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The Future of Marketing: 3 Big Changes That Are Already Here

May 1st, 2013 ::

The Future of MarketingEach January, experts from every industry publish blog posts and articles that list their predictions of what’s going to happen over the next 12 months and how those changes will affect the industry.

This is not one of those posts – and not just because it’s May. We all know that marketing has shifted from offline to online, from analog to digital, and that marketing has become more personal.

Based on my research, there are 3 big changes that are already here but will continue to affect marketing over the next few years as they become more widespread.

1. Web and mobile sites will use responsive design to focus on the user experience

Responsive design means designing your website, tablet site, and smartphone site from one platform to keep the user experience consistent while taking advantage of each platform’s unique features.

Think about how you access the Web on each device. You navigate websites from a computer with a cursor, but you move around tablet sites by tapping and swiping. On your smartphone, you navigate a mobile site by tapping on a small screen.

What this means for you: With the explosion of tablet and smartphone use, especially when accessing email and the Web, it is critical that you have mobile and tablet sites that provide a great user experience.

2. Marketing will go beyond real-time

Ever hear of an Anticipatory Computer Engine? It will allow your smartphone to offer you relevant news, information, and recommendations based on where you are, what you’re doing, and what you’re talking about.

A San Francisco-based company called Expect Labs is developing a MindMeld iPad app, which will capture ambient audio, visual, and location-based information to interpret “meaning and intent from multiple different streams of sensor data.”

What this means for you: Yes, it’s kind of creepy, but think of it this way: one day, we will no longer have to search for information. The information we want will come to us, and, conversely, the information you are sharing online about your service will be delivered automatically to someone who is just sort of thinking about it.

3. Data will drive marketing

Analyzing and using big data for a variety of purposes will continue, but for now, there are quite a few tools at the small business owner’s disposal:

  1. Ad retargeting: Ads that appear in your browser after you leave a website without taking action (maybe you put 5 items in your Gap shopping cart but left the site without buying them).
  2. Predictive recommendations: Tailored recommendations based on products you have looked at or purchased (after you buy a book at Amazon.com, you always get recommendations for other books).
  3. Location-based social and mobile marketing: Mobile ads that appear from local retailers and merchants depending on your location (an offer from the pizza place you are about to walk by at 6pm).

What this means for you: Understanding someone’s behavior and interests helps you deliver tailored offers and messages when they are most receptive. In other words, you are marketing to people who are already qualified leads.

Are you already using some of the above technology? How has it improved your marketing?

Image courtesy of civilsociety.co.uk

Your 3-Step Plan for a Business Website That Drives Sales

January 29th, 2013 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Is your small business website driving the leads, customer engagement and sales you want? If it’s falling short of your goals, how can you help your business website perform better? Here are three steps to take.

  1. Focus on your target customers. If your website isn’t attracting enough customers, maybe it’s too vague and general. No business, or website, can succeed by trying to be all things to all people. Instead of casting a wide net, narrow your focus. Try developing a couple of “personas” that represent your target customer. Be as specific as you can. If your target customer is a busy mom, is she a working mom or a stay-at-home mom? How old are her children? What products is she looking for? Get as specific as you can; this will help you focus on the keywords that will drive that exact customer to your site. By pinpointing the specific groups you’re hoping to reach, you can develop a website that reaches out to those people.
  2. Focus on your customers’ pain points. A website is first and foremost a marketing tool, but sometimes small business owners forget this. Just like your other marketing materials, your small business website should show prospects that your business understands their pain points and is trying to solve them. Going back to the busy mom customer we mentioned above, if she is a working mom with an infant at home, one pain point might be the need to keep stocked up on diapers in order to avoid midnight runs to the convenience store. Your website and keywords should focus on solutions such as diaper delivery, diapers shipped to your home, auto-reorder of diapers and similar options.
  3. Focus on a call to action. Sometimes your business website is working well at attracting customers, but when they’re on your site, they just click around for a bit and leave. If customers aren’t taking action on your site, it’s probably because you’re not showing them a clear call to action. Every page on your site should drive customers to take a specific step, whether that’s “Buy now,” “Shop,” “Call us,” “Click to get a quote,” or “Chat with our operators.” If your product or service is one that doesn’t require a lot of thought, your call to action could be simple, such as “Buy now.” If it’s a product such as business equipment that requires a lot of hand-holding before a decision is made, there will be more steps involved, but you still need a call to action for each of those steps: “Click for more information,” “Request a quote,” etc. This is not the time to be subtle. Use action-oriented words that are very specific as to what you want customers to do. Emphasize them with color, hyperlinks and graphics.

Last, but not least, be sure that you test all the changes you make to your site by monitoring your analytics to see what users are doing. By making these changes, you’ll find your small business website driving a lot more business.

