Web and Hosting Tips
Written by Taylor Hawes
Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Staying ahead of technological curves and customer demands is essential to business success in a world that moves faster by the day. eCommerce in particular looks to be an area of intense development in the New Year, and the implications can mean increased revenue and reputation for your business. From going mobile to integrating your marketing approach, business is changing, and so should you.
Spearheading the evolution of eCommerce in 2014 is the evolution of mobile technology. As retailers recognize the importance of presence in a crowded market, those ready for the switch will see appreciable dividends from their mobile investment.
The concept is simple. With more individuals using their mobile devices to browse the web at their convenience, companies must respond in turn. Those unwilling or unable to recognize the importance of making shopping convenient for their customers will lose ground with competitors whose agile solutions better fit market expectations.
This agility comes in multiple forms. Responsive web design, a method of designing websites around the myriad sizes and interface limitations of a broad range of devices, will allow customers to view websites both at home and on the subway with equal ease. Mobile payment options, such as PayPal and Google Wallet will allow customers to make purchases without the cumbersome need to input card information manually. Finally, evolving methods of tracking sales conversion from mobile activity will allow businesses to better understand which efforts are paying off and which need improvement.
As businesses continue to recognize the importance of delivering tailored content, product offerings, and marketing to their customers, new platforms will evolve that facilitate all three.
Currently, businesses rely on eCommerce systems to complete transactions, content management systems to deliver content marketing, and a third platform to distribute email marketing. The problem with this approach is that individual platforms do not communicate with one another, permitting an unwelcome disconnect between customer behavior and information tailored to pique their interest.
In 2014, platforms will develop that will integrate this system in order to better target audiences and individuals based on product purchases and web activity. By observing trends in customer purchases and marketing information viewed, businesses and their assets can better respond to current and changing customer needs. The result is a more agile business that understands its audience and can make a stronger impression with current and potential patrons.
The customer’s focus is no longer directed toward one channel or another for an appreciable amount of time. The modern Internet user is a rapidly moving and engaged individual that uses multiple channels to achieve multiple goals over varying times of day.
This sea change requires that businesses adapt to browsing habits in order to maintain relevance. The manner in which this accomplished has been referred to as “multi-channel presence”; creating a coherent brand across all channels upon which customers spend their time. The result of this approach is a distributed but ubiquitous message that remains on customer minds wherever they go.
For your business, this requires understanding your target audience and bringing your marketing to their venues on interest. Prominent businesses are performing market research to paint a picture of user behavior and then create social media accounts with tailored content that engages users on that platform. A strong business might have accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest, all with content that resonates with the respective audience.
As methods for tracking customer preferences and behavior develop, customers are learning to expect a more personalized experience both on and off. Instead of rote marketing emails covering a range of products, distributed content must offer recommendations or highlight sales that are relevant to individual interests.
This arises from a growing recognition that customers with to engage their brand more actively than ever before. Whether that engagement comes in the form of a comment on social media, a conversation in a brick-and-mortar store, or online shopping advice, discerning patrons want a personalized experience and a human face from their place of business.
Traditionally, venture capital was the primary source of start-up cash for businesses looking to make an immediate impact. Since that time, however, non-traditional platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have enabled “crowd funding”; a method of drumming up start-up capital through the largesse of interested, everyday individuals.
What’s unique about this method of funding, aside from the source of capital, is its reliance on narrative to build interest. Successful campaigns on Kickstarter have a well-developed back story, an engaging personality, and an emotional appeal that connects the requesting business with the generous supporters. For small businesses in particular, this is an excellent opportunity to leverage a relative size disadvantage into an appealing connection.
In 2014, more businesses looking to turn innovation and an appealing narrative into business success will utilize these platforms to great success. The key lies in emphasizing your human connection and giving back to more generous patrons with exclusive access to events and early product tests. The combination of engagement and involvement will help customers become invested in your business and build the resources needed to elevate your efforts.
