Archive for Resources & Tips

Facebook Pages Offer an Online Store – Do I Still Need a Website?

A while back, Facebook partnered with Shopify to create a “Shop” section for Facebook Pages. This enabled businesses to sell their products directly, making it a little easier for some of those businesses to have their Pages become true online stores. If your visitor clicks on a product, they can either be pushed from Facebook to your primary website, or you can let them check out directly on Facebook. Payment processing and transaction tracking is handled by Shopify. Facebook will not (at least for now) take a cut for items sold on the site. So the question is; do you still need a website if you’re selling on Facebook?
The answer is a resounding YES. And here’s why;

It may be hard to envision, but Facebook could eventually lose favor. As social media continues to evolve, other sites, like Google+, may become more popular or an entirely new site or technology not created yet may emerge. It’s impossible to predict. But by choosing Facebook instead of a website, you are favoring the short-term over the long-term. You are investing your time and energy in a platform that may not pay you back over time. It may benefit your short term goals but you can never be sure that it’s going to benefit your longer term goals.

In the meantime, without a website, people who don’t use Facebook become incredibly difficult to identify and reach. Not to mention that they may not be able to find you as easily.

You can’t control what Facebook does with its design, its user interface, its functionality, or ad displays. You’re limited in how you can optimize the experience, and your insights (or metrics) are only what Facebook itself decides to pass onto you. Using Google Analytics on your website provides many valuable metrics to help understand your visitors so you can make the most out of your site.

Many businesses received a rude awakening when Facebook adjusted its algorithms so that only the most popular status updates would be seen by most fans of a page. Statistics range anywhere between 8% – 16% of fans see your posts. If you want to reach ALL fans who’ve liked your page, you now have pay for it. If you post 40 times per month, you could spend hundreds of dollars per month to get your message to all your fans.

That said, it’s true that Facebook, with over 1 billion users, has attractive qualities to anyone building an online presence. So you can’t ignore Facebook, but just realize that you don’t call the shots.
At the end of the day, a website is the most effective way to deliver information to your audience. It is a storehouse of information, customized in any way that you choose, to deliver information to your current and potential customers. This is because you are in total control over what is presented.

When people seek information, they usually use Google, or another search engine, to find it. People won’t be inclined to visit Facebook if they have a specific goal or information they’re seeking. Why? Because Facebook is a connection tool for people to stay in touch in a very organic way. It’s not about structured information delivery, but conversation and social engagement. At least that is the current perception. A website, on the other hand, serves as a hub for all people who are interested in your work and are seeking more information or updates directly from you. It doesn’t matter if they heard about you online or offline, people are trained to use their mobile devices, tablets, and desktops to search for more information, and your website is a 24/7/365 resource waiting for them.

Many times, people find out that you’re on Facebook because they’ve visited your website, which also offers many other benefits for your visitors. Aside from having an e-mail newsletter, you may offer ancillary materials they would enjoy, such as additional resources, e-books, Q&A, etc.

Sure, you may need to invest some money for a developer to build your website and assist with an upgrade, redesign or functionality add-ons over time. But for anyone with a long-term goal, this is one of the best and most critical investments you can make.

So yes, use Facebook as ONE of the many arrows in your quiver of marketing methods but don’t discount the need for a website. You might be cutting off your nose to spite your face (as my Mom used to say), and end up being sorry in the long run.

Our 10 Favorite WordPress Plugins

If you’re planning on choosing WordPress to develop your website, you’ve made the right decision. WordPress is one of the most highly used website platforms around. There are literally hundreds of free themes available and many of them are responsive which means they are ready for mobile use. Responsive simply means that they automatically adjust the appearance of the website pages to fit the screen size of the device being used to access it. Along with the many available themes come thousands of plugins. Plugins basically add functionality to WordPress sites so your site can deliver the types of capabilities that you want your visitors and customers to have.

Here are 10 of our favorite plugins that we use frequently when designing websites for our customers. There are many more, but these are some of the most highly used.

