Find Answers
to the most frequently asked questions here.




"I am not getting enough traffic to my web site, why is that?"

Building traffic through search engine optimization comes with a Time Lag. If your traffic-generating efforts aren't bringing you very much traffic, you may be targeting the wrong audience. Before you do anything else, determine exactly who you are trying to market to.

Also keep in mind that some of the really powerful traffic-generation techniques -- like search engines and affiliate programs -- can take quite a while before they bring you a lot of traffic. Sometimes it may take multiple months before you see good traffic numbers from these sources.

If you are looking for a quick, effective way to get targeted traffic to your site, your best bet is to simply bid your way to the top of the search results with the PPC (pay-per-click) search engines.Top

"Visitors most of the time don't go beyond the homepage of my site. Why is that?"

Your Target Market and the Top Part ('First Fold') of your Website need attention.
If people are coming to your site but leaving after the first few seconds, there are a couple of things that could be happening:

One is that you may be attracting the wrong people to your site. For example, if you are ranked well in the search engines under the keyword "traffic" but when people get to your site, they find out that you are an information resource for "traffic lights" all of the visitors coming to you from that keyword are likely to turn around and leave straight away.

Have you thought about what your ideal target market is? Make sure that you are targeting the right audience and bringing interested visitors to your web site. And/ or you might be losing visitors in the "top part" of your web site.

When your visitors first come to your site, the part of your page they can see without having to scroll is what's called the top part or the first fold, a term borrowed from the newspaper industry. Based on what they see, and understand, above the first fold, they will make the decision to stay or go in 10 seconds or less.

If you have too much, or not enough, going on in this crucial piece of "real estate," your visitors will most probably leave right away. And that's a waste of all the effort you've put in to getting those visitors!

What you need here is a strong, compelling headline with enough benefits-laden copy to get the reader interested enough to explore your site further.Top

"Why aren't people signing-up for my newsletter?"

Perceived Value of the newsletter to the customer.
If you have an opt-in form set up on your web site, but it's not attracting subscribers, then you'll have to consider the following possibilities:

Your opt-in offer isn't attractive enough: Is your offer truly valuable? Even if it is, keep in mind that people won't just hand over their e-mail addresses unless they are absolutely convinced that it's worth their while! Can you rewrite your subscription offer to make it sound better? If you want us to help you with this, contact us here.

Your opt-in offer isn't visible enough: Where does your offer appear? Is it on more than one page? Is it on its own page, with a link from somewhere on your homepage? Your best bet is to include the offer right on your homepage where visitors are sure to see it, and on as many subsequent pages as you can, without it becoming annoying! Or, better yet, place the offer in a pop-up window so you can get it right in front of the eyes of your visitors!Top

"People come to my web site, but they don't buy anything!?"

All Steps of the Sales Process need to be considered.
If you are getting visitors to your site, but not converting them into customers, then something is wrong with your sales process. There are a couple of things you can do to try to pinpoint exactly where your site is going wrong.

If people are landing on your first page and going no further, you need to worry about whether you're attracting the right traffic, and whether the first "fold" of your web page is doing its job, as we discussed above.

If your visitors are getting to your site and looking around on two or three pages before leaving, with no clear patterns or consistency in what they're looking at, you might need to rethink your menu. Make sure your menu is clear and simple -- and the exact same on every page -- so that your site is easy to navigate and won't let your visitors get lost.

Of course, the most powerful sales force on your web site is your sales copy, so test out different sales letters and product descriptions to see if the changes increase your sales.

And if your visitors are making it all the way through your sales material, reading your sales copy and looking through your product or service offerings, clicking through to your order form, and then leaving the site, you've got a problem that you need to remedy right away! These people are trying to buy from you, but they are having trouble with your ordering process or shopping cart.Top

"I've tried sending e-mail promotions, but they haven't brought me any sales!"

E-Mail campaigns are successful, if done the right way.
If your e-mail promotions aren't working, you're doing something wrong, because any business should be able to turn a healthy profit with e-mail marketing! But don't worry, because in most cases it takes a couple of tests to get things right... and the problems are generally easy to identify!

For starters, if your e-mail campaigns aren't generating sales, you need to have a look at who you are sending them to. Of course, your mailing list MUST be 100% opt-in. That means the ONLY people on your list are those who have specifically asked to be there. Anyone who has asked to be removed from your list should have been taken off right away.

Next, consider when you are sending your mailings. There are certain days of the week -- and even times of the day -- that are most effective for the majority of online businesses. Ask for the e-mail campaign essence here for a the best times to hit "Send" for your e-mail campaigns.

And now it's time to look at your e-mail message itself.

Before you ever send an e-mail promotion to your entire list, you should run a few tests first to ensure that your promotion is going to be effective. Once you've sent out a test mailing, you can check your visitor stats -- i.e., how many people clicked through the link in your e-mail and visited your web page. You will need to set up your link so that you can easily track the click-through.

