Freelance web designers brainstorming together, working on laptop in office

Your Critical Website Launch Checklist

Whether you’ve created a new website from scratch or you’re launching a new website for your existing business that you hope will do a better job of handling the input from your customers, there are a lot of details to cover. You don’t want to be so bogged down by those details that you miss the big picture of a great website, but you don’t want to miss any of them, either! This website launch checklist will help ensure that you’re able to get your website up and running as smoothly as possible.

1. Make sure you’ve looked over standards and validation. Check HTML, Javascript, CSS, and Accessibility. This is not a step that can be left for the last minute–obviously, you’re going to be looking over it many times throughout the website design process–but you want to be sure that your code is free of error. This is particularly true if you’re adding third-party coding late in the design process. Make sure that everything runs smoothly before you send it out for a public website launch.

2. Consider your SEO. What keywords did you intend to optimize for? Have you covered all of the relevant details on your site? You should also make sure that your focus has been on what your business does, not on what it doesn’t. Keep in mind that search engine optimization efforts should focus on terms that are genuinely relevant to your business, not on terms that don’t have anything to do with what you actually do. Have you actually done keyword research to see what search terms customers are really using? Did you pay attention to both long-tail and short-tail keywords? All of these are pieces of the SEO puzzle that will help you build a more effective website.

3. Analyze website copy. Have you maintained the tone you want throughout your website? Are you aiming for highly professional or slightly humorous? Do you want your website to connect with customers or show a highly professional, slightly distant view of your business? Look over the quality of your content: is this the type of content that your customers come looking for? Remember, quantity of content doesn’t matter nearly as much as quality–and losing sight of that key detail can destroy your search engine ranking.

4. Look over your site functions. Does your search function work smoothly and actually pull up relevant information? Does your site work well from different browsers? Are you mobile accessible? While you’ve likely been working on this all along, it’s critical to check it one last time before your site launches.

5. Examine tracking and analytics. What critical data are you tracking for your website? What do you genuinely want to know about your users and the pages that they’re visiting? Make sure that your tracking is in place and ready to go on the website launch day. This is also a great time to consider what analytics you’ll be using in order to determine website success. Make sure that you’ve selected data that is in line with the purpose of your website.

6. Check your indexing. Do you have a sitemap for easy indexing? Have you protected critical pages that you don’t want to be visible on search engines by installing the right robot text? These steps will help make the right pages of your website visible and protect the ones you don’t want the world to see.

7. Look over the security of your site. Make sure that all of your software and protections have been updated and that there are no holes that a hacker can slide through. You don’t want your website to be either a source of information or a victim of a denial of service attack. 

8. Check the legal details. Have your legal team go over your website in order to ensure that you aren’t making false promises or providing information that you don’t want others to see.

9. Examine the performance of your site. Make sure that it works smoothly: that you’re able to easily access key pages, that it loads in a reasonable period of time from a variety of devices, and that there’s nothing that will prevent your users from having a great experience on your website.

10. Check your site icons and error pages. These small details can make a big difference in how your website is perceived! Make sure that the icons are clean and show up well on a variety of screens. Examine your error pages to make sure they’re in keeping with the tone of your webpage.

11. Go over the details. It’s amazing how many websites go up with phone numbers that aren’t quite right or email addresses missing a letter. Take the time to send emails to the address and actually call the numbers listed on your website before your website launch date. Are those numbers and email addresses all current? What about your physical address: is it current? Those details matter to your customers–and you need to take the time to check them!

12. Look over the text. Is it free of errors? Double-check punctuation marks. Pay particular attention to headers and footers, but cover all of the small details to make sure that your text flows smoothly. Customers might scan right over the top of a small error without noticing it, but they could also be distracted by it–and that could spell disaster for their opinion of your business.

13. Assess how you will drive traffic to your new website. You’ve designed your new website to be SEO-friendly. How else are you promoting it? You can launch a paid ad campaign, raise awareness on social media, or partner with other businesses to help drive traffic to your site. Ideally, you want people to be able to easily locate your website from the time it’s launched.

Your website is an incredible tool for your business. This website launch checklist will help ensure that it’s ready to go from the moment you launch it. Need more help with the design of your website? Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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Programmer working and developing software in office. Writing on glass wall

Headless Commerce: Introduction, Risks & their Solutions for Enterprises

eCommerce is the fastest growing industry of the 21st century. An eCommerce website is divided into two parts: front-end and back-end. The front-end is what users see while the back-end deals with the business side of things. 

Be it Amazon Dash buttons, voice assistants, or providing new ways to explore information on a website, consumers are embracing the IoT era even if the retailers are trying to duck from it. 

eCommerce giants like Amazon and BestBuy are reaping the benefits while others are just scratching their heads. How to develop sustainable back-end solutions that can resolve the problem? The simple answer is headless commerce. 

Shopify headless or headless commerce is separating the front-end of the store from its back-end. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss basics about headless commerce, risks that come with headless commerce, and practical solutions that will make enterprises rethink their store development. 


Headless Commerce – An Introduction

 

Paul Rogers – an eCommerce consultant, explains it as:

For non-tech-savvy readers grasping headless commerce is not easy. So, in simple terms, headless commerce is where the front-end appearance layer is separated from the back-end commerce layer in an eCommerce platform. 

