Archive for the 'Business Applications' Category

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.

Putting Your SEO Strategy to the Test

Many small business owners in 2009 will decide to take a do-it-yourself approach to SEO. I say go for it! In fact, marketing trends indicate moving SEO duties in-house has become the smart thing to do.

If you’ve already started your efforts, you quickly discovered that executing a good SEO strategy takes a great deal of time. Your next thought– “I hope all this work pays off”.

The top ecommerce companies test and retest their SEO strategies to find out what works, and what doesn’t. You will want to do the same thing. This article will help you get started.

First let’s look at some of the tools required to test how well you’ve done. Then we can look at a simple five step plan to start your SEO testing strategy.

Analytics Provides the Foundation

First you’ll want to start with a good analytics package. If you’re going it on your own, utilize Google Analytics (GA).  GA offers a feature rich web based tool at no cost. The tool provides an extensive set of metrics and reports without any setup. Because its widely accepted in the industry, you’ll find lots of support across the web.  Start with the Google Analytics Forum. 

Multivariate Testing: The SEO Proving Grounds

Multivariate testing allows users visiting the site, to each view different versions of the same web page.  Your testing application tracks how users respond to each page. 

Google provides a great multivariate testing application— Google Web Optimizer for free. Again it’s easy to setup, and comes with the support of  a large user community.

How to Implement Your SEO Testing

Below I’ve provided a few suggestions on setting up your testing methodology.  I’m assuming you’re using the Google Analytics and Web Optimizer package.  If you decide to go with something else, it most likely will provide the same functionality, just with possibly different names and locations.  If your package doesn’t provide the abilities described here– scrap it, and go with GA.

STEP 1:  Place the GA Tracking Code on Your Web Pages
If you have a large site, this may take some time, but it’s worth the effort.  If you don’t feel the page merits tracking, then the page probably doesn’t need to be included in your web site.  Not tracking pages leaves you in the dark.  Not knowing what appeals to users costs you money– in either lost conversions or wasted effort.

  • Write down the file names of the pages included in funnels you want to track.
  • This is also a good time to make copies of these files as you prepare for multivariate testing.

STEP 2:  Setup Goals Tracking
Goal tracking allows you to guage the efficacy of the various funnels within your web site.  

  • Start with your most important landing page, and determine where you want the user to end up.
  • If your funnel includes a form, be sure to include the thank you page.
  • Include product display pages from your shopping cart.
  • Include the registration pages for your cart.
  • Your cart funnel should also include the thank you page.
  •  For keyword advertisers pay attention to the  landing pages that result from advertising clicks.

STEP 3: Setup Multivariate Testing
Now you can find ways to optimize your funnels success.

  • Create multiple copies of the same landing page.  Start with your busiest landing page. 
  • In each version of the page, things like graphics, page copy and page layout. 
  • With keyword advertising, test how various pages work with different ad copy.
  • If you’re advertising via print, radio or tv, set up specific landing pages.
  • Remember to that you can use different page versions to alter funnel flow.  Test if one flow works better than others.

STEP 4: Review Goal Tracking Results
Determine how well your funnels worked.

  • Utilize conversion percentages to establish baselines. These will be useful for future testing.
  • Look at visits as compared to visitors.  This will give you an idea of how often users converted on their initial visit, or on a return visit.
  • Also make note of referring web sites.  Knowing where users came from can help improve efficiency with marketing budget.

STEP 5: Review Multivariate Testing Data
Go back and compare your goals with various landing pages in the funnel.  

  • For a very successful funnel, use the best variations as a model for other pages.
  • Remember to note unsuccessful variations as well.  Try to analyze why the page failed. 
  • Take the most successfule variations from each page, and put them together in one funnel.
  • If variations all had similar success rates, take a good look at your goal conversions. Poor goal conversions may indicate an offer with little appeal to visitors. 

Going Forward

Don’t stop testing.  It will take consistent effort over the long haul to truly gain the benefits of SEO.  Don’t let early successes lull you.  Remember that the Internet and user behaviours change constantly.  What worked in January, doesn’t always hold true in June.  Attempt to run tests on at least one funnel per month.  This will require planning, but don’t let the additional work dissuade you.  The benefits will be worth the effort.

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.