Compare the number of visitors you receive to the number of sales generated from that promotion. If you're getting very few visitors, it means the e-mail promotion you sent is not creating very much interest, and that's why your sales are low. Try tweaking the copy in your e-mail and see if you can generate more visitors to your site.

If you're getting a lot of visitors, but very few sales, it means the salescopy on your web site is the problem. In this case, readers are intrigued by what you said in your e-mail, but once they arrive at your site they are disappointed by what you have to offer. And that means your salescopy needs work!

Keep tweaking and testing your e-mail promotions until your e-mail letter is generating a lot of interest -- and lots of visitors to your site -- and the salescopy at your site is closing the sale. After a few tests you'll get the hang of what appeals to your audience, and your sales figures will start climbing! Only then should you launch a full promotion to your entire opt-in list.Top

"I tried to start an affiliate program, but nobody's signing up for it!"

Promotion and/or Sign-Up Procedure might not be straight forward enough.
If you're not attracting sign-ups to your affiliate program, the problem is most likely either:

You are not promoting your offer effectively, or the sign-up process is too time-consuming or difficult.

In the first instance, you need to make your offer more effective by presenting it as you would any offer on your web site -- with excellent salescopy and a clearly laid-out process. Your affiliates need plenty of information before they start, like: How much time will it take them to become your affiliate? How much money can they make? Are the commissions you pay fair? How often will they receive a check?

If your offer is solid and includes plenty of information for potential affiliates, you'll want to have a closer look at the sign-up process itself.

Make sure your sign-up form is readily available online. If potential affiliates need to contact you to discuss signing up, too many of them won't bother. But by offering a clear, easy-to-use online form, you'll attract far more interest. Ensure that your potential affiliates don't have to go hunting for your sign-up form, or wait forever for it to download. Make the process as quick and easy as possible, and you'll see far better results!Top

"Why should I bother with these questions here, my online business doesn't have these problems?"

Keep improving before you get these kind of problems ...!
Some of you may be reading this troubleshooting guide and thinking, "Phew! None of these problems apply to my online business!" And if that's you, congratulations! However, that doesn't mean you're off the hook!

The fact of the matter is, no matter how smoothly your business is running, how well your site is doing, or how quickly your traffic, sales, and profits are increasing. There's always room for improvement! In the long run, the most successful businesses -- both online and offline -- are the ones that are continually tweaking their processes, testing new ideas, and looking for ways to improve their businesses.

The beauty of having an online business is that you can test virtually every element of your business and see accurate, often surprising results, practically overnight! So always keep testing and tweaking your site, making improvements and modifications when your test results are positive, and trying out new ideas all the time.Top

How Can I Attract More Sign-ups?

I have a sign-up box on my web site to collect names for my marketing list, but I am hardly getting anyone joining my list! I already get lots of traffic, but what can I do to get more sign-ups?


You're right to be worried. After all, if these first-time visitors leave without joining your list, chances are you'll never see them again, and all the time -- and money -- you spent attracting them to your site will go down the drain.

But I'm getting a sense of where the problem may lie from the way you phrase your question: Why would any of your visitors want to join a "marketing list"?

People value their privacy -- and their information -- so you have to offer them something compelling in return. A regular newsletter, aimed at their interests, for instance, or a free eBook on a subject they've told you they're interested in.

However, let's assume you are already offering something valuable in exchange for their e-mail addresses. If you're still not getting many sign-ups, it's likely your pitch that needs polishing.

To convert more of your visitors to subscribers, you're going to need to write a really compelling subscription offer. I'm still astounded when I see a web site with an opt-in box that says "Subscribe to our Free Newsletter."

What am I subscribing to? Why should I subscribe to it? How often will I get it? Who is it coming from?

Without answers to at least a couple of these questions, there's no way people are going to sign up. So how do you convince them that your newsletter is worth signing up for? You have to promote it!

Say your web site sells football memorabilia. Here's an example of some copy that's guaranteed to get a great opt-in response:

The End Zone is a weekly NFL newsletter that's absolutely jam-packed with all the week's hottest news, stats, and stories. Interviews with your favorite players, the inside scoop on next week's games, PLUS a chance to win an autographed jersey from the team of your choice. Click here to Subscribe Now!

That's a little more compelling than "Subscribe Now," isn't it? And the best part is that it takes just minutes to pump up the copy!

Here are some more sure-fire ways to boost your opt-in rate:

Tip 1: Include a small link to your privacy policy when you're asking visitors for information. This lets people know that you are committed to protecting their privacy and makes them feel safe leaving their e-mail address with you. It's a small thing, but every little bit helps.

Tip 2: Sell the benefits, not the features. If you said "Download our FREE eBook, written by a state-certified housing inspector," you'd be advertising a feature. You'd be telling your visitors a fact about your free newsletter.

