The Ultimate Guide to Grow 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.
Table of content
- The Foundations: domain names & hosting platforms
- Securing your website
- Accounting and legal tips
- Making your customer happy
- Tracking and setting goals
- Marketing, and more marketing
- Scaling up
- Exit strategy
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1. The Foundations: Domain Names & Hosting Platforms
Before you make a website, you need to have the right domain and the right web host. Far too often that entrepreneurs or business owners overlook the importance of having a really good domain and the right web host.
We recommend that you choose the right domain name that fits your brand and your business and definitely take your time finding a web host that fits your website’s needs.
Registering and finding a domain name
Choosing a domain name is often the hardest part as it not only has to reflect your brand, but still be easy, simple, and memorable. A general rule of thumb that you should keep in mind for creating domain names are:
- Keep it short and easy to remember
- Don’t use trademarked names
- Go for .com or .net when possible
- Be creative and use compound or made up words
- Try to make it keyword relevant
When you’ve got a domain name in mind, you can then head to domain registrar sites to buy and register your domain name. After all of that is done, you should have a fresh domain name for your business.
- If you have a hard time figuring out a domain name, you can always use domain name generators for ideas. Some of the more popular ones are Wordroid and Lean Domain Search.
- Sometimes the domain name you want might not be available. Use a whois search engine like DomainTools to see if the domain name you want is available.
- If you’re a beginner, we recommend going to GoDaddy or Namecheap to find a domain name. Both make it easy for newbies to buy and register a domain name.
Finding and using a reliable web host
Having a good domain name is just one half of the equation. The other half is to find yourself a web host that is both reliable and offers good performance.
With web hosts, there is a variety that you can choose from, ranging from shared hosting plans to dedicated servers. Depending on what you need and how you want your website to be, it can be very affordable or very expensive.
- Some key qualities that you need to consider before choosing a web host are their server speed and uptime rates. InMotion Hosting and SiteGround are some of the best that you can go for.
- There are different kinds of hosting available: shared hosting, dedicated server hosting, and cloud hosting.
- If you’re a small website, it’s cheaper to go for shared hosting plans. Bigger sites are recommended to use either cloud or dedicated hosting.
|Types of Hosting||Shared Hosting||Dedicate Hosting||Cloud Hosting|
|Description||Your website is hosted with many other websites on the same server. You have restrictions on server resources.||You will have your own separate computing hardware to host your website.||A hybrid that stands between shared and dedicated hosting.|
|Advantages||Affordable, easy to maintain and newbie-friendly.||Highly secured and able to handle huge traffic||Scalable. You only pay for the resources you need.|
|Disadvantages||Limited server resources and site security.||Expensive, require more time and knowledge to manage.||Require more time and knowledge to manage.|
|Ideal For||Beginners and those who have a limited budget.||Websites that expect a huge amount of traffic.||Growing websites that need resources to scale up.|
|Example of Hosting Companies|
2. Securing Your Website
In an age where information is valuable, security has never been more important for an online business. It’s always important to have some measure of security, but, if you want to treat your website like a business, then you need to employ the best security that you can find.
Getting secured with SSL
Secure Sockets Layer (or SSL) is a security protocol encrypts any data that’s transferred between a user’s computer and the site they are visiting. SSL can help protect a user’s sensitive data such as credit card numbers, passwords, or even user ID numbers.
With Google marking any website without HTTPS as “not secure”, having an SSL certified website is not only important to the biggest search engine in the world but also provides your users with a sense of security.
- You can opt to get your SSL certificate for free from sites such as Let’s Encrypt. However, free SSL certificates are not recommended for commercial websites.
- Some hosting companies such as SiteGround, A2 Hosting, and GoDaddy offers SSL certifications as well.
- If you’re a medium to a big website, it’s recommended to go for reputable SSL providers such as SSL.com or Comodo.
|Validation Type||Domain Validated (DV)||Organizational Validated (OV)||Extended validated (EV)|
|Verification||It only verifies that the applicant is the registrant of the domain.||It verifies the ownership of the domain including full company name and address details.||It requires an extensive validation of the business that turns the address bar to green.|
|Time and Fee||It takes few minutes to few hours. The fee is minimal.||It might take a few days. The fee is higher than DV.||It might take up to weeks. The most expensive validation.|
|Ideal for||Suitable for a small website or a blog.||Suitable for medium-sized businesses.||Suitable for the site conducts financial transactions.|
|Example of Certificates|
3. Accounting and Legal Tips
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.
4. Making Your Customers Happy
By now, you should have a basic understanding of the foundations of a good online business website. The next step is to make sure that your website offers the best user experience that it can.
Because a happy customer is a customer that’s willing to spend. Things such as site speed and UX designs are essential if you want your business to grow and attain more customers.
