The Signs Your Online Business Needs an Overhaul - dummies

By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could start your business, launch your website, attract lots of customers, make plenty of money — and never have to change a thing? If you’ve owned an online business for a while, you know that that’s not the way it works.

The Internet industry is constantly morphing, and so are the rules for growing a thriving online business. The secret of long-term online success is recognizing the signs of change — both good and bad — and being able to adapt.

If your website has any of the following characteristics, you might need to reevaluate your business:

  • A drop in search engine rankings: A good, high-ranking position at Google, Bing, or Yahoo! is often the lifeblood of an online business. If your site begins to slip or inconsistently maintains its position after several years on top, something is wrong.

    The problem might be an optimization issue related to the many changes search engines make in their algorithms to determine rankings. However, don’t discount the possibility that your site is losing relevancy.

  • An outdated look: The visual look of your site doesn’t have to be considered a design relic from the dot-com era to be outdated. Site design and design functionality change quickly in today’s online business environment. Black backgrounds and plain fonts, for example, have long been stripped from sites in exchange for white backgrounds and clean, crisp images and font styles.

    Today’s sites must also be mobile-ready and responsive, or capable of automatically shifting for display on multiple device types. In other words, it’s time for you to make changes.

  • A lack of ongoing maintenance: You can work in your business every day and still overlook the simplicity of good site-keeping. Broken links, expired coupon offers, and irrelevant or dated content are all indicators that you haven’t been paying much attention to detail.

  • Fluctuating market conditions: All types of issues in the world influence your business, either positively or negatively. The fluctuations that most closely relate to your industry or customer base obviously affect it the most.

    Some of these factors are increased competition, changing product trends, regional or national economic indicators, supplier costs, customer demand, and pricing issues. A significant change in your market space can dictate a change in your online business operations.

  • Overlooked technology upgrades: Overlooking technology upgrades (whether you’re updating antivirus software or installing a new version of a content-management system) is detrimental in the world of e-commerce. Allowing technology innovations to bypass you is a definite signal for change.

  • Nose-diving profitability: This factor isn’t one of the more subtle signs that it’s time for Plan B. When revenue falls, overhead increases, and your bottom line pays the price for it all, you know that regrouping is a necessity.

  • A variation in visitors: Is your site losing customers? Are your traffic counts falling or becoming less consistent? Or are you noticing an influx of visitors from a different traffic source, geographic region, or customer base — and you don’t have products and services to relate to these new visitors? Fluctuations in site traffic and activity warrant a reaction.

This list of signs pointing to change isn’t exhaustive. It’s a starting point, though, for conditions to search for in your own business.

To make sure that you don’t overlook anything, conduct a thorough business change evaluation. This system first establishes a baseline for your business, based on your KPIs (such as sales, visitors, and available products). Using the baseline, you then can evaluate other possible influences on your business.

Your goal is to take a snapshot of all your business indicators and determine which ones are driving change. Create a checklist by following these steps:

  1. Write a detailed description of your e-commerce business.

    Include as part of your description the specific products or services you sell both online and offline. This description should provide a complete picture of your business.

  2. Describe your existing customers.

    Be sure to include as much classifying information as possible about your customers. Details such as age and household income are bonuses. If you don’t know those types of details, classify customers according to their product interests or purchases, or even by how they found your site (such as ads, other site referrals, or offline).

  3. Break out your revenue structure.

    List the ways or places in which you earn money. Break down the list by month for the past 12 months. Then complete a year-over-year comparison for the past three years (if the data is available). Show the numbers in percentages of total sales. If you have a bricks-and-mortar store, include revenue from your offline sales too.

    If you’re keeping up with your monthly profit-and-loss statements as part of your accounting procedures, you can pull these numbers directly from those statement histories.

    For a more immediate snapshot of what the numbers mean, show the results in the form of bar graphs or pie charts. This type of visual aid is often helpful for comparison purposes.

  4. Generate a traffic analysis of your site.

    Break out the numbers in the form of a monthly comparison for the past 12 months, and then by year for the past three years. Include the total number of unique (different) visitors and page views (the number of pages requested within a particular period).

  5. Make a list of all areas that affect your business or influence change, either positively or negatively.

    You can group the items by category as they apply to your site, such as marketing, sales, product development, or content.

  6. Categorize each item as positive or negative based on how it influences your site. Then explain why you chose that indicator. Beside the explanation, note whether you responded or reacted to the change.

You can identify areas where change is occurring and determine whether you have adequately adjusted to those new circumstances.

You might be tempted to believe that you already know this information or that this process is oversimplified. Write down this information in one place, for your review.

The purpose of making a meaningful evaluation is to help you identify holes in your current online business strategy. Then you use the information to target a market weakness or opportunity that you might have overlooked.

Keep this completed chart on hand as you continue through the overhaul process. The figure shows an example checklist.