Here's how it reads if we decide to emphasize benefits instead:

Certified Housing Inspector John Smith reveals the 10 things you MUST look for when buying a home -- to avoid costly repairs down the road! Click here to read this FREE eBook!

That's a pretty dramatic difference, isn't it? You've hooked your visitors by letting them know how they will benefit by signing up for your offer. In this case, you've promised to help them avoid costly home repairs.

Tip 3: You've got to give your offer prime real-estate if you want to draw in subscribers.

So what's the best location? If your homepage contains a long sales letter, you'll want to put the opt-in box somewhere around the second page. You should have grabbed your visitors' attention by then and shown them that your site has some valuable information.

If your homepage doesn't have a long sales letter, you'll want to place your opt-in box "above the fold" (i.e. the first section of your web site that is visible to a visitor without scrolling). People's eyes are generally drawn to the top left-hand part of a page first, so the top or left is a good place to put your opt-in box.

Here's a powerful third option that doubled our daily newsletter subscriptions! Set up a pop-up window that prompts your visitors to subscribe to your newsletter right when they enter your web site.

Remember: This is not a question of where your opt-in form looks best. It's all about where it works best, so I would encourage you to test a few different locations. Whichever pulls the most opt-ins is the best place for your offer.Top

Should I sell my product on eBay?

Keep improving before you get these kind of problems ...!
I'm thinking of selling my hand-crafted jewelry on eBay. However, I'm nervous about dealing with people who may not be trustworthy. Can you offer any advice about whether eBay could work for my business -- and how I can know whether to trust the people I'm dealing with?

Answer: First of all, let me put aside your fears about eBay. After all, eBay is among the top ten most-trafficked sites on the Internet, according to the Neilson Ratings -- and that's not a position that could be held very long by a site that wasn't doing its job extremely well.

Part of the reason eBay works so well is its feedTop system. All eBay users have a "feedTop" page where buyers and sellers can leave positive, neutral, or negative feedTop about each transaction.

You can check the feedTop rating for any of your buyers (or another seller) by clicking the "Search" tab on the eBay homepage, then clicking "Find members." You'll be able to see their feedTop rating, and read all the comments others have made about their transactions with that member.

Also, you should know that eBay has policies in place to protect you as a seller. You can look at some of these policies here: http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/seller-rules-overview.html

ou'll want to keep in mind, of course, that the feedTop system works both ways: If you have a positive rating, you can increase your sales by as much as 7-9%. So if you are going to sell on eBay (and yes, I do suggest you give it a try), you'll want to start building your own feedTop rating quickly.

Establishing Your Reputation -- and Learning the Ropes

Since your feedTop for buying and selling all contributes to one rating, you can start to establish a positive rating even before you start to sell.

The easiest way to build your eBay reputation -- and do some valuable market research -- is to participate in the auction experience as a buyer. Pick an inexpensive item, and see how easy it is to find. Take a look at the techniques sellers use to get you to look at their listings. Then, start bidding.

Once the auction is over, take note of the checkout process, and how the seller completes the transaction. Keep track of how long your item takes to arrive, and how it's packaged.

Then, analyze your experience. What techniques should you incorporate into your own listings? What should you be sure to avoid?

Afterwards, leave the seller positive feedTop, and ask that they do the same for you. Repeat this process a few more times and you'll have learned a ton about online auctions -- and you'll have a great feedTop rating when you start to sell!

Finding Your eBay Market

Listing an item with eBay gives you access to a huge crowd (37 million users!), and unlike most web surfers -- who tend to be in search of information -- eBay users are actually looking for something to buy!

But with three million items listed in 3,000 categories, you'll need to do a little research to figure out exactly where your potential customers will be looking for your product -- and how you can help them find it!

The best way to decide where to list your product (and what keywords to use) is to search for similar products, determine which ones sell best, and see what they're doing. Check how easily your product can be found using the site's search tools before you settle on a category.

Next, you'll need to create a title for your listing. Make sure your title is specific: Instead of "necklace," say "Beautiful hand-crafted silver necklace with amber pendant," so everything is as clear as possible for your viewers. Being extra clear will help you show up on more searches, too.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you're selling, eBay can seriously impact your bottom line. There's nowhere else on earth where you'll find 37 million people brought together for the sole purpose of buying and selling.

Remember: As soon as someone arrives at eBay, they're ready to buy. and because the bidding process creates so much excitement, it can result in great profit margins on all kinds of stuff.

No matter WHAT you're selling, the fact is, this is a business like any other! You need to educate yourself and test the waters before diving in if you plan to be successful. Honest people DO make millions through online auctions... so it's not unreasonable to think you can profit, too. Just proceed with caution! And market smart!Top

What is ROI marketing?

Can you explain exactly what ROI marketing is?

ROI (Return On Investment) marketing is all about getting the most value out of every new prospect you make contact with, whether it's through an e-mail, e-zine sponsorship, pay-per-click search engines, or your web site itself.

