Archive for the 'Technology Tips' 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.

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5 Reasons You Will Use Hiconversion in 2009

landingrhtcolpromoTake note of the term Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). During the down economy, CRO will justify itself more than any other online marketing strategy. The reason being, CRO proves what online marketing strategies produce revenue.

Thinning budgets demand improved ROI. Quite simply, businesses can’t afford to waste resources. Money will not be spent without strong justification. CRO provides the best means to test, measure and justify online marketing strategies.

CRO has been slow to take hold. Mainly due to a lack of affordable choices, and reliable expertise. Until recently choices have been limited to free applications— such as Google’s Website Optimizer, or investing in high end enterprise applications costing thousands.

Zee Agonovic, the CEO of Hiconversion, a CRO software development company, sees CRO taking center stage very quickly.

Online marketers are putting the cart before the horse,” he stated in our recent conversation., “All the money and effort is spent on generating web traffic and very little, if anything, is done about visitor conversion”. It doesn’t matter how many users visit your page, if they never take the next step.

After having the opportunity to see Hiconversion’s tool first hand, here’s five reasons you’ll be using Hiconversion in 2009.

1. Improves Online Marketing ROI

With Hiconversion, you get the CRO benefits, at a much lower cost, with less complexity and a higher level of reliability than any other tool on the market.

2. Works with Low traffic volumes

Hiconversion’s patented algorithms don’t require large volumes of traffic. If your site generates 100 hits per day, you can get reliable data, and improve conversion rates.

3. Easy Setup

Hiconversion utilizes a service based model, like Google’s Weboptimizer. There are no installs— you create an account online and begin testing. Creating multivariate tests has been reduced to simple point and click functionality.  The tool provides the ability to create an unlimited number of test pages, for as many pages as you want.  The tool gives you the capability to test unlimited page element combinations via a graphical interface. You can test entire conversion paths, almost eliminating the need for more complicated analytics reports.

4. Quick Results

With low site volume, 100 clicks per day, you can get reliable results within weeks. With 1000 clicks per day or higher, you get reliable data within days. Many users of the tool start seeing improved conversion rates before they even complete their testing periods. Hiconversion also comes with a complete set of out-of-the-box reports, including real-time and projected ROI analysis.

5. Fits Your Budget

At $99  per month, you can’t find a better way to invest your money. You can get turnkey CRO services  starting at just $995 per project, with a 10% CR increase guarantee.

Build a Web Presence, Not a Website

webconstructionI spoke with a friend looking to put her business on the web. She stated that she only wanted two or three pages.  I asked, “What do you want from your website?”.  The response was a moment of silence– followed by a not so clear response.

This happens to many small business owners looking to build their first website. Often, the push to get on the web, overshadows the more important need for effective planning.

The Internet: Just Another Business Tool

Websites are business tools.  With all the buzz concerning the web, there exists a false expectation of the internet’s return on investement and websites. Entrepreneurs are better served viewing their website as a very useful and flexible business tool— one that can benefit the business in numerous ways.

A business owner should treat a website in the same manner as their phone, their computer or their word processing software.  Each has a purpose, you thought about your desired benefits before investing.  You could clearly elucidate the reasons you need a phone— to contact customers quickly, to be accessible to customers, to conduct business remotely. 

Make Your Website Work

You should take the same approach to your website.  Think about specific objectives of owning a website, just as you would when choosing a physical location for your business. The new office location would need to posses enough offices, electrical outlets, network wiring and room to expand as you grow. In fact don’t call it a website, but a web presence. Using the term forces you to think dynamically– your presence means you’re participating in the internet medium.

Taking this approach inherently means you’re investing in the long term benefits of the internet. You can start with one or two pages, but you also have built the foundation as your needs expand. Putting together an initial web presence can be difficult, simply because the internet allows you to do so much. You can minimize the pain of building a web presence by following “The 6 P’s”— Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

Useful Site Building Tips

I’ve provided some tips that others have used to help develop an initial web presence.  Obviously this doesn’t represent the end-all list, but hopefully it provides a good foundation upon which to build:

Define a Successful Site Visit

  • From your businesses’ perpective, define what a successful visit means to you.
  • Service based companies may desire qualified leads, maybe a request for quote.
  • Product based companies may be seeking a sale. For big ticket items you might want an appointment request.

Your Site is a Funnel

  • Site visitors start at the home page, decide what end point in their visit benefits you the most.
  • Prioritize information from the most essential to buying details. Make sure your essential information makes the first version of your site.
  • Identify the most important buying objections and questions. You can start to answer these in your secondary site pages.

Identify Your Visitor

  • Define the demographics of your target visitor. It plays an important part in how you design your site.
  • Estimate the knowledge level of the visitor concerning your product or service.  That helps determine what types of content you need to include in your site.
  • Understand how visitors in different roles benefit from your product or service.

Hire a Web Site Designer, Not a Graphic Artist

  • Find a designer that understands more than just web graphics.
  • A Flash developer is different from a web designer.  Flash developers can build web sites, but there exist some drawbacks to this. *see my post regarding search engine web crawlers
  • Make sure your site designer is committed to building your web presence over the long term.

Think Long Term

  • Determine how often  you believe the site will need to be updated.
  • Develop a schedule for writing new site content. This will help when talking about maintenance agreements with your site designer.
  • Plan a schedule for site features you don’t need now, but expect to incude as time goes on.

Additional Resources

Website Magazine
Very comprehensive advice from a business perpective on web design.

Web Design Library
Lots of general advice, with a lean to the more technical side.