“By separating the ‘presentation layer’ (the front-end) from the layer (the back end), a retailer can gain more flexibility in serving rich content and brand experiences, as well as overall user experience.”

Let’s elaborate with an example: 

Say an eCommerce store owner wants to add a one-click checkout button for fast shipping. 

With headless commerce, the front-end layer will send an application programming interface (API) request to the back-end layer for one-click order processing. 

APIs enable efficient communication between the front-end and the back-end layer.

With a traditional eCommerce setup, it might take minutes or hours to process the one-click order request. But headless commerce makes an instantaneous request. 

Thus, eCommerce brands can experiment with their store with new features, improving the shopper’s experience with a streamlined experience. 

Here’s how traditional commerce differentiates with headless commerce: 

(Source: Core DNA)

Traditional eCommerce has design limitations. Only predefined themes can be used, which bounds user-experience. The front-end is tightly coupled with the back-end, which makes customizations difficult. 

In headless commerce, there are no design constraints. One can easily create their own experience from scratch with endless customizations at the front-end.

 

Headless Commerce Risks

& Solutions for Enterprises

 

Integration Requires Web Development Expertise

 

Shopify app integration with other devices is easy. 

Shopify offers flexibility to try fancy apps. It’s easy to install and connect with the API of platforms. With headless commerce, switching technology is challenging.

Thus it would help if you had expertise with website development to meet the demands for your enterprise. 

 

Solution

 

A well-organized discovery process is your answer. Write down all the services that you need, which will eliminate the headache of swapping things in-and-out. Once you have a clear understanding of service, budget allotment can easily be done. This will reduce any hiccups during the integration process. 

 

Globalization Requires More Wor

 

If you’re an enterprise scaling your business to multiple regions, it requires adding more languages and currency rates: reviews, intuitive search, customizations, and loyalty programs. 

A standard Shopify store requires integrating multiple currency APIs, a multi-region setup that demands one store per currency and language. There are complexities attached to it. 

Hence, a headless store that can power 20-30 languages and currencies is quite compelling. 

 

Solution

 

To overcome this problem, you need to be transparent with your agency. Educate them about which countries you are planning to target. An international agency will easily integrate global currencies and various languages with headless commerce. 

 

Project Milestones are challenging to meet with Headless

 

With headless commerce, there is room for a lot of customizations. Thus increasing development work and increasing project difficulty. 

The flow of these integrations is unpredictable and bespoke. That’s why it is advised to test things before you go live. Once an add-on is finished, it’s challenging to make changes, and it also requires additional time. 

 

Solution

 

An intelligent solution is end-to-end testing. This will help in keeping up with the project timeline. 

In an enterprise, there is more than one stakeholder, so agreement for each step will improve the project milestone.  

 

Headless demands new product knowledge

 

The standard Shopify store provides a lot of guidelines on the product and is easy-to-understand. 

With Headless commerce, a custom product demands more knowledge as it will be new to you. 

 

Solution

 

A lot of training needs to be done on how your store works online? Thus, custom product training is the solution to this problem. 

 

Custom URL Structures with SEO Implications 

 

Shopify allows a fixed SEO URL structure, which limits gaining full control over slugs. Headless allows custom URL structures with a tradeoff that domain names and slugs must be search engine friendly. 

 

Solution

 

When you are writing custom URL’s, you need to write everything from an SEO perspective. Because if you don’t, your store might not rank well in search engine pages. Each URL must be carefully built with a clear understanding of the page.

 

Checkout Might Be Open to Bots

 

You might feel that your products are selling across the globe to customers who are ready to use your service. But in reality, bots are trying to buy your products. 

A standard Shopify theme setup might provide you an option to activate ‘bot protection.’ But since headless depends upon signals that come from the theme layer, it will not accommodate Storefront API – which is used by headless to build. 

 

Solution 

 

The most viable solution to this problem is to develop an add-on to detect and eliminate bots. 

 

High-Volume Must be controlled by you

 

If your website has a high-traffic volume, your checkout page needs constant monitoring. 

For example, if your store exceeds 4,000 orders per minute, new customers must be directed in a queue. In a typical Shopify store, this queue is managed by Shopify built-in queue mechanism. But with headless, you need to do this yourself. 

If you are not equipped with high spike sales, your customers will get a “broken website” error, which will drive them away. 

 

Solution

 

For harsh spikes of traffic on your website, you need to develop error handles that will place customers in a queue. 

 

Email Marketing Language Problem 

 

Of course, customers prefer to read emails in their native language. With a Shopify headless architecture, you can convert CMS languages in the native language. But it’s challenging to translate language in the email to a native one.  

 

Solution

 

Manage all languages from a single email template. For instance, order confirmation emails will have various language options. Then on the check-out page, whichever language the customer is browsing, use that.

Thus, you need to create conditional statements in email templates that will alter the language automatically and send in customer’s preferred language.

 

In Short

 

There are a lot of complexities with headless commerce. When looking at the pros and cons, a simple analogy, ‘building your own house’ meaning if you have the budget, resources, go for it because the future of commerce is headless. 