Your sales cycle -- the route from the first contact you have with a prospect through to a final action -- includes multiple steps, and at each step your potential customer has to make a decision (e.g. to buy your product) and take an action (e.g. fill out an order form).

ROI marketing, also called conversion rate marketing, focuses on doing all you can to ensure that the maximum number of people take the action you intended, be it purchasing, filling out an application, subscribing to your newsletter, clicking on your ad, or some other action. Because every time a visitor or lead doesn't take that next step, you've wasted marketing effort -- and dollars.

That's why ROI marketing is sometimes compared to plugging the holes in a leaky bucket. Instead of spending more marketing dollars to keep "filling up the bucket," you look for ways to make your sales process, and your web site, more efficient.

Here's an example: Let's say you send out 10,000 e-mails to your opt-in list and 10% click through to your home page -- that's 1,000 prospects you've converted. But if you look at it another way, you've lost 9,000 people between your e-mail and your web site. That's what I mean by a hole in your bucket!

Now let's say your conversion rate between your home page and your product page is also 10%. That means only 100 of the 1,000 who visited your home page will make it to your product page -- and you've lost another 900 potential customers.

Now, the more of these "holes" you plug, the more sales you'll see from exactly the same marketing investment -- and the better your marketing ROI.

So how do you plug these holes?

First, you need to measure the conversion rates of key steps in your sales process. This will let you know where the holes are. The good news is that the Internet is uniquely suited to ROI marketing since, with some good basic tracking systems in place, you can easily measure the exact conversion rates of various stages of your sales cycle.

And once you have an idea of the conversion rate of each "step" along the way, you can set about testing ways of making incremental improvements.

To increase the conversion rate of your e-mail, for instance, you can test different subject lines and approaches, or try personalizing your messages. By testing various elements and tracking the results, you should be able to improve your conversion rate at this step in the sales process.

Now, if you can make these kinds of small changes at every step of the sales cycle, you'll soon see a cumulative effect!

Here are just a few examples of tweaks that may have a big impact on your conversion rates:
  • Test different wording for your pay-per-click ads.
  • Provide testimonials of customers who have bought your product and recommend it.
  • Try adding a picture of your product to your sales page so your customers can visualize it.
  • Make sure your navigation it is clear and easy to follow.
By improving your marketing campaign in a number of areas, you can make a lot more money from exactly the same number of prospects. It's about working smarter, not harder.

Even better, reduce the number of actions required by a visitor to make a purchase, subscribe to your newsletter, or complete whatever action you want them to.

That's the thinking behind Amazon.com's "1-click" ordering feature, which lets registered customers bypass a big part of their ordering system. The fewer steps you force your potential customers to take, the fewer "holes" in your bucket.

Let's go Top to our original example, where you send out 10,000 e-mails to your opt-in list. If you can tweak a few elements of your e-mail to bump up your conversion rate to 12%, then 1,200 people will click through to your web site.

You've just got 200 extra prospects for "free," and all without spending an extra dime in marketing! Now that's a solid return on investment.Top

Can you recommend free marketing techniques?

What, in your opinion, is the best FREE way to market online?

I'll assume here that you're asking about the best, most inexpensive way for businesses that are new to the Internet, or small sites that are not generating much traffic yet, to attract qualified visitors. You're probably already familiar with techniques such as link exchanges, search engines, and "send-to-a-friend" offers, so let me share an undervalued source of traffic that I've seen a number of my clients having a great deal of success with lately.

Have you ever considered writing an article that sheds some light on a hot topic in your industry -- an article that includes valuable, rare, or hard-to-find information -- and then offering other sites in your industry (or related industries) the opportunity to use it as content in their newsletters and on their web sites, free of charge?

This can be a great way to drive quality traffic to your web site, build your credibility, and increase your link popularity -- without spending a dime on advertising!

Think about it. The people who visit your web site after reading your article will not only have a proven interest in the product or service you offer, but -- since you've already established your credibility by giving them free, quality information -- they'll be that much more receptive to your offer when they visit your site!

Once you've discovered that you're able to drive good, profitable traffic to your site using this strategy, you'll probably want to consider contributing articles to other sites on a regular basis. Not only will this ensure a constant flow of qualified traffic, but it will help you develop your reputation as an expert in your field. Once you become known on the Web as an expert, the sales can really start pouring in!

And because quality content can be so hard to come by, it's shockingly easy to persuade other sites to post your article with a link Top to your web site, as long as you follow a few important rules:

Rule #1: Provide Quality Information -- If other sites are going to post your article, it has to provide something of real value to their visitors. Remember, there is an incredibly strong demand for quality content within EVERY industry.

Rule #2: Tell, Don't Sell -- Your article should NOT be a sales pitch for your product or service. Focus on establishing your credibility by providing quality information.

