By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service
Can your business get a piece of the ever-growing Internet market? Last year, Internet sales reached $79 billion, according to Forrester Research, or 3 percent of all retail sales.
I started my first Internet business in 1994 and still sell products on the Web today. I'm an Internet veteran. And here's the most important lesson I can share with you - it's hard to make money on the Internet.
That isn't designed to discourage you from getting a Web site; in fact, I think every business must have one. It's more of a caution to remember that you're going to have to find most of your customers in the real world, not the virtual one.
The small businesses that are best able to make money from the Internet are those that have a niche market or unique product. If customers are highly motivated to find you, you've got a better chance of being found.
That being said, how can you increase the number of visitors to your Web site regardless of the business you're in?
1. Improve your search-engine ranking: Most people use search engines to find Web sites. By using software that crawls through millions of Web sites, search engines create lists based on key words and phrases. The primary search engines are www.google.com and www.Overture.com.
Trying to improve your search engine ranking can easily be a full-time job. Don't spend a lot of time on this, and don't spend money on the search-engine placement services that spam your e-mail.
The important thing to remember is that search engines find you by looking through your site, so by doing a few simple things, you can improve your rankings:
Use phrases that searchers are likely to type in. If you're a mortgage broker, make sure you use the phrase "mortgage broker" in addition to using sentences such as, "I'll help you find the best mortgage rate."
Refer to your geographic location. Many searchers will add a location to their search terms (e.g., "mortgage broker in Phoenix"), so be certain to mention your city, county, state, and country if you do business internationally.
List your products or services individually. The more specific you are, the more likely your Web site will show up in relevant searches.
2. Get listed in directories. Directories list Web sites by topic area and are compiled by humans, not software. You can submit your site for inclusion. At the best known directory, Yahoo, (www.yahoo.com), go to the home page and scroll down to "Suggest a site."
3. Buy search-engine placement. Search engines sell premium listings for keywords. This can be very affordable, because you typically only pay for "click-throughs" to your site. Prices are based on demand by advertisers for that term.
4. Include your Web site address on everything. Remember, most customers will find you from the real world. So include your Web address on every piece of printed material, advertisement, invoice, etc. And add it as a tagline e-mails.
Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan" and "The Successful Business Organizer." To receive her free business tips newsletter, register at www.RhondaOnline.com.
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