Grow Your Business: Must-Do’s to Expand Your Business Online
There is often a disconnect in the way people view websites and businesses. One tendency I have noticed is to treat the website as just one detachable component of a business, when in fact it is so much more.
At the very least, a website should act as an extension of your business, helping you to reach out to a customer base that isn’t readily reachable for most physical stores. If you manage the website well, it has the potential to not only take over your physical store as an income source but also reduce your overall cost while doing so.
Approaching the entire website as a business entity on its own is a good way to move in the right direction. Today, I’m going to give you a brief outline on how the approach works and what you’ll need to do to make it so.
1. Get your own domainPutting up your website on a free domain is the worst business decision you can ever make. Click To Tweet
Putting up your website on a free domain – like mysaloon.wix.com, is the worst business decision you can ever make. People who run business websites on a free domain falls into these categories in my book:
- a newbie, or
- a cheapskate, or
- a scammer running fly-by-night operation, or
- a combination of all three above.
… which I would think thrice before buying anything from them.
Domain names are cheap. An .com or .net domain costs $10 – $20 a year. Free domains are for school projects, non-profit organizations, and hobbyists. If you are expanding your business online, make sure you do what all legit business would do – go to a domain registrar (ie. NameCheap) and buy a domain that fits your brand.
2. Host your website on a reliable web host
Having your own domain name is one half of the equation. The other half is to host it on a reliable web host.
Your website needs to be available 24×7 so your visitors can reach you whenever they want to. For those who are starting fresh, pick a web host that offers at least 99.9% uptime guarantee and good performance. For those who are already running on an existing website, monitor your website uptime regularly. Do not tolerate with hosting providers that go down often. Make a lot of noise to the support so they move you to a stable server or switch to another hosting company if necessary.
If you were looking for a reliable web host, here's the list of business hosting I recommend.
For this site you are reading (BuildThis.io) – I host it at SiteGround. Their uptime has been steady as a rock. This website you are reading right now, is hosted on SiteGround and I have been monitoring its uptime closely for past years. Here's one screenshot of BuildThis.io uptime record in the past.
3. Implement HTTPS
A HTTPS connection encrypts any data that’s transferred between a user’s computer and your website. It protects users’ sensitive data (such as credit card numbers and login credentials) and offers users a sense of security (Google Chrome now labeled websites without HTTPS as “not secure”).
To implement HTTPS, you need SSL certificate.
A shared SSL certificate is free and usually provided by most hosting companies. Alternatively you can obtain a free SSL from Let’s Encrypt and manual install it to your website. For most small businesses, a free shared SSL is sufficient
A dedicated SSL certificate is usually recommended when you handle user payments on your website. There are three types of dedicated SSL certificate – Domain Validated (DV), Organizational Validated (OV), and Extended Validated (EV). DV, the most basic SSL certificate, costs about $20 – $30/year; while the minimum costs for OV and EV are about $60/year and $150/year respectively.
Despite the types of validation, all the certificates are having the same levels of data encryption. The only difference is the assurance about the identity of the business behind the website.
- To learn more about SSL and its implementation, read our SSL guide here.
- To purchase a dedicated SSL certificate, visit SSL.com.
4. Optimize your website speed
Your website speed plays an integral part for a website beyond just loading quickly. Google, for example, ranks websites that load quickly higher than those that don’t. And being ranked high in Google will definitely help your website to draw in more traffic and more sales.
Add to that, research has shown that 40% of people will abandon your website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Imagine losing 40% of your business just because you didn’t optimize your site’s speed. That’s a lot of potential sales down the drain!
Without going too deep into the technical details, Below are things you can do to speed up your website.
On server level
- Host your website on a server with sufficient memory and CPU power (your Google audit fails if your server waits more than 600ms to respond)
- Enable Gzip compression
- Enable HTTP/2
- Enable HTTP keep-alive
- Move to a fast and reliable DNS (compare and choose here)
- Use Nginx for server caching
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Optimize your database regularly
On website level
- Cache your website
- Add expires headers to leverage browser caching
- Avoid using over-sized images
- Compress your images
- Build your website on PHP7
- Use a PHP accelerator
- Prevent others from hotlinking your images
- Fix all broken links on your website
5. Add website tracking and set website goals
Your business sets goals to keep improving and going forward.
