A good friend of mine runs a very successful retail business and recently decided to focus her mind on improving her website. Retailing must be one of the most complex businesses to manage. Stock, staff, leases, all within a fickle economic environment, must make it a challenge for those keen to take it all on. Ingrid has been up to the task of taming this complexity and her business is thriving. However, when it comes to the online space and everything I write, she tells me it’s all gobbledygook to her.

This tells me I have some way to go in explaining the environment I work in. You see, I believe that running a successful portion of any business online should be no more complex – even less complex, perhaps – than its physical cousin. For instance, just removing the concepts of leases and staff should make managing an online store a lot less complex than its physical cousin. It’s not that the content of online marketing is overly complex; it’s just the industry terms that need translating into some real-world behaviours.

So, with all this in mind, here are my four first steps any business owner needs to follow to make their online presence perform.

Step 1: Firstly, you need to set things up so you can quickly and easily know the numbers of your website. No-one would try running a business without a monthly set of financial reports to track its financial activity – the same applies to the activity of the company website. Unlike your financial reports, the reports from your website will include nice charts that focus on people (your visitors) not numbers, which can make them a lot more interesting to read.

To create these numbers you will need a good website analytics application installed on your website. If you don’t already have Google Analytics installed on your website, go and get your web developer to set it up for you. In prior articles I told readers to ‘consider’ this package. Now, I think people come to me for advice on how to save time, so my advice is to pick Google Analytics – it’s free and is the best of the bunch for that price point.

Step 2: Invest an hour or two to understand what the figures mean. Yes, there is a learning curve here just as there was when you started your business and looked at your first set of reports. And, like then, the quicker you get up to speed with what the numbers mean, the more in control you will feel over what is happening. In your financial reports, there are some figures that are more important than others (debtors, creditors and cash on hand) €” the same applies for website analytics, where terms like bounces, conversions and keywords take on a whole new meaning.

Once you become more familiar with what your statistics mean you will be able to quickly and easily review your monthly reports and deduce exactly what you need to focus on next month during your website ‘hour of power’.

Step 3: Now, with all this new-found knowledge, you need to make your website accountable. Inside every Google Analytics application is the ability to set up four ‘goals’ for the tool to track. A goal is an action achieved by your visitor on your website. This could be a sale, an email newsletter registration, or filling in a ‘contact us’ page.

Now you can not only see how many actions your website achieved broken down by type but also which stream of internet traffic was responsible for driving these actions. For instance, did they arrive from the Google search engine? And, if so, what search term did they enter before they came onto your site? Your analytics tools can reveal this information for you, uncovering rich veins of profitable internet traffic. Once you have these goals being tracked, you can work on increasing their conversion rate by altering the content on your web pages and tracking the resulting changes.

Step 4: Start using email marketing. Now that you have your website all tracked and monitored, you can start to send it good visitor traffic. The best way to do this is to create a list of prospects and customers who are willing to receive your own email marketing, and then send them to your website to have it convert them into sales or leads. As you need to seek permission first before sending emails, the act of building an email list can take time. The sooner you start the better. Bribe staff, prospects and customers to let them receive your emails. It’s one of the top strategies that all good online marketers use and for good reason – it works.

So there you have it. I have mentioned before that website marketing is not hard – but it’s not easy either. There is a learning curve, but it’s not as steep as it seems once you cast away any confusing technobabble. Needless to say, we have a whole range of resources to help you through this process.