Online Business Model Basics

Businesses today are very different from what they were like during the pre-internet era. In some ways, the traditional business model is almost the antithesis of an online business model. Previously, you couldn’t even begin to make money until you secured funding, got your physical shop set up, and spent months reaching out to customers.

The good news is that this is no longer the case. Online businesses are much easier to set up and execute. This means that there are fewer entrance barriers; but it also means that there is more competition.

No matter what industry you’re in, all web-based businesses that manage to beat the competition have some shared components that make up their online business models.

Online search marketing

An online business cannot exist without incorporating search marketing into its business plan. According to Nielsen’s Global Connected Commerce survey, up to 63 percent of shoppers go online to look up product information, and 52 percent check and compare prices online before making a purchase. Whether or not your business shows up in those online searches will make a big difference in how many people end up buying from you.

Successful online business owners know this, and make it a primary goal to get discovered online. This includes learning search engine optimization and engaging with users across various social media channels in order to find fans and supporters.

Not only do you need to understand how to get discovered, but you also need to understand what information your audience requires to make a decision. This might include blog posts, comparison charts, or even videos.

Converting leads to customers

What do you do once someone visits your website? How can you capture their attention and drive a sale?

Focusing on conversions helps online business owners understand which parts of their online presences lead shoppers successfully down the sales funnel — in other words, how their sites convert a browser into a customer.

This is why an online business model needs to focus on creating clear calls to action, by asking visitors to opt into an email list or enticing them to make a purchase. Of course, understanding consumer behavior is key in knowing what to do.

Speed and agility

If it takes a visitor a long time to get the information they need, you’ll lose their business very quickly. Online businesses need to create great online experiences. Elements like fast website loading speeds and the ability to purchase an item or book a service quickly are critical for survival.

Since the online world changes quickly, businesses need to keep up with evolving trends. This means that your business model needs to be flexible enough that you can change course at a moment’s notice. The ability to pivot quickly will be key in helping you keep up with what your audience wants, and choose the online tools that will make you more efficient.

A lean team

Gone are the days when you needed an employee to handle every single task. Chances are, those repetitive tasks that you and your team are doing could be handled by a computer program.

For example, your email software could sync with your payment gateway to deliver digital goods when a customer submits a payment. Instead of having a dedicated IT team, services like VaultPress help create backups of your site and protect against security threats.

There are many customer service software options that streamline how you serve your site visitors, like providing quick responses, making sure you understand what customers need, and flagging similar issues.

In the online business world, you don’t need a ton of people to create a successful venture. Even if you’re starting out alone, you can lean on automation to validate whether an idea is worth pursuing. That way, you’re not wasting time and money. Instead, you’re focusing on how to best serve an audience with your business.

Following an online business model that emphasizes search marketing, conversions, and leanness can help transform your business from a dream to reality. While following a more traditional business model might leave you behind the competition, crafting your business model so that it’s specifically designed for the digital world will propel your company forward.


Sarah Li Cain

A B2B and personal finance writer who has appeared in publications such as Credit Karma, Magnify Money and Lending Tree.

More by Sarah Li Cain

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