The same applies to your website goals.
Data is key when you're trying to keep track of progress and improve your businss website performance. With the right data, you can fine tune your website to your user's behaviour and needs.
This is where web analytic tools like Google Analytics (GA) come in handy. GA is free, extremely powerful, and used by over 40% of all known websites worldwide. To install GA and start tracking your website data, read this Google document.
To decipher the huge amount of data that Google Analytics provides, I recommend starting simple and focusing on these four key metrics:
- Sessions / Users Acquired: Tracking the number of sessions/users your site gets is one way to measure growth. Ideally, you want to get more sessions as your site grows.
- Traffic Channels / Referrals: Understand where your traffic comes and focus your efforts on platforms that are important.
- Bounce Rate: This helps measure your content or traffic quality and tells you whether you're serving the right content or targeting the wrong audience.
- Average Time on Page: Knowing how long a visitor spends on your site can help you figure out ways to improve your site's stickiness.
With these data in mind, you can start exploring and setting specific goals that will help grow your business. Some examples of website goals that you can set are:
- Increase sessions / users acquired by 25%
- Increase average time on page by 5%
- Increase visits from specific traffic channels by 20%
- Reduce website bounce rate by 10%
6. Keep your visitors happy
When your visitors get good experience on your website, they are happy.
When they are happy, they are more likely to stay longer on your website, share your content with their friends, and spend money on a product / service you are selling.
How do we make our visitors happy?
There are countless things we can do to make our website a happier place for our visitors.
For one – make sure that your website loads fast (see point #4).
Two, design your website for better UX. If you are selling a product online, make sure that your checkout process is easy-to-follow and secured. Remove all distractions and use a progress indicator during checkout. Also, consider saving your customers shipping and billing information for their next purchases.
A report conducted by Aaron Marcus of AM+A shows that improving a website user experience (UX) will subsequently improve your overall revenue. Marcus did a case studies on a number of companies and it showed a clear correlation between good UX and healthy business revenue.
Case study #1
IBM’s Web presence has traditionally been made up of a difficult-to-navigate labyrinth of disparate sub-sites, but a redesign made it more cohesive and user-friendly. According to IBM, the massive redesign effort quickly paid dividends. The company said in the months after the February 1999 re-launch that traffic to the Shop IBM online store increased 120%, and sales went up 400% (source).
Case study #2
Staples.com determined that the key to online success and increased market share was to make its e-commerce site as usable as possible. Staples.com spent hundreds of hours evaluating users' work environments, decision-support needs, and tendencies when browsing and buying office products and small business services through the Web. Methods included data gathering, heuristic evaluations, and usability testing (source).
7. Add social proof to your website
Genuine testimonials add credibility for the products or services you are selling. And, people tend to rely on online reviews when making purchases.
Three things you can do:
- Send survey to your customers. Consider sending them a coupon or a free gift to encourage responses.
- Encourage your customers to share their feedback on social media platforms. Use hashtags to track customers’ responses to your products.
- Send your products or offer free trial to bloggers or social media influencers and get them to review your products / services.
Add these feedback and reviews to your website.
Taking advantage of your About Page
The “About Us” page is probably the second most important page on your website that's often overlooked. You see, an effective “About Us” page can serve as a “sales page” if done properly.
When you have an “About Us” page that speaks to the users and establishes your brand as trustworthy and approachable, then that user is more likely to do business with you.
But what makes a good “About Us” page? There are no hard rules that you need to follow, but for starters, they need to answer the following questions:
- Who are you?
- Why they should choose you over someone else
- What do you do?
- When did you start?
- How did you do it?
This should give a good foundation to start with. After that, it's about designing the page to fit your market. Again, there are no hard rules to follow and you can try to experiment with your design to fit your brand.
