Category Archives: Digital Marketing

Small Business Website Options

There are a couple of things that small businesses need to consider when building their first website.

Before they even get to the building phase, they should understand who their audience is and the purpose of the website. Is it a retail customer (a specific demographic?), other businesses, a certain type of professional, or some other target? What do they want the visitor to do once they come to the site? Get an address or phone number? See a menu? Make an appointment? Buy something directly? Once they know who they’re talking to, they can develop their message, design, and functionality around that customer.

When it comes to platforms, there are several ways to do it, from free builders, to WordPress templates, to a completely custom website. Here are some pros and cons on the general methods:

“Free” Platforms (Wix, Squarespace)
The good thing about these platforms is that they are inexpensive and relatively easy to use (although slightly frustrating at times). They have themes that you can select from and you can swap out some photos and text and be done. If you don’t need something too custom, this may be a good option for you. The largest downside is that you’re locked into their platform and hosting. You won’t be able to move your website.

Pre-existing WordPress Themes
These can be a good option to get a nice design for cheap. You’ll need a WordPress site set up and will either have to work with a freelancer to set up your theme or do it yourself. It’s not rocket science but there can often be some technical challenges. Once you’re familiar with the theme on the back end, you’ll often be able to customize the site and add additional content. This is a good option if you’re planning a blog or a site with a lot of content. The biggest danger with a pre-existing theme is performance. Since they are often built to accommodate multiple variations and different scenarios, they can be bloated and extremely slow, which will hurt your user experience and your SEO.

Custom WordPress Themes
A website development company can develop custom WordPress themes for your website based on any design. This gives you the flexibility of having WordPress as your content management system, but allows you to have a design and website that is customized to your business. This can make a tremendous difference in site performance as well as provide you a way to stand apart from your competition. The downside to a custom WordPress theme is the time and cost to develop it. It often begins with a design phase, then production/development, testing, and implementation.

E-Commerce
The two most popular platforms for e-commerce are WooCommerce (on WordPress) and Shopify. If you’re looking to begin selling products on your own website, definitely check them out. Shopify is an all-inclusive platform that has a lot of features built in. WooCommerce allows you to add various plugins and make modifications to do just about whatever you need. The factor that usually helps us decide is the other content on the site. If you plan on having a robust website, along with an e-commerce store, we recommend WooCommerce. If you just need a store and don’t have much other content, Shopify might be the way to go.

Finally, there are lots of other technologies and platforms out there, but for a small business, these are probably the best places to start.

 

This post contains affiliate links to some products or services. The links do not change your cost.

Google Translate Sample Page

This is a page to show how the Google translate widget works on a website. Google no longer provides new access to Google Translate for websites. They prefer you utilize the chrome translation function.

If you’re thinking about using the Google Translate widget, you can implement it by going to the Google Translate page, clicking on Translate Website at the bottom of the page, set up a site, and add some code to your website. It will then take all the text on your website and update it to the language the user selects.


Use the code below to add the widget to your website:

<div id="google_translate_element"></div>
<script type="text/javascript">
function googleTranslateElementInit() {
  new google.translate.TranslateElement({pageLanguage: 'en'}, 'google_translate_element');
}
</script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="//translate.google.com/translate_a/element.js?cb=googleTranslateElementInit"></script>

Machine translation is only about 70% accurate, so if you need to make sure your content is translated exactly as you want, then you are better off doing it manually and implementing a system that allows you to maintain it as easily as possible. Also, keep in mind that Google Translate doesn’t do images, so any images with text will still have the original text in them (notice the language on the books doesn’t change when you select a different language).

Google Translate is a good tool if you need some quick translations, but we don’t recommend it as a solution for everyone.

Why Your Nephew’s Friend’s Cousin Isn’t Your Best Bet for a Web Designer

There are a lot of people out there with at least a little knowledge of how to get a website up and running. Many can do it on the cheap — and if you’re family, they may even do it for the incredibly low price of free.

They may be able to hook you up with a free website on some shared service, cobble together a template and copy your brochure onto an online platform. But what you’ve got, despite low prices and possibly the fact that your ‘web designer’ can keep it all in the family, is not the website that can help your business grow online.