It’s time for you to keep up with the consumers and retailers. If you’re considering implementing headless commerce for your enterprise, our eCommerce experts can help you out. 

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8 Powerful Tips To Help You Create a Strong Personal Brand

Zig Ziglar said, “If people like you they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” That’s why it’s essential that you create and maintain a strong personal brand, regardless of what you do. Here are 8 tips to help you do that:

 

1. Understand your industry.

This is an essential first step in any branding effort. You can’t set yourself apart from the competition if you don’t understand them from both a product perspective and in terms of their own personal brand image. What are some positive and negative appeals in your industry, and how can you use that information to differentiate yourself? Armed with those answers, you can develop ways to set yourself apart in you industry.

A good example of this is Sprint. They understand Verizon’s offerings so well, they’ve created an entire marketing strategy around the fact that they offer mobile service that’s almost as reliable as Verizon’s, but at half the cost. They’ve even gone so far as to hire Verizon’s ‘can you hear me know’ guy to pitch their service, and copy the concept and visuals from Verizon’s “drop the mic” television commercial.

 

2. Understand your ideal customer.

Because branding is all about appealing to prospective customers, it’s critical that you know who your ideal customer is. After all, you can’t effectively market to someone if you don’t know anything about them – their behavior patterns, motivations and goals, and relate to them as real humans. Understanding your ideal customer makes it easier to tailor your marketing efforts to the needs of different groups. Remember, not all customers are created equal.

 

3. Improve on something that others are already doing.

Too many people think they have to create something entirely new in order to stand out. But all you really need is a better way of doing something. On a personal level, that could mean streamlining an existing process or set of procedures at your job. In business, that could mean creating an improved version of an existing product. One example of this happens every year in the automobile industry when auto-makers introduce their new models. They’re always trying to outdo one another, so there is always something new.

 

4. Stay focused.

Efforts to create a strong personal brand should focus on one thing – setting yourself apart as the go-to person for whatever it is you do. If you lose that focus, your brand will become distorted in people’s minds, and you’ll have to spend valuable time and resources regaining brand clarity.

For example, if you’re a freelance writer specializing in helping businesses create content for their blog, you shouldn’t spend 75% of your time talking about making money with a YouTube channel. The importance of using a professional writer to meet their blog content needs should be the focus of all your marketing efforts from social media posts to your own website and blog content; from your personal networking to print advertising.

 

5. Actually be what you’re trying to portray.

It’s not enough just to say you’re an expert in this or that; you must back your claims up with some reality. In personal branding, you can’t fake it ’til you make it. For instance, you can’t claim to be a social media marketing expert just because you spend several hours a day on Facebook. You need to invest some time and money actually learning about marketing in general and social media marketing in particular.

 

6. Be a great conversationalist.

Sadly, this is becoming a lost art in a world that’s dominated by online interaction, but it doesn’t have to be. You can still be viewed as a great conversationalist the online world. It’s simply a matter of sincerely treating every contact, either in person or online, like they’re going to be your new best friend. In person that means making friendly eye-contact, smiling, shaking hands, and repeating their name so you remember it. Online that means engaging with people as you would your closest, most respected friend. Most importantly, always leave the person wanting a bit more of your time.

 

7. Expand your circle of influence.

Nothing can grow your personal brand like leveraging your circle of influence. Every person you come in contact with has their own circle of influence. When an individual becomes part of your circle of influence, that opens up their circle of influence to you. As long as your personal brand image is positive in the eyes of those in your circle of influence, you can leverage them. Usually, it’s a matter of just asking for their help. What that help looks like for you depends on your industry, but it most commonly comes in the form of referrals.

 

8. Leverage public speaking opportunities.

According to a report published by Statistic Brain, 74% of people have a fear of public speaking. That represents a great opportunity for the remaining 26%, or anyone who is willing to work to overcome their fear. Nothing sets you apart from the competition like getting up in front of a group of people and giving a presentation about your area of expertise. The very fact that you’re willing to do so sets you apart. You can do this through seminars and webinars. If you don’t want to host your own events, you can offer your time and expertise as a guest speaker for others who are sponsoring seminars or webinars.

 

In Conclusion:

An important reality of life that most people don’t even realize is that each of us is the CEO of our own company, whether we own a business or work for someone else. That’s why creating and nurturing a personal brand is something we should all be engaged in.

Contact us today to learn more about personal branding. We also invite you to continue following our blog for more great content and ideas, and to share this post with your friends and associates.

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5 Advanced Marketing Strategies to Elevate Your Business

When marketing your business online, you have to stay ahead of the curve. Rather than simply creating a social media account, you need to make sure that you can engage your audience in ways that your competition is not taking advantage of.

For that reason, marketers and business owners constantly inquire about the newest and most effective marketing opportunities available online. If you have a similar question, here are 5 advanced marketing strategies your business can take advantage of.

1) Add Value to Your Product or Service

Value adds are a perfect way to both increase awareness of and loyalty towards your brand. If you can give away more than the actual value of your product or service, the persuasive power of your marketing efforts will increase immensely.

Value additions can come in a variety of forms. For example, you can give loyalty discounts to repeat customers, or add a free promotional gift for new customers. Increasingly, companies focusing on digital lead generation are adding value through high-quality gated content, such as whitepapers, webinars, and free trials.