The New Year promises to be one of customer involvement, engagement, and accommodation. Businesses who recognize the importance of mobile will find the benefit of existing where their customers do. Integrated marketing platforms and efforts will help make sense of distributed activities and presence. Finally, customer engagement will drive revenue and even generate funding in the process. Regardless of the specific venue, eCommerce is changing, and your business stands to benefit from the exciting evolution.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Friday, January 24th, 2014
As a business owner, the threat of intentional harm to your business-critical data is of great concern. With opportunistic cyber criminals profiting from the vulnerability of unsecured companies every day, making security a priority is simple dollars and cents. Fortunately, strong, time-tested security practices and a little education can help keep your business from becoming a victim. Here’s how to turn your screen door network into a bank vault of data integrity.
Establish Secure Device Practices
Begin by shoring up your infrastructure. For a modern business, this can involve an array of hardware and mobile devices, each of which represents a potential liability for your network security.
Computers located at your workplace should follow rudimentary security protocols both online and off. Employees should lock their computers when stepping away, even for a moment. In addition, attention should be paid to what external parties enter the workplace, when, and for how long. Anti-virus and anti-malware software should be installed and kept current on all computers and all software installed on the machines should be kept up to date as well.
In addition, all banking performed by the business should be performed exclusively on one machine with no other activity on said machine permitted. Social networking, email, and downloading open specific machines up to security vulnerabilities, and when finances are conducted on a machine possessing such vulnerability, the consequences can be dire.
If your company does work on mobile phones, additional accommodations should be made for them as well. Make sure that all wireless connections within the company are encrypted and secured. Whether provided or owned, employee phones should possess a passcode that changes on a regular basis, with the option selected to wipe the phone after a number of unsuccessful inputs. If your company provides mobile devices, install security software that allows for remote wiping, just to be sure.
Establish Secure Online Practices
With your machines secure, the activities conducted on them must be as well. This is true particularly for business activities, but improving the security of employees’ personal browsing habits will also improve security.
Institute secure access protocols that will build a strong barrier between hackers and your critical information. Require that employee passwords change on a regular basis, generally 60 to 90 days, be of a considerable length, and contain a diverse range of characters (numbers, capitals, and symbols). For businesses running email through Google’s platform, two-factor authentication can be enabled that requires a code from a mobile application. This functionality adds an additional layer to your efforts that password cracking programs can’t breach.
Exercise caution when utilizing cloud services, despite their convenience. Data sent over unencrypted channels is a prime target for hackers, and the major cloud services, including DropBox and iCloud, have been compromised multiple times in the recent past. If your business must use cloud services, thoroughly investigate the security protocols of your vendor or leverage your business’ IT department to build a solution in-house.
Educate Your Staff
Top-down implementation of security protocols will help build an enforcement structure, but getting employees to actually act on established policies requires training. While many threats can be lessened through automation and device policies, the real vulnerability of your critical data lies with uneducated personnel.
Explaining your policies to your staff will help them understand the need for such strict enforcement. Your training should include sections on password policies, email practices, and data flows so that they understand what makes them so vulnerable. In addition, it your staff should be enlisted to help identify intrusions and report potential vulnerabilities.
Your training should also include a comprehensive conversation about email phishing. While hackers do attempt to pick the digital locks of secure systems, the most efficacious form of intrusion is through elicit software installed through user admission. Inform them regarding what a trusted email/email address looks like and how to spot a fake. Encourage them to avoid downloading or installing anything unless the identity of the publisher is known. Remind them that they’re as much apart of your security system as the software and hardware you use, and that responsible browsing is an essential part of keeping critical information secure.
Invest In Failsafes
While you can certainly do your best to batten down the hatches, intrusions do occur. Whether through a new method of phishing or more sophisticated network intrusion technology, your business must be prepared to deal with the consequences when they occur.
Proprietary information is essential to the competitive advantage of your business so whether its stolen or lost, maintaining it is the key. Invest in localized and third-party backup systems in order to redundantly store all important information. Make sure that your third-party provider has sound security and encryption protocols as well, so that an intrusion into their system does not compromise your information integrity.
To fully cover your bases, invest in data insurance. Policies exist that can help cover damages in cases of cybercrime and, even if you can’t get your data back, the compensation for your crisis will provide necessary resources to reboot and rebuild.
