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There are many reasons why a website might not make enough sales to pay for itself. While there are a range of issues that can CONTRIBUTE to this problem, the largest reason by far for lack of sales on a website is TOO LITTLE TRAFFIC.
And the number one reason for too little traffic is LACK OF EFFECTIVE MARKETING. This is the case about 80% of the time.
Often, a business owner will either create a website, or pay for someone else to create it for them. They'll work hard on making sure that the colors are right, the pages show the products well, and that the cart works.
And then they walk away and wait! They assume that building a website is like setting up shop on the main street downtown - where people will see the signs, peek in the windows, and be compelled to come in and see what you've got.
Unfortunately, a website is more like opening up a store 10 miles from the nearest house, down a lane out of sight of the main road, off on a thin trail through the deepest woods, and then hidden in a cave where not even the light shines out to indicate that something is inside! Yes, it is like THAT!
Usually, after a few months, the business owner realizes that their site is not doing anything. They usually conclude that the logical thing to do is to hire someone to optimize the site, so the "search engines can find it".
SEO (search engine optimization) IS important - not in the way people think - and not the KIND of SEO that people think. But a site with poor SEO and good marketing will outdo a site with good SEO and bad marketing every time. And the BEST SEO isn't keyword optimization, or anything that shows up on any kind of computerized analysis of the site - it is just good writing. Good writing that appeals to your customers, tells them clearly what you have, in words they understand. It is as simple as that. If that is done, your SEO IS DONE!
After the business owner completes the SEO routine, they sit back and wait some more. And nothing changes! Still no sales!
In the hundreds of websites we've either owned, or managed for our clients, we noticed some patterns that hold pretty true for every website. One of them pertains to traffic and marketing.
It takes about 2-300 site visitors (on a site that is reasonably well done) to get ONE customer that actually buys something. Now, some sites can do it with fewer, some will require a few more. But usually it falls within this range.
Most initial customers to a website get there from PERSONAL contact from the site owner.
To get a site to really earn, you have to get it out there so people can find it without you having to make personal contact with each and every customer. You want THEM to start coming to YOU. To either CALL, or to BUY.
If you fail to market your website, the search engines will pick it up, and somewhere around 200 site visitors per month, the traffic will simply stop growing. Only BARELY enough to get ONE customer per month on exceptionally good sites. Not enough to get even that on the average small business website.
If you do not market the site, it will sit there, FOREVER, and NEVER increase in traffic.
Search engines KNOW it is there. No amount of optimization will make it any better. They'll only send you the traffic that does not match any other site (and that is almost nothing), or you'll get people who dig 10 or more pages deep in the search engines.
You need a few additional things to make them pay attention enough to actually SEND traffic to you.
1. Backlinks. A backlink is a link on another site that points back to your website. These can be from social media (Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc), on other websites or blogs (including ones you own yourself, IF they are good quality), or even in Gmail.
2. Activity that the search engines notice. This may include blog pings (from making blog posts), or periodic new content (even new product listings counts).
3. Something no one else has. It may be good product descriptions, a wider assortment of topics (including less common ones) related to the product or service, answers to questions nobody else is answering, information with humor and personality, or other unique bits that are distinctly different than your competitors. Search engines like what is unique, and so do people.
All of these things can be done fairly simply using a blog. Post new information on the blog on a periodic basis, send the RSS feed from the blog to your social media sites (you can do this so it is sent automatically every time you publish a post to your blog), and make sure the posts are fun and informative, and that they are written JUST for your blog (don't use recycled information). This is probably the simplest and most effective "no cost" marketing method for small businesses.
You HAVE to market your business. Either YOU do it, or you need to pay someone to do it. If you do not, you will never earn from the site. It will sit there with 200 visitors, never making a sale, and you'll wonder why you bothered to set it up in the first place.
There is no fast fix for marketing. It is something that has to be done, week after week, to keep the customers coming.
If you get the combination right, it will slowly start to pay off, and will then build momentum. Think about it like this: Suppose each post you write for your blog has the potential to bring you 1 customer per month (often it is more or less than that, but the concept still holds). It isn't much at first, but as the cumulative power builds, it ends up being really powerful.
In reality, some blog posts are more or less powerful than others, both short and long term. But the cumulative power still builds over time.
You HAVE to market. As a business owner, you have to make sure the marketing you do is effective for the long term.
Give anything you try three months before you decide it is not working, and make sure you take a hard look at your stats before you make changes - make sure that you aren't stopping something that is working (some things build slowly, but the stats will show that it is doing something before it results in customers). Website stats can also give clues to what should be adjusted when adjustments are needed.
The only time you need to look at other reasons for no sales, is if you have 1000 or more visitors per month, and are still making no sales.
If you have less traffic than that, get to work on marketing!