The goal of this marketing strategy is simple. If a member of your target audience has to choose between you and your closest competition, what will make them more likely to choose your product or service? The answer to that question translates into your specific value ad.

2) Take Advantage of Enhanced Personalization

At this point, it’s no longer news to say that your digital marketing efforts should be personalized. In fact, the clear majority of your audience expects exactly that. In turn, distinguishing yourself from your competition has to include an effort to go the next step.

In your digital marketing, that next step could consist of smart content. True website personalization goes beyond simply including a recipient’s first name in an email, instead adjusting website content dynamically based on previous information gathered about a visitor.

An existing lead, for example, can now see an entirely different homepage than a visitor that has never before made it to your website. As a result, you can deliver more personalized content, which in turn helps to increase the relevance of your messaging for your audience.

The same personalization is also possible through other marketing channels. Emails, for example, can be customized entirely using advanced audience segmentation and custom content blocks. The goal, as in the above, is to create a more relevant marketing experience for potential customers.

3) Build an Influencer Network

Many experts in digital marketing believe that leveraging influencers is the next big thing. Audiences across demographics are growing increasingly weary of traditional advertisements. Ad blockers are causing billions of revenue losses. The solution: work with key members of your audience to make sure the message comes from them, not you.

Building an influencer network takes significant time and effort. It includes not just finding powerful online users who your audience trusts, but also developing a relationship with them. Only finding the right users, and successfully encouraging them to share the right content, can help you succeed.

But if you get there, the positive effects are powerful. In fact, one case study found that influencer marketing delivers an 11 times higher ROI than other digital marketing methods.

4) Utilize the Power of Local SEO

In the last few years, search engine optimization has evolved to far more than a universal ranking on search results. For example, Google now takes into the account the location of searchers, allowing local brands to stand out even against national competitors.

As a result, Google is now encouraging businesses of all sizes to focus on local SEO. The keys to success can vary. But a successful strategy can ensure that your key demographics will find you when looking for a brand like you.

Especially mobile audiences can make a big impact on your SEO efforts. In fact, 50% of users who conducted a local search on their smartphone visit a store they found in that search the same day. Meanwhile, 89% of participants in a recent survey said they search for local businesses at least once per week.

5) Create Enriched Visual Content

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of visual content. Unless you are new to digital marketing, you probably already know the impact that videos and images can have on your visits, engagements, and conversions. But the possibilities don’t end there.

360 degree video, for example, is becoming increasingly popular. It allows you to showcase your brand and its product in more creative ways. Google and Facebook both support this virtual reality opportunity, while the cost of 360 cameras has dropped to prices affordable even for small businesses.

The key is no longer to use visuals, but to use visuals that are different from your competition. Enriched content, such as 360 degree video and even infographics, can help you get there.

Building a Digital Strategy for 2017 and Beyond

These strategies are not always simple. It’s easier to simply send out an email blast or post on social media than it is to create a 360 degree video or rank #1 in local searches. But executed correctly, they can become the cornerstone of a successful digital marketing strategy that puts your brand ahead of your competition.

Of course, you need a sound backend for any of these strategies to work. Increasingly, websites are becoming the foundation of successful digital marketing, offering the conversion opportunities as well as in-depth content your audience looks for after first being exposed to your marketing messages.

For help in creating a website that can support advanced marketing strategies like the above, contact us. We’d love to work with you in making sure that your marketing efforts stand out, both in 2017 and in years to come.

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What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Shared Hosting Plan?

Hosting is one of the first choices you need to make when you’re setting up your business’ website. You have a few options for hosting your site – dedicated hosting, or shared hosting. A shared hosting plan means that you share a server with many other websites. Dedicated hosting means that your website is the only site on that server.

As with any other important business decision, there’s a lot to consider. Costs, resource, security, and scalability will all factor into your choice. To help you weigh the options, here is a list of some of the advantages and disadvantages of a shared hosting plan:

Advantage #1: It’s more economical

Shared hosting is a lot less expensive than dedicated hosting. You will pay somewhere between $3 to $10 per month to have a website on a shared hosting plan. The cost varies, depending on the type of website you have and the features you want. Compare that with dedicated hosting, which costs around $80 to $130 per month. Shared hosting is the more affordable option because you’re essentially splitting the costs of the server with other websites.

Advantage #2: You don’t need to be an expert

A shared hosting plan is a great choice if you don’t have a lot of experience with web development or server administration. You don’t need much technical know-how because the hosting provider does the work for you. If you use a dedicated server, prepare to pay extra for this kind of help. Otherwise, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and do back-end work, such as: setting up, administering, and managing the server.

Advantage #3: Server maintenance is included

When you use a shared hosting service, you can leave server administration and maintenance up to the service provider. This is covered in the shared hosting plan you purchase. Even better, you will often get 24/7 technical support to:

  • Monitor your site
  • Alert you if there are problems
  • Repair any issues that arise

That means you can focus more on the marketing and customer service aspects of your website, rather than worrying about whether it’s up and running in the first place.

