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Starting An E-Commerce Business: Baby Steps

Starting your own e-commerce business can be quite the adventure. There is nothing wrong with falling head over heels in love with your ideas and plans and becoming overly excited, but always remember, feet first. Creating a business from scratch is like a child learning to walk. You need to grab on to something solid, feel around, get a sense of balance, and take baby steps.

Risky Business

Before running full speed ahead with your brilliant business brainchild, proper planning is required. Being an entrepreneur is risky business, however you can improve your chances of success with preparation and development.

First, you need to research your target market, product and services, competitors, the demographic of your potential customers, popular key words associated with your business and the probable cost involved. After compiling all this information, you need to ask yourself, 'is it worth it? If the answer is yes, then carry on.

Step 1: It's All In the Name

You have you business idea, you've conducted your market research, preparation is complete, and now you are beginning to get butterflies in your stomach from all the excitement that comes with starting your own business. So what's next? The Name.

You should start considering names for your company in the beginning stages of your business's development. Use a serious name for a serious company and a fun name for creative company or a company that markets towards children. But keep in mind that the name of your business must earn the attention and trust of your potential customers.

While selecting your company's name, bear in mind the qualities you would like your company to portray. If you want to represent a very aggressive, high tech, corporate, and cutting-edge company, you should not come up with the name like 'Sloopy' or 'Scroochy'.

Important Points To Consider In Name Selection:

? Shorter is better. It is easier to remember names like Nike opposed to 'Kransferst Bayer Colombo Association of Michigan' . ? Make sure the name is easily pronounced. It's very hard to pronounce 'Shmakhtnik', 'Kchichkus' or 'Xsassassas'.

? It may be helpful to have the name associated with your company's philosophy. For example, a strong solid company should use a strong, bold name such as 'Bamm', 'CastleDom', 'Gong'. A high-tech company could use a more creative name such as 'Ampex', 'Freebee', 'Ciriu'. Design companies can use even more creative names such as 'Venturius', 'BlueFrog', 'BlackInc'.

? Try to relate the name to the field of business. For example, a food company - 'Bacon House', an office supplier - 'BluePin', a construction company - 'GoldenBrick'.

? Create a recognizable image. Come up with a meaningful name like an object name or a word that has a meaning like: 'Penguin Solution', 'Flying Frog', 'Walking House', or 'Yellow Pot'.

? Do not forget your business's target market. Home insurance companies target a more mature market. It would be absurd to use a name like 'HipHop BangBang Solutions'.

? A good way to test out your company name is to tell it to your friends and ask them if they remember it in a week.

Step 2: Website Design

Marketing should start immediately after the company is created and a name has been chosen and officially registered. You want people to remember your company in a positive way. You need to make an outstanding first impression. So, the first thing you have to work on is your name and your face. In the e-commerce world your website is the name and face of the company.

The website is the most important marketing tool for an e-commerce business. The website needs to look legitimate and provoke a sense of trust. It needs to be appealing, simple to use, eye-catching, competitive and unique. Therefore, it is worth it to spend a good amount of time and money on your website design. If you are not savvy with website design and development, then invest in a talented website design company or independent designer.

Step 3: Website Marketing

A. Search Engine Optimization

Search engines use algorithms (mathematical formulas) to rank website listings in response to a particular keyword query. In order to protect themselves from webmasters and search engine optimizers manipulating the search engine results to their advantage, search engines do not reveal their ranking criteria. However, there are many factors that are speculated to be important influences in determining the position of a website on search engine result pages.

For example:

? Build a content rich website: Search engine spiders and bots like websites filled with informative and relevant text and content.

? Incoming links: Build up incoming links from relevant or complimentary sites. The more relevant and authoritative the incoming sites, the better your site will be in the eyes of the spiders and bots.

? Keywords: Try to place as many keywords in the content of your home page as possible without losing the sense and aesthetics of the page.

? Meta Tags: Meta tags are html text containing information about the website that is not seen by human viewers. Meta tags include title, description, and keyword tags. Considering that a title tag is the text that appears, representing your site, on a search engine result page, it is very important to choose a title tag that emphasizes keywords on that page.

? Header tags: Header tags (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5?) are used to designate headers and titles. H1 tags should be used to represent the first and most important header, H2 as the second and so on. Search engines give importance to text that differs from the text on the rest of the page. Bold, italics, underlines, and various font sizes are useful as well.

? Make the site simple, easy to surf and navigate, and eye-catching.

? Keep your website updated with fresh content, new pages and information.

B. Free Advertising

Search Engines
As a business owner, your first priority should be to get your website listed in the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and Alta Vista. This can be done simply by submitting your website to various search engines.

