Ask an Expert: Building a better website

Q: I recently lost my job and am thinking about starting a business. I have a good idea for a website but I am concerned about all of the competition. Do you think it is possible to make my online business different and better, and if so, how? — John

(Part 2 of 2; see Part 1)

Note that I am not talking about the business side here. What you sell is entirely up to you. Instead, I want to look at the online side of online businesses, and what makes that work.

I suggest that there are two key components to creating a successful online small business. The first is, you have to have a great site. The second is, you have to market your site so that people can find it.

Now, maybe the preceding paragraph seems self-evident to you, maybe you are thinking, "Thanks for the great insight there, Steve!" But I don't think so.

Think about how many truly mediocre sites you run across.

So the first secret online is to have a professional, elegant, site. Do that, and the rest is much easier, but fail to do it, and your chances of e-success are diminished greatly.

This brings me to the second factor — e-marketing. I spoke about this subject — online small business success — last week with Jeff Zimmerman, the Vice President of Product Management for Online Marketing and E-Commerce for Network Solutions.

Network Solutions (a company I do some work with), is an excellent friend to small business. It is one of those great Net companies that has been around seemingly forever. For instance, when I got my web address back in the late 90s,, it was Network Solutions who helped me. Since then, their services have grown to include everything from web hosting and site design to e-commerce and online security.

Jeff first pointed out that succeeding online is much easier than some people think, and much more affordable, for three main reasons:

1. Marketing online is unique:Offline, marketing often is a shotgun affair for many small businesses. They spend a lot to target a lot of people (in the newspaper, on the radio, etc.) with the intent of hopefully hitting a few. But online, especially with tools like pay-per-click, it is much easier to spend your marketing dollars more specifically and intelligently by buying only those keywords and geographic regions that have the highest likelihood of success.

2. Tracking results is easier:Because of No. 1 above, it is easier with online advertising and marketing to track your results. Offline, it is hard to say how someone finds you and makes a call (signs, ads, networking, or what?) but online, you can see immediately which keywords pull best, which ads work best, which pages convert the most, etc.

3. Cycles are shorter:Quicker tracking means you can adjust your online ad campaigns much more quickly. If a TV buy does not work, it may take months to find out and adjust. Not so online.

Of course, there are no shortage of sites intended to help you succeed in your online business, but I must say that Jeff pointed a new one out to me that I found to be very powerful.

MySolutionsSpot offers the e-preneur a wide variety of success tools. The articles and forums are nice for sure, but it was the analytical e-tools that I found to be remarkable:

• The keyword suggestion tool helps take the guesswork out of choosing the right keywords for your SEO and your e-marketing

• The search engine spider simulator lets you see what a search engine spider sees. Are your keywords working? Do you have enough homepage content?

• The link popularity check helps you see how many people are linking to your site, a key component to SEO.

It is getting ever easier to start and succeed online because tools like these are making it possible to create a site that can get noticed. If you build it, they won't necessarily come. But if you build it right, and market it right, you can bet they will.

Today's tip:Jeff Zimmerman also point me to an interesting study which found that the average cost per acquisition for search engine advertising was $8.50 per customer, as opposed to $20 each for Yellow Page advertising, $60 for email and $70 for Direct Mail. (Source: Piper Jaffray & Co.: "The New eCommerce Decade: The Age of Micro Targeting" 2006.)

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website (see above).