Rule#3: Include a Bio -- The way you'll be driving traffic to your site is with the "About The Author" bio you include at the end of the article. It doesn't need to be any more complicated than this:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Joe Smith is a recognized authority on the subject of widgets. His web site, www.joeswidgets.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on everything you'll ever need to know about widgets.

Rule #4:
Be Professional and Proofread! -- If you want other sites to take you seriously and post your article, you need to be positive that it's error-free. Proofread it yourself at least twice, then have two other people proofread it for you.

Rule #5: Format It in HTML -- Rather than e-mailing unstable Word documents, include a link to the article, formatted in HTML, on your web site. This will not only ensure that the article looks professional to everyone who reads it, it will also make it extremely easy for business owners to take the pre-formatted HTML and add it to their own sites.

Once your article is ready, you'll need to prepare a professional looking "free content offer" e-mail. Remember: despite the fact that you're going to be offering these sites free content, you still will need to "sell" site owners on the benefits of posting your articles on their web sites.

Make sure to remind them that information is the Number One thing people are looking for when they go online. If their site is the one that provides the kind of credible information people are looking for, they stand a much better chance of earning their visitors' confidence -- and business! Top

What about renting e-mail lists?

We are trying to start an e-business that targets political activists of one political bent or another (conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, etc.). How would you recommend we find opt-in e-mail lists to rent?

Answer: Renting e-mail addresses from third-party list providers is a route that some web site owners choose because they can get quick access to thousands of people who have "opted" to receive e-mail on topics that interest them.

But while some categories have huge numbers -- such as gamblers or game players -- yours is a very specialized demographic. Even a list of "Republicans" may just consist of people who voted that way, but who aren't the more politically active types you're hunting for.

So trying to rent such a specialized list probably isn't a very economical route. Here's a real example to show why: You can rent an e-mail list made up of "Democrats" through one list broker I found for 10 cents per address. But with their estimated response rate of 3.56%, you'll have to spend $2.80 for each person who responds to your e-mail and visits your site!

And you'll still need to convert each visitor to a buyer! Assume a healthy 20% conversion rate once they get to your site, and each sale will cost you $14!

Unless you've got buckets of money to throw at renting lists, I'd recommend considering an alternate, three-pronged approach:

#1: Reach your audience where it already exists.

Political activists love discussion and debate, so newsgroups, mailing lists, and other interactive forums are the natural places to find them.

If you love politics too, consider participating in the discussions -- and make sure your e-mail "signature" includes your URL, a description of your site, and a short list of the benefits of visiting it.

Remember, you should never "spam" mailing lists and newsgroups with blatant advertising. But if you find a topic you want to comment on -- or even better, a question you can answer -- then jump right in.

You can also invite the owners of these forums to join your affiliate program, which is the next step.

#2: Develop an affiliate network.

Look for e-zines and web sites that already have a following, and then propose an affiliate relationship with the publisher or owner. Offer them the opportunity to advertise your products in their newsletter or on their site in exchange for a commission on every sale they bring you.

A political commentator with a mailing list of her own could easily recommend your site in a mailout to her readers. You can even ask local political clubs and organizations to join your affiliate program and pitch your products to their membership as a fund-raising tool. Since your message is being delivered by someone the recipient already has a relationship with, you'll get a much warmer response than by renting any list.

An affiliate program is one of the most powerful ways to reach a niche market. Using a solid, full-featured affiliate tool like AssocTRAC makes adding new affiliates -- and managing existing ones -- practically hands-off.

And the absolute best part? Unlike renting a mailing list -- in which case you pay up front, regardless of the results -- using an affiliate program means you pay only when your partner makes a sale for you, and you've already earned your income.

#3: Build your own opt-in list.

As you use affiliate programs and political forums to bring traffic to your site, the next challenge is capturing your visitors' e-mail addresses and other information.

Remember, most visitors won't buy from you on their first visit. So once you get them to your site, you'll need to grab their attention (and their e-mail addresses) so you can continue contacting them after they've left. The best way to convince them to share their address is to offer them a newsletter.

It might be as simple as a regular compilation of political humor, news, or even your own commentary -- whatever would bring some value to your subscribers. Too busy to write your own newsletter? Strike a deal with other publishers to co-brand their newsletters in exchange for a cut of the profits.

By introducing yourself to potential customers through a newsletter or web site they trust and enjoy, you can, in turn become a trusted part of their political life.

While building a list takes longer than simply buying one, the quality of the contacts -- and the freedom to market to them as often as you want, in the format that best suits your product -- is an opportunity you'll never get from an "off-the-shelf" list.Top

Can you recommend a shopping cart?

I am new to e-commerce and am looking for a Shopping Cart program, but I'm confused due to the HUGE selections. How do I pick the best one? There are so many out there, and they all seem to have similar features!

Answer: I'm glad you asked this question, because choosing the right shopping cart system can have a dramatic effect on the success of your online business. Even if you've got the best-looking site selling the best product at the best prices, you'll be losing customers by the truckload if your shopping cart system is difficult to use. In fact, our research has shown that the right shopping cart has the potential to more than double your sales!

