8 Ways to Improve Your Web-Based Business

grow your business

Do you have a web-based business? Well, if you don’t, you should consider starting one. If you do, what you’ll notice is that there is always more room for improvement.

Over the past few years I have started a handful of web-based businesses and consulted a 100 or so. No matter what size company I was working with I noticed that there are were always 8 things (if not more) you could do to improve it.

Hopefully you are already doing some of these 8 things, but if you aren’t, here they are:

Perfection doesn’t exist

Nothing is ever going to be perfect. You have to get the misconception out of your head that your website has to be perfect. Just look at some of the worst websites out on the web, a lot of them make a shit load of money.

So instead of going the route of creating a perfect website why not just throw stuff out there and fix it up over time? I am not saying that your website has to be ugly or non-functional, but instead realize that your website visitors aren’t as picky as you.

Keep it simple stupid

Features, features, and features! Who doesn’t want the latest stuff on their website? Having the latest and great features on your website will make it look cool, but it can also ruin the usability.

Some of the most successful sites on the web are very simple. Just look at Craigslist. There isn’t much to it from a users perspective, but yet it is popular.

A great way to keep things simple is by focusing your site on 1 major objective. If things fit around that objective, then do them. But if they don’t, don’t waste time on them.

Ask your users for feedback

Does it really matter what you want? No! All that matters is what the customer wants. Before you make any major changes to your website, consider surveying your visitors.

Find out what they want or don’t want and why. And after you figure that out, dig a bit deeper because a lot of times people will say that they want something and never use it.

Or in other words surveying your users is a great first step, but you actually need to get to know them if you want useful feedback.

Help your visitors trust you

Even if you aren’t, people are afraid to swipe their credit card online. If you want convert visitors into customers, you should consider a few things:

  • Add testimonials – don’t just create fake testimonials, add real ones from real customers. If you don’t have any testimonials give away your product or service away to a few people in exchange for an honest testimonial. And once you have a few testimonials, integrate them into your website, such as on the checkout page.
  • Badges build trust – whether it is the Better Business Bureau badge, or a money back guarantee sign, badges help build trust.
  • Contact options – in addition to listing your email address, consider adding a phone number and a live chat option. All of these things will show your visitors that there is a real person behind your website.
  • Video clips – it doesn’t matter if you are ugly and have a terrible voice, people want to see and hear from you. Having a video on your website will help build trust.
  • Press – if you’re website gets showcased on any popular blogs or in the mainstream media, let your visitors know.

Optimize for conversions

The smallest changes like the color of your call to action buttons can drastically affect your conversion rate. Consider testing every aspect of your website’s layout so that you can maximize your conversion rate.

A few things to consider testing that you may have not thought about before are:

  1. Use different font typographies. Certain fonts are easier to read than others.
  2. Test different website copy. All the way from your headlines to the text within your paragraphs, the copy on your website is one of the main things that will affect conversions.
  3. Remove different elements from your design. Typically, less will result into more conversions.
  4. Try different variations of your website’s background color.
  5. For your call to action buttons, don’t just test how different colors perform. Test how different shades of a color perform.
  6. If you have pages that are very long and your goal is to get people to read all of your content, try adjusting the color of your scroll bars. Different color scroll bars can affect how many visitors actually scroll through your content.

If you are new to maximizing website conversions, try using Google Website Optimizer and Crazy Egg. Both of these will help you understand how to maximize your conversion rate.

In addition to that, make sure you check out popular sites like Amazon who have already invested millions of dollars in optimizing their conversions. There is nothing wrong with copying.

Optimize your website for search engines

An easy way to get more traffic to your website is through search engine optimization. 2 detailed guides that go over search engine optimization are the Beginner’s Guide to SEO and Optimizing Your Blog for Search Engines.