Data security has become as essential to business operations as sales. Your information is your livelihood, and employing the right policies and protocols will help guard your precious assets from compromise. Build your infrastructure around secure usage and implement software and browsing policies that eliminate potential vulnerability. Train your staff to become a security asset and invest in backups in case things go totally awry. Guard your intellectual capital and your financial data, and your firm can feel safer conducting business as usual.
For more information on how to keep your business safe and secure, explore these additional resources.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Being a website owner can be hard work. Moderating comments, creating content, and handling the design and performance of your site can take up a great deal of your time. But the work is worth the payout, and focusing on the elements of your site that matter can actually make your life easier in the New Year. With a little design overhaul, your site can be more responsive, more usable, and more visually appealing, driving viewers and customers to your doorstep, and validating all that extra investment.
If you haven’t yet heard the term “responsive web design”, it’s only a matter of time. The term refers to a range of HTML and CSS mechanisms that allow a web page to change configuration based on the device it’s being viewed on. For businesses in particular, this new development in web design is more than a trend, it’s a necessity.
Customers are going mobile. Between laptops, tablets, and cell phones, the range of devices used to view the Internet is growing by the day. Because of this, customers expect the Internet to adapt to their changing needs. If your website can’t be viewed on a mobile device, then your business misses out on valuable traffic and your brand appears behind-the-times in the eyes of customers.
For this reason, building a responsive website should be your top priority in 2014. Using liquid layouts and CSS grid systems, coupled with media queries, your code can facilitate the change with surprising ease. The key is to remember that each device has specific capabilities, and your site should reflect that. For example, enable large fonts for your mobile site so that smaller screens don’t result in a more difficult viewing experience. Adapt your business’s online storefront to the needs of your customers and your customers will thank you with sales.
Make Usability a Priority
The concept of responsiveness is only part of a growing trend in web design in the New Year. While previous iterations of the Internet focused on loading times, graphic flare, and SEO, growing availability of high-speed Internet, changing design trends, and an enhanced Google algorithm have rendered these concerns largely moot.
What users want in this new era, subconsciously or otherwise, is usability. The modern visitor is looking for an accessible site that’s easy to understand, allowing them to reach the information they seek without difficulty. While this does call for some additional accommodation on your part, the benefit of fulfilling this need is happier customers and better perception.
Explaining the concept of usability here would likely consume a dozen or more pages and a great deal of your time. However, there are some simple considerations to make when re-designing your website:
• Make the navigation, important information, and any “sign-up” or “subscribe” buttons as obvious and visible as possible.
• Use larger font sizes and expressive typography to convey a message without the slow loading times of images.
• Don’t be afraid of white space. It reduces visual clutter and makes a site more pleasing to the eye.
• Make it easy to contact your team and add sharing buttons to enable social traffic.
These are just a few of the ways that you can design your site around the viewer’s natural behavior. Above all else, look at your site and ask yourself, “If I were brand new, could I find what I was looking for in less than 5 seconds?”
A big component of usability is speed. Effective websites that fulfill customer wishes do not load slowly. After all, the Internet reader is impatient, and with high-speed Internet and many websites loading at light speed, it’s not without cause. Keeping up with your competitors and the web at large will improve your site and your conversion rate.
Currently, two primary schools of optimization are changing the way the web works, even without our realizing it. The first is basic website optimization in a growing age of visuals. With more and more sites using large-scale visuals, and a greater volume of visuals in general, page load times are the first casualty. Some basic rules to follow:
• Always use images on your site, uploaded at the resolution that they will be used.
• Multi-color photographs and detailed illustrations should be uploaded in JPEG format.
• Plain-color graphics and images with large blocks of identical coloring (the sky does not count) should be uploaded in GIF format.
• Use CSS rules to set the height and width of your images so that your content doesn’t load strangely before the image appears.
The second school helps page load times through typography. This occurs in two ways. The first: using large-format display fonts creates a visually appealing and eye-catching page without the hassle of loading an image. The second: icon fonts, fonts specially designed to display common, plain-color graphics, can be used in place of many graphics to help reduce load times. By implementing these two solutions, your site will look more distinctive, and appear quicker, satisfying the eyes and attention spans of eager readers.
