Archive for December, 2008

Look for SaaS-y Business Software Solutions

cloud-computingI just finished reading Fast Company’s article concerning Microsoft’s new patent application.  This new technology controls access to a computer’s hardware and software.  It will also control the amount of time a user can access the computer they’re using.  We’ve seen this quite a bit in pay-as-you-go computer rentals, but I don’t believe that Microsoft intends to take over the computer rental market— not in the traditional sense anyway.  What they have done, is found a way to increase the profits of the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model.  Telling me SaaS is here to stay.

Software From Afar

Right now you’re cringing at the mention of another technical acronym. Don’t worry, SaaS is a simple concept.  Instead of installing applications directly on your individual computer, you access the application via your web browser. You’ve probably been using SaaS modelled software for some time, and didn’t realize it.  If you use any type of web based email system— gmail or hotmail for example, you’re using Software as a Service.  The web interface replaces the Outlook client that’s installed on your Window’s based PC.  The mail server, that behemoth administrative nightmare, resides in Microsoft’s or Google’s server facilities.  This leaves you free of any administrative hassle.  That’s the big advantage to SaaS based applications.  No installs, no patches or any other administrative duties.

SaaS for the Small Business

Small business owners tend to fill many roles within their businesses.  You’re the sales manager, office assistant and usually the IT technician.  The last role— IT Technician, takes more time than many other duties.  If you posses little technical know-how, small technical problems can be debilitating to your business.  SaaS helps to alleviate some of that stress.  It takes away all the IT and leaves you with the benefits.  This doesn’t mean you’ll never have technical issues— hey its technology, but you’ll have a built-in technical staff minimizing the occurrence of issues.  This generally makes SaaS software easier to use.

Return on IT Investment

Beyond admin, you gain other advantages  from SaaS software. SaaS based software tends to require very little upfront investment.  In fact many SaaS application providers offer basic packages at no cost.  When the application use does require investment, you’re usually looking at spending less than $20 per user, instead of the hundreds of dollars per user for most desktop applications.  You’ll pay more to access more features.  If we consider the intangibles– very minimal hardware and software dependicies, no servers to run the application and no administrator needed to keep the application running, the total cost of ownership— or utilization (future terminology for SaaS?) works to your benefit.

Where To Start

The SaaS software delivery model is still in its infancy, so look for more offerings in the new year.  Right now, some great tools are available providing exceptional value.

Google Apps
Google Apps provides a complete set of basic office tools, including a calendar, email, word processor and spreadsheet applications.  All the applications are centered around an online console, giving you access to all the tools in one interface.  It also gives you the ability to share documents online with others in your company.  In addition you can share read only versions of documents via an automatically generated url.  The service can be customized for free, and accessed via your own domain.  Its great for businesses new to the web, who want a reliable and quality email application.

Constant Contact
You’ve probably heard of them already.  Constant Contact provides a quick and easy application for professional newsletter generation.  You provide the content, and Constant Contact does the rest.  The company offers a basic service package at no charge, with more features and customization available with paid packages.

SalesForce.com
SalesForce.com provides customer relationship software.  If you sell, or have a sales team, this is the app for you.  SalesForce.com provides a powerful set of capabilities for sales teams.  You can try it free for 30 days. Once the trial period ends, the investment per user is well worth the investment.

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Rebranding Your eCommerce Site for Greater Exposure

landingpageYou have to love Taco Bell, not necessarily the food, but the marketing. Their creativity in rearranging various ingredients in different amounts, never ceases to amaze me. They never fail to come up with different combinations of ingredients, sometimes just in varying amounts, and convince us that its somehow a different Taco. All online shop owners should take note of this time tested marketing strategy.

Put Your Best eCommerce Foot Forward

When in doubt, change the packaging. At Christmas, Oreos come with green and red cream. Same cookie, same taste, different ‘packaging’. Changing the packaging for your online store provides even more advantages. You can market the same products to different market segments. To see this in action, visit the Major League Baseball Shop. Once on the home page, take a look at the individual team pages. It’s the same page, just focused on one particular team. “So What?” you say, that makes perfect sense. Then why don’t more online storefronts utilize this marketing technique?