That's why it's so important to make the right choice early on! If you set your site up with an ineffective shopping cart right from the beginning, your business will never live up to its full potential.

1. Do you really need a shopping cart?

Firstly, I want you to be aware that you may not even need a shopping cart at all! If your site is just selling one or two products, then you'll be much better off just setting up an online order form for those products. Using shopping cart software to sell just a couple of products will make your site -- and your life -- way more complicated than it needs to be!

2. Do you want to use software or a service provider?

Now, assuming you've decided that your site really does need shopping cart software, I think that an ASP (or Application Service Provider, which means that the service is hosted and maintained by a third party) is the route that smaller business will want to go. ASP shopping carts are easy to set up at your site, and you don't need advanced programming skills to get them working.

Most ASPs will also offer "package deals" which include a merchant account and a payment gateway, meaning that you won't have to go through the hassle of trying to get these things sorted out separately.

Of course, there are also some limitations to using the ASP model. For example, you lose a certain amount of control over the look and feel of your shopping cart system when you go with an ASP. Some people feel constrained by the ASP model when their businesses really start to take off -- although by that time, they can generally afford to hire a programmer to customize their shopping cart system for them!

3. Choosing your shopping cart solution.

Think about whether you want to have everything included in one package or want to put the components together yourself. If you want to have more control and a high level of customization, then software might be your best option. If you're not as technically inclined and would prefer that someone else host your cart and take care of compatibility issues, then go for the ASP.

Here are the two ASP solutions that I've personally found to be among the best out there:

  • Securenetshop is an ASP that uses HTML pages for set-up and offers a variety of options, including customer tracking.
  • Goemerchant is another ASP that will look after everything for you. The merchant account is included as part of the package, and they provide custom "copy & paste" tools that make set-up relatively painless.
And here are two of the most popular -- and most usable -- software options:
  • Miva Merchant is a software package that can be hosted either on your server or on a remote server. It offers browser-based administration, a wizard set up, and pre-configured payment processing. Miva Merchant provides plenty of room for expansion, and sells a variety of compatible business-management programs.
  • Quikstore is a software package that must be hosted on your server. It's a solid product for a low price. It offers a wizard set up, a configuration editor, a catalog wizard, and more. You'll have to pay extra for the payment gateway, but Quikstore suggests a compatible one.
Again, I think that you'll probably want to look at the two ASP solutions I've mentioned, as they are the easiest to work with, and both companies will help you get up and running with a merchant account and payment gateway as well. Today's ASP shopping cart systems integrate easily with just about any web site and you can simply copy and paste pre-generated code into your own HTML.

Top

What about e-mail promotions?

I normally include ads for my products in my monthly newsletter, but I am thinking about e-mailing a "stand alone" product promotion to my newsletter subscribers. Is this a good idea? I'm worried that this will seem too pushy.

Yes, it's a good idea and, no, it won't seem too pushy! Need proof? A recent DoubleClick report found that 78% of people surveyed said that they wanted to receive e-mail from their favorite online merchants. And eMarketer found that 67% of US consumers liked companies who, in their opinion, did a good job with permission e-mail marketing. So you don't need to worry about offending your customers with your promotion -- provided you follow a few simple guidelines.

First things first: If you want your e-mail promotion to be successful, you need to make sure that it looks professional, and this means proofreading your e-mail at least three times before sending it to your subscribers. Have a friend or co-worker check it out as well. If you send an e-mail full of spelling mistakes, it will cost you sales and could do permanent damage to your credibility.

Next: Send a test version of the message to yourself. You should sign up for a free e-mail account with Yahoo! and Hotmail, and include these accounts in your test mailing. If you have a friend or family member with an AOL account, send them a copy too. The point of all this is to catch any formatting errors that might show up in the different e-mail programs. Believe me, you'll be surprised how often you find them!

And now for the most important part. Before you send out ANY promotion, you need to ask yourself, "How relevant is this offer to my subscribers?" If your promotion doesn't answer this question IMMEDIATELY, you have some work to do.

You shouldn't assume that your subscribers will automatically see why your e-mail promotion is relevant to them -- you need to spell it out. Explain in detail how your product can help them, and why NOW is the time to buy. Two of the most effective ways to highlight the relevance of your offer are:

  1. Put a strong emphasis on benefits. Let's say you're selling skin-care products. You'll want to highlight the benefit to the customer (i.e., It gives you younger-looking skin) rather than the features (i.e., It contains 12 different moisturizers). Can you see how the benefit-centered statement is much easier to identify with than the feature-centered one?

  2. Make your offer exclusive. Tailor your promotion so that it is exclusive to the people who are going to be receiving it, then give them a strong reason to act immediately. You should let your subscribers know that this offer is ONLY being made available to them, and you should also tell them that it will only be available for a limited time.
One final word of advice: Since this is your first e-mail promotion, you will definitely want to feature one of your most popular products. This is no time to try to unload old inventory or blow out last year's models. If you write an e-mail that gives people a good reason to buy one of your best-selling products, you can guarantee yourself a fantastic response!

