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Skype Subscriptions

skype_logoIf you are a one person consulting business, or work in a distributed environment, you should be considering Skype.

For those unfamiliar with the technology, think of it as IM on steroids, that taps into the telephone system. It’s a great tool, and comes at an even better price.

Skype offers all of the standard IM features, but provides the added bonus of designating a phone number to your account.  Non Skype members can dial you using their landline or cell phone. You get the benefit of calling anywhere in the US and Canada for about $3 per month. What’s even better, is that you can make unlimited calls to 36 countries for just $10 per month.

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Skype provides many features that small businesses will find useful. You can make conference calls, add plugins allowing you to share your desktop and for podcasters it gives you a simple way to record phone interviews. The newest release has upgraded full screen video.

Skype’s new subscriptions make the service even better. Skype-to-Skype calls to anyone, anywhere are always free. You can purchase an online number, and make calls from your computer to anywhere in the US or Canada at no additional charge. Pay as you go options are also available. With call forwarding included, you’re free to roam and still receive calls where ever you have mobile or landline access.

Skype comes as a download, and installs just as easily as other IM applications. You can purchase phone numbers in most US area codes. If you’re seeking a simple, effective and low cost telephone solution, this may be your answer.

CRO and Keyword Advertising

Keyword advertising costs money.

Now that we’ve stated the obvious, let’s look at another simple statement of truth. Keyword advertising offers one of the most cost effective and flexible mediums to advertise your business.

The second ‘truth’ depends greatly on your commitment to finding how best to convert ad clickers, into customers. The smartest businesses focus on conversion rates. It’s smart business, because it gleans the greatest return on your advertising investment.

Keywords and the Diverse Internet Audience

Because the internet involves such a diverse group of users, one size will not fit all. Good keyword advertisers internalize this concept when writing ad copy. The words you use, affect the types of users you attract.

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Many internet users search before buying. This group searches using more general keywords—they seek information to make a final decision.  Other users want to commit to a purchase. These users tend to search using specific product names or brands. Professional internet marketers know that each group requires its own ad text.

Include Keywords in Multivariate Testing

When implementing CRO, remember your groups, and their varying motivations. Landing pages consume a great deal of the conversion conversation. Multivariate testing often relies on testing variations of landing pages, but not variations in keyword text.

Your ad text may compel one market segment at the initial click, while your landing page compels clicks from a different segment. You then begin the ‘black box’ task of reworking your landing page. Changes in your ad text, may be the key to unleashing an already effective landing page. Using this approach saves work, and has the potential to reveal valuable market segments.

SEO and CRO: The Long and Short of It

landingrhtcolpromoIf your small business maintains a website, you’ve most likely considered, talked about or implemented some type of SEO strategy. The belief being, that if you can attract traffic, you will by default attract customers or registrants. This may be the case to a small degree, but doesn’t accurately represent how things usually work.

Your site does need to attract visitors, but it also needs to drive those visitors to some goal. Establishing that goal, and subsequently compelling the user to satisfy that goal, means just as much to your business. Internet gurus label this concept conversion. Though the concept remains the same for all websites, the specific outcome— the actual goal, may vary. Your desire may be to register users, request a sales call or make a purchase. In any case, the final outcome provides some benefit to your business.

SEO and CRO work in concert to benefit your business.

SEO and CRO work in concert to benefit your business.

Just like SEO, where we optimize our sites so they will be found during user searches, we need to optimize websites so that they convert as many visitors to successful visits as possible. This concept is known as Conversion Rate Optimization. Many experts agree, including most major online retailers, that conversion rate should be considered just as important as SEO. Jamila White, owner of E-Commerce Diva said about conversion, “So many small biz owners don’t know that is THE most important metric.” The two concepts do not contradict, actually one complements the other. They do need to be approached with a different perspective.

SEO the Long Term Strategy

Irrespective of many claims by some SEO consultants, results from SEO take time. That’s because SEO is organic in nature. You should commit yourself to at least a six month effort before expecting consistent benefits. During that six month time span, you’ll need to work and rework your strategy to stay ahead of the pack. In short, SEO strategies are long term strategies.

CRO

CRO focuses more on the present. In short, it focuses on how well we compel the current site visitors, to accomplish a desired result upon visiting.  CRO has a more immediate effect. Conversion rate matters, whether you receive 100 visits per day, or 1000 visits per day. Conversion rate impacts your website efficacy more than SEO.