Why Family and Friends Don’t Make for Good Web Designers

There are exceptions, of course, to the suggestion that you shouldn’t use a family member to do the design for your website: you may have some real gems in your family. But the typical situation is that if you stick within your personal circle, you’re going to face a lot of constraints. You have to bring your new website down to the level that you know that they can complete. That can start all sorts of problems, because not everyone knows how to set up hosting, how to do a website that isn’t based entirely on templates, how to get traffic to your website and so on.

The simple truth is that few of us would choose a relative to build the actual store that our business sits in. We’d be in much better shape and have a better chance of growing our businesses if we go to professional architects and contractors. The same is true for our websites. There are web designers that specialize in building sites that make it easier for you to sell your services or products online.

Picking a Web Designer on the Right Basis

If family ties aren’t enough to help you choose a web designer, what is? Choosing one on the basis of experience building sites in your industry can be one of the best strategies available. Review a designer’s portfolio and actually visit the websites he’s built: Do they work well? Do they look professional? Would you trust that company?

You should also compare estimates, between professional web designers, rather than between a pro and a family friend who happens to know a little HTML. Comparing apples to oranges may, in this case, only get you worms. Rather, comparing numbers between professionals can help you get an idea of not only what your website is worth, but what you may need to pay for in the future, like hosting. Most professional designers are also willing to sit down with you and run through the numbers, explaining the value you’re getting.

It’s tempting to try to keep your business’ costs to minimum. Turning to a relative who claims that he can get you a website for free is definitely more appealing than cutting a big check to a web design company. But what you get for your money is a very different story.

HTML, CSS and Other Web Design Jargon Business Owners Need to Know

The features your website offers will determine how much professional assistance you’ll require to create your presence on the Internet. Even if your website is entirely a leave-it-to-the-experts job, you’ll want to have a basic understanding of the terms used in web design.

As Web developers, we often throw around terms in meetings that our clients may or may not know. Terms like themes, CSS, SEO and a bunch of others.

Here’s a primer on some of the jargon associated with designing a website so you’ll be in-the-know when the acronyms start flying about:

CMS (Content Management System) — Your designer may choose to use a program called a CMS to create your website. WordPress and Drupal are two popular CMSs. They include the interface in which text, photos and the other content that comprises your website are entered. When created in a CMS, oftentimes, you can update your site’s content on your own without needing to hire a designer every time you change a price or add a photo. However, the CMS systems need to be maintained so they stay up to date and don’t get hacked.

Theme — Often this word is used in relation to a website’s design, or overall presentation. A website’s theme is its appearance, including the number of columns, location of particular features that appear on the page and the look of any graphical elements. The design, or theme, is the foundation upon which the look of the site is built.

Many platforms on which websites are built, like, WordPress or Drupal,  use the theme to keep the design of the site consistent. While the client can change the content on the site (the text, images, posts, etc.) typically, updating the theme requires more technical knowledge.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) — This is the technical term for the computer code that creates the ‘style’ of your website. In other words, CSS dictates how all the elements of the site’s appearance will be displayed, such as:

so that whenever these elements appear, they are consistently displayed site-wide. The CSS also controls how your site displays on various screen sizes, for example if your site is responsive, it will display differently on a mobile device with a smaller screen size.

Browser – This is the program on your computer or mobile device that you use to view websites. Internet Explorer (IE), Safari, Chrome, and Firefox are all browsers. There are also different versions of each browser, for example IE 8, 9, or 10.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) — This is the computer code that creates the structure of each page on your website. It includes information about the page, such as the version of HTML that is being used, links to other scripts (including javascript and css), search engine information such as page titles, and the content of your webpage.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) — Search engines are the means by which Internet searches are conducted. SEO includes measures you take when developing your site (including proper keyword insertion and search engine-friendly site development tactics) to make the content on your website more likely to come up in Internet searches. Optimized content ranks higher in search results – and is therefore more easily found by interested people.

JavaScript – JavaScript allows additional functionality within a webpage. It can be used to make a webpage more usable, report information back to the web server, create animation and more. Although it can be very useful, it can also be disabled by the visitor to the website. Java and JavaScript are not the same.

