Your online presence is a vital part of any sales strategy. But is your website the sales powerhouse it should be?
Replicating the effectiveness of the face-to-face sales process online -- and getting customers to go from clicking to buying -- can be difficult. The good news is that there are a few simple tricks and tweaks that can improve your site's revenue-generating capabilities.
Here are five tips that can help turn a business website into a sales machine:
1. Build an effective shopping cart.
Some small businesses use services such as PayPal for making and receiving online payments. But building a full-featured shopping cart directly into your website might be a better option. Shopping carts allow for more customization and the potential to provide more product information.
Austin, Texas-based Volusion is an all-in-one shopping-cart tool that starts at $19 per month and handles checkout and payment processing. It offers more than 120 customizable online store templates that are smartphone and tablet-friendly. You also can showcase product options, add unlimited photos and make product comparisons.
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BigCommerce, another Austin-based shopping-cart software provider, offers a similar package starting at about $25 per month. It includes customizable designs and can be integrated with social media and third-party services such as Google Product Search.
2. Recommend related products.
Even if you can't interact face-to-face with web customers, you still can demonstrate old-fashioned salesmanship. An online store can include a "recommendation engine" that suggests complementary products, upgrades and additional services. For example, if a customer puts a grill in his online shopping cart, he can be prompted to also consider buying tongs and a spatula.
Facebook offers a free downloadable recommendation box that can be copied and pasted into your website code. Paid plug-ins such as Stevenson, Wash.-based 4-Tell's product recommendation software, which starts at $49 per month, can generate recommendations based on sales data.
3. Optimize your site for search engines.
A website can't sell if it can't be found. So, you might consider trying some free tools offered by Google that can help your site show up more prominently in online searches. To use them properly, however, you will need both time and expertise.
Another option is an online search optimization service. Two examples are Nashville, Tenn.-based Raven Tools, which starts at $99 per month, and Israel-based Sheer SEO, which starts as low as $7 per month. Both services can help shorten the learning curve for identifying proper keywords and building links that can help pull your site out of the search engine cellar.
4. Start a contest or promotion.
An online contest or promotion can help attract attention in social media channels and lure potential customers to your site. Giving away a high value item can stir up the most attention but frequent, simple contests with smaller perks can also be effective.
For Web-based contest platforms, one option is Anaheim, Calif.-based Viralimpressions, which runs $2.99 per campaign, plus 79 cents per day. You might also consider Conshohocken, Pa.-based WizeHive, which starts at $249 per contest, plus $3 per day. Wisehive comes with the ability to customize a giveaway and to judge multiple entries, say, for a writing or photography contest.
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Both can make it easier to organize and run promotions such as simple giveaways, coupons and sweepstakes. They manage the basics of asking visitors to like your page, fill out a form or join an email list.
For creating deeper customer engagement, consider a service such as San Diego-based Artistic Hub. It starts at $299 for a 30-day contest and lets people upload images and other media that can be judged by management or turned over to customers for voting.
5. Develop a shipping strategy.
When it comes to e-commerce, free or steeply discounted shipping is quickly becoming the standard. But to compete with big online retailers, you'll need to ship strategically. Instead of opting for either costly or completely free shipping, you might consider something in between. You could make only ground shipping free and set a minimum purchase amount to qualify.
Shipping companies often offer tools that make analyzing shipping options easy. UPS, for example, provides a set of free shipping tools, including UPS WorldShip, that can be built into existing accounting tools. FedEx also offers a suite of tracking and logistics tools.
You also might consider a third-party option, such as Malvern, Pa.-based Malvern Systems, which starts at $149 per month. It offers several options for managing shipping, discounts and relationships with customers.
Related: Seven Tips for Improving Pay-Per-Click Campaigns