You can receive 100 visits per day, but convert twenty visitors into customers. This would have more impact than receiving 1000 visits per day, and then only converting ten visitors into customers. Again, we can stress the immediate focus of CRO, no matter the number of visitors, we need to convert as many as possible.

SEO and CRO a Combined Approach

SEO and CRO should not be considered competitive concepts. As website owners we should combine the two practices, knowing that our strategy will have short as well as long term business impact. It should also be noted that  CRO will benefit your SEO efforts.  CRO helps to better identify successful market segments, thus enhancing your ongoing SEO practices.

When converting customers, you will hopefully have analytics giving you customer data. Knowing what regions, pages or search terms used to find your site will elucidate more about the segments that find your product, service or information attractive. If this market doesn’t match your present SEO focus, now you know how to adjust, or better focus your current strategy.

SEO and CRO: Continual Efforts

Both CRO and SEO require continual modification. Consistent testing of landing pages and conversion paths– your CRO efforts, will greatly benefit your long term SEO. Let’s look at an example.

CRO can be affected by numerous factors. If a CNBC guest makes recommendations about what to look for in certain financial products, or throws out a new term, this could alter what financial products customers seek. Sudden drops or increases in conversions, could be the first clue to  a change in your visitor’s needs. Knowing this, allows you to also adjust your SEO strategy to be in place when that CNBC audience turns to the internet to find the company who will sell that product.

Barriers to Entry: See Your Site as Visitors Do

barriersWhen looking at your sales figures for your online store, your business isn’t what you would have liked. What’s up with that, and what could you do to increase your sales? While the answers are as many as the consultants offering their services, this can be looked at from a few different perspectives: assessing your audience, meeting their needs, and removing barriers to entry. All three are related, but each has a different strategy.

Assess Your Visitors
Assessing your potential audience is critical to identifying the viability of your business. You can identify a potential customer in broad terms and cater your product and delivery to their needs, or you stick with a given product and do what you can to persuade prospective customers to buy. Often the solution is a combination of both. But the first step is to gather actionable data (analytics) and find out what they are doing and when.

Once you have gathered the right data (visit depth, time spent per page, path through the site, type of web client, etc.), one of the biggest gains you can make is turning the pyramid upside down as it were, and ask not why they are buying your product, but why they aren’t. And just who are “they”? You may be surprised at what you learn, and the solutions to some of these barriers may be more cost effective than many initiatives designed to increase the rest of the customer base.

The Elevator Pitch: What Stops Visitors
As a metaphor, say you had a physical store on the 17th floor of a building, served by a narrow elevator and a set of stairs. There are 5 stairs to the front door, which opens outwards. If your building doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp or doors that are easy to open, is on a top floor without a spacious elevator, or has a lot of stairs and narrow dimply lit passages, you have reduced your prospective clientele substantially. And it’s not just an ADA issue. Older people, the vision impaired, those in wheelchairs, those who have more weight to carry than a marathon runner– all have money to spend, and comprise a significant percentage of the population. Why keep them out unnecessarily? Some things are easy to change, some are harder, but avoiding them in the first place is infinitely easier than trying to remedy it later. A big street sign leading to an accessible shop will always move more merchandise than an obscure hidden boutique.

Likewise, if your website is too heavy, takes a long time to load, isn’t visible in mobile devices or screen readers, has small crowded print, or is hard to navigate, it’s just like that shop above; you have plenty of people who would love to buy, but they just can’t make it through the process. If all you want is a boutique website, that’s fine, but if you want return visitors who can get what they want or need easily, then it becomes a site that meets their needs and makes the sale. Remember, there are millions of sites out there, and the next one is a click away from your site, no love lost, no energy expended. Get them there, keep them there, get them to come back, and don’t give them a reason to leave early.

Take Action
Fortunately the digital world is a lot easier to correct than the physical world, but it takes the willingness to step back and look at your site and your audience through a different set of eyes to see what barriers might exist and how to avoid or remove them. There are consultants and books that focus on usability, as well as programs that will simulate different user environments. Regardless of your strategy, don’t just focus on who you think your customer is, focus on who it could be. Then you can concentrate on marketing and search placement, optimizing layout, and providing fresh content to establish your customer base and keep them coming back.

Today’s post was provided by Karl Rainhold. Karl Rainhold is a Web Analytics engineer who has been developing and refining cutting edge websites for over a decade at Nike, Inc. and independently through his consulting firm. He can be reached at kgrainhold@crossworldmedia.com.

