If the key to success for traditional retail outlets is location, location, location, the golden rule for online retailers is marketing, marketing, marketing.
Don't forget to plan for marketing costs you'll incur during your site launch and throughout your Web site's lifetime. No matter how well-designed your site is, you won't make a dime unless you build effective marketing strategies for getting the word out (and continually add to your efforts to bring in new customers).
Your marketing efforts should focus on reaching the widest audience you can in the swiftest and easiest manner possible, says Ben Isaacson, acting executive director of the Association for Interactive Media, a trade organization for Internet businesses. "[Marketing] needs to be done in a manner that's as viral as possible," explains Isaacson, "where people spread the word about the store's products and services [on their own] and [the buzz] just sort of feeds off itself."
Two low-cost marketing efforts homebased e-tailers should consider: opt-in direct marketing lists and affiliate programs.
A number of opt-in direct marketing programs exist where potential customers agree to view your newsletter and marketing announcements in return for earning free cash or product discounts. Popular opt-in list services include Web Promote (http://www.webpromote.com), BonusMail (http://www.bonusmail.com) and MyPoints (http://www.mypoints.com).
Visitors indicate their areas of particular interest and agree to receive e-mail regarding these topics. Businesses may purchase targeted lists with names and e-mail addresses for sending information regarding their products or services. Some opt-in list services, like Web Promote, also help you create online marketing campaigns, register your site with popular search engines and more.
Isaacson says opt-in list services are a viable way to reach potential customers who are much more willing to consider your pitch. Plus, because they're Web savvy, they may be more comfortable with online shopping.
Affiliate programs like LinkExchange (http://www.linkexchange.com) can also supplement your marketing efforts as well as draw in more revenue. "Affiliate marketing is the best way to market your products and services at a low cost," Isaacson says.
How do they work? At LinkExchange, sign up with its BannerNetwork and you can advertise with banner ads on other Web sites for free (by agreeing to place a banner ad on your site). LinkExchange also offers discounts for placing banner ads on popular search engines like Yahoo! and Excite.
To generate additional revenue, LinkExchange helps establish links on your Web site to selected online merchants who pay you regular commissions for driving traffic and sales to them. Simply browse through LinkExchange's directory of online retailers for products similar to yours, and you can become a reseller of (or affiliate for) some of the Web's best-known brands. For an additional fee, LinkExchange establishes links for affiliates to send Web site traffic your way as well.
Relationship marketing tools like these offer the best strategies for achieving proven results. They're simple and cheap to use, too. Don't ignore them when planning or expanding your electronic storefront's marketing strategy.