Java – Java is a programming language, typically used to create applications. While it can be used to create websites, typically smaller sites don’t use Java. In order to run a Java application in your browser, you will need to have Java (the application) installed on your computer. Java and JavaScript are not the same.

A basic understanding of web design jargon will help you feel like you speak the language as you tackle creating your website on your own or consult with a designer.

Staying Up to Date on Web Design

What You Need to Know and What Your Designer Will Handle

As a business owner, you can’t afford to focus all your time and energy on web design: you’ve got to hustle to find customers, handle your accounting and manage all the different parts of your company. That doesn’t mean that you can get away with knowing absolutely nothing about web design, though.

In order to make sure that you get a website that will actually help your business to grow, you need to know at least a little about actually designing a website, as well as how to find the best possible web designer. After all, you wouldn’t buy a car without knowing how to drive it or how to find a good mechanic.

What You Need to Know About Web Design

Knowing the basics of web design is a matter of vocabulary, and understanding the definitions of the words on your list. Here are a few terms to get you started.

What You Need to Know About Website Designers

A good web designer is always willing to discus the technology aspects of your website with you. Not only should your designer be able to come up with the right design and appearance for your site, but they should be ready to talk to you about the decisions that go into creating a reliable and useful website. If your designer isn’t comfortable with the technical elements required to develop your website, you can always work with multiple vendors with one supplying the design and the other doing the production.

Staying Up to Date on Web Design

The next website you have created for your company isn’t likely to be the last site you’ll ever need. Most companies find it necessary to update their sites regularly, as well as may need specialized sites or pages for individual promotions or projects. That makes it worth your while to keep up to date on what’s going on in the world of web design.

5 Tips to Changing Your Brand Without Losing Customers

Redoing your website and print branding can refresh your business’ image and help you attract new customers — but such changes can be less beneficial for your existing customers. When you’ve invested time and money into creating a brand, updating it can make your business less recognizable to your clients, as well as lead them to question if you’re changing anything else.

Handling such a change carefully is important to making sure your customers stick with you through the process.

  1. Bring your clients in on the process. Especially if you want to continue to target the same market, connecting with your existing customer base gives you opportunities to really find out where you can tweak or revamp your branding. You have the added benefit of being able to warn customers about coming changes to your brand long before they need to be comfortable with them.
  2. Make the changeover personal. It’s a rare business that doesn’t rely on personal connections to keep customers happy. And what holds true in customer service is also true when your business is in transition. Take the time to reach out to customers and clients personally — whether the owner or another representative of the business makes the call — means that they’re more likely to even be aware of the change, which makes it much easier for them to spot your mail, online communications and other branding materials.
  3. Explain the transition. Since most businesses don’t rebrand at the drop of a hat, there’s probably some logic behind the decision to change things up. Take the time to share that reasoning with your customers, especially those that you particularly look forward to working with in the future.
  4. Follow up after rebranding. You may not have to follow the communications process too carefully, though if you’re sending out invoices and similarly crucial business documents under your new brand, you should certainly make the effort. When a customer recognizes your email newsletters or your mailing envelopes, sending out anything that looks differently will make it harder for them to pull those communications out of the piles that most people and businesses receive over the course of a day. Following up can be the only way to be sure that your messages get through.
  5. Live up to customers’ prior experiences. The truth behind the matter is that your customers may be unsure about what your transition means for them. They chose to work with you, in part because of your branding. Whether you’re changing what customers you focus your branding for or are just changing your color palette, you’re no longer exactly the business a client signed up to work with. The only way to address this problem is to continue to offer great services or products so that your customers can tell that, behind your new branding, your business’ values are still the same.

With these steps, you can move your business to the next level while still maintaining your connections with your customers or clients.

 

4 Ways You Can Help Your Customers Trust Your Website

A website makes an immediate and lasting impression on customers as to a business’ overall mission, personality and trustworthiness. A website that makes customers feel safe and welcome is a champion for a business’ reputation. Does your business website foster a sense of trust in your customers?