Online Top 10 Retailers: What We Can Learn

analyticsrhtcolpromoTake a look at the Top 10 Online Retailers for December. You can find the info at Marketing Charts.com. First thing to notice— the list relies on conversion statistics not total sales. That measure of success, reiterates the importance of conversion rate optimization (CRO).

Also notice the conversion percentages  ranging from 19 to 31%.  That’s pretty good, especially when research from Fireclick tells us the average conversion rate hovers between 2 and 3%.  Imagine the impact of a 10% conversion rate increase for your small business’s revenue.

Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, let’s look at some things you can replicate in your site, that may help increase your conversion rate.

Keyword Ads Link to Product Pages

The right keyword text, linking to the right landing page. When the user clicks on keyword text that says ‘luxurious lingerie’ , they don’t land in the soap section of victoriassecret.com. They don’t land at the home page either. If the visitor searches for potatoes, they want potatoes.

Graphics Heavy Home Pages

All the big winners had very graphic intensive home pages. The text explained large graphics highlighting featured products.  Outside of that, very little text. Its all about the visual and pushing product. Be assured that the featured items are most likely proven sellers.

Unique Page Titles

Every page has a unique title.  Product pages were titled with their respective product names. They do this because page title holds a high priorty in page rankings. Make sure your ecommerce application allows you to use product names as page titles. 

Alt tags for Every Image

All images posses ‘alt’ text. Another SEO strategy,  alt text influences search engine page ranking.

Products to the Left, Checkout to the Right

All the product pages held true to form– product image on the left, description, size charts, colors and checkout on the right. Visitor attention tends to gravitate towards the visual first. Marketing research suggests that users have a harder time moving from right to left, than left to right. Looks like our top ten retailers saw the same study.

The Conversion Lynch Pin: Understanding Search Habits

All these retailers understand the search habits of online buyers.  They search based upon specifics, not generalities. A web buyer looking for shoes, generally will search for a specific shoe type– ‘xj7 running shoe’, ‘rockport men’s dress shoes’. Knowing this, its better to focus your ecommerce SEO efforts on your product and category pages, not just the home page.

Ramping Up
You’ve got almost a full year until the next Christmas shopping season. Start implementing changes now. Starting now gives you the opportunity to test what works best. It also allows you to evaluate your ecommerce application. Make sure it automates things like page titles and alt tags. If not, check the upgrades or another vendor.

By the time the heavy shopping traffic begins, you’ll be in prime position to convert visitors into revenue.

Get It In Writing

requirementsI just finished reading Startup Daddy’s post, Starting A Business: Define Your Definite Major Purpose & Envision Your Desired Outcome. The post focuses on the concept of defining one’s purpose, as in what’s your purpose in going into business. It speaks about the importance of defining one’s goals, both personal and professional, and how that helps in selecting your niche.

New web entrepreneurs often ignore this step when building a new website. You need to establish your site’s purpose. If you don’t, you risk a lack of focus that will cascade throughout your web presence, inhibiting SEO planning,  online marketing efforts and many times delaying site completion. You can’t select the best keywords, write good ad copy or build effective conversion paths without site focus.

Just like your business, your website needs a sound plan. That plan should be built before you ever speak with a web designer. In business its called a business plan. In the techie world, we call that plan a requirements document.

Building the Document, Then the Website

Start your document off with a purpose– literally.  Write down a few sentences about your business. In this summary include what you do, how you do it and your market segment. Don’t forget to include any differentiators.

Follow this with a short paragraph about the reasons you desire a website. Try to match your need for a website, with the summary of your business. This purpose will provide scope to your web project.

Determine Required Site Sections

List out all the sections that need to be included in your site. If you can diagram them using Visio or some other tool, that would be great.

Next you want to describe the pages to be included in each section. The ‘Services’ section of your site will have a Services landing page, and most likely a page for each Service you offer. 

Now list what you want included on each of the pages listed under each section. Include images, cross promotion, forms or widgets.  For forms and widgets, be specific about what functionality should be included.  For forms list the fields that should be included, what to do with the form information and designate required fields.

Add the Icing

Now list pages, content or functionality that would be nice to have, but not mission critical. This might seem like wasted effort, but it helps to understand future goals when designing your current website.

Now You’re Covered

Your requirements document provides insurance on your design investment. When working with a professional web designer or firm, you have more security. Get the designer to sign the form, recognizing it represents what will be delivered.  This prevents confusion with billing. It also helps recuperate penalty fees for missed deadlines.