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October 8, 2010

The Opportunity of Web eCommerce – Fact or Fiction?

If you own a bricks-and-mortar retail store, a distributorship, or a manufacturing facility, imagine the potential for increased sales if you offered your products to a global marketplace by simply setting up a website with your catalog on it. After installing an ecommerce shopping cart system and the ability to process payments online, some aspiring Internet moguls just sit back and wait for the orders to start flying in. The idea of suddenly having access to hundreds of millions of credit card wielding customers can certainly be intoxicating, but the reality of ecommerce success is that it’s not nearly that easy!

Maybe there’s some glamour associated with being a “renegade entrepreneur”, adopting a take-no-prisoners mentality and making up the rules as you go along. In some cases, being unconventional and aggressive can certainly help an online store stand out in the crowded Internet marketplace, but skipping steps and ignoring proven business principles is a guaranteed recipe for failure.

So if selling stuff on the Web represents a huge opportunity, but most people fail at it, then what does one have to do join the ranks of the successful “webpreneur”? While there are always risks inherent in starting any business, beginning your journey with an up-to-date “roadmap” (or virtual GPS) can help assure that you won’t get lost, miss an ‘exit’, or fail to reach your destination on your way to ecommerce success.

Imagine this scenario (and it happens all the time): An awesome-looking web site with marketable products and competitive prices goes online, but makes no sales or performs far below expectations. What happened? Well, there’s a veritable checklist of possibilities that could explain abysmal sales figures, but it often boils down to two things: a lack of attention to search engine optimization (SEO) and sales conversion factors.

The Essence of SEO and Online Sales Conversion Tactics

In a nutshell, search engine optimization means that steps have been taken to demonstrate to Google, Yahoo, and Bing that a web site is highly relevant for certain keywords, and that it deserves a top-10 ranking when searches are performed for those keywords. What a sizable portion of ecommerce website owners do not realize is that if their web site isn’t among the first dozen or so listings on the search engine results pages, then, for all intents and purposes, their web site is invisible to thousands of prospective customers.

To put things in perspective, millions of web pages are competing with each other for a top-10 Google ranking for most common keyword searches. So, to stand a chance of gaining any visibility in Google (the dominant search engine), an ecommerce site has to contain keyword combinations for which customers are actually searching. Not only that, but the phrases have to be strategically placed on the web page, and, ideally, the most important keyword phrase should be in the domain name and in links to your site from other web sites (that’s where it gets a bit tricky). Once all that has been accomplished, then your ecommerce web site is geared up to begin competing on a level playing field with other similar web sites trying to be found by customers on the Internet.

Another common ecommerce blunder is failing to make the most of sales conversion opportunities on a website, which can include everything from including trust-building factors and a hassle-free checkout process to offering easy site navigation features and plenty of clear “calls to action” — which refers to what you want the customer to do before leaving your web site (such as, call your toll-free number, leave their email address, or order a product). A good ‘rule of thumb’ in ecommerce, which also applies to do business off-line, is that “a confused customer is a lost customer”. So to maximize the sales conversion potential of your ecommerce online store, instill your visitors with a sense of trust, a clear path to placing an order or getting more information, and an incentive to take action now.

Joel Sussman is a web content writer for Mountain Media, a website development company in upstate New York that provides ecommerce design, website hosting, and other ecommerce solutions for online merchants. Visit their site for a free email course entitled “7-Days to Successful eCommerce”.