Advantage #4: Bandwidth & Customization options are improving

As the marketplace has become more competitive, web hosting providers have started offering better options on shared hosting. You can now find plans with good customization options (cPanel, email accounts at your domain name, etc.) and more bandwidth. You may now get as much as 40GB of storage on a shared hosting plan. This is usually enough for a small-to-medium business website.

Disadvantage #1: You’re subject to downtime

When you’re sharing a hosting plan with other websites, resources are limited. You run the risk of an overload if other sites demand too much resource at the same time. As a result, your site could go down and people wouldn’t be able to access it during that period. There’s also the possibility that another website suddenly gets a surge of traffic, draining server resource and causing your website to slow down. This could have a powerful impact on your website’s performance.

Forced to wait more than three seconds for a page to load, 40 percent of visitors will abandon the website, according to a Forrester study. More recently, Google found that 70 percent of smartphone users will switch to another website or app if the page takes too long to load.

Disadvantage #2: Limited resources

A shared hosting plan isn’t the best choice for big websites that see high-volume traffic every month and have dozens of product or service pages with lots of content. You’re sharing bandwidth and server resource with other websites, which means you’re restricted in how much you can use. If you use more than your site’s allotment, the hosting provider might charge you an additional fee. This would be a problem for larger businesses that require unlimited resources for their sites. However, this is less likely to be a problem for smaller businesses that are still building their web presences.

Disadvantage #3: Security

You are more vulnerable to security issues when you use shared hosting plans. The chances of a security breach increase because multiple websites share the same server. Any malicious activity on one of these websites can affect the server and the rest of the websites using it. Generally speaking, hacking attacks target shared servers more often than dedicated servers because of these vulnerabilities.

Disadvantage #4: Not as many customization options

Shared hosting plans offer more customization and features than in the past, but they still have fewer options than dedicated servers. You can’t choose the software you use, the server configuration, the applications, or the firewall configurations with a shared hosting plan. This is up to the hosting provider. If these decisions are over your head, you may not have a problem going with what the provider recommends. If you need to control these factors, then shared hosting may not be the right fit for you and your website.

Ultimately, the decision about whether to go with a shared web hosting plan comes down to your specific needs. If you have a small business site with a handful of pages, you aren’t getting more than 200,000 monthly visitors, and you are still learning about website management, you will probably do just fine with shared hosting. On the other hand, if you have a large website with lots of content and dozens of product pages, you get more than 200,000 monthly visitors, and you require 100-percent reliability and control, you will be better off with a different option like dedicated hosting.

If you still need help deciding what’s best for your website and you want to talk more about what’s included in shared hosting, contact us today.

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8 Critical Elements of a Successful Product Launch

One of the most exciting times in business is when you’re launching a new product. Adrenaline runs wild because there’s the potential for tremendous success, and the risk of incredible loss at the same time. A successful product launch calls for a different approach than managing an existing campaign, or even opening up a new market for an existing product. Here are 8 things every marketer should remember for a successful product launch:

1. Develop a Specialized Marketing Plan.

Most marketing plans fall into two distinct categories: creating awareness of the product, or selling the product. However, a successful product launch requires you to do both simultaneously. You already have a customer base for an existing product, and you can leverage that base when opening up new markets for that product. But new products have no customer base, so the number one priority is to quickly and simultaneously create awareness and drive purchases.

Many marketers focus on marketing new products to their existing customer base, converting them from an old product to the new one. This approach does little to increase the bottom line because it’s not creating new customers for the company – the whole point of new product development. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having existing customers buy new products – Apple does it every time they upgrade the iPhone and iPad. But the primary goal of developing and launching a new product should be to attract new customers to the company.

A successful product launch requires a larger marketing budget and a significantly more aggressive marketing plan. Remember, your goal is to quickly ramp up awareness and buzz, so you’ll pushing out marketing materials more frequently.

2. Review the Plan, and Make Adjustments.

All marketing plans require a lot of research, thought, and time to develop; and it’s rare to get it right on the first draft. In fact, it’s common to go through several drafts before you have a workable plan. An effective way to build a solid plan is to involve other members of your team at every step along the way. Encourage members to play devil’s advocate to help find weaknesses in the plan. No plan is perfect, so fostering an environment where honest feedback is encouraged will result in a better plan. If you ignore this element, it will come back at you later in the form of additional expense at best, and complete failure at worst.

3. Test Your Product and Your Message.

It’s rare for a new product to stumble out of the gate, then go on to succeed. You really only have one shot at a successful product launch, so you can’t leave anything to chance. That’s why testing your product and message on current and potential customers is critical.

Gather a group of existing customers and potential customers, and demonstrate the product to them. Allow them to use it and ask questions, then get their feedback. You should also present them with variations of your marketing message and materials, and get their feedback on that too. At the very least, take careful notes. Better still, set up a video camera to record the group. Going over the video later allows you to hear their exact verbal responses and see their body language. Armed with that information, you can make adjustments to the product itself and the marketing message, if necessary.

4. Establish Goals and Measure Progress.

When you take a long road trip to a place you’ve never been before, do you look at a map once and just drive until you get there? Probably not. If you tried that, you’d risk missing your destination. So you periodically check the map, road signs and other indicators to make sure you stay on course. In marketing you need to do the same thing.

