Of course, it’s easier said than done. Many web ventures begin with a great concept, but don’t get far beyond the web hosting phase. A successful online business requires more than just a great idea, and for the new entrepreneur, it’s easy to stumble into pitfalls and bog down with the minutia.
In this article, we’ll present you with a series of high-concept business trends, ideas that are particularly well suited for small startups in the online business environment of 2012 and beyond. But first, we’ll put some verbs into our sentences by exploring what it takes to turn a great idea into an online business that actually works.
Find Your Niche
As a small business, embrace the concept of being small. Many online businesses fail simply because they try to do too much. A small business cannot be all things to all people. The way to succeed as a small business is to find a niche, cater to that niche and excel in that niche.
Let’s consider a very broad example. Later, when we discuss business trends, we’ll talk about the mobile mania that’s sweeping of society. Mobile-oriented sites are hot commodities now and for the foreseeable future. Perhaps you’d like to create a site geared toward tablet users. Rather than just being another all-purpose site for tablet aficionados, the better way to distinguish the site would be to pick a particular concept or tablet family and be the very best resource for that topic available online.
Web Hosting 101
After concept and planning, the next phase is web hosting and domain registration. Many sites, however, put the proverbial cart before the horse. The problem with doing this is that you end paying for services unnecessarily. Instead, have the concept and plan firmly in place first. Research and understand the niche, and then choose an available domain name that is memorable and has real brand potential.
The domain name aside, there’s no sense paying for something you won’t actually use yet, so start small. There’re many full-featured e-commerce web hosting plans available that cost less than $5 per month. The key here is versatility. What distinguishes the top hosts from the pack is the flexibility that they give their clients to adjust their hosting packages mid-contract. This way, you can start with just a shopping cart and basic services, and then upgrade to the more advanced services when you’ll actually be able to take advantage of them.
Professional web design is expensive, so most small online businesses do without. That’s all right. By taking advantage of tried and true web platforms or web builders, non-developers can create effective and professional websites quickly and easily with minimal investment.
The biggest mistake new webmasters make is reinventing the wheel. In order for any website to be effective, it has to be highly usable. In order to be user friendly, a website must have intuitive navigation, it must be visually appealing and it must engage the visitor. Once it has the visitor’s attention, it should lead them to the next article or product/service.
As a rule of thumb, simpler is better. Use an established template, or take the time to research what works for other successful sites in your niche. Your primary goal should be creating the impression of professionalism. This single biggest mistake you can make is fostering an amateurish image. A visitor will be less likely to buy from you, and they’ll be much less likely to view you as an authoritative source.
Another important aspect of good website design is a suitable logo. An appropriate logo is aesthetically pleasing, and it reflects the concepts, products or services that the business deals in. The logo must also be versatile. Beyond the home website, it should work just as well on Facebook, blogs, forums and other Internet resources.
Earlier we mentioned choosing a domain name that is memorable and has real brand potential. There also has to be synergy between the domain name and the logo, and the logo should incorporate the domain name if possible. If the business is a success, the logo and the domain name will essentially be the brand. Consumers will recognize it, and it will foster a very specific business image.
SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it means fine-tuning a website so that it grades better with popular search engines like Google or Bing. SEO is a complex topic, but a webmaster doesn’t have to master it immediately. Think of SEO as a process. As you learn new skills, you can further refine the site. Take comfort in knowing that there’s no SEO mistake that can’t be undone.
With that in mind, here are ten essential SEO points:
- Create fresh content. If the site is a store, augment it with a blog.
- Create a sitemap, which helps indexing.
- Monitor SEO standing; Note what works and what doesn’t.
- Choose keywords purposefully, and never keyword stuff.
- Use internal links to lead visitors and for SEO purposes.
- Links should be search-engine-friendly: short and keyword-rich.
- Avoid Flash and other objects than have little SEO value.
- Use keyword-rich text to augment images, video and other multimedia.
- Link to other sites, and create beneficial relationships with those sites.
- Distribute the business through social media.
Website promotion is a massive and complex topic, and there are many effective strategies. Here, we’re going to focus on the strategy that is most accessible to fledgling small businesses: social networking. The following effective steps are available to all websites, and they’re essentially free:
- Facebook page
- Twitter account
- Forum presence
- Guest articles
The core goal is to engage readers. Use the blog to post content. Use Facebook to host events. Use Twitter for humor, brief news and advertisement. Integrate these mediums as much as possible. Be active in other communities related to your niche, and use that positive presence on forums and other blogs as a form of promotion. Guest articles on other blogs and article directories can be very effective. A popular technique is to create an engaging lead-in on a remote site that drives traffic to the main site.