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How can I reach "higher-end" markets online?

I am a semi-famous portrait painter and I have developed a new printer that uses oil paint instead of ink. I can use any scanned image that, once embellished further, is indistinguishable from a "real" oil painting. The problem: I don't have a clue how to use the Internet to sell such high-end pieces.

Selling luxury items over the Internet calls for a very focused approach. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not about price; it's about creating value and reducing the customer's perception of risk. Here are some ways you can do exactly that:

1. Find Your Market: Before you do anything else, you have to define your market. Who would buy these paintings? Will these paintings be given as family gifts, for instance, or as corporate recognition awards?

The difference is crucial, since marketing to grandmothers is a very different thing from marketing to corporate types. This is too important to just guess at, so you'll have to do some solid market research.

A quick search using Wordtracker shows that fewer than 400 people search for the term "oil paintings" in the major search engines every month. You can't rely on search engine traffic based on these sorts of numbers.

If people aren't searching the Internet for you, you'll have to go out and find them. And obviously, the more you know about your target audience, the easier this will be.

So you need to figure out where you fit in the market. Hundreds of artists are offering paintings reproduced from photos (either mechanically or by hand) so you have to differentiate yourself. What makes you -- and your paintings -- different from your competitors?

2. Build Trust: To market high-end items on the Web you have to establish your credibility and address possible buying objections up front:

  1. Are they worried about what will happen if they don't like the painting? Offer a money-Top "satisfaction" guarantee.
  2. Are they concerned about their ability to judge the value of a painting over the Web? Provide a simple explanation of your style or the history of your portraits.
  3. Are they worried about the painting being damaged during delivery? Mention that the insurance provided by your courier will cover the cost of a new painting.
You get the idea. You mention that you're "semi-famous." You'll want to capitalize on this, so grab all of your media clips and testimonials from previous customers and sprinkle them liberally throughout your site.

If you don't have testimonials, ask for them. This isn't the time to be shy. Have you done work for well-known clients? Ask for a plug!

3. Involve the Customer:
With such a personal product, it's a good idea to let your visitors get to know you and your art. Write your salescopy in the first person, include a photo of yourself, and perhaps even show pictures of satisfied customers. Also, make sure you include lots of information about the paintings and the process.

While you'll need lots of images to showcase your work, be sure to take the time to optimize them for the Web; keep their file sizes down so that your pages load quickly.

4 Leverage Referrals: Here's another technique you should be using for high-end items. Always, always, always follow up with existing clients! Are they happy with the work you did for them? Is there anything else they need? Do they know anyone else who might benefit from your service?

E-mail has made following up with your existing clients extremely easy and cost-effective, so there is no excuse for not taking advantage of this source of easy extra income!

And don't be afraid to ask for referrals. If you've done a good job for someone, they'll likely be more than happy to refer their friends and business associates to you.

5. Sell Quality With Quality:
Selling any kind of luxury item -- especially such a visual one -- demands a professionally designed web site. You may be a wonderful painter, but unless you're also a talented web designer, you shouldn't do it yourself. Find a designer who has experience with high-end sites and work together to develop a homepage that sets the right tone.

Remember, though, every change you make to your site and marketing approach should ultimately create value in your offer and/or reduce the perception of risk. Whether you sell a $10,000 product or a $1.25 product, this is how you'll close more sales!

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How can I find my potential clients on the Internet?

I have recently started a business building web sites for small- and medium-sized businesses. I haven't been successful generating business by cold-calling. How can I use the Internet to reach potential clients that may be interested in establishing a web presence?

Selling a service (like web design) online is not as different from selling a product as you might think. In fact, almost all of the traffic techniques used to drive visitors to product-based sites can be applied to service-based sites, as well.

However, there are some specific online techniques that you should definitely be taking advantage of. Let's take a look at some of the strategies you can use to generate a steady stream of potential clients for your online web design business!

  1. Take advantage of freelance sites.

    Professional services marketplaces like eLance.com and rentacoder.com may be great sources of clients. Post your qualifications and bid on posted jobs, using your web site to help "close the deal" once you've entered into a one-on-one discussion with a potential client.

  2. Joint venture with other online services

    Since you're selling a service that would typically be needed at the same time as several other purchases (domain name, web hosting, etc.), you're in a great position to take advantage of joint ventures to reach your target market at the time when they need your service most!

    Starting with the services you already use yourself, contact ISPs, web hosts, and domain name registrars to propose joint venture relationships. Position yourself as someone who can provide a great resource for their customers, while also ensuring that their customers continue to use their services. It's a win-win situation for everyone!

  3. Encourage Referrals & Repeat Customers!

    You may not have a ton of clients yet, but once you do start to generate some business, make sure you have a follow-up plan in place!

