Although it houses thriving economics and high Internet connectivity, the GCC’s e-commerce culture is still in its infancy stages. And while both experts and users can attribute this slow progress to many factors, this article is purely concerned with the mechanics of taking a GCC business online, whether to directly sell or to present. The article is the first of a series that will be concerned with how a business may successfully establish an online presence that adds to its bottom line.
The first step a business should consider when going online is very simple and very inexpensive: register a domain name, or what we know as ‘web address’. The actual registration of a domain name is easy, and many service providers will do it for as low as 10 or 15 US Dollars per year. The work in this step comes in identifying the domain to register. Naturally, the domain needs to be appropriate for the business and flowing from its name or common trademark(s). With such low price, however, may businesses register a number of likely names across a number of top-level domains (i.e. ‘.com’, ‘.org’, or ‘.biz’, etc.).
Registering a domain name is also very useful becaues the business may then use such domain name to establish its own email addresses, regardless of the presence of a website. Domain registration and email and web hosting are now very common services with many excellent and competitive online providers, making the work for the consumer relatively easy.
The next step a business should consider is hiring a web developer. This tends to always be a very good idea despite the availability and commonality of do-it-yourself templates and manuals advertised across the Internet. Not only will a web developer ensure that the business’s online presence is professional and tidy, but he/she will also add value by facilitating more complex, but value adding, aspects for web design, such as search engine optimization, content database integration, market review and standardization, and many other hidden details. It is also important to note here that web developers are not brand or graphics designers. The latter are usually hired to design a business’s image, such as logo, colors, etc., which are then fed to the web developers for inclusion when developing the website. In the GCC and across the Middle East, we are starting to see the rise of some full-service design houses that provide entrepreneurs with the a range of web and graphics services as needed. Our input on hiring web developers and graphics designers is to verify their ability to produce suitable products and understand the target market. From our experience, there are lots of cheaply designed logos and brands displayed on cheaply developed website in the region. A business’s image these days are tied to the quality of its brand and web presence.
After the website is developed and loaded onto the hosting servers, two functions become important important to ensure maximizing the website’s utility and return on investment: 1) Search Engine Optimization (called SEO); and 2) content management. Generally speaking, a website’s prominence and utility are directly correlated; after all, a popular website is certainly generating more leads or sales than an unknown one. This means that the more popular a business’s website is, the more useful (and profitable) it is to the business owners. The main method of making a website popular is to increase its raking at related searches by search engines. This can be done in two ways: 1) paying the search engines for the display; and 2) Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and contnet management. Seeing as most small businesses watch their marketing spending carefully (and that many cannot afford to pay a Dollar or two per click), the second way is where money should go. SEO refers to fine tuning the website’s language and metadata to reflect common related words so that it would come up when people search for such words. Content management is a phrase that refers to the process of ongoing management of the content of the website. Search engines rank websites with fresh content higher than ones with stale and old content. As such, having a system that constantly uploads new content to the website will result in higher prominence and better ranking. This can be done by continually posting new materials, such as blogs, articles, or even Facebook and Twitter uploads from the business’s social media pages. The bottom line is: if its fresh, its good.
These are the basics of taking a business online. Due to the comparatively low competition in the web field in the GCC, small businesses can attain decent search engine rankings without paying for advertising by simply optimizing their web presence and managing their content. Steps after going online, such as how to convert visits to sales or communications will be addressed in the coming articles of this series.