Making money on the web, a brief howto

If you’re a business and you’re on the web, chances are that you’ve heard all about the importance of having a RSS feed, newsletter signup, social networking links and a million other things. More importantly, you’ve probably installed a bunch of these on your site without considering how you’ll actually use them to make some money. (After all, isn’t that why you decided to get your business on the web in the first place?)Based on a number of websites I’ve visited this week, it’s clear to me that many of you are leaving a ton of money on the table. (Warning: Shield your eyes, you’re about to see some of my fantastic ghetto artistic skills.)

Most companies spend some amount of time figuring out how to make a visitor buy something from their site. In some cases, they’ll even spend tons of money on some overpriced contractor to actually make this happen. When they actually launch the site, the sales process looks a little something like this:

Visitors somehow end up on the company website and, if you’re lucky, they’ll buy something. Yep, it’s pretty weak. But then again, it’s the first iteration of the site — hopefully you’ll learn something from the the data you’re collecting via Google Analytics or other free services. (If you haven’t already, check out 14 free tools to understand your visitors.)

Soon thereafter, you realize you can setup RSS feeds, newsletters and integrate your content with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter… you get the idea. The site naturally moves to its second evolution.

Getting better. You’re keeping visitors engaged and, as long as you’re providing them with valuable information, they’ll hopefully come back to the site later on and actually buy something from you. For most companies, this is probably as advanced as their sales processes are going to get.

Though, the few insanely smart businesses out there instantly recognize that there’s a huge gap in the sales loop and realize that they’re leaving a ton of money on the table. The key is to understand that when customers buy something from you, they’re voting with their wallets. They clearly like something about what you have to offer and, chances are, they’re likely to buy from you again. So, why not take advantage of it?

The point here is to keep your customers engaged in what you’re doing. They’re already loyal to you, you might as well take advantage of that and keep talking to them. The simplest way to do this is to make sure they’re subscribed to your newsletters, RSS feeds or whatever else you think is good. Better yet, segment your lists so that customers are on a totally separate list — this lets you send them different materials or even give them exclusive special offers that regular visitors never even see.

First things first: Clear off 15 minutes today, grab a pen & paper and start making flowcharts that show how you interact with your customers. Chances are, there’s at least one thing you could be doing better.

If you’re feeling especially lazy (or would rather get some expert help), let me know.