Now the guides above are going to be a bit long and overwhelming, so if you were to prioritize some SEO aspects to consider doing first…

  1. Make sure you URL structures are clean. You don’t want extraneous characters (* & % $ =) in your URL. Ideally a URL should only consist of numbers and letters. Dashes are also acceptable, but try not to use underscores.
  2. Both your title tag and meta description tag should be unique on every page of your website. They should also be descriptive of what the page is about, and readable. The last thing you want to do is stuff keywords into your title and description tag.
  3. Create an XML sitemap that includes all of your URLs and submit them to the major search engines. This will help them index your pages faster.
  4. Google Image Search can drive a ton of traffic as long as you describe what each image on your website is about. Bots can’t look at an image and understand what it is. By using alt tags to describe each image, search engines will do a better job of categorizing your images.
  5. When you are reading a book, how do you know what a chapter is going to be about? Headings… right? Just like how books use headings, you should also use them on your website. You do this is through the use of h1, h2, h3, and h4 tags.
  6. The most important aspect of search engine optimization is related to links. The more websites that link to you, the higher chance you’ll have of getting more search engine traffic. So creating a good website is the first step in increasing your chances of getting other websites linking to you, but it isn’t enough. You have to get creative and leverage social media sites like Digg, or create things that are viral such as games or quizzes.

There are hundreds of other things you can also do to improve your SEO, but the 6 things I mentioned above are a great start. None-the-less, I still recommend reading the 2 guides that I linked to above.

Sell, sell, sell, and then sell some more

If you already have people coming to your website that are purchasing, why not up sell to them? Just look at sites like GoDaddy, have seen how many times they up sell?

godaddy up sell

There is nothing wrong with up selling to your existing user base. Up selling converts very well because the customer already has some faith in your company.

But before you start up selling, take a look at the emails Amazon sends and walk through the GoDaddy checkout process. Hopefully those two sites will spur some creative ideas that will help you up sell to your customers.

Step outside of your little box

Your web based business doesn’t end with your website, instead, that is where it starts. If you want to grow it you have to start looking at some of the new hip mediums around the web such as Facebook.

Does your company have a fan page on Facebook? And if you do, are you also leveraging Twitter?

The possibilities are endless. If small companies like The Purse Blog can make money through their Facebook fan page and big companies like Dell can generate 3 million in sales through Twitter, the it’s possible for you to leverage the social web.

Conclusion

In addition to this list, there are a ton of other things you can do to improve your web-based business. Although you should never stop looking for new opportunities you have to prioritize what you should do first with your website.

Typically the answer is going to be: go after the lowest hanging fruit.

Anyone else have any ideas to share?

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Comments

  1. I believe that online business is more than just marketing. You have to get social, turn your product into community and then keep your customers buy your product again and again. Online business is more about referrals and social phenomena

  2. You have mentioned most of the things that are needed to improve the online business. I would like to add that Google is the best source to check the simplicity and reliability of your website.

    If you look at the topmost website that appears on page 1 for any keyword you have in the world, you will find the top most website has something unique.It looks reliable.

  3. Another nice article. I am about to launch a twitter site with a group of friends from India and we are already working on a software sharing site concept that already exists but can be vastly improved with my user experience skills. We should hopefully be launching in a couple of months.

  4. Working on setting up my own 2 sites. One is a business and the other is a blog. You give great advice Neil. Thanks for offering your links to your sources. Keep It Simple Stupid.

  5. You are absolutely right for perfection does not exist. Don’t kill yourself trying to make the website all nice and perfect, just go ahead and throw it out there and over time, you’ll get it to be just the way you want it =) These are awesome tips Neil. Thank you!

    • Yes, I agree, I spent quite a bit of time focusing on developing my site. Then I realized I would probably never actually be “finished” with it. I finally got to the point where I felt it had at least enough to launch it and then I could continue to work on it. I don’t think you should launch a site with nothing on it, but once you get enough to provide good value and content to readers it is time to let it rip and build as you go.

      • no one really finishes it, but that’s because in order to current with the times and demand, it’s important to update.

        • Ya, I have been meaning to completely revamp my home page for about a month, just can never quite get to it. Especially trying to keep up on my posting schedule and article marketing. And then I actually have financial consultations, which is what my business is all about anyway. As much fun as this stuff is, I am seriously considering paying someone to do the web stuff.