Here's an example of a good “About Us” page by Canva:
8. Optimize for higher search rankings (SEO)
Organic searches made up about one-third of a business website’s traffic according to Hubspot study.
Optimizing your website for higher search ranking – Google ranking especially, is no longer an option.
To cover everything about SEO in this article would be too much information, so I will focus on three most important things you need to do.
Content / Intent
Create useful content that matches your target audience intent. Your visitors are on your website for a reason – whether it’s to obtain a piece of information, compare a product, or make a purchase. Your website should serve your target audience’s intent effectively and efficiently, this include using:
- Clear call-to-actions (CTA) for a commercial page,
- Numbered list to demonstrate step-by-step procedures,
- Clear headlines for easy web readings,
- Easy-to-understand diagrams and graphics to demonstrate information clearly.
Outgoing / Incoming Links
Links, both incoming and outgoing links, have been one of the key factors search engines use to rank websites. Obtain links from relevant trusted websites naturally; link out to other trusted sources from your website whenever it’s appropriate.
Include related keywords in your page title and subheadings (<h1>, <h2>), use descriptive alt texts for all images, use schema markup to help search engines understand your content, link to your important pages frequently, and remove or consolidate pages with duplicate content.
9. Be present on social media networks
It’s 2020, you don’t need me to tell you that social media plays a major role in a business marketing strategy.
With almost 3.5 active billion users using social media, it's important that you have an active social media presence on platforms that are relevant to your target audience.
The benefits of using social media to build your brand are undeniable. Considering that 60% of Instagram users discover new products on the platform, social media is a natural place to reach new and highly targeted potential customers.
While you can choose to have an account on every social media platform available, it's much wiser to focus on the places where your key demographics tend to be active on.
For example, if you're targeting younger audiences, you need to have accounts on popular platforms such as SnapChat and Instagram. FaceBook is great for targeting older demographics while Linkedin will primarily focus on working professionals.
Here's an example of social media done right:
Mom blogger, Lauren, is focused in building her followings on Instagram from her homepage – Instagram is the right place to be as Lauren focused in “parenting in style” and the dominant gender on Instagram is women.
10. Build an email listEmail marketing tip - Segment your subscribers into different groups so you can send specific content that’s most relevant to them separately. Click To Tweet
Email marketing can be an effective way to increase your business revenue and profit.
Email marketing has an estimated return on investment (ROI) of 3,800% which means that on average, each dollar invested in email marketing nets a return of $38. Aside from just the financial perspective, there are many other beneficial aspects of email marketing such as:
- Extended Outreach: Website visitors come and go, yet once they’re gone many never return. By collecting email information from your visitors you’ll be able to reach out to them again in the future. With an email list you send the entire list valuable content which they might otherwise miss. You may also gain addition traffic when some opt to follow links back to your site based on information sent out to them.
- Increase Sales: Email conversions have been observed to outperform both social and organic search traffic. In fact, statistics show that social media has an overall engagement rate of only 0.58% as compared to a 3.71% click-through-rate (CTR) for email.
- Fine-tune Your Operations: Because email marketing is based on statistics, it is possible to collect this data and analyze it. That information can then be used to further enhance your email campaigns to increase effectiveness. For example, learn about the likes, dislikes and interests of your user base and send them relevant materials.
To collect visitor emails
- Signup for an email marketing service to help create and manage your email marketing campaign. Here’s a list of email marketing services we recommend.
- Make sure there’s something in it for your users – give out knowledge products, free coupons and latest product news (that’s useful to them) in exchange for their emails.
- Run Facebook remarketing ads to connect with your existing website visitors.
- Use “halo bar” or popups on website to encourage email subscriptions.
To maintain an active email list
- Segment your subscribers into different groups so you can send specific content that’s most relevant to them separately.
- Offer great value in your emails (ie. useful content, product discount, etc).
- Simple touches like addressing them with first and last names can help make your emails more personal.
- Maximize your engagement by timing your emails with the three core slots: In the morning, early afternoon, or evening.
