All Systems Go

Do Your Homework

If you're thinking of launching your own Web site, start by going to search engines and putting in search terms that might lead people to your site. What types of sites come up? Your site won't get many vsitors if the search produces a large number of very popular sites. Keep using as many search terms as you can to see if there are any terms that pull up a limited number of matches.

As you search, write down all the domain names that come up so you can see what names you could use that aren't already taken. Visit a domain registration site to see if your potential names are registered.

If you plan to launch your own Web site, you'll need to attract visitors with a comprehensive marketing program that includes:

  • Content: Everyone who comes to your site should learn something useful. Don't just focus on selling your product; instead, address the problem that brings visitors to your site. For instance, if your product keeps leaves from clogging rain gutters, people coming to your site most likely have problems with maintaining trees on their property. To help them, you could provide information on pruning trees, composting leaves and such. Adding content also creates more keywords on your site for search engines to find.
  • Connections: Search engines alone aren't enough to get people to your site. Users need to remember and type in your URL. For that to happen, your site needs to get publicity from newsletters, associations, related businesses, end-user groups, schools, experts in the field and any other group you can think of.
  • Creating buzz: The Internet can create instant word-of-mouth. Offer something fun and intriguing-funny or irreverent lists, stories or cartoons-that people can forward for free, listing your site as the source.
  • E-mail lists: Developing an e-mail list isn't worth the trouble if all you do is mail product offerings to past visitors. Be sure to offer information about something of interest to your target group.
  • Online events: Contests, promotions, interviews, guests and chat rooms on hot topics are all ways to create excitement and get people to your site. Schedule an event at least once per quarter.
  • Becoming a resource: Your stock in the online world goes up when you become an authority on a topic of interest to your target customers. Develop a relationship with noncompeting sites that attract your target market. Offer to write articles, do surveys and answer users' questions, or frequently contribute to chat rooms to establish your expertise.
  • Offline promotion: Don't overlook traditional promotional venues as a way to promote your site. Send press releases about your site to magazines, newsletters, trade shows, cable TV programs and other sources of information your target customers use.

For more on promoting your Web site, visit www.virtualpromote.com (especially the "TipWorld" section), or check out the book Increase Your Web Traffic in a Weekend (Premier Press) by William R. Stanek.

Down to Earth

You may launch your online sales effort with visions of grandeur, but you'll stand a better chance of success if your expectations are realistic. Here's what to expect:

  • Only a small percentage of people who visit your site will buy. You need lots of visitors. It may take two months or longer to attract a significant number of visitors. Don't get discouraged, as long as you are aggressively promoting your site.
  • Offering free items, especially ones that can be downloaded, will dramatically increase traffic.
  • People will buy extra products if you offer them when you ship your product.
  • You'll get orders from around the world. Overseas distributors may request your product.
  • It may take awhile to recoup start-up expenses, so try to produce the product yourself.
  • If you're selling through Internet retailers, expect small orders at first.
  • You'll get many questions by e-mail. Answer them within 24 hours, or you'll lose sales.

Adapted from Entrepreneur Magazine's Start-Up Guide #1813, Bringing Your Product to Marketby Don Debelak

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This article was originally published in the October 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: All Systems Go.

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