Online businesses are flourishing these days. Often they are inexpensive, easy to start and carry much less financial risk than a traditional, storefront business. Here are some of the keys to having a successful online company:The Website’s the Thing: For an online business, your website is often the first (and sometimes only) part of your business a prospective client will ever see. It is important not only to make it visually appealing, but also make it highly functional. The harder it is for a visitor to find your contact or ordering information, the less likely they will follow through on your desired action. The purpose of your site should go beyond simply informing visitors of your products and services. Your site’s goal should be conversion, or getting visitors to take some sort of action that turns their visit into a sale or relationship. Make sure your company’s contact information is prominent on every page.Make the information easy to read and follow the eye’s natural flow from left to right and top to bottom. Also, make sure that your brand–or logo–is prominently displayed on every page of your website. Frequently check to make sure that your site functions correctly. If you have a shopping cart, make sure it works all the way through the checkout phase; the same goes for forms, links, customer order histories or any other function your site displays. The easier it is for someone to navigate your site and find products or other important information, the more likely they will be to buy something from you or visit your site again.Promote Your Website: The more visitors you draw to your site, the greater your chances are for selling your products and services. Since most internet users use search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing to find new products, make sure your site is optimized for search engines (SEO) by including important keywords on your site. Ask yourself this question: what phrases or keywords would I use in a search engine to find my company or others in our industry? Make a list and write them down. Now, use those words frequently on your site to describe your products or in updates and news about your services and company. These can be used simply as text on each page or buried in each page’s code as meta tags. Ask your website’s designer/programmer to help you plant keywords or tags in your site. It’s also important to have a blog on your website. Don’t just write about your company or yourself; write about topics that might interest or attract prospective clients. Be helpful and informative and you might gain new or return visitors to your blog and website. Make sure your blog articles often contain the keywords you wrote down; that way search engines also will find your blog articles and credit your site for using those words frequently. You also might want to explore online advertising. There are many online sellers of pay-per-click advertising, banner ads or other ways to advertise your business online. Some are expensive, but many offer competitive rates or even free trials to check them out.Customer Service is Essential: Online businesses live and die by the quality of their customer service. If someone has ordered one of your products, make sure that the product is packaged properly and ships in a timely manner. Offer free shipping when you can or free product samples with an order. Be sure to respond to calls, e-mails and any other inquiries as soon as possible and address any problems or complaints promptly. Offering outstanding customer service is as important as the quality of your product. Often it is good customer service that makes customers come back for more.Make Use of Freebies: Starting any kind of business is tough. Take advantage of any freebies you encounter online. Sometimes a new advertising website will allow you to place an ad on their site for free or for a trial period. Link exchanges with other websites that offer products and services that compliment your company’s products might also help spread the word. Using free social media sites like Twitter, Facebook or MySpace can help inform people of what you have to offer through updates or announcements of new products or even giveaways. You’ll also find many websites online for networking, where you can learn about educational opportunities such as seminars or webinars or meet experienced business owners to learn from. Just as the web seems endless, so are the free or inexpensive opportunities to grow your business via the internet.These are just a few fundamentals for any online business. For more information and website tips, try an internet search. You’re probably just a few keywords away from unlocking the keys to having a successful business plan. Good luck!