Posts Tagged 'Small Business'

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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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.

10 Tips to Improve eCommerce Sales

analyticsrhtcolpromoThe holiday buying season has come and gone. Now its back to the day-to-day grind in terms of sales. What little money many consumers had, has been spent. So now we need to really focus on converting visitors to buyers.

Once you implement your marketing strategy, its time to find ways to close the deal. Internet retailing relies heavily on your technical infrastructure and store design. I’ve formulated ten tips gathered from advice by the biggest players in the eCommerce space. Read now, and you’ll find a bonus tip:

1. Identify Your Top Searches

Plain and simple, you will need to be customer focused to be successful. Knowing what customers want, makes you better able to serve them.  Perform test searches. You want to make sure visitors find what they want– and you provide. For obvious reasons, note searches for items you don’t sell.

2. Find Customer Exit Points

Outside of your sales confirmation page, you want to know where customers most often leave your site. If they leave at your product pages, it might be time for a redesign. If they leave during the checkout process, look at ways to simplify your checkout process.

3. Test Site Performance

Online shoppers don’t like to wait. If they did, they would shop at a physical store. Test how well your site functions at peak times.  Test user flows to analyze your purchasing paths.  Be particularly aware of any errors that occur. Test during low traffic periods as well. If performance problems still exist, this might be an indicator of a software or hardware problem. Compare your site metrics with these indice from ECommerce Times, to see how your site measures up to competitors.

4. Monitor Usability

Usability may be a reason for some of the exit points you found in tip #2.  Navigation should be a key area of focus, especially for sites with large offerings. If users get lost, or can’t find what they’re looking for, statistics tell us they’ll find another retailer. 

You also want to test your usability in various browsers and browser versions. With the introduction of Chrome, there’s a new landscape to traverse in terms of compatibility.

5. Optimize Product Pages

Test various layouts of your product pages.  Try different copy to determine what drives sales best. If you’re serious about increasing revenue, implement a multivariate testing strategy.

6. Find Customer Tendencies

Again, we’re back looking at customer focus. How customers navigate your site says a great deal about their needs. For example, if visitors tend to visit certain products in groups, you’ve got a hint on what to include in your cross-sells items list.

7. Make Your Most Popular Products Easy To Find

Sounds like common sense– and it is. Yet, many shopping sites don’t do this simple thing. If you sell shoes, make sure each subcategory page displays at least your top seller on that page. If you can display your top three, you’re in even better position to sell.

8. Simplify Checkout

As internet retailers, we have to accept cart abandonment. The idea will be to reduce it. Make sure your checkout process doesn’t confuse visitors. Add a step-by-step navigation bar at the top of the cart, indicating what steps still need to be completed. Consolidate steps where possible. Make sure you provide simple easy to understand instructions to facilitate checkout.  Don’t forget to make the ‘help’ or ‘faq’ button highly visible.

9. Address Shipping Charges Sooner Not Later

No one likes surprises on their bill. Provide shoppers with some expectations about shipping costs prior to checkout. 

10. Review Your Customer Service Plan

Recent surveys indicate that customer satisfaction with online shopping has dropped. The causes of this increased dissatisfaction have yet to be thoroughly identified. Be assured customer service will be some where on the list. Asses how well you handle customer inquiries and returns

Test and Retest      

Develop a conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategy. Testing various page layouts, copy and combinations of both, can greatly enhance you sales success. CRO should be just as important as SEO to your internet sales plan.               

Jeff Prus, senior director of user experience at VistaPrint recently stated at the Internet Retailer Conference 09, “VistaPrint regards ongoing site optimization as a revenue-generating function, one that generates millions of dollars per year in proven business value,” . CRO maximizes your SEO benefits. In these economic times every dollar counts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Parsing SEO From the Ground Up – Part 1

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Welcome to 2009, and a new year for the small business!  The bad news about the economy has all businesses– big and small, searching for ways to generate revenue.  Based upon all the expert predictions for the upcoming year, ecommerce looks like it might be in a position to grow.  Discount retailers have been somewhat immune to the effects of the economy, this means small businesses on the web should look for the customers looking for deals.  If you haven’t done so already, start thinking about your SEO strategy.  If you need some tips, take a look at this post from smallbiztechnology.com. This article touches on the risks of relying on your web designer for SEO.  The advice should be taken seriously.  Yet, the web designer doesn’t get a free pass when it comes to SEO.  The web designer has a direct effect on SEO.  In this post– the first in a series, we’ll talk about web design and its relationship to SEO.

Web Design and SEO

Web design and SEO are two separate things.  Your web designer might not be an SEO expert, and your SEO expert might not be a web designer.  That being stated, your web designer can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.  That last thought seems to contradict my first statement about SEO experts and web designers being two different entities.  Let’s clear up the apparent contradiction, and discern how your web designers can either hinder or enhance your SEO efforts.

Search Engines Begin With the Parser

We all know that Google, Yahoo and MSN allow us to search the web based upon keywords.  The searcher types in keywords or phrases, the search engine returns results.  Your objective as a small business owner– get in the top three listed results for your chosen keywords.  Real simple concept (What’s not so simple is the algorithm these engines utilize to rank pages).  Did you ever stop and think about how all those urls actually were found and cataloged? How do the search engines know that a particular page actually contains content about said keyword?  It’s not magic, its parsing.

Parsing the Web for Better Search Engine Results

More commonly known as a web spider or crawler, the parser represents the lynch pin of SEO.  That being said, very few SEO experts or Web Designers actually know how these tools work.  The parser reads the HTML of each page it parses.  It doesn’t see the page as humans do via a browser, it’s only concerned with the HTML code that creates the page.  To see what the parser sees, simply right-click on a web page, and select ‘view source’ from the menu.

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The source view gives a parser's perspective of your page content.

That’s how the parser views your page– but there’s more to it.  The parser doesn’t just read all the text within the page, it attempts to only read the content, with exceptions for following links and reading ‘alt’ tags for graphics.  The parser saves the text to be crunched by the formulas so your page can be ranked.  The parser follows link tags to the linked page and continues the process.

Not All HTML is Created Equal

So here’s the trick– some HTML parses more  easily than others. For example, ‘table’ tags don’t parse as easily as ‘div’ tags.  What does that mean?  That means if your designer utilizes tables to build your website– at one time a very common practice, there exists the chance that some of your content doesn’t get parsed.  It also means that if you have Flash based menus– some of those secondary pages may not be parsed.  No matter how well you’ve researched keywords or optimized your copy writing, if it doesn’t get parsed it won’t get ranked!

Protecting Your SEO Investment

Our discussion leads to a new set of questions.  You want to know how the parser deals with Flash, Active Pages (asp, jsp, php etc.) and AJAX. Those of you who have invested in a professional SEO expert want to know that you’re getting the most bang for your buck. In part 2 we will discuss web technologies like flash, active pages and AJAX.  In part 3 we’ll address how to confirm what the parser actually sees when crawling your site.