Marketing to increase sales: The seven habits of successful Internet marketers

The future of e-commerce looks bright. According to Forrester Research, online retail sales in the U.S. are forecast to reach $327 billion by 2016. Overall market share is expected to increase to 9% from 7% in that period.

The future of e-commerce looks bright. According to Forrester Research, online retail sales in the U.S. are forecast to reach $327 billion by 2016. Overall market share is expected to increase to 9% from 7% in that period.

Adobe reports that last December's Cyber Monday was the biggest e-commerce day in U.S. history: total online sales grew 16% to hit a new high of $2.29 billion in a single day.

And U.S.-based research firm eMarketer has reported that digital media is now the leading media in terms of consumers' time spent (44%), ahead of TV (38.1%), radio (12.1%) and print (4.5%).

No question, the Internet is presenting a huge opportunity for businesses. The question is, what do we do about it?

There are many different proven business models and e-marketing strategies on the Internet. In spite of these differences, we will now explore what most Internet entrepreneurs have in common. Inspired by Stephen Covey's famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, here is how we see the seven habits of successful Internet marketers:

Most successful Internet marketers accumulated vast amounts of knowledge about e-marketing before they became successful. They kept reading any new articles they could find on the subject of mobile marketing, website usability, search engine optimization, pay per click and social media. Regular, everyday reading had become part of their passion, almost an addiction. They understand that they do not have to do everything by themselves, but they do want to understand new opportunities created by technology.

Successful online entrepreneurs constantly research supply and demand on the Internet and look for gaps. Online demand can be researched by using keyword popularity tools such as the one provided by Google AdWords or Google.com/trends. Supply can be researched by "Googling" your competition. When you see a great demand (search popularity) and only a few good competitors, you're probably onto something. One of our clients' businesses started when we realized that there were more than 800,000 searches for one particular product per month and only a handful of strong competitors.

In our column "The three biggest Internet marketing secrets: Testing, testing, testing" (BIV issue 1242; August 13–19, 2013), we wrote that the key is to try various ideas, products, websites and projects on a limited scale, then decide if and how you want to launch. The Internet provides an inexpensive and quick way of testing and optimizing business ideas.

As Chris Anderson points out in his book The Long Tail, the future of business is selling small quantities of a very large number of items. The future of Internet marketing, he says, "isn't in hits, the high-volume head of a traditional demand curve, but in what used to be regarded as misses – the endlessly long tail of that same curve." Amazon.com is a prime example. The idea is to look for underserved micro-niches and serve them aggressively across the globe.

Website content is considered "king" and one of the seven Cs of an effective website, along with context, connectivity, commerce, community, customization and communication. Successful online businesses provide a wealth of information, including tips on how to use products, free lessons, videos, online libraries, blogs, archives or various databases.

Thanks to social media, Internet marketers can now connect and build relationships with customers. Engaging in real dialogue with your customers is the key here, rather than just counting mere numbers of likes and followers.

Word of mouth, considered the most important instrument of marketing, has become even more powerful thanks to social media. Some of the best "habits" of viral marketers include creating a "viral hook" (such as Hotmail's "open a free Hotmail account" signature at the bottom of each email) to create a wow factor by doing more than expected, to offer something for free and to design a "refer a friend" program.