Landing Page, Landing Page, Landing Page

We all know the key to a successful brick and mortar business— location, location, location. For an online store the paradigm should be stated as— landing page, landing page, landing page. Putting a different shop entrance for different market segments makes sense. Search engine marketing experts do this consistently. They will create a different landing page for every ad. That landing page links back to the same website. Your online store should do the same thing. Your eCommerce software home page doesn’t have to be your site home page. You could have several site home pages, with the same catalog. Let’s look at an example.

Not Just a Bicycle

If I Google the keyword bicycle, I’m prone to find many different online bicycle shops. Most of these shops sell all different types of bikes (mountain, road, tandem, etc). What’s more important is what I see after the click. If I want a mountain bike, and the home page displays only road racing bikes, the chances are good I’m moving on in my search. But if I own two different urls (total investment $20); the first johnsmountainbikes.com, and the second johnsroadbikes.com, I can cater to two different markets. The landing page for each will focus on the particular bike style indicated in the url. Yet, I can utilize the same catalog, with the same inventory. So when the visitor purchases the bike, you can still sell them the accessories. You get two different stores, focused on two different market segments, for almost no cost.

Quick Details

Remember to keep your look and feel the same. If I click through to the product page, and it looks totally different, my willingness to give up my credit card number may fade. Take the repackaging theory even farther, and add separate forums and content pages for each site. This will establish your company as an expert in that particular segment of the market. Using our bicycle website example, on each individual landing page, provide links to biking trail maps. On your mountain bike page these would be links to trails, on the other, road routes, or roads with separate biking lanes.

Welcome to xyz.com, Please Hold…

speedtest“Thank you for calling, please hold.”

This phrase should be nominated as the most irritating phone salutation in the history of telecommunications. It’s one reason the Internet has such traction. The web serves information in an instant, and the site visitor doesn’t have to wait— usually. 

Yet, we’ve all been put on web-hold due to slow downloading pages.  The site has broken the “seven second” rule. If you’re unfamiliar, web design professionalism dictates that your home page  load completely in seven seconds or less.  If it doesn’t, you’re  losing visitors.  We’re not talking about those times when your web server suffers some technical issue.  We’re focusing on design flaw.

Do a Self-Check

Don’t worry if you’ve never designed a web page, browser technology makes checking download speeds easy. Firefox provides an add-on called Firebug.  If you’ve never heard of it, that just means you probably don’t do a great deal of web programming, its a staple of the web design community.  Google’s new web browser Chrome, provides the same functionality with it’s element inspector, inherent in the browser with no add-on install required.

FireFox's Firebug makes it easy for non-techies to test download speeds.

FireFox's Firebug makes it easy for non-techies to test download speeds.

Each tool will give you the files being downloaded— scripts, images, flash etc, and the time it takes each to download. In addition, you get the download time for the page in its entirety (don’t worry if the individual file numbers don’t equal the page total, there’s a valid technical reason).

What If Your Page Downloads Too Slow?

If you find your page downloading in over seven seconds, look to the individual file download times. Start with the largest files. Look for image files first, files with a ‘.png’, ‘.jpg’, ‘.jpeg’ or ‘.gif’ extension. Try these quick fixes:
.png
Ask your graphics designer to convert and optimize these images to either .jpg or .gif. The latter two  file formats will produce smaller file sizes.

.jpg or .gif
Ask your graphic designer to optimize these images if she hasn’t already done so.

Files with .swf, .wmv or .mpg extensions will be a greater challenge. Flash produces .swf file formats for the web. .wmv and .mpg are video. See if any of these tips help:
.swf
These are flash files. Ask your Flash designer if the file size can be reduced. Because of the nature of flash files, this may require redevelopment work. If the flash files are menus, see if they can be replaced with a CSS or java script equivalent.

.wmv, .mpg or any other video file formats
Check the compression of the video files.  Compression can effect video quality, so be careful. This can be accomplished with various video editing tools. You might also consider implementing the video in a different way.  This is something to discuss with your web designer.

Consider Your Internet  Connection Type

Both browser tools provide times based upon your particular connection.  Remember that cable connections tend to provide faster download speeds than DSL.  If your cable connection downloads your page in seven seconds flat, downloads by DSL users probably exceed the limit. Other commercial tools exist which can simulate different connections types.  They range in price, but depending on how often you make changes to your website, it could be worth the investment.