          That way I can focus on providing good content and setting enough time aside for me to meet with my clients.

    • Yeah, don’t go crazy over minute details. Focus on what works.

    • So what do I mean by saying that perfection does not exist?
      Well, in reality if something was “just perfect” it would mean that there was no room for improvement. This simply is not true. No matter how great a piece of work there will always be some room for improvement. You may choose not to improve your work but fortunately the room for improvement will always be there. The room for improvement is what motivates us and help us to develop further so that hopefully we continue to grow.

  6. That was a pretty quick reply Neil.
    To be honest I am running this site with own funds and do not have any scope for offering anything other than tests.
    “you maybe asking them the wrong questions” hmmm.. this is the point to consider.
    I would see if I can re design that page or re phrase the question.
    Thanks neil.

  7. Neil,

    Thanks for the tip on the SEO guide and site optimization. I have been spending a great deal of time over the past few weeks trying to learn as much as I can. I can definitely get overwhelming with all of the information out there, but I have been SEOMoz site numerous times and their information has helped my understanding of SEO tremendously.

  8. Neil, you hit the nail on the head with the point of upselling, upselling that, and upselling some more!

    Get the visitors’ emails and you can upsell all you want within good-quality, non-spammy newsletters.

  9. I wish you had written this article a few months ago, then I wouldn’t have established a web design team. :D

  10. All these ideas are excellent. One needs to be thoroughly professional. What about writing a free report and giving away to show that you care.

  11. I think the tip about surveying your customers is vitally important. When I had private clients, I started using Survey Monkey to send out e-mail surveys about various topics like the shopping experience, check-out flow, etc. The survey results really provided some valuable insight into how shoppers viewed our the check-out process of that particular site. Changes were made and the conversions went up.

    • Since it’s about your audience and not so much you, it’s definitely important to do that, so great job on taking action with survey monkey. I bet most people are simply too lazy to do what you did :)

      • Your target audience consists of those folks you want to attract to your Web site: potential and current customers, future and current employees, possible investors, etc. Anyone who might be interested in your company and its products or services is a member of your target audience. Correctly identifying your target audience is vital since your Web site should be designed specifically to appeal to your target audience

    • Brad, that’s a great tip. I haven’t gotten around to it, but I should start surveying my clients using a prize incentive to increase participation.

      I’ve taken landing page optimization surveys before, and noticed that some good examples would be to use visual cues. In other words, show the customer two versions of a button and see which one they are most likely going to click on.

  12. The biggest change I made is what all the so called web gurus tell you to do…take action. I must have spent most of my waking hours on forums and blogs because it was easy whilst I put off the real job of working on my website. Onec I focused I noticed an almost immediate positive difference.

  13. I launched my consumer/OTC health products consultancy a few months ago, which led me to doing a lot of reading on internet marketing over the past 6 months. This is an excellent summary of the fundamentals. You can always do more, but these are the fundamentals — get your core product offering optimized, then do these basic things and you’ll be off to a great start!

  14. Competition is intense on the Internet and World Wide Web today. With this in mind, if you are involved in an Internet business, you will want to pull out all of the stops when it comes to developing and implementing a website promotional effort.When it comes to search engine optimization, you need to understand that it really is a complicated process. There are many different elements that need to be included in an overall search engine optimization plan in order for you to be able to reap actual benefits from search engine optimization.

    • True, there several different factors that most people don’t quite understand. However, the basics, like comment on other people’s blogs and blogging often do go a long way ;)

  15. To marcus: Yes, it is a true. But it mainly depends on your domain. Neil, it can be next topic for your article ;) how to choice a domain name.

  16. Great advice Neil, particularly “KISS”. Thanks for the tip “If you are new to maximizing website conversions, try using Google Website Optimizer and Crazy Egg” I didn’t know this existed until now!