Directories
You can also submit your site to web directories, which are databases of categorized listings of websites. Focus on directories that are popular and specialize on your industry.

Link Building
Considering that the World Wide Web was created with the concept of discovering new websites and web pages by following links between documents, link building is an important factor in optimizing your website for search engines. Effective link building consists of exchanging links with authoritative and information websites that relate to and/or compliment your e-commerce business.

Specifically Google, but other search engines included, believe that when web page A links to web page B, web page A is casting a vote for web page B. The more votes web page B has, the more important that page is perceived to be by search engines. The value of the web page linking to the web page B also determines how important that vote is. Google determines the importance of a web page by associating it with a Page Rank (PR). Page Rank is another factor that plays a significant role in determining the position of a website on the search engine result page. To view the Page Rank of websites, you can download the Google toolbar at http://toolbar.google.com.

Building links is not difficult, however, the challenge is to develop links that are relevant and complimentary to your business. You can join link exchange websites which are a venue for webmasters interested in building valuable links. Don't exchange links with just any site though, relevancy is very important. Try to exchange links with sites that can be associated with your industry or that compliment your business. And stay away from sketchy sites such as online gambling sites and pornography sites. These will only cause you trouble. As well, you can do a web search for relevant businesses and simply contact them and suggest a link exchange (some sites may have a section with information pertaining to link exchanges). Check out the backward links (inbound links) of your top competitors. Find out what sites are linking to them, and then contact the valuable sites to participate in link exchanges.

Articles
If you are quite knowledgeable on your business' industry, then publishing articles online is a good start to building a reputation for your site. You can submit articles to free submit directories (where others can download your article as content for their own sites, giving you full credit), online magazines, ezines, and websites relevant to your business.

C. Paid Advertising

Pay-Per-Advertising
a. Pay-Per-Click: Pay-per-click advertising consists of a search engine or directory that places your website in their database, and charges you a specified amount every time your website comes up in a search and is clicked on, thereby, generating traffic to your site. The amount of the fee is usually determined by bidding on keywords and ranking.

b. Pay-Per-Impression: Similar to the concept of pay-per-click advertising, advertisers pay the affiliate based on the number of consumers that view their promotion or ad.

c. Pay-Per-Sale: The advertisers pay the affiliate based on the number of consumers that make a purchase based on the direct result of the promotion.

d. Pay-Per-Lead: Advertiser pays for each sales lead generated from the direct result of a promotion. Leads include a viewer filling out a survey, form, downloading a demo, software, etc...

e. Pay-Per-E-mail: Similar to pay-per-lead advertising, pay-per-e-mail affiliates receive a commission for each consumer's e-mail address they refer to a mailing list or newsletter.

Paid Directories
Some directories charge a fee, increased visibility is associated with a higher cost. If you choose to place your site in a paid directory listing, consider the offer carefully. Compare the price with other effective methods of advertising. Make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Banners
A more popular marketing mechanism consists of banners (large strips) of advertisements that are specifically positioned on a web page in order to promote your website. Costs vary according to the placement of the ad on the web page and size of the banner. Try to advertise on websites that contain relevant content, receive a significant amount of traffic and have fair banner advertisement rates.

Ezines
Ezines (electronic magazines/newsletters published online or sent via e-mail) have been experiencing explosive growth in the past few years. There are thousands of ezines covering a vast number of topics. Considering that ezines cater to readers sincerely interested in the topic covered, you should get a higher response rate to your ads. For a new business, publishing your own ezine right away may be too overwhelming, therefore paying for exposure of your website in online magazines and through ezine ads may be your best bet. Ezines can provide you with valuable traffic at a smaller investment than banner ads. Ezine advertising is more likely to attract a significant response because the readers trust the editors and therefore trust the ads.

Step 4: Monitoring Your Site

Almost all server providers have counters and tools to monitor all the traffic your website attracts. You can find out where the traffic is coming from and the regions from which the visitors are originating, how many visitors have entered your site on a given day, how they entered, and how long they stayed to browse. You can learn about the demographics of your viewers and track trends and patterns. By gaining a better understanding of the popular pages on your site and your site's overall performance, you can plan future development, and focus on specific aspects of your site. Depending on how precisely you wish to track your site's success, you can also purchase software programs that do this as well.

The first few years of the birth of an e-commerce company are usually the make or break period. Revenues may be stagnant and expenses may seem overwhelming. It takes time, patience and determination. Sometimes you just need to take baby steps, then wait and pray.

Bio: Colleen Ryan is the Art Director of Logobee Inc., a logo design firm that designs high quality logos and corporate identity design for businesses worldwide. Logobee Inc. was founded in 2000 and since then the company has grown at an exponential rate. http://www.logobee.com

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