When creating your marketing plan incorporate key metrics, then measure and monitor them to ensure your plan is producing the desire results. With so many sophisticated measurement tools, many of which are inexpensive or even free, you can monitor key metrics in near real-time. This lets you know quickly whether the marketing strategy is working and enables you to make necessary adjustments.

5. Nurture Public Relations.

If the PR section of your plan only calls for distributing a press release or two, you might as well not bother. PR is only effective when it’s comprehensive and ongoing. For several weeks before the actual launch, you should be creating and nurturing buzz through repeated contacts with journalists and bloggers who cover your industry. Offer personal demonstrations and make your CEO and key product developers available for interviews. Journalists love these behind-the-scenes peeks at your company. If you don’t already have relationships with these people, you should start cultivating them.

6. Understand Communications Channels.

You probably know which communications channels your existing customers use, and you’ll use those channels to market your new product to them. But do you know where the new people you want to reach with your new product are? If not, you need to find out and start using those channels to market to them. Remember, the goal is to simultaneously build awareness and generate sales. If you’re not expanding beyond the same old channels, you’re not reaching prospective new customers and expanding your customer base. Using new marketing channels is also a good way to reach new customers with your existing products.

When using different channels, adapt your message to each channel. For example, you wouldn’t use the same format in an email that you use on Twitter. And you wouldn’t use the same format on Facebook that you use on Twitter. You must customize your message to fit the channel.

7. Turn Your Staff Loose on Social Media.

Just like the rest of the world, your staff members are probably active on social media. Some may even have thousands of followers! So why not leverage that by asking your staff members to post something about your new product? Of course, this should be completely voluntary, but most would probably be willing to do so, especially if they have some involvement in developing or marketing the new product.

8. Leverage Business Relationships.

You undoubtedly have relationships with other, non-competing businesses within your industry – vendors, manufacturers of related products, current customers, etc. If you’ve nurtured those relationships, you should be able to ask for their help with your launch. For example, you could ask them to include your new product announcement in their next newsletter or email, or to post about it on their company blog or social media pages. Leveraging these relationships can help get your message into markets you might otherwise not be able to reach.

Remember, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. That adage also applies to new product launches, so you’d better get it right the first time. For more ideas about how to conduct a successful product launch, contact us. We also invite you to check out the additional resources below for more information and insight on this topic.

18 Tips for Planning a Flawless New Product Launch

The Right Way To Launch A Successful New Product

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Everything You Need to Know about the Google Sitelinks Search Box

The Google Sitelinks Search Box is yet another SEO feature that can impact your site traffic and user experience. In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the search box, including how to use it to your benefit.

What it is

First, let’s go over what the Google Sitelinks Search Box looks like, because chances are you’ve already seen it. It appears on Google’s SERPs under a website link and lets you search there before taking you directly to the website’s search results.

The Google Developers page explains the need for this feature. Their goal is to make the search experience better for users by allowing them to place all of their searches right on Google’s site:

“Search users often perform navigational searches using product or brand names. Then, on the product or company website, they perform a second search for specific details. Using sitelinks searchbox markup in your content lets the user perform the second search without leaving the original, navigational search results.”

For Google, it’s all about providing users with an optimal experience. The real question is how this affects businesses and their website’s usability.

How it works

The function of the Google Sitelinks Search Box is simple. The Google Developer’s Page offers Pinterest as an example. If you search Pinterest on Google, then you’ll see the corresponding search box directly under the first link.

If you search for something within that box, then you’ll be brought straight to the search results on Pinterest’s website. It’s the same as going directly to Pinterest and using the search box on the site. Just simpler and fewer steps.

How you can optimize your site for it

This feature is mostly beneficial for businesses. Not only does it bring users to your site, but it also lets them search for specific terms before they ever get there.

The only thing that’s left is optimizing your site for the search box. The Google Developers Page offers some help in this respect. It suggests, for example, adding a markup to your site’s homepage, specifying only one URL search pattern per platform, and always including a search target for your website.

If you have a WordPress site, then you just have to add a few lines of code to the header.php file of your site. This will signal to Google that your site is compatible with the Sitelinks Search Box.

How to disable it

Of course, not all businesses will want to take advantage of this feature. You might think that by allowing users to go straight to the search box on Google’s SERPs, they’ll be missing an important component of your site experience. This may compromise your content hierarchy and encourage users to skip over critical information. Alternatively, you might be considering this feature’s impact on your page views and ad revenue. Either way, there are legitimate reasons to disable it for your site.

The good news is that you can disable the feature at any time. This Search Engine Land article offers the code you need to do that:

  • (meta name=”google” content=”nositelinkssearchbox”)

Here’s the one caveat, according to the article:

“Webmasters who add this tag to their site, will communicate to Google not to show a sitelinks search box when your site appears in the search results. The sitelinks search box will be disabled as part of the normal Googlebot crawling and processing of the page, which can take a few weeks depending on the site and other factors.”

So, it might take a couple of weeks to disable the feature completely. But once it’s gone, it won’t come back.

If at any point in time you decide you’d rather have the Sitelinks Search Box, then you can just remove the code, and wait a week or two for it to start showing up again in Google’s SERPs.

Why it’s not appearing for your site 

Some businesses want the Sitelinks Search Box to appear under their link on Google’s SERPs, but never actually see it. There are a few possible reasons why this could happen.