Whether your business is represented by your website or is an e-commerce venture conducted directly on it, there’s a lot you can do to make it a trusted destination for your customers. Nurture trust by providing an atmosphere that demonstrates respect and consideration for your customers. Like being a good resident of any community, the more approachable you are, the more neighbors are likely to drop by for a visit.

Here are four ways in particular to help your customers trust your website:

  1. Be a friendly neighbor. Rock your About Page by clearly explaining what you do, where you do it, why you do it and for whom. Being forthcoming with information will let your visitors will know right away if this is where they want to be, if they want to learn more and if they want to do business with you. Respect their valuable time by using straightforward language rather than technical jargon or vague generalities. Show customers there are actual people running and working in your business by including biographies and photos. It’s much easier to trust people than an anonymous entity. Express your interest in engaging with your visitors by including contact information.
  2. Participate in a neighborhood watch. Help your visitors feel safe when their confidential information is transmitted to and from your site by providing an SSL Certificate which indicates that the process is secure. This measure provides the assurance to your customers that you take the secure transfer of their data seriously.
  3. Show that someone’s home. When there’s no sign of activity on your website, readers will get the impression that they’re visiting an abandoned property rather than a legitimate, thriving business. Post relevant and helpful content frequently so your customers will see that your business is alive and well and actively committed to serving them. Create a blog where you can directly and immediately communicate with your customers via your website.
  4. Remodel / update / repair as necessary. An outdated website is as undesirable as an abandoned one. Run the newest version, install current technology, keep it fresh, attractive and operating flawlessly. It’s difficult to trust a poorly maintained website (and the business it represents) so make every effort to keep your site looking sharp and working well.

Is there any more important element than trust in your relationship with customers? Because your website represents your degree of commitment to your business, maintaining a site your customers trust is critical to your success and growth. Your website can be your biggest asset to demonstrating trust — or the biggest detractor from it. Incorporating these simple elements into your website will go a long way toward fostering customers’ trust in it — and ultimately in your business itself.

Getting Your Employees on Board with Your Social Media Policy

It’s not just the marketing staff who can reach out to customers these days: any one of your employees may have a Facebook account, a blog or a presence on various sites out there. Depending on your employees, that can be a very good thing or a very bad thing.

The Problem with Social Media Policies

It’s very tempting to create draconian policies prohibiting your employees from using social media, or at least telling them never to mention your company’s name online. But it’s essentially impossible to enforce such rules. Even attempting to ban the use of social networks while at work is tough in the era of smartphones. If you’re serious about having and enforcing such policies, you have to be prepared to stare at every one of your employees every hour of the day in order to be sure that they’re following the rules. It’s not a practical situation.

The alternative is creating a social media policy that your employees are on board with, that they feel that they can live with and that satisfies you as well. Such an approach can also give you the opportunity to talk to any employees that might be interested in working on social media initiatives within your company.

Putting Together Your Social Media Policy

The first step to a good social media policy is to find out how your employees already use sites like Facebook and Twitter. A survey of your employees can be a good starting point, along with an online search for their names. When you have a clear picture of what your team is already doing, you’re in a better position to identify what you do need to discuss with them and perhaps even spot where they can help you.

From there, you should consider what your own social media needs are. If you need employees to monitor social media accounts or look for online commentary about your company, that needs to be a key topic for your policy: rather than listing out the things that your employees shouldn’t do, go from a positive approach and discuss the goals you’re hoping to accomplish.

You will likely find that there are at least some behaviours that you need to describe as not fitting the image you want to establish for the organization as a whole. Including such problem areas in your policy is a start, as long as you’re specific enough that employees don’t feel like they’re being faced with a long list of ‘can’ and ‘cannot.’

Teach Your Social Media Policy

Don’t just send out a memo to your employees, telling them the company’s new policies on social media. Train them so that they can handle those policies. The more training you can provide, the less likely you are to have problems — or even need policies. An employee who knows that you want to use Twitter to seek out and address problems is more valuable than an employee who you have to monitor on Twitter on a regular basis, after all.