Image by Flickr user FutUndBeidl (Creative Commons)




Why Your Business Website Must Be Mobile-Friendly—and How to Do It

January 21st, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

There’s no question that consumer and business use of tablet computers is growing by leaps and bounds. The recent holiday shopping season put millions more tablets into consumers’ hands. Meanwhile, a recent report by Gartner notes that businesses are buying fewer PCs and instead turning to tablet computers.

Given all this, it’s clear why your small business website needs to be mobile-friendly, if it isn’t already. What are some factors to consider when optimizing your website for mobile use?

Use images wisely. The ability to display high-resolution photographs is a key part of the appeal of tablet computers like the iPad, but you need to make sure photos load quickly on a tablet or smartphone. Widely cited stats from Google say 60 percent of users expect mobile sites to load in 3 seconds or less, so don’t let photos slow you down.

Consider responsive design. The new trend in Web design, responsive design means creating sites in such a way that they “adapt” to the device being used and display differently depending on screen orientation, screen size and other factors. This can be a simpler option than the older method of developing different websites for each type of device or browser.

Use consistent elements. Your site should have the same overall look and feel whether it is viewed on a smartphone, tablet or desktop/laptop. Sure, there will be fewer and simpler elements on the smaller displays, but your website’s logo, colors, fonts and other elements of your brand image should carry over from one device to the next so that your site is instantly recognizable.

Develop simple navigation. Navigation on a touchscreen of a tablet or smartphone is different than mouse or trackpad navigation on a laptop or desktop. Account for the “fat-finger” factor; make sure users can easily tap, touch or swipe the icons they need to without hitting the wrong command by mistake.

Consider the competition. Before revamping your website for mobile use, check out what your key competitors are doing. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like when you access their sites on mobile devices. What seems to be missing that you could add to your site? Or what’s unnecessary on their site that you can eliminate from yours?

Borrow from the pros. Are there websites you frequently access on mobile devices that have a fantastic user experience? Whether or not these companies are competitors or even in your industry, take note of what makes them so enjoyable, and copy some of the same design, navigation and usability features on your own mobile site.

Editor’s Note : Network Solutions offers an easy way to build a website for mobile devices in mere minutes goMobi™, powered by dotMobi

Image by Flickr user muir.ceardach (Creative Commons)

Are You Leaving Money in Customers’ Online Shopping Carts?

January 16th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

The holiday shopping season resulted in as much as $43.4 billion in sales for online retailers. But a study performed by The Adcom Group for Virtual Hold Technology (VHT) suggests that number could have been much higher if consumers hadn’t struggled with a variety of obstacles to completing the online sale.

The study found that more than three-fourths of online shoppers ran into shopping roadblocks when they had a problem completing the purchase, but couldn’t find help online. A similar number reported that this frustration led them to give up entirely and abandon their online shopping cart.

What specific issues were causing problems?

  • Problems correctly reading and using the captcha – 80.3 percent
  • Trouble using promo codes, gift card redemption, or with other discount – 46 percent
  • Product was back-ordered – 32.5 percent
  • Had questions about product features and had difficulty finding answers  - 31 percent
  • The site timed out (or appeared to) – 30.5 percent
  • Had problems logging onto the site, setting up your account or remembering your password – 29.3 percent
  • Had questions about shipping and had difficulty finding answers – 24.7 percent
  • Had problems entering  credit card data or with credit card acceptance -22.6 percent
  • Had questions about product availability and had difficulty finding answers – 20.1 percent
  • Had problems re-setting your password – 18.9 percent
  • Had questions about the return policy and had difficulty finding answers – 15.9 percent

Here’s the really scary part: When faced with these problems, more than 37 percent of customers just give up, and 25.5 percent head to a competitor.

How could online retailers help combat the problem of abandoned shopping carts? Rapidly resolving the problems that get in the way of buying was the number-one answer. Customers overwhelmingly said they would buy more from a site that offered the ability to click or tap to get immediate customer service assistance. In fact, more than three-fourths said they would prefer a site that offered this convenience to a competing site that didn’t.

Providing better customer service would not only drive customers to complete purchases, but also inspire new business. Over half of survey respondents said they would become promoters of brands that offered the ability to click or tap for customer service, and that they would refer others to the brand, website or mobile app.

Of course, many of the issues mentioned above could be solved with a robust set of FAQs that’s easy to find on your site. Make sure FAQs about issues such as shipping, return policies and more are clearly visible on every page of your site navigation.

You can download the full results of the study at www.virtualhold.com/onlineshopping.

Image by Flickr user zion fiction (Creative Commons)



Is Your Ecommerce Site Ready to Capture Holiday Sales?

October 15th, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Good news for ecommerce retailers: Online shopping is projected to grow by 20 percent this holiday season as compared to 2011, according to a Citi Research study reported by AllThingsD. But before you rub your hands together in glee, know that the reason for the increase is because there are two more days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year—so Americans will have more time to shop.