Legal considerations will grow as your business does. There’s not much to worry about early on, but you do want to make sure that you protect yourself. For instance, never start an online business on a “free” host. This may seem harmless early on, but it can have serious implications down the road when you achieve success. To put the business in the best possible situation, pay for the domain name and web hosting.
Also, don’t choose a domain name that is contestable due to another brand. Don’t post content and media unless you have the rights to it. And if someone is stealing your content, be active about defending your rights. Contact the webmaster, then the web host and eventually the ISP. Usually, you can effectively defend your rights without having to resort to a lawsuit.
Online Business Trends in 2012
Blogging is still the most lucrative and accessible small business opportunity online. The blog is the perfect platform for niche expertise, and as we mentioned earlier, niche marketing thrives online. Everyone has niche interests, and the Internet is the place where they can go to find people just like them and information that interests them. The key to successful blogging is to blog about a topic that you’re truly passionate about it. If you do it well, you can make money online writing about almost anything.
2. Affiliate Marketing
Online affiliate marketing is as old as the Internet itself, and it’s still going strong. It’s an extremely popular online business because there’re no barriers, no risk and little overhead. The biggest issue with affiliate marketing is the competition. There’s a lot of it, but fortunately, most of that competition seeks success through quantity rather quality. An affiliate marketer can distinguish itself and earn real success by trying to achieve a high conversion rate rather than a low rate on a high volume of traffic.
3. Social Networking and Media
Social networking is redefining the online business landscape and the Internet as a whole. Social media is already a multibillion dollar business, and it’s still growing. There’re a numerous opportunities for niche websites to grab a small piece of that pie, and a small piece of a multibillion dollar pie is significant. Some popular trends in this field include sites that teach social networking skills, allow users to consolidate network resources, and distribute the “best of” from various social networks.
4. Mobile Computing
The days of being chained to our desktop computer are gone. Today, we have laptops, tablets, smartphones, Internet on the go and Wi-Fi hotspots. Mobile computing is the now and the future, and there’s a great deal of opportunity for both content- and product-based websites. In terms of knowledge bases and how-to guides, there’s already a lot of broad focus. Consider specializing. The Apple iPad is a solid choice, but there’s already much competition there. Consider, instead, the very popular Toshiba Thrive. That niche is underserved, and a site that excelled there could really make a name for itself.
5. Cloud Services
As our computing opportunities become more distributed, our need for centralized storage grows. Many people have begun to use online storage services, and consumer surveys indicate that within the next five years, as many as 50 percent of everyone with Internet access will be using some form of paid-for centralized storage. The importance of this to us is that there’s a glaring need for websites that cater to these services and their consumers.
6. Consumer Assistance
Online shopping is not just the domain of the super savvy anymore. Mom and dad and even grandma and grandpa are shopping online too. So there’s a great need for websites that provide insight into retailers and potential purchases. Look at Reseller Ratings. This was a small website that filled a consumer assistance niche, and within a very short period, it evolved into one of the largest and most influential consumers sites on the Web.
7. Coupons, Deals and Reward Programs
In addition to insight into retailers and potential purchases, online consumers want to save money. Some of the hottest trending sites in 2012 are those that specialize in online coupons, deals and reward programs. One reason this trend is lower on our list is that there’re some barriers in terms of having access to the networks. However, one opportunity with few barriers and great earning potential are sites that provide honest and authentic assessments of these online shopping opportunities.
8. Online Gambling
There’s a great deal of money to be had by gambling-related websites due to the lucrativeness of the various referral programs. When the US enacted the UIGEA as part of the Safe Port Act, it changed this landscape considerably, because the advertising dollars for US customers was no longer there. That’s about to change. Soon, online poker will once again be legal in the US, and there’s already been an emergence of US-related gambling sites. Such an opportunity may not truly pay off for a couple of years or so, but 2012 is a great time to get in on the ground floor.
9. Online Gaming
Online gaming was once solely the domain of the nerd, but with much greater access, almost everyone plays some form of online game, especially from mobile devices. A particularly hot trend is websites catering to free mobile games. In addition, some gambling providers, like 888.com, have begun to blur the lines between arcades and casinos, and that’s provided websites with some lucrative affiliate opportunities.
10. Financial Fitness
The Great Depression gave rise to America’s most frugal generation, and now, recent generations have had to face some of the greatest economic hardships since then. It’s no surprise then that Americans are saving more now than they have in a long time, and many more Americans are taking a vested interest in their financial futures. Because of this, sites dedicated to personal finances have been some of the hottest trending sites over the last several years, and that trend looks to continue for the foreseeable future.
Start with an idea. Choose something that has value today and in the near future. More importantly, choose something that resonates with you. The key to niche marketing is passion, and if you have passion for a topic, you’ll convey that to your visitors, and it’ll be infectious. Have a plan, and take your time executing it. It’s better to post good content slowly than it is to post a lot of poor content quickly.