- Craft subject lines that will entice readers to open your message. Don't be afraid to get creative and try something new.
11. Comply to rules and regulations
Just like running a brick-and-mortar business, there are rules and regulations for running a website like a business. And, just like running a business, you need to be having some form of accounting on hand.
Some of these topics might seem a bit complicated but it’s definitely important for you, as a business and a website owner, to know them and understand them.
Keep your accounting in check
One important aspect that most entrepreneurs tend to overlook in an online business is the finance. When your website and your business starts to get bigger, it’s a good idea to have a good accountant on hand to make sure that your site’s finances are healthy.
When you have an online business that’s up to date with the best practices in accounting, it will help your business grow financially and possibly afford you more opportunities to expand.
But where do you get started?
Well, if you’re still a small business, it’s best to just hire a freelance accountant on a contract basis to handle all your finances from time to time. Anything bigger and you’ll have to use a full accounting agency to help keep track of your finances.
- You can opt for an accounting software package, such as QuickBooks to handle your finances. Some of the functions that QuickBooks offers include on-premise accounting applications, payroll functions, and even bills management.
- If you just want to prepare a simple invoice, you can look for the free invoice templates such as Invoiceto.me or Invoice Generator.
GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It’s basically a law that specifies how personal data should be collected, used, protected, or interacted with. While it generally focuses on the EU, it can affect any organization that’s not based in the EU as well.
Those that are found not compliant with the GDPR’s requirement are likely to face fines of up to 4% of a company’s annual global revenue or €20 million (whichever is greater).
If you’re based in the EU or intend to do any business within the EU, it’s recommended that you make your website GDPR compliant to avoid being fined.
12. Hire people to scale up
Once your website gets bigger, it might be time to consider hiring people to do certain jobs or functions.
Let’s say you run a blog on your business website. When the blog gets bigger, it might get harder to produce content more consistently as you might have to juggle other tasks, such as producing new blogposts and networking with other bloggers.
This is where freelancers or part-timers will come in handy. Delegating your tasks to others will allow you to focus on bigger and more important tasks.
Platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer.com and even Fiverr makes it easier than ever for you to hire people on a temporary or a project-by-project basis. Of course, the cost of hiring a freelancer tend to vary and sometimes, it might be better to just expand your outfit and hire permanent staff instead. If you're looking to hire a permanent staff, sites such as Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com are a popular option for smaller businesses. All you have to do is just post a job ad or search for resumes on the platform.
Of course, some of the concerns with hiring people is that there's more overhead for you. If you're a small business, you might end up having to micromanage your staff and have less time to focus on your business.
Example – Freelancers you can find at Fiverr
Fiverr is a resource that lets you browse through pools of freelancers for anything from content creation to social media support.
They allow freelancers to create offers which can then be chosen by you. Alternatively, you can create a job (post a ‘request’) that you specifically need and allow Fiverr freelancers to bid on it. For every transaction, Fiverr will take its cut in the form of a fee that’s tacked on to the final price. The fee varies depending on value of transaction. Because of a reputation system, Fiverr freelancers can be aggressive in trying to meet job requirements.
13. Sell off your website (exit!)
At some point, you might want to consider selling off your website after you’ve built it up.
Once your website starts to get big and it becomes a valuable asset, you can sell it off to other people, just like you would with a physical shop.
Selling your website can either one of two ways:
- You get approached by another business or company who are interested in buying your website.
- You sell it off on auction sites to people who want to buy your website.
If your website starts pulling decent traffic, say about 20,000 unique visitors a month, you can easily sell it on Flippa for as high as $7,000! If you’re willing to let go of your website, selling them on auction sites is definitely a viable option.
Thanks to the age of digital, having an online presence is no longer an optional extra but a very real necessity. The steps I’ve outlined here should give you a good idea of the powerful potential that your website represents.
The only question that should remain after having gone through this guide is role you wish your website to play in the success of your business. Are you looking for support from it for your main business, or are you willing to go the distance and exploit it to its fullest potential?
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