Guide to Growing Your Online Business in 2016

  •    Freelance journalist covering women, business, policy and social good.

As eCommerce sales continue to rise, 2016 will be a great time to grow your online business. Web sales are predicted to soon reach $334 billion a year, or 10 percent of all U.S retail sales, reports Forrester Research. And by 2019, those sales are expected to reach a whopping $480 billion, creating plenty of room for future growth.

So what's the best way for small business and website owners to expand online sales in 2016? Check out these helpful strategies for ways you can get started.

Convenience is King

ECommerce is all about convenience for shoppers. A case in point is Black Friday. Retail analysts are predicting the death of the shopping holiday after physical store sales dropped over $1 billion in 2015, while online shopping surged. After all, why wait in line in cold weather at 5 am when you can get the same deals shopping from home on your computer?

To make shopping convenient for your customers, ensure that your online store is easy to use. Try to reduce the number of clicks and swipes it takes to complete a purchase, and allow customers to check out without logging in.

The easier you make the buying process, the more likely customers are to complete the sale. Brands that simplify customer decision making are 86 percent more likely to make a sale and are 115 percent more likely to be recommended to others, according to insights and technology company CEB.

Go Mobile

Browsing the web on mobile device

Mobile shopping is an increasingly big driver of online sales growth as more people shop from their phones and mobile devices.

About two-thirds of American adults now own a smartphone. And by 2017, the Gartner Group predicts that mobile commerce revenue in the U.S. will account for 50 percent of all digital commerce revenue in the U.S.

To attract – and keep – mobile shoppers on your site, make sure your site loads quickly. Over half of consumers said a high-performing website was the most important expectation for a digital experience, and 60 percent said they wouldn't wait more than five seconds for a webpage to load before leaving the site, reports Limelight Networks.

Mobile-friendly sites also rank higher in Google's search algorithms, which will help new customers find your business. Google's free Mobile-Friendly Test tool will let you know if your site has a mobile-friendly design.

Promote, Promote, Promote

Don't hesitate to use any and all of the following types of marketing promotions to entice shoppers and drive traffic to your online site. Whatever method you use, offer deals regularly to create a steady flow of business for your store.

1. Social Media

Social media is a great way to share product news, advertise deals, post product photos, and hold contests – especially when your content is shared by your followers. Post regularly (at least once a day) and always include a direct link to your online store.

Be sure to engage with your followers and share their content. Ask customers to send photos of how they use your product. Share your own expert advice and tips as well.

For busy small business owners, a scheduling tool like Hootsuite can help you plan postings in advance that can be published at future times across all your social media platforms.

2. E-mail Newsletters

Weekly newsletters are a great way to show off your products and announce deals with direct links to each item in your store for easy purchases.

Use your website in return to promote your newsletter and encourage customers to sign up to receive the most up-to-date information. Offer sneak peeks on upcoming sales or other exclusive content to give consumers a compelling reason to add their names to your distribution list

Newsletters also provide a great opportunity for storytelling, which can help you share your site's unique value, and make greater emotional connections with your customers that can drive both loyalty and sales.

3. Coupon codes

Coupon code on homepage

Whether it's a discount or free shipping, online coupon codes are a great way to attract new shoppers and reward loyal customers. One way to do both is by starting a referral program that offers current customers a discount for referring friends to your site.

Rather than offering rock-bottom deals that can actually have a negative effect on your growing business, leverage discounts to track customers and build relationships, writes Scott Gerber, founder of Young Entrepreneur Council.

Consider sharing coupon codes through strategic partners who can help expand your customer base. Or use different codes for different types of ads or sales channels so you can see what works best for your online business.

4. Video testimonials

Some 86 percent of consumers consider customer reviews to be an essential resource when making buying decisions, according to a study by PowerReviews. In addition, 56 percent of shoppers specifically seek out websites with reviews. Whether you interview people or ask customers to upload videos to show how they use your products, video testimonials are a great way to provide customer-driven insights about your products or services. Customer testimonials also have the highest effectiveness rating among all types of content marketing at 89 percent. Posting videos on sites like YouTube and Vimeo can also help boost your site's search engine rankings.

The customer knows best, and in eCommerce, delivering a great customer experience is a powerful way to grow your online business. As web sales keep rising, creating a site that is convenient to use, mobile-friendly, and promoted on multiple channels will help you not only attract new customers, but also keep them coming back for more.