Before You Go…

Don’t just trust the fact that the page loads quickly on your computer.  Most likely you visit your company’s website everyday,  the browser will load many files from the local hard drive.  For your first time visitors this isn’t the case.  You’ll also want to clear your cache to get a true reading. Realize this means you might lose all your saved logins, so I suggest doing this on a work computer,  rather than one for personal use.

Visits Versus Visitors– Insights Into Copy Quality

 

Visits vs. Visitors

We’ll define their meaning and benefit from their results. Looking at your website analytic report, visits compared to visitors seems simple. In a website analytics report, the two terms’ meanings differ somewhat than expected. Knowing the difference provides vital clues into the quality of your website copy.

 

The Website Analytics Report ‘Visit’

An analytics report ‘Visit’ means someone came to the site and established a session. They may have left the sight and returned within the session time limit (usually 20 or 30 minutes) without closing the browser. Two visits correct— No, this registers as one visit in your website analytics report. That’s because the user maintained their original session. The user switches web addresses without closing the browser. Assuming substantial web traffic numbers, many ‘Visits’ generally means many website hits.

The Website Analytics Report ‘Visitor’

Now consider the analytic report’s ‘Visitor’ metric. ‘Visitors’ means a visit from a new guest. This visit in theory came from a new source. Visitor statistics require a defined time frame. Look at the following example to understand the concept in practical terms.

Let’s consider a website analytics report that covers June 1 – June 30. An individual web surfer’s first visit to the site in June— June 3rd for example, registers as a ‘Visitor’ in the website analytics report. The same user returns on June 21st— this registers as a ‘Visit’ in your analytics report.

Visits:Visitors Ratio

Comparing Visits to Visitors provides valuable insight for judging your website copy. The ratio reveals the audience’s perceived quality of your website copy. Let’s look at what the analytics report reveals.

Visits:Visitors > 1: Quality Website Copy, Find New Market Segments
In fact, the higher this number— the more people are returning to the site. The site audience finds your website copy interesting, and returns frequently. You want to continue producing quality content. Make sure you keep adding new content. Determine if you can duplicate these efforts with another market segment.

Visits:Visitors<1: Improve Website Copy, Verify Market Segment
A very low number here indicates the audience perceives poor website copy. The visitors come– but seldom return. Review your keyword research, an adjustment often produces very different results. Think of unique web article ideas, or find a professional website copy writer. Keep driving visitors to the site. Your new website copy will compel more frequent visits.

Conclusion

By itself the Visits:Visitor ratio doesn’t provide all the numbers. It doesn’t account for the same visitor visiting from different locations. As well, we are assuming substantial site traffic exists to provide reliable data.

Beyond those assumptions, keeping good data over extended periods helps you. Developing a range for your ratio allows recognition of trends. Early trend recognition provides one more advantage in the highly competitive internet arena.

Small Business and Technology, They Shall Meet

 

Are you using the right tools for the job?

Money, that’s the most important issue for small business owners.  We want to save it, find more of it and beg the banks for it all the time.  Most of all we hate to spend it.  How much does your MS Office upgrade license cost?   Could you use that money for something else, like advertising, promotions or to upgrade your proposal?

 

Your answers to the above questions are most likely, ‘more than I wanted to spend ‘and of ‘course’.  This blog can help change your answers to, “absolutely nothing, and I used the money for advertising”. Our goal is to  give you ways to save, and maximize the return on your technology investment. 

This blog comes with another promise.  We won’t blow your mind with techie talk.  Yeah, we’re techies, but we own a small business  as well.  We know you want to manage your business, not your technology.  Our company, Nsyndx (in sin dex) believes that’s the goal of every small business owner.  We understand you utilize tehcnology to save money, and it wouldn’t hurt if that technology saved time, promoted your company and helped drive sales.

That doesn’t mean we’ll talk about marketing your website, though we can recommend some great places to get great advice (The Indie Business Blog and E-Commerce Diva to name two).  We focus on the technology itself.  Like finding software that allows you to spend less than $3 per month for phone service, or free software to help you get more from your web content.

We’re here to help, so comment and ask questions, we love people (even though we’re techies).  Oh yeah, we’ll show you how to avoid the MS Office licensing fees in our next post.