    If you've done a good job for someone, they'll likely be more than happy to refer their friends and business associates to you. And since the small business owners who use your service likely have lots of connections (through business associations, local chambers of commerce, etc.), even one satisfied client can result in lots of new business. But if you don't ask your clients to pass your name on to their contacts, they'll rarely think to do it! Don't leave this to chance.

  4. Closing the deal

    Of course, getting visitors to your web site is just the first step. You'll also need to establish your credibility so that your visitors become comfortable with hiring you as their web site designer -- then make it extremely easy for them to contact you about your service!
Here are some simple ways to establish your credibility and quickly increase your client base:
  • Include a good, professional picture of yourself. Giving your visitors a professional image to associate you with will go a long way.
  • Provide evidence that other clients have been satisfied with your services. Testimonials from clients are a great way to establish your credibility. An online portfolio of your work is also a great option. And, of course, make sure your own site design is spectacular!
  • Make it easy for leads to contact you. Provide an online form. your e-mail address. your phone and fax numbers. your mailing address. and any other relevant information (like the best times to call you). And make sure this information is highly visible and easily accessible from every page of your site.
  • Start building an opt-in list. Some of your visitors may not be ready to hire you right away. But if you provide a great opt-in offer -- like a newsletter that features weekly web design tips -- you'll be able to collect their e-mail addresses, so you can continue to establish your credibility long after they've left your site. When they are ready to hire a web designer, you're the one they'll call!
Once you put these strategies into place, you should start seeing much more qualified traffic to your site. Then you just need to establish your credibility so your visitors understand that you're the best web designer for their job. Follow up with opt-in leads and previous customers by e-mail and you'll be well on your way to establishing a great client base!

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"Can you help me figure out "viral marketing"?

I need help with using viral marketing to promote my Web site. I'm using newsgroups, chat rooms and free press releases, and I can see traffic coming into my Web site. But none of these submissions have added value. Can you make any recommendations?

It sounds like you've made a good start. Newsgroups, chat rooms and press releases can all be good sources of free traffic, and you're obviously taking advantage of this. What concerns me, though, is your comment that none of these submissions have added "value." I'm going to bet you mean these visitors aren't taking the action you've been hoping for -- be it purchasing your product or subscribing to your newsletter.

Below, I'm going to give you a simple viral marketing strategy you can use to drive more free, targeted traffic to your web site with powerful friend-to-friend recommendations. But first, I think you need to critically examine who your Web site visitors are, what's attracting them to your web site and what action you're asking them to take once they've arrived.

You seem to feel you need more traffic. If your traffic is coming from general sources, then it's quite possible you may need to focus on attracting more targeted traffic. However, if your site already attracts targeted traffic that's just not converting, generating more traffic isn't going to solve your problem. Instead, you need to work on tweaking your sales process. And to do this, you need a good understanding of why visitors come to your web site.

Your current viral marketing efforts are obviously working because you're seeing an increase in traffic. So you probably already know that in order to successfully market to newsgroups and chat rooms, you need to offer informative answers to posted questions while looking for subtle opportunities to refer people to your web site for additional information. And since the media typically looks for unusual or unique stories, the publicity you generate through press releases will also likely be based on the positioning of your site as a resource for unique, hard-to-find information.

This should give you some insight into what the average visitor to your site might be looking for. Take a moment to examine your home page from the perspective of those who've just been referred by your newsgroup postings or by the media. Is the information they're looking for immediately visible? Or is it hidden numerous pages deep? If it's not easily found within 10 to 15 seconds, they're going to leave.

Next, once you've given visitors access to the information they're looking for, what action are you guiding them to take? Are your directions implicit or explicit? For example: "We offer a free newsletter" vs. "Subscribe to our free newsletter." If you don't provide clear take-action statements, they're going to leave.

First and foremost, a successful sales process ensures that benefits are highly visible to visitors, preferably within the first fold of your home page, and strategically guides them with explicit "do this next" directions. So if you'd like to increase the value of a single visitor to your Web site, I'd recommend that you start here.

Of course, while you're reworking and testing your sales process, you'll still want to make the most of the traffic you're already getting. So why not ensure that every visitor to your Web site is offered a free subscription to your newsletter within moments of arriving? At least this way, until your sales process is converting visitors to customers, you can capture the names and e-mail addresses of these valuable leads!

Plus, to add a little viral marketing to the mix, include special "pass it on" suggestions at the bottom of every newsletter. This way, readers are encouraged to share articles with close friends and associates, driving more traffic to your Web site and generating even more subscriptions. You could even post your subscription offer in your signature file when responding to posts in newsgroups and chat rooms.

A compelling newsletter offer paired with a simple "pass it on" strategy like this will not only allow you to squeeze the most value out of every visitor to your Web site, but also give you an opt-in list of targeted leads ready and waiting to purchase from you!Top

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