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Online customers: How to catch ’em and keep ’em

Dush Ramachandran //May 30, 2012//

Online customers: How to catch ’em and keep ’em

Dush Ramachandran //May 30, 2012//

Not long ago, the Yellow Pages was one of the best way for a small business to get noticed by customers. Businesses vied with each other to have the first listing that customers would see in their category. The race to be first in a category led to businesses naming themselves AAAA Towing Services or AAAAA Plumbing Contractors.

The arrival of the Internet search engines, including market leader Google, replaced the Yellow Pages for many consumers as the primary business research source.. This fundamental shift now demands that small businesses to have more than a simple website to “be found” by new customers.

On the Internet, the secrets to small business success are traffic and conversion. Traffic, or the number of people who find your site and visit it, is the first key element. How do businesses get found on Google ahead of their competitors?

Building an Online Presence
Entrepreneurs are often surprised that just having a website isn’t enough to bring customers into the business. Would you open a physical store in an alley without much foot traffic and expect people to find your store?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of getting your site ranked highly on search engine results pages. One of the most important things search engine algorithms consider when ranking websites is  location (is your business close to the person performing the search?) and frequency of target keywords on a page. Established, strong SEO copy on your website will help it appear higher in a search.

For example, if you’d like to be found when people search for “business attorney,” the copy on your website should use that phrase.

Once visitors get to your site, you need to create an engaging first impression. This means providing fresh and meaningful content that is useful to your visitor. The longer a visitor spends on your site, the better chance your site has to rank highly in a Google search.

Google now offers a free Google Places page to businesses. Visit this site to learn more about claiming your businesses Places page (chances are, Google already put one up for you, but you need to claim it). Places pages now play an important role in how your business appears in local searches.

Retaining Online Customers
The second key element is the conversion of website visitors to buying customers. Establishing the value of the product in the mind of the customer and making the offer compelling to the visitor are critical to encourage  visitors turn into buying customers.

One thing to remember: just because a customer buys from you once, it doesn’t mean they will return. According to the National Association of Retail Marketing Services, it is seven times cheaper to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones.

Here are a few tips to retain customers online:

• Make it easy for customers to contact you in many ways: use email, contact forms, tools for instant messaging from your site — and don’t forget a phone number. Many potential customers still wish to speak to a live person.
• Clearly explain your purchase, shipping and return policies, if applicable.
• Listen to what’s being said about your business online. Set up Google Alerts with your business’ name and search for your business’ name on social media sites like Twitter or review sites like Yelp.
• Respond thoughtfully to all negative reviews posted about your business online. Do not simply delete them. That will only encourage the reviewer to post something where you can’t remove it — and tell everyone you’re censoring your reviews.
• Encourage happy customers to post about their positive experiences and make it easy for them to leave feedback on your website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc.

Building a business take time, a good plan and a solid foundation. While the Internet can change with the click of a mouse, the principles of launching and growing a successful businesses online are very similar to building a business offline. You will never go wrong by starting with the basics.