strategies posted in business strategies  on 27 January 2011
by Andrew Lang 
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On Website Successes and Failures

With nearly 14 years of building websites - from simple one pagers to full e-commerce, I've seen many wesites both succeed and fail online. While it's human nature to focus on what's successful, it's also important to know what methods create problems. By the way, I include here my own ventures that have succeeded and failed. Bear in mind that these are patterns that have repeated themselves to me over the years - it doesn't mean that these are hard and fast rules to follow, and there will always be exceptions. I've mentioned quite a few of the below points already on previous blog entries, but some of these are worth repeating!

Where Sites Have Succeeded...

  • Selling a niche product or service. Didn't have to be unique, but they were in a narrow market where there was less competition. These sites required far less aggressive SEO to get decent rankings due to less competition, AND also their target market was quite discerning (typical of niche market) - good conversions, shoppers knew what they were after, and people weren't shopping always for the cheapest price - they just wanted a trustworthy seller (these shoppers are great for repeat business). Examples include hobbyist sites (remote control vehicles, fishing, collector items), selling a particular fashion accessory, selling bespoke products (e.g. bespoke jewellery). There are niche markets EVERYWHERE. The more you look, the more you'll discover.
  • Sites run by enthusiasts doing what they enjoy - it goes hand in hand with the previous point about niche markets - most enthusiasts are already in some kind of niche market - it might be a hobby they're into (and they're selling items to fellow hobbyists) or it might be they love making the product they sell. The enthusiasm keeps them going and means they'll be perfecting the content on their site and generally keeping things in good order. If you're "into" what you do, you go the extra mile - you stand out from the large constituency of competition who are just in it for the money.
  • Dogged determination - these site owners see a particular site as a long term project. Failure on one range (or sub-range) of products simply means they introduce new products - their site evolves based on their successes and failures over the weeks, months and years - what works stays, what doesn't work goes. They know when not to flog a dead horse, but instead learn and move on. They market their site slowly but surely through the weeks, months and years and they decide to be successful through perserverance. Their site slowly but surely morphs into a success as their product range (or service) aligns itself to a steady demand they've mapped and plotted through the weeks, months and years. While that all sounds like hard work, I've been in this category for a couple of my sites and spent no more than 2 to 3 hours (total) a week on such sites when I have free time.

Where Sites Have Failed...

  • Lack of interest/passion in what you sell. As with human nature, there's much excitement when starting a new business, but the momentum slows and then the site feels like a burden when there's no instrinsic interest in what you sell, and you only have an extrinsic interest i.e. the website is purely a means to an end (normally making money). Very hard to stay enthusiastic in those early quieter months in that case. If you enjoy the means, the end comes naturally over time.
  • Entering a saturated "general" market - you could be selling generic items available from tens of thousands of other sites, even the high street. Generic products could be branded items (t-shirts, jewellery, hats, laptops, DVD players, whatever). You have Mt Everest to climb when it comes to SEO. Or you can decide to avoid all that pain, and use Google Adwords. And then realise your target keywords are all 2 plus per click. Even if you get the market's attention, you have to enter the strange ritual of such markets where all the vendors love to cut their own throats when it comes to pricing. Shoppers buy based on price because they're just generic products (genuine branded goods aren't going to be of differing quality depending on the trader).
  • Offering a hugely disparate range of products for sale. It's tempting to do this of course - if you are part of a dropshipping arrangement, your supplier might have anything from toasters to t-shirts to Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs to sell - why not add them all to your site? Here's why not: the problem is trust. Your site takes on the appearance of a car boot sale. If one of those items happens to be expensive jewellery, a shopper is likely to trust a site dedicated to jewellery much more than the site selling a wide range of unrelated products.
  • Not diversifying and flogging a dead horse. There's succeeding through perseverance, and there's flogging a dead horse. How to find that thin line between the two? It's hard, but any perserverance should see its rewards fairly consistantly over the weeks, months and years. If you're truly working hard on your site but seeing little positive feedback in terms of visitor stats and sales, you should seek to diversify your product range / services. It's not about wholesale changes here - just introducing new products and services to augment what you already offer. Then slowly over time discontinue what doesn't sell.
  • False expectations - expecting a website launch to be like opening a new shop in a busy high street. Actually, unless you spend big money on marketing, your site's quietest time in terms of visitors will be at the beginning - as you're not ranking in the search engines for anything. The only way to go from obscurity to success is through persistent work or spending a lot of money, or both.
  • Lack of persistence. I've been guilty of "blowing hot and cold" on some of my sites. I blow "hot" and work hard on the site, only to blow "cold" a week later and give up. At the risk of getting all buddhist-like here, it's better to find a middle path and just keep a nice little schedule for your site in terms of adding new content and marketing your site.

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