This SEM Post article takes a look at what John Mueller said in a recent Google Webmaster Office Hours event. According to the article, the main takeaway is that just adding a schema to your site won’t guarantee it to get a Sitelinks Search Box in Google’s SERPs:

“If you do not already show a Google search box in your Google search results listing, merely adding the schema won’t trigger Google to suddenly display it.  So while you can still add the schema, don’t expect to suddenly see the site search box for your site in the search results.  This is something that John Mueller explained in a recent Google Webmaster Office Hours.”

In other words, while optimizing your site for the search box won’t hurt your chances, it also won’t automatically trigger it on Google’s SERPs.

Like always, Google factors in site quality and searcher intent when incorporating these features. If you’re doing everything you can for the Sitelinks Search Box and still not getting one, you might be better off reevaluating your site content and design.

The Google Sitelinks Search Box can improve your user engagement by making it easier to search on your site. Optimizing your site for this feature is relatively easy if you use WordPress. Moreover, you can also easily disable the feature if you decide that’s best for your user experience.

To talk more about the Google Sitelinks Search Box and how it affects your web design and marketing strategy, contact us today.

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How Google’s Invisible reCAPTCHA Will Improve Your User Experience

From a marketer’s perspective, spam can be death. If your blog comments are bogged down by spam comments or other types of negative content, your Google rankings suffers and the user experience drops.

But at the same time, the same negative effects happen if you get overprotective. Google’s reCAPTCHA, for example, has been universally hated because of its complicated nature. Put simply, no one wants to decipher and type in fuzzy text read from a picture just to confirm what they already know: they’re not robots.

So for years, Google has sought to improve its anti-spam tool. The first step occured in 2014, when reCAPTCHA 2.0 performed automatic verification. Still, users had to wait some time while the verification script ran in the background. Now, Google is taking the final step: invisible verification.

 

Understanding reCAPTCHA

For those new to the concept, it’s a bit of an odd acronym. CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, which clarifies the concept a bit.

In short, it’s a system designed to let websites know whether users looking to interact with content are human or robots. The former should be able to comment, like, and share content as much as they want. To prevent spam, the latter should be blocked from doing just that.

You may not know the details of it, but you’ve seen CAPTCHA’s around the web for years. Basically, anytime you had to confirm you are not a robot (often by typing in fuzzy text from an image), you have come across the same basic concept.

The basic goal of any CAPTCHA effort is security. It fights bots, who post spammy link comments (reducing your search engine optimization) or provide false lead sign-ups. In short, it keeps your data clean and your SEO positive.

 

The New reCAPTCHA, According to Google

Of course, the traditional CAPTCHA also significantly reduces user experience. dSo for years, Google has made an effort to reduce the ways in which its verification affects users on websites that use the tool. The search engine giant brands these efforts the “noCAPTCHA reCAPTCHA.” In 2014, that effort paid first dividends:

On websites using this new API, a significant number of users will be able to securely and easily verify they’re human without actually having to solve a CAPTCHA. Instead, with just a single click, they’ll confirm they are not a robot.

On websites where its risk analysis engine didn’t spit out definite results, Google resorted to the next best thing. Rather than entering fuzzy text, users could pick matching images or their favorite color. This testing was more intuitive, but still required extra steps just to post a comment.

That’s done now. Google has officially introduced the Invisible reCAPTCHA. It’s a natural evolution of its previous efforts to simplify the process. Now, websites can confirm dynamically and in the background whether users are human or robot, and only those with questionable results will need to solve similar challenges to the above.

 

Building Your Website With UX in Mind

Google’s effort to improve user experience across websites should come as a welcome initiative to web developers and website owners everywhere. After all, your visitors need to have a positive experience to meet your conversion goals.

Any brand that publishes content or focuses on content marketing is looking for engagement. But tools that prevent that engagement could be just as damaging as the dangers they’re supposed to prevent. That’s why CAPTCHA’s, despite their benefits, have provided countless headaches for content marketers across industries.

In fact, one survey found that Google’s first iteration of the tool absolutely killed conversion rates. It discouraged visitors from becoming leads, a core goal of any content marketer.

Fortunately, that no longer has to be the case. Google’s Invisible reCAPTCHA allows you to prevent spam without annoying your web visitors. If you can run it completely in the background, your ‘regular’ audience won’t even know they’re subject to a Turing test.

That, in turn, allows you to build your entire website and its content with user experience in mind. You can safely encourage comments and generate leads, while at the same time keeping your data and SEO profile clean.

 

Implementing the Invisible reCAPTCHA

Given that it’s a new tool, you will have to make some changes to your script to make sure you’re accurately running the new Invisible reCAPTCHA. Fortunately, Google has provided a number of guidelines and a step-by-step process to help you get there.

When implementing the new tool and CAPTCHA challenge, Google provides web developers with three choices:

  • Automatically bind the challenge to a button,
  • Programmatically bind the challenge to a button, or
  • Programmatically invoke the challenge.

Each requires a slightly different development process. In the above link, Google provides specific scrips that can help you get your website ready. And of course, if you are running your website through WordPress, the first plug-ins already exist to ensure that your website remains secure and clean, without harming your user experience in the process.