Creating a website is not what it once was. From the early days of XHTML to the new era of expressive web design, users and businesses alike are learning the ropes and improving their appeal in the process. In 2014, make your website a priority with a visual and usability overhaul, and enjoy the extra revenue that such a simple change can bring.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Whether you’re a charming local shop or a big-time business, online retail is a huge opportunity to take advantage of. The bonus? Building your own online shop is not as difficult as you might think. With the right solutions, some design know-how, and attention to the critical components of customer satisfaction, your online shop can take shape, starting today.
What do I need?
With an online store becoming an expectation of retailers, solutions have been built that help get your shop online as quickly and effortlessly as possible. eCommerce solutions, such as WooCommerce, facilitate your product catalog, shopping cart system, and logistics more readily than a ground-up shop. While it may not possess the unparalleled flexibility of an in-house solution, putting your wares on the Internet sooner rather than later is the goal.
With a working site in place, it’s important to facilitate transactions for obvious reasons. Customers are more likely to purchase your products if they are provided with payment options they trust. Here, PayPal fits the bill nicely, though the 2.9% plus $0.30 fee per transaction can add up quickly. For this reason, there’s no better solution than enabling credit card purchases, which means setting up merchant accounts with card vendors.
How Should It Look?
If your business has an existing website, then your online shop should mimic it as closely as possible. Doing so avoids confusion and helps capitalize on the reputation your brand has earned from your prior marketing efforts.
eCommerce solutions provide this functionality, though sometimes at a premium. At the very least, each service allows you to select a color scheme and upload a company logo, which is an excellent basis with which to start. For a modest fee, you can further customize the appearance to better match your original scheme, so it’s important to gauge what your brand image is worth to your organization.
How Should I Present My Products?
Shoppers have very specific expectations when shopping online, outlined by the unique context of digital purchases. Without the in-store opportunity to touch materials and observe product quality, online shoppers need more convincing through visuals and pertinent information in order to turn a view into a sales conversion.
The key is to eliminate the pain points of the process. Make the price clearly visible so that customers know what they’re getting into. Reinforce this with product specifications that are relevant to its quality. Finally, approximate the in-store experience as much as possible with multi-angle, high-resolution images and a few shots of the product being used/worn by someone “in the wild”. Doing so helps instill confidence in the purchasing process, and allows customers to see themselves using the product in their own life.
How Should I Handle Logistics?
The next two essential components of your online store are shipping and returns/exchanges. When shipping products, it is best to build a relationship with a carrier. Having an account with an established carrier will help you earn discounts and improve their service. Shipping calculations then go through your carrier, and most eCommerce platforms will display the shipping costs to the customer based on this information.
When handling returns, it’s important to have a clear policy and protocol. Customers are far less likely to do repeat business with a company whose return policy is inconvenient. Provide pre-paid shipping labels or, at the very least, coherent instructions that make the process understandable. Whatever you do, avoid putting the responsibility of shipping on the shoulders of the customer, as lost returns, bad experiences, and wasted clerical time will cost you far more in the long run than a few pre-paid returns.
How Can I Promote My Store?
Once your store is online and all the pieces are in place, it’s time to publicize. The Internet is a crowded place, and standing out requires making an impression in the minds of current and potential customers. Recent marketing research has shown that a “multi-channel” presence will raise awareness of your site by repeatedly delivering a coherent message on each of the channels where your customers exist.
Find out where your core audience resides and build your strategy around those channels. Create a hashtag for Twitter that exemplifies your brand in order to spread the word. Post pictures of new products on Pinterest and reach out to your customers. Keep your branding consistent and your presence prevalent, and your store, and sales will benefit.
Creating an online store is an exciting endeavor, but getting your ducks in a row is a vital part of the process. Start by gathering the needed solutions and then design it to match your business website. Present your products with the customer’s needs in mind and promote your presence through fruitful social media channels. Finally, handle logistics with a dedicated carrier and do what you can to facilitate seamless and simple transactions. Your business success is built upon a strong foundation, and with these considerations in mind, your foundation can deliver future success in droves.