5 Ways to Spot a Social Media Trend You Can Safely Ignore

Everyone is excited about the power and influence of social media. Technology has facilitated a way for people to conduct real-time conversations from across the room and across the globe. Social media represents the opportunity for you to spread the word about your business to a huge and interested audience with ease and at your convenience at a relatively low cost. Social media is an advertising dream come true — when, that is, it’s used intelligently and responsibly.

Like all technology, social media is constantly evolving. And true human nature, people often become excited and overzealous at the prospect of using technology to connect with an even larger audience. It seems there’s a new social media site or trend coming down the pike every day. Some may enable you to connect more effectively with your audience, while others are merely gimmicks that will ultimately waste your time and that of your social media community. How do you know which trends are worth your time and effort to investigate further and which you can safely ignore? Here are some ways to help you filter out which to heed and which to let slide by:

  1. Stay true to your social media strategy. (You do have a social media strategy, right?) While it needn’t be a comprehensive plan, you should have a basic idea of why you’re participating in social media, how you communicate with your community, what you hope to gain from it and some way to measure those elements. Staying true to your strategy represents integrity on your company’s part. Look for legitimate value to you and to your community before jumping on any new social media bandwagons.
  2. Beware of unrealistic hype. Listen with a critical ear to claims of incredible results and dazzling statistics. What are the trend’s proponents really measuring? Is that a metric that means something concrete for your social media campaign — or is it just an attempt at making something meaningless seem significant?
  3. Evaluate its potential for “spam” factor. Whether a new trend is effective or not, you don’t want to be guilty of spamming your community. Your social media fans do not appreciate hearing from you too often or you being too self-promotional. Remember, social media is about give and take within the community, so don’t let anyone convince you that more is necessarily better.
  4. Consider motive of those who are promoting it. Think not only about what’s in a social media trend for you — but about what may be in it for its promoters? Is there a chance that they are disguising an attempt to drive traffic to themselves as a beneficial trend for you?
  5. Consider your community. People appreciate consistency. They don’t want to jump through needless hoops, download programs or visit other sites just to connect with you. Your community is no doubt connected to you for the value you provide and not for your cutting edge tactics. Avoid any trend that will alienate, confuse or frustrate your loyal followers.

While it’s important to remain agile and current with your social media efforts, it’s of equal importance to avoid seeming flighty by jumping on every new trend. The wisdom is in knowing the difference between a substantial, useful, social media tactic and one that becomes a popular trend because it’s new and shiny. Careful consideration of your overall social media strategy and your online community will help you safely ignore those trends that won’t benefit your marketing efforts and adopt the ones that will.

Mobile Traffic: 3 Questions Business Owners Need to Ask

For most websites, the number of visitors using mobile devices — smart phones, iPads and similar gadgets — is on the rise. That makes it truly important that you take your mobile visitors into account when planning any changes to your website. Doing otherwise is simply a fast way to miss out on sales.

There are three key questions that you need to ask in order to make sure that you’re presenting the best experience to anyone visiting your site from a mobile device.

  1. Is your site responsive? A responsive website will reformat for mobile devices, ideally making the site more usable on phones and tablets. If you’ve built your website in the past 5 years or so, it probably is, but a lot of older B2B websites that we encounter are not mobile friendly.
  2. What do mobile visitors need to do on your site? If someone is accessing your website through their phone, odds are good that they’re not trying to read every page on your site. So creating a mobile version that emphasizes those tasks that a visitor actually needs to complete makes sense. Maybe they need to place an order quickly or confirm a price. Making it particularly easy to perform such tasks will win over customers who rely on their mobile devices.
  3. How are you marketing to your customers? If you’re doing email marketing, a lot of emails are opened on mobile devices, so you need to make sure that your website and/or landing pages are mobile friendly. This will help increase conversion rates and improve the overall user experience.

With a growing percentage of all online traffic coming from mobile devices, you don’t have any option but to make sure that visitors to your site can read what you have to offer. They have to be able to interact with your site whether they’re on an iPad, on the phone or anywhere else.

When you consider that it’s even more likely that a business owner or manager is likely to be out and about when they need information online, it’s especially important for B2B companies to make sure that their websites are ready for mobile users.