Of course, you might still need help in making sure that your website does not suffer from spam and bots. In that case, working with a web development agency familiar with the tool and its potential implications makes sense. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you implement the new Invisible reCAPTCHA, improving your user experience without harming your security or SEO in the process.

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20 Questions that Can Validate Your Bright Business Idea

It’s a long journey from idea to execution. Particularly in the startup world, a lot of work will go into figuring out whether a great business idea can actually turn into a valid business.

Fortunately, you can streamline that work. In fact, a number of questions can help you determine whether the idea you just had is actually worth focusing on in the way of starting (or expanding) your business. Here are 20 questions you can ask to validate your startup business idea.

1) What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

Don’t fall into the trap of developing a product or service without a need. The best business ideas solve problems for your audience, helping them make their lives more productive, convenient, or successful.

2) How Have Others Tried to Solve that Problem?

Of course, most problems already have some solutions available on today’s market. Those solutions may differ from yours; still, it makes sense to examine exactly how consumers or businesses today are solving their challenges without you.

3) Does Your Business Idea Already Exist in the Market Today?

In the course of the second question, you may come across a product that already pursues the same angle and solution as your idea. If that occurs, the chances of a successful business launch decrease dramatically. Ideally, your product should be unique in the solution it provides.

4) What Benefits Would Your Product/Service Provide?

If an audience starts using your product, what can they get out of it? The more significant the benefits are, the more likely your product or service will be to succeed.

5) What Features Would Lead to Those Benefits?

Your audience cares about the benefits provided by your solution, but product features help to get there. The better and more clearly you understand these features, the more you can focus on the ones that are directly related to improving the lives of your customers.

6) Who Would Be Your Direct and Indirect Competitors?

Direct competitors are those trying to address the same challenge as you, in the same market place. Indirect competitors tend to compete for your audience’s time and attention, though their products probably won’t be next to you in the aisle or a Google search result. A comprehensive competitive analysis can get you started in answering this question.

7) How is Your Product Different From Those Competitors?

Once you know your competitors, differentiation is key. You should be able to easily tell your audience exactly why they should choose to devote their attention or money to your product or service instead of other brands.

8) Is There Something Proprietary About Your Product or Service?

The more difficult it is for other companies to copy you if you’re successful, the longer-lasting your competitive advantage will be. Determine whether your idea or product is patent-able, uses proprietary computer coding, or can be exclusive to you in some other way.

9) Have You Performed a SWOT Analysis?

A SWOT Analysis has been a key part in countless business plans. It allows you to analyze your internal strengths and weaknesses, along with the external opportunities and threats in your business environment and market place.

10) Do You Have the Resources Necessary to Launch?

You’ll need both time and money, either on your own or in form of an investment. Any product or company launch has to have these initial resources to get started.

11) Can You Lean on Someone Already in the Industry?

The best way to break into an industry is to work closely with someone who already knows it. A mentor can help you make more informed decisions about investments, supply chain management, production, and a go-to-market strategy.

12) What is the Size of Your Target Market?

Depending on your product, you may look to capture a broad or a niche audience. Both can be successful. However, the size of the audience can be vital in helping you determine whether your product idea is viable, and how quickly you can become profitable.

13) Have You Asked for Audience Feedback?

No one will be more honest about your product than potential customers. Through both formal and informal feedback, you can determine whether your idea would actually resonate with your audience.

14) Do You Have the Potential for Lead Generation?

If you can get interested members of your target audience to sign up on your website for more information, you can better understand the interest level in your business idea. In addition, you can also build a database that will help you more quickly and successfully launch the product when you’re ready.

15) Can You Develop a Minimum Viable Product?

To increase your chances of success, you should always test the market. A minimum viable product is essentially a prototype that can help you just that, more accurately determining interest level and market potential.

16) Would Your Audience Be Willing to Pre-Order?

Pre-orders can both provide you with starting capital and gauge your audience’s interest in your business idea. If you can get customers to order a product based on nothing but mock-ups or blueprints, you have a great foundation for future success.

17) Who Will Produce the Product?

In other words, will you be responsible for production, or will you work with a partner? The earlier you can get this production question sorted out, the more you can focus on your actual go-to-market strategy.

18) If You Are Successful, How Can You Scale?

Assume that your business idea is a great success. What’s next. How can you continue to grow the business, increase production, and maintain or even improve effectiveness? Meeting demand is a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless if you cannot manage it.

19) What is Your Break-Even Point, and How Fast Can You Get There?

It makes sense to understand just when you can begin to actually earn money from your product. Some (such as household commodities) require little initial investment, and can break even quickly. Others (such as software) take greater initial investment and come with a longer break-even point. The more you know about your cycle, the better you can plan.

20) Will Your Product/Service Be Investible?

Finally, it makes sense for you to understand whether investors would actually be willing to come on the journey with you. Their interest is in profit, so this question is closely connected to the above. Startups can be successful without external investments, but if you are looking for these investments, build your business plan with that question in mind.

To go from idea to a successful startup business takes time and strategy. Fortunately, the above questions can get you started in getting to that point. And when you get there, you need an effective website to help you build interest, grow sales, and sustain your success. When you’re ready, contact us to get started.

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