  17. I think I have to work on just about ever point mentioned especially “Ask your users for feedback”. I haven’t done that yet and wonder what type of feedback I will get.

  18. Great post! It’s about progress not perfection. Your first is your worst. Get feedback and make adjustments.

    My site is not near perfect but making progress. I will add my contact info to add credibility and by the end of the week will add a video welcoming them to the site.

    Thank you for the great wisdom!

    Best,

    Eiji =)

  19. Hi Neil, thanks for sharing. I agree with you on up selling but I do not agree with you on Godaddys checkout as an example, it is one of the most annoying checkout procedures. I guess you know the consequences of annoyed consumers.

    • It is annoying, I don’t disagree, but if you think about all the millions of people that go on the web for the first time, they make a killing of them.

      • GoDaddy does have an interesting point. They seem to target a different demographic, and like Neil pointed out, they reel in the newbies looking to setup their little family blog for the first time.

        Webmasters on the other hand probably aren’t too happy with the way GoDaddy handles things (especially the upselling when you checkout a domain name). Because of their annoying processes (including their spammed emails), I’ve become and been a long-time customer for Namecheap.

        • At the end of the day, since people already have accounts with them to begin with, they’ll more than likely stay with them too. Plus they offer coupons online.

  20. Thanks so much for this great tips. Sometimes we forget the simplest of things. This a good checklist. I appreciate your generous spirit and the helpful tips you give to make other websites more friendly and accessible. It is so hard to keep web design and seo clear and uncluttered but you have managed to say it.

    I knew hyphen is better than underscore but never tried to know the logic behind. SEO experts says Underscore is not considered as a divider by Google, is that true?

  21. I totally agree with you that sometimes the keep it simple method is the best way to go. I’ve tried to do that on my websites. I hate going to a site and not being able to figure out what to do next because there’s so much stuff going on!

  22. London IT Support :

    I had a good chuckle looking through that list of rubbish sites, I’d forgotten about most of them to be honest. I am personally guilty of being a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my sites, especially the design. Unfortunately different browsers will always render things differently even if you have custom css for each one, it’s just something I’ve learned to let go so I can focus on more important things.

  23. I think the most important tip here is to follow godaddy’s marketing plan. They ask you about 3 time if you want to buy something else, they have aggressive marketing strategy, they have an affiliate program and this is very important, the fastest way to make more and more sales is to offer affiliate program, you have to offer high commissions >10%, nobody wants to sell something and to get only 1% of the price, it is not valuable.
    Best regards!

    • I agree with having an affiliate program, that is a good way to increase sales and leads. But Godaddy aggressive way of selling things irritates me, and I know alot of others who feels the same. It is ok to be aggressive but dont over do it, it can turn people off.

  24. I dont run a web business but still i found the post worth of the general things i learned that could be applied to my blog. And your examples and links are really great resources to go through.
    Thanks.

  25. These are some great suggestions. how can i apply these suggestion. As you said i am simply information junky. I always try to find new ideas because I am too afraid to take action. When I read good ideas, I find a excuse too to skip those ideas. I need to Act first.

    • Well, the fact that you’re consciously aware of what you’re doing says a lot. You’re right, take action now. You don’t need more infomration because more infomration is simply going to put in you the same situation your in. Get an accountibility partner to help you out.

  26. SEO is obviously important, but the main problem I think is that people become so focused on it that they end up writing for Google. The key is to “write for humans” – that way (hopefully) the content will be great, and that’s the best way to succeed.

    So, my approach is to forget SEO completely while preparing the content. Then, when it’s ready to publish, go back and “tweak it” for SEO. Take note of keywords, tags, etc. Just be careful at that point not to mess up the great read you’ve just produced. It’s too easy for writing to become stilted and unhuman when you have another agenda.

    It may be naive, but I hopefully believe that all of Google’s rules, regs & slaps are designed to reward great content. So if you concentrate on producing good stuff, over time you’ll be doing “natural SEO”.