Web Design From Scratch
Very plain advice, focused on results oriented web design. 

Internet Retailer
Practical advice for ecommerce based web design.

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.

CSS Web Design, A Top to Bottom Approach

Take it from the top.  A familiar phrase used to mean start from the beginning.  In terms of CSS web design and SEO, you want to start your web pages with the most important content at the top of your web page.  We’re not talking about the visual page, but the coded HTML behind the scenes.

Though you may not have put much thought into it, you would probably assume the search engine parser crawls the page from the top down.  We generally ignore how that fact impacts our SEO strategy from the web page coding level. 

With proper CSS design, the style sheet dictates layer positioning on the visual browser page.  That allows the designer to put keyword rich content at the top of the HTML code to be crawled first, without regards to the visual layout in the web browser.  It also allows for the placement of important links where the web crawler will be sure to find them.

Keyword Primacy and SEO

Don’t discount keyword positioning when implementing your SEO web design.  The paradigms of SEO require us to provide descriptive page titles and meta tags.  Take note of where those elelments exist in your page’s HTML code— at the very top.  Web crawlers take into account primacy when indexing your page.

The concept of primacy relies on the logic that the most important information will be presented first on any particular web page— like the title and keywords.  Once the crawler moves past the meta tags to your content, it assumes the subject focus for your page should soon follow.  If it doesn’t, your page indexing and ranking will suffer. 

The logic of primacy falls in line with search engines’ goals to provide reliable search results.  We’ve all seen the old internet bait and switch, particularly in emails.  So making sure that page content is relevant to the page title, and vice versa, plays a role in the indexing alogrithm of most search engines.

Top Down CSS Design Tips

1. Keyword Rich Content First
Layers containing keyword rich content should be the first layer after the ‘body’ tag.

2. Menus and Important Links Come Next
Put your main menu, and any other important links after the keyword rich content.  This assumes you have parsable links.  If you utilize Flash for your menus, this doesn’t matter— we’ll get to Flash in a moment. Parsers find text the easiest to crawl, so putting important links immediately following the most parsable content, increases the crawlers ability to index all of your site’s content.

3. Place Alt Texted Graphics After Links
The important thing to remember is alt texted graphics.  If you have aesthetic graphics that don’t have alt text—  either get rid of them, or find an appropriate alt text entry.  This doesn’t include Flash content.

4. Flash Files Go Last
Put your Flash based content at the very bottom.  The crawler can’t do anything with it anyway, so put it at the very end so it doesn’t get in the way of good content

The SEO Big Picture

In the grand scheme of SEO, our CSS design won’t put us at the top of the ‘charts’ so to speak.  Yet bad design can hinder any good SEO effort.  If you’ve invested in professional SEO consulting, you want to ensure maximum value for your investment.  So look at CSS web design as that leaky faucet that slowly drips, and over time wastes resources you would rather use in more important ways.

Parsing SEO From the Ground Up – The Finale

parserpart3We’ve talked about the parser, and how it deals with various web technologies, so lets address how you can verify what’s being parsed.

Google Webmaster Tools

Google makes content parsing verification easy with a set of tools— the Google Webmaster Tools.  If you haven’t utilized this tool set, then you’re not serious about SEO or SEM.  The Google Webmaster Tools gives you direct insight into what the googlebot— the name for Google’s parser, sees when it crawls your site.

Getting Started

The tool set doesn’t require any downloads or installation, its all web based, making it really easy to use. Like all Google online tools, it will require an account.  If you already have an AdWords or Analytics account, you are ready to go.   If not, registration only takes a minute.  You will need access to your web server.  In order to activate your account, Google requires you to verify your site ownership by uploading a file to your server.  Don’t worry, its a simple html file with a specific name, that you create.  No security issues to worry about, and you can delete the file once the account is verified.

The Google Webmaster Tools provides a great way to know how your website is being parsed.

The Google Webmaster Tools provides a great way to know how your website is being parsed.

Important SEO Metrics

Inside the tool set you’ll find a vast array of metrics.  We’ll look at few of the most important.

What Googlebot sees
This section provides the top 100 phrases and keywords in your site content– as the Google parser views your page.  If you’ve paid for professional SEO work, here’s where you can ensure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Top search queries
Another critical SEO/SEM tool.  What Google search queries provide you the most traffic?  You might be surprised.  Again, here you can verify that your SEM strategy is on the right track.  You can also discover other areas of potential SEM success.

Index Stats
Find out what pages Google already has indexed.  Important information, especially if you see pages missing. Also provides a list of pages that link to your sites homepage.  This is the most important stat in terms of Google organic SEO.

Diagnostics
Another important tool set.  Lets you know if Google had any problems crawling your site.  We discussed potential technology related crawling errors the last post— this particular tool provides a way to ensure those pages, and all the other pages of your site are crawled properly.

Only the Beginning of Your SEO Journey

Hopefully our walk through web crawling technology has demystified CSS web design. SEO and SEM are always a work in progress, but your web design will provide a solid foundation upon which to build.  You should also note that SEO and SEM efforts will be greatly improved with the proper use of web analytics.  Even if the parser sees the correct keywords and phrases, you must still consider the human factor.  You’ll definitely want to implement multivariate testing as a part of your analytics approach.

One final note.  It’s important to realize that the Google Webmaster Tools only gives you the Google perspective.  The MSN or yahoo search engines may view your site somewhat differently.  Yet, good results with the Google tools, generally means a good chance of success with other search engines as well.  At this time, I don’t know of any similar tools for the other major search engines.  If anyone out there knows of any, drop us a line so we can spread the word.

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.