UX design basics
Let’s start with the user experience (or UX). Plenty of research has shown that UX matters for online businesses with one study showing that 79% of visitors will leave your site and search again if your content is not optimized. Another shows that 85% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad user experience.
All these research shows that UX is important for an online business and if you want your business to grow, you’ll need to have a great UX design.
Narrowing down on a great UX design is quite hard as different sites have different needs. Following the industry’s best practices is a great way to start and from there, you can tailor your website as necessary.
Some of the basics to get started with are:
- Building your website with the user in mind.
- Figuring out who your users are, based on website behaviour.
- Keep it simple and remember, less is more.
How UX improves your business revenue
A report conducted by Aaron Marcus of AM+A shows that improving your 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.
The following quotes from the report showed how some companies managed to increase their traffic and sales by a significant amount:
- IBM’s Web presence has traditionally been made up of a difficult-to-navigate labyrinth of disparate subsites, 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 month after the February 1999 re-launch that traffic to the Shop IBM online store increased 120%, and sales went up 400%.
- 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.
To dive in further on the report, the companies that improved their UX managed to achieve the following results:
- 67% more repeat customers
- 31-45% reduced drop-off rates
- 10% better shopping experience
- 80% increased traffic
Improving the speed of 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!
Generally, web hosts will play a major part in making sure that your site loads fast. However, there are other ways to improve your site’s speed. One of them is through Content Delivery Network (or CDN).
CDN helps load your pages faster by storing your static files across servers worldwide loads them through different servers based on the user’s location. Some of the more reputable CDN services that you can use are CloudFlare and KeyCDN.
5. Tracking and Setting Goals
Every business needs to needs goals to keep going forward, to get them motivated to achieve more and to maintain the success of a business. If you’re not setting goals, then you will quickly become stagnant in your business (which is often the first stage of failure).
But how do you determine what goal to set for your website?
That’s where tools such as Google Analytics come in handy. You see, data is key when you’re trying to keep track of progress and improve your business’ performance. With the right data, you can fine tune your website to your user’s behaviour and needs.
Of course, it’s not easy trying to decipher the huge amount of data that Google Analytics provides. We recommend starting simple and focusing on 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 goals that will help grow your business. Some example of goals that you can set are:
- Improving your website’s conversion rate by 5%
- Increasing the number of qualified leads by 20%
- Acquire a set number of users within X months
- Experience 10% growth in revenue
6. Marketing, Marketing, and More Marketing
A successful online business today is often a result of good marketing. Whether you like it or not, marketing plays a major role in the success of an online business.
Whether you’re starting a huge or online shop like Amazon or just a small consulting agency, having a good marketing plan is essential to getting more traffic, which builds up your brand and leads to better sales.
Using social media
In 2018, social media plays a major role in a business marketing strategy. With more than 3 billion users using social media, it’s important that you have an active social media presence in 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.
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:
Get the basic SEO right
Basic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is essential and should be fundamental to your website. Having SEO will help position your website to be found in search engines when people look for goods related to your business.
With organic searches making up about one-third of the traffic for a company’s website, SEO is as relevant as ever for any online business.
To cover everything about SEO in this article would too much information, especially for a beginner, so we’ll focus on a few basics that you need to know.
- Links: Backlinks has been Google’s key ranking factor for years. When you have links from high-authority sites, it basically tells Google that you’re a trustworthy site. Use link building tactics to improve your backlinks.
- Content: Content is another ranking factor that’s quite high on Google’s list. Google loves fresh content that adds value to its users. It’s also the place you should be using a majority of your keywords. Speaking of which.
- Keywords: Yes, keywords are still important and you should always know what the keywords are for your business. If you’re selling gourmet coffee beans, then you should have those keywords in your content and website.
Using tools such as SEMRush or Yoast SEO can help to a certain extent, but ultimately, it’s all about using good SEO practices in your overall content if you want to improve your search engine rankings.
The power of emails
Email marketing can be an effective way to increase your sales and profit. It’s a great tool to inform your users of any upcoming promotions or events that you want them to know. Plus, it’s still an awesome way to communicate intimately with users.
Aside from that, the great thing about email marketing is that they:
- Can generate real-time interaction and feedback
- Can be cost-effective and simple to perform
- Are easy to monitor and extract data
- You can go for email newsletter services to help create your email marketing. Some that we recommend using are MailChimp and Constant Contact. MailChimp, in particular, has an awesome “Get Started” page.
- 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 always remember to keep it simple.
- Personalize your emails by sending content that’s relevant to your users and provide significant value. Simple touches like addressing them with first and last names can help make your emails more personal.
7. Scaling 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 by yourself. When the blog gets bigger, it might get harder to produce content more consistently as you might have to juggle other tasks, such as handling the marketing strategy or website maintenance.
Hiring people for the job
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.
8. Exit Strategy
Selling off your website
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?