    Phil

  27. add a testimonial :) maybe I should do this trick, neil i have never create a testimonial ins my websites , maybe i will now :)

  28. I agree with all opinions.Everybody wants to improve his company on the web but if you want to have impresive site you should be first site on google so for that,you have to pay big money.So this is not for everybody

  29. Brilliant article. I’ve saved this into Evernote and will come back to it once I actually have something to sell. Right now I’m just focusing on the keep it simple side of things. Trying to eliminate unnecessary work and all the clutter.

  30. that is a great list. You’ve managed to condense all the tips I’ve seen over the last year from around the web and then some into one post.

  31. Going back to my comment on perfection does not exist! I must add that, in some cases we can not “throw stuff out there and fix it up over time”. If you build a e-commerce site and there are errors in shopping cart process, how could you make a sale. I think in sites like that basic functionality has to be error free. We can work on the design and layout later but not on the software.

  32. Its hard to come up with something unique.Especially for ordinary guy like me.

  33. Start by creating an abundance of gateways and comment on relevant sites.

  34. Hey Neil,

    Glad to have another fantastic post from you. This time the topic is wonderful, and I must confess that I do all these 8 things to gain more improvement for my web-based business.

    Keeping it simple is something that I always believed in. You can convey the message to your readers in the simple manner and I believe that it looks genuine too. And this further generates trust among the readers and the blogger.

  35. Every new business owner thinks that operating a business should be smooth sailing, in fact, most of the time they don’t! They hear all about the success stories of operating a business, but when they run into a problem, they think it isn’t normal but in fact it is. Businesses don’t grow over night, it is years of hard work and dedication before your efforts get rewarded.

    • Hard work on begins to describe the road ahead. It also comes down to persistence.

    • Each business starts with a lot of hopes and over the time when you see that things are not happening as we envision, you start losing hope. That is a point when most of the businesses fail. At this point, some people take a look at their strategy and correct it and others do desperate things and suffer the losses. It is patience that let you make the right decisions. If someone doesn’t have patience he or she should never venture into business. Patience is key to success.

  36. I think the hardest thing to stick to is keeping it stupid simple. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to web layouts and design and I always spend far more time than I should be tinkering with stuff.

  37. i am following almost all the 6 optimization tips you have mentioned but i have not very familiar with social services like facebook and twitter, i have a plan to use these services when my site become popular. i think with a few visitors these services r of no use.sorry for bad english.

  38. Great post Neil, now I’ll follow some of your tricks and I’ll add testimonials to some of my websites :)
    P.S. I read the article about the worst websites on the internet and I don’t agree that myspace is bad website… it’s one of the most successful websites ever created ;)
    Best regards!

    • Well, it’s actually not one of the most successful sites out there… it was good, but obviously not great. Yes, testimonials will easily help your customers and readers relate to what you’re talking about.

  39. Though websites should be simplistic, I feel they should be appealing as well. Craig list got popular at a time when Internet had nothing much like it.. I don’t think it would have been now.. You have to make your visitors say wow to attract attention

  40. Experimentations should be a big part of all online businesses. Thats how you settle on a good design, good conversion rates, good sales etc. I like Google’s A/B test application with that regard a lot.

  41. KISS has always been one of my favorite sayings. I like how you used it in your business as well. SEO is a definite must when it comes to online businesses. Another great post.

  42. The selling Point is good, Sell,sell, and then sell some more. Quite impressive!!

  43. Neil this is only way to come on first page, is there any other way. because sometime backlink get really on your nerve. i am find it very difficult to do that.

  44. Great article. I use a ton of social bookmarking sites as well I have a forum and blog to generate content for my web store Yeti Works. We sell a great deal of gaming computers using tactics just like these.

  45. They have definitely gone too far… I agree.

  46. What are the main advantages to having a fan page as opposed to a regular page if you are mainly just using it to interact with friends and clients?