Of course, that doesn’t mean ecommerce isn’t growing. Citi says ecommerce is seeing significant increases, as more consumer spending moves from offline to online. However, the report did offer a reality check: As of last year, ecommerce made up just 8 percent of overall retail sales, with 90 percent or more of retail sales taking place offline.

While the effect of social media and mobile devices on consumers’ holiday shopping habits is making news this year, Citi’s report reminded retailers that these areas are still growing slowly. For instance, it cites Forrester data that smartphones will account for 3 percent of e-commerce this year, then grow to 7 percent by 2016. Given that mobile and social are still emerging areas of shopping, Citi urges ecommerce companies not to get distracted by mobile and social at the expense of their core technologies.

What should you do to make sure your ecommerce house is in order?

  • Test your site. Make sure the nuts and bolts are working and that load speeds are up to par.
  • Help ‘em out. Can consumers quickly see how to contact you (by email, phone or chat) in case of a question or problem? Can they easily find shipping rates, tax info and other things they want to know before they buy? Shoppers are busy, so keep it simple.
  • Integrate. If you have a brick-and-mortar location in addition to your ecommerce site, make sure the two are integrated. Do consumers see the same prices in-store as online? Make sure your databases sync properly so they don’t see price variations.
  • Offer choice. Consumers have myriad shopping options this season, so make sure you offer them lots of choices. Can they order online and return or pick up in-store? Can they search your site in-store for a product that’s not on the shelf, and have it shipped?

A separate Deloitte forecast predicts holiday sales of $920 billion to $925 billion, or a 3.5 to 4 percent increase compared to last year, but warns that rising gas prices could put a crimp in sales.  With customers still watching their wallets, the key to retail and e-tail success this season is what it’s always been: Make it as easy as possible for customers to buy from you, not from the other guy.

Image by Flickr user Mae Armstrong (Creative Commons)

How You Can Get a Jump on 2012 Holiday Sales

September 24th, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Good news on the retail front as we head into the 2012 holiday shopping season: Seventy-five percent of retailers in a Hay Group survey expect their sales to increase compared to 2011. The survey focused on large retailers, but their optimism is a good sign for small business owners, too. Now, how can you grab your share of those extra sales?

If you need to hire, do it now. More than a third of the survey respondents plan to hire more seasonal workers than last year. In addition, 43 percent say they plan to add more permanent workers and fewer seasonal ones. That means the competition could get stiff, so start your staff search early.

Test early promotions. Although the majority of big retailers (58 percent) won’t start holiday promotions till November, a sizeable contingent (42 percent) say they will start in October. By doing so, they’ll see which products sell well so they can reorder, and avoid getting stuck with excess inventory when it’s too late in the game to get rid of it.

Get your ecommerce engines ready. Last year’s holiday season had 10 days that each saw online sales of more than $1 billion. This year’s ecommerce outlook is even rosier, so make sure your website is in great working order, your fulfillment is smooth and all online systems are go.

Don’t discount so much. Just 18 percent of brick-and-mortar retailers in the survey say they feel pressure to match the prices at online-only retailers. That’s a significant drop from last year. Overall, 50 percent of respondents (both online and offline) say they will offer fewer discounts than they did in 2011. Consumers are still cost-conscious, but with big retailers dialing down the discounts, your small business will have more breathing room.

Make a mobile move. Big retailers are still pretty cautious about mobile shopping. While they are planning to spend three times as much on mobile initiatives as they did last year, many of them had concerns about lack of mobile knowledge, unclear business objectives for mobile, and insufficient staff or budgets. At the very least, your business should make sure your website is optimized for mobile use and that your retail location is listed on local search directories so customers can find you when they’re searching on mobile phones.

Image by Flickr user myeralan (Creative Commons)



It’s Almost Time for the Web.com Small Business Forum!

September 7th, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

The Web.com Small Business Forum is almost here! If you’re a small business owner in the Boise, Idaho, area, there’s still time to register for this exciting event.

To be held in Boise, Idaho, on September 11 in conjunction with the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft, the free, interactive forum focuses on helping small businesses market their businesses online.

Jason Teichman, Web.com’s Chief Marketing Officer, will lead a presentation and Q&A on topics such as:

  • What are the elements of a great website?
  • How do I increase traffic to my website and to my business?
  • Is my website “working” for my business?
  • How do I market my business on Google, Facebook and Twitter?

There will be plenty of time for networking, too.

Register now! Do you know of other small business owners who might benefit from attending this forum? Please share the information with them, too. Thanks!

Image by Flickr user Margaret Ornsby (Creative Commons)

Is Your Restaurant Business Taking Advantage of Online Marketing?

