to obtain a free domain name from some service providers, it usually winds up being something like companyname.hostingplatform.com and that doesn’t really bode well for any business’ professional image. What you need is a custom domain name that is the same as your business’s name.
Taking your business online also means lots of new customers, and for their benefit, you need a domain name that is easy to remember and provides context to what you do. Follow these rules when considering your options:
- Keep it short and simple so that it stays memorable. Stick to less than 18 characters and avoid long and complicated words. For example, www.name.store – the name can be your brand name.
- Avoid hyphens, numbers, and other elements that might make it difficult to communicate, especially verbally. For example, www.brandnamez-store.com.
- Use keywords relevant to what you do to make your domain name more meaningful. You can do so by using new domain extensions, such as .store if you’re selling products, .tech if you’re providing tech-related services, and .online if you just want people to know you’re online.
- Avoid trademarked domain names as they will land you in legal trouble and harm your reputation.
2. Create a website
Once you have your web address, the next step is to set up your virtual workspace. If you think you need superior coding skills or a ton of money to hire a professional to create your website, rest assured that that’s not the case. There are several platforms on the Internet that are easy to use and offer a range of customizations so that you can build a website the way you want it.
When choosing the right platform to build your website, there are two things you must focus on:
If you are selling products online, you may need an eCommerce platform such as WooCommerce. If you are in the service sector and want a website where you can showcase your work, take online bookings or provide contact information, you can use website builders such as WordPress or BoldGrid – or even something like Webnames’ca LiteSite if all you need is a simple, professional, 1-page website.
All of the platforms mentioned above allow for customizations. Pick one that allows you to create a design and layout that serves your business interests, reflects your personality, and is easy for visitors to navigate. Use colors, fonts, and other elements that are, for instance, similar to what you use in your logo or other advertising materials to maintain consistency in branding. There should also be enough flexibility to add or change elements as your business grows.
3. Plan your website’s content
People will use your website to learn more about you. Your content must provide them with all the answers that they are looking for while striking a courteous and expert tone. It has to make up for everything that you’re not able to do in the absence of a brick-and-mortar space and in-person interaction with a knowledgeable sales associate, and then go beyond.
Here are a few basics your website content should cover:
Consider this as the space in your physical store/office that a person sees as soon as they enter. You want to create a friendly and professional vibe and showcase your best work to make a good first impression. Your homepage could include your best products/services, a little information about you, stunning visuals, and customer testimonials.
While this page must highlight your professional successes, credentials, and what you do, it doesn’t have to be strictly business. Talk about personal experiences, inspirations, learnings, and goals. Tell your unique story in a compelling and relatable way to strike a chord with visitors. Use pictures to flaunt the people behind the business.
People can’t physically see, touch, or try what you’re selling, but you want to create a shopping experience as realistic as possible. Divide your offerings into categories and list out their details such as features, advantages, how to use, care and maintenance clearly and accurately. Use high-quality pictures, infographics, and videos wherever possible.
People will have several concerns and queries before they decide to do business with you. The best way to address them is to publish the most common questions and their answers on an FAQ page. This could be about your company, features of your products and services, pricing, delivery, returns and refunds, timelines, payments, and more.
Purchase/bookings and payments
Keep the process simple and straightforward. Ideally, there should be no more than three steps: filling in details (name, email address, delivery address), payment information, and final review. If you’re running an online store, give people the option of making a guest purchase. Not everyone will want to create an account right away. Add as many payment options as possible such as debit/credit, e-transfer, and digital wallets. Make sure you get an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate that lets people know that their information is secure.
There will always be those who will want to pick up the phone and speak to a real person or send an email about a particular concern. Let them know that you are reachable and always ready to solve their problems or just have a chat. Your contact page should include your email address, phone numbers, postal address, store/office hours, contact form, maps, and social media buttons.
4. Set up email marketing
Since your business is now online, you will need a robust email marketing strategy to communicate with your new and existing customers about company updates, new deals, information on new products/services, and delivery status.
You want to take advantage of the wide reach of email but, at the same time, you want to maintain personal ties in your emails and avoid being sent to their spam folders or have them delete your email without even opening it.
Set up your email marketing with these 4 steps:
Get a branded email address
Your email address should be professional, such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t use your personal email address or a generic one such as email@example.com.
Choose an email marketing app
Email marketing apps allow you to personalize and customize the emails in a hassle-free way. You can use them to set up automated messages based on where in the journey your customers are. For instance, new sign-ups can be sent a welcome email, a guide on how to use your website, and an introductory offer. Customers can be sent offers and product curations based on their purchase history. We recommend Campaign Monitor, Mailchimp, and the Canadian company CyberImpact as they integrate with most website platforms.
Create a mailing list
The best way to add people to your subscription list is to include a sign-up form on your homepage. But doing just that is not enough. People are distrustful about sharing their addresses, so incentivize your subscription by showing them its value, such as special members-only offers or useful content.
5. Start getting noticed
The best part about being online is that you have several means at your disposal to spread the word about your new presence. The difficult part is standing out from the crowd. It’s difficult but can also reap several benefits if you plan your digital marketing strategy wisely. Here are a few ways you could consider.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the most effective way to drive high-quality organic traffic towards your business. Follow these SEO best practices to get noticed on search engines:
- Publish high-quality, relevant content that adds value to online searchers. Look for the most common online searches that are related to what you do and address those concerns in your content.
- Use related keywords with high search volumes to add to key areas on your website, such as content titles, introductions, meta tags, and image captions. If you are not sure about which keywords to use, you can try SEO tools such as Google Keyword Planner and SEMRush.
- Improve your overall website experience by keeping the loading speed high and using a responsive design that adapts to the devices it is being viewed on such as mobile phones and tablets.
Social media is indispensable to your online business, so it’s time to shed your apprehensions and get active in the space where a majority of your audience shares and consumes content, interacts with each other and with their favorite brands and voices their opinions.
- Identify channels where your target audience is most active and that best serve your business interests. For instance, if you offer services such as marketing and business consultancy, LinkedIn is essential for you. Facebook is used by a much larger audience but Instagram and Pinterest are more about beautiful images and creative interests.
- Create business accounts on your chosen channels. Business accounts provide valuable insights into your followers and help you track key metrics of your posts such as views, likes, and reach. They also allow paid promotions for when you want to do them.
- Use your accounts to announce your presence, build-up to your online launch, and post other meaningful content such as links to blog posts, how-to videos, live Q&As, and more.
Transitioning online isn’t as hard as you think. As you can see, there are innumerable apps and tools that can help you make the switch easily, particularly if you don’t have much of digital background. More than ease, however, it is the need to be online if you want to grow your business and stay ahead of the competition.