  47. Ok, this might sound simple but I have found something out recently. I have websites that have their full contact details in the footer and some that do not. Without exception, the sites with full contact details do way better than those who don’t and I am thinking (I don’t know, just guessing) that Google may be looking at sites to see if they offer a better user experience.
    Of course, if your site has great content then I am sure it will do well anyway but if two identical sites are up against each other, I bet you the site with address,telephone and other contact details does far better.

  48. Blogging is also another way. Especially on high PR blog networks like wordpress and blogger aka blogspot.
    I also think that web hosting reliability is essential. I was once in a hosting package that used to drop all the time, and especially when the google bot was about to index. My site never got indexed. I had to change.

  49. . I am personally guilty of being a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my sites, especially the design.

  50. I like the Perfection dosn’t exist part. I find myself spending hours on websites trying to get everything super perfect and I catch myself and really think wtf am I doing.

  51. Excellent excited analytical eye designed for detail
    and may foresee problems just before these people take place.

  52. Great post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely helpful information specifically the last part :) I care for such information much. I was seeking this particular info for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  53. Have you tried offering them a gift card or something for free after they fill out a survey? Also, try products like Survey.io. Sometimes it isn’t that the users aren’t willing to give feedback, but instead you maybe asking them the wrong questions.

  54. Two common mistakes that companies make with surveys: making them too long, and making them self-serving.

    Most people actually like to give their opinions, and if they like your product, want to help you make it better. But they need to feel like you value their time. That means asking 5 really critical questions instead of 20 “well we may as well ask” questions. It means giving them smart options instead of just asking them to fill in textarea boxes (writing’s a lot of work!)

    People also love followup – emailing them after a survey to say “here’s what we found”. Or start your survey by saying “our users have told us X and Y, now we’d love to hear more from you” – that makes it clear that the time they invest is actually getting through to you.

  55. Exactly, people are generally interested in stuff like that right away!

  56. yes, they need to be short and simple by being straight to the point. The KISS method certainly applies to what I’m talking about.

  57. Good point! Just to elaborate even further, off-page SEO is important, but on-page SEO is even more important. For the budding webmaster, don’t forget to write unique keyword-focused content. The more content the better, so you can take advantage of long-tail keyword queries.

  58. Start by creating an abundance of gateways and comment on relevant sites.

  59. Out of all the social media networks out there, I personally think Twitter has the capabilities to spread your product or service like wildfire. I’ve noticed that people are more likely to share (in this case, ReTweet) a product that they enjoy or have interest in.

    The best thing to do would be to start a contest, and have people participate by retweeting your tweet. Then choose a random (or person with the most tweets) as the contest winner! Free (or very cheap) advertising on social media FTW.

  60. I set up a regular face book account about a year ago, but lately I have been thinking of setting up a fan page. Up until now I just interact with my clients on my personal facebook page. What are the main advantages to having a fan page as opposed to a regular page if you are mainly just using it to interact with friends and clients?

  61. London IT Support :

    Your right, I think a lot of people focus too much on off page link-building strategies when you can achieve much better results by just writing great articles.

  62. Damon, I can think of a few things:

    #1 Facebook fan pages are public and can be accessed by anyone (including SE spiders)

    #2 You can send “updates” to fans.

    #3 When someone becomes your fan, it shows up in their news feed (viral effect)

  63. Fan Pages are crawled by spiders and ranked higher than a regular profile I believe.

  64. As for optimizing for conversions, I’ve noticed some sales pages have live Flash-based video overlays. There’s usually a person that pops up at the bottom of the screen and talks for a couple seconds.

    I wonder how this affects conversions. Anyone else seen any cool features to boost conversions on landing pages?

  65. It’s interesting you brought that up, because in latest Wired magazine, they talk about Craigslist and how many people have written in to complain about the design (design studios, btw haha)… Yet Craigslist ranks as one of websites with the highest retention and loyalty rates.

  66. Reddit is better than facebook also viral effect, good amount of traffic, but you need to get more votes. I love reddit.

  67. Just focus on creating quality before worrying so much about fan pages ;)

  68. Reddit is great, but remember…good quality content easily sells anywhere. Come up with something unique and powerful!

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