September 5th, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

For local small businesses such as restaurants, a strong online marketing strategy that encompasses a website, mobile, and social media can make or break the business. Unfortunately, most independent restaurants are falling short in key areas of online marketing, reports The 2012 Restaurant Internet Marketing Study by Restaurant Sciences.

The study examined each restaurant’s website, mobile website, Facebook profile and social media channels and found that compared to other types of businesses, most restaurants still have a long way to go in using Internet marketing. Chain restaurants are more likely to have a strong online presence, but even they fall short. Here’s what the study found:

Falling short on sites. Although almost all restaurant chains have websites, many independent restaurants still have no Web presence at all. Obviously, this is a big hindrance to success, since it not only lessens the chances that consumers will find you online but also means that menu aggregators, social media and location-based services can’t link to your website to pass along information.

Falling short on mobile. While the majority of consumers use mobile devices to search for restaurants, only about half of chains have an optimized mobile website. For independents, the numbers are even grimmer, with mobile websites “almost nonexistent.”

Falling short on online search. Google Places, Bing and other search engines typically create listings for every local restaurant. Still, most restaurants do not take advantage of these free listings by claiming them and optimizing them to help local consumers find their eateries.

There is one area where independent restaurants are going strong: localized social media such as Foursquare. The study found 72 percent of independents and 86 percent of chain restaurants have a presence on Foursquare. On average, both chains and independent restaurants boast more than 300 Foursquare check-ins per location. In fact, signs show that Foursquare is slightly outpacing Yelp! as a tool for driving restaurant traffic.

That’s great news, but it doesn’t affect the fact that no matter how well your restaurant is doing on Foursquare or other social media, you still need a website to provide a “home” for your company information; link your social media, local search listings and reviews to; and help customers find you online.

Image by Flickr user tomsun (Creative Commons)







Did You Hear? Free Web.com Small Business Forum Coming Soon!

August 29th, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

If you’re a small business owner in the Boise, Idaho, area, I hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunities to learn at the Web.com Small Business Forum, to be held in Boise, Idaho, on September 11 in conjunction with the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft.

Jason Teichman, Web.com’s Chief Marketing Officer, will lead this free, interactive forum, which focuses on helping small businesses market their businesses online.

You’ll enjoy a presentation and Q&A on topics including:

  • What are the elements of a great website?
  • How do I increase traffic to my website and to my business?
  • Is my website “working” for my business?
  • How do I market my business on Google, Facebook and Twitter?

Register now! And if you know of other small business owners who might benefit from attending this forum, please share the information with them, too. Thanks!

Image by Flickr user Shashi Bellamkonda (Creative Commons)

Is It Time to Take Your Small Business Global?

August 9th, 2012 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Have you considered selling your small business’s products to a global audience? If not, now could be the time. Why? In today’s uncertain economy, diversifying your customer base beyond a U.S. market can be key to successfully riding out tough times. The Internet and ecommerce have made it easier than ever to reach out to a worldwide market. Here are some factors you need to consider before taking the plunge.

  1. Assess your resources. Even on a small scale, selling products worldwide will require some additional time, effort and money to promote, service and ship the products. Even if you’re selling a service, such as an online software subscription, there will be translation and support issues. Make sure you have the money and manpower to do it right without diverting too much energy from your core business.
  2. Start slow. It’s best to start with a country that you have some familiarity with and that is similar to the U.S. in terms of language, infrastructure and legal issues. Avoid countries with a lot of red tape or limited English speakers. The U.K., Canada or a country where you already have a connection can be a good starting point.
  3. Do your homework. Find out all you can about the countries you are considering. Visit the SBA’s International Trade page and Export.gov to find resources and get started.
  4. Get connected. Business is all about personal connections, especially overseas. Tap into any connections to the countries you’re considering (friends, family, colleagues, social networking sites) to make connections there and learn more about doing business.
  5. Establish trust. Get to know foreign partners in person before doing business. While much of this can be done online, at some point you’ll want to visit in person to cement the relationship.
  6. Figure out shipping. Depending on what you’re selling and the volume, you might be able to use a simple solution like FedEx or UPS. If complex customs issues are involved, consider hiring a freight broker who can handle much of the red tape for you, streamlining your operations.
  7. Know how you will get paid. In the case of small sales (under $5,000) using online payment methods such as PayPal can be the simplest option. If you are dealing with larger sales, be sure to research the reputation of the customer or vendor beforehand. Your bank’s international trade department and your trade association can help. Don’t be too quick to ship product without thoroughly vetting the company on the other end, or you could get stuck holding the bag.
  8. Make your website global-friendly. Clearly state which countries you ship to or service. Consider setting up separate websites or pages for different countries. If needed, invest in translation services to ensure your site works for different audiences, and multilingual support staff to deal with customer queries.

The most important rule of all when going global: Have a well-thought-out strategy backed by research and planning. Thinking things through before you dive into international waters greatly increases your chances of success.

Image by Flickr user Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)