  1. Akismet
    Akismet automatically checks all comments against the Akismet Web service and filters out the ones that look like spam. Each comment has a status history, so you can easily see which comments were caught or cleared by Akismet and which were spammed or unspammed by a site moderator. URLs are shown in the comment body to reveal hidden or misleading links. Moderators can see the number of approved comments for each user. Akismet also has a discard feature that outright blocks the worst spam, saving you disk space and speeding up your site.
  2. All In One SEO
    This plugin allows you to optimize your WordPress site for Search Engine Optimization. With upwards of 90% of today’s consumers using search engines to locate their goods and services, websites that are not rated highly enough will just not be seen. I recently heard a line that went “Where’s the best place to hide something? … On page two of Google – nobody ever looks there”. I have read statistics showing that as little as 20% of users ever go past page one. If you don’t want your competitors to get the new business, you need your site to rank high in the search engines. The other popular SEO Plugin is WordPress SEO by Yoast, which is also very good. They both provide excellent SEO configuration capabilities and it really comes down to a matter of choice as to which one to use.
  3. BackupBuddy
    There’s another saying that goes, “If you don’t want to lose it, back it up”. Sites get hacked every day. Our passwords are rarely as strong as we think. And sometimes it doesn’t matter. Sometimes we (or our clients) delete the wrong file or make a change that breaks something. Have you ever triggered a fatal error from a bad plugin? Crashes happen. But with BackupBuddy, recovering from a problem is quick and easy. This plugin also makes moving a site from one host to another quite easy.
  4. Enhanced Media Library 
    This plug-in is a powerful tool and can be very handy for those who need to manage a lot of media files. Here are a few highlights: Media Taxonomies (Categories for Media Files), you can create unlimited amount of media taxonomies (like categories and tags), be in total control of your custom taxonomy parameters via admin, edit and delete your custom media taxonomies, assign existed taxonomies to Media Library (for example, you can use post categories as a taxonomy for your media files), immediately set categories to any media file during upload, allow/disallow uploading for any file type, and much more. There is also a paid version that allows for bulk file actions.
  5. Google Analytics
    This is not really a plugin, but a very important feed mechanism. Knowing your audience and what they want is key to the success of your website. The best way to know your audience is through your traffic statistics and this is exactly what Google Analytics provides for FREE. It shows who visits your website – their geographical location, which browser they used, their screen resolution, language, etc. You can see how long users stay on the site, which pages they visited the most, where they most often leave from, the average number of pages viewed, etc. It shows where they arrived on your website from, you can see how they found you. Whether it was through a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.), social networks (Facebook, Twitter etc.), a link from another website, or a direct type-in. If you’re not using Google Analytics to monitor your site utilization, it’s like driving with blinders on. As the old saying goes: “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Google Analytics helps you improve your site and give your audience what they like.
  6. Google Maps
    If you have a brick and mortar business and want to show your site visitors where you are and how to get to your location, this plugin is for you. It provides directions, interactive maps, and satellite/aerial imagery of many countries. You can embed a basic map, a Street View image, driving directions, or a local search into your website. When your viewers are signed in to Google, they can also see their home and work, saved places, and more in your map.
  7. Google XML Sitemaps
    This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which helps search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo to better index your site. With such a sitemap, it’s much easier for the crawlers to see the complete structure of your site and retrieve it more efficiently. The plugin supports all kinds of WordPress generated pages as well as custom URLs. Additionally it notifies all major search engines every time you create a post with new content.
  8. Gravity Forms
    The most basic use of Gravity Forms is your general contact form, which just about every WordPress site has or needs. Whatever the reason that people need to get in touch or you need to collect information, Gravity Forms makes it easy. But it’s the versatility of what you can do in terms of contact and support forms that makes even this seemingly mundane use of forms exciting. You can create any variety of form, collect any array of data, allow for file uploads, and much more.
  9. Monacrh 
    Monarch is a Social Sharing and Social Following plugin built to get you more share and more followers on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Monarch does this by using various different social sharing integration methods, such as social sharing sidebars, inline sharing buttons, popups and fly-in boxes. By encouraging your visitors to share, and making it easy for them to share, Monarch can greatly increase the social sharing activity on your website.
  10. TinyMCE Advanced
    Although the WordPress post editor includes some useful tools for formatting your content when you are crafting a new post or page, it’s possible to add even more formatting and presentation options to the editor in order to help you create even more attractive and engaging content. TinyMCE Advanced makes the WordPress post and page editor even more powerful. Once this plugin is installed on your site, you can not only customize the buttons which are displayed on the post editor, removing or adding items as needed, but you also get access to a selection of new buttons and functionality.

These are just ten of the plugins we often use when designing and developing a website. There are many, many more that we have used for particular applications but at a minimum, these will certainly get you going. Are there any other plugins you are familiar with that you think should be added to this list?

Google’s New Mobilegeddon Update

Google has released many algorithm updates in the past, and we’re sure they will continue to do so on a regular basis. The last major update was “Pigeon” released in December 2014 followed by a minor update implemented quietly in February 2015, many suspect as a precursor to this most recent one. Their new update that rolled out April 21st has been dubbed “Mobilegeddon” by industry experts.

This new algorithm only affects Google searches made using smartphones. The results will favor websites deemed “mobile friendly,” giving them higher rankings than sites that are only optimized for desktops and laptops.

Google was reported saying “As people increasingly search on their mobile devices, we want to make sure they can find content that’s not only relevant and timely, but also easy to read and interact with on smaller mobile screens.” They even have a website that will assess your website for mobile readiness.

This change results in an even more critical need for businesses to have mobile friendly websites. Favoring mobile websites where searches are made from mobile devices seems obvious, and in 2015 you’d think most sites have mobile friendly webpages. Right? Nope. A study done by online Internet marketing firm Portent shows that many of the Web’s top sites actually aren’t mobile friendly. How does your website stack up?

Mobile use has increased significantly, and will continue to do so. If you have not been keeping tabs on the marketplace and already made your website and other online content accessible to the mobile world, you should start worrying about Google placement. If you really want to take advantage of the opportunities that online visibility has to offer, you should keep pace with the changing world around you and update your site now. your competitors probably already have.

If you need help either assessing your website, or actually making it mobile-friendly, please give us a call for a free evaluation.

What The Heck Is Onffline Networking?

We all want to build our businesses and we know that networking with other professionals and business owners is a great way to ‘get the word out’.

You’ve heard of online networking i.e. using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so many others. You’ve heard of offline networking i.e. face to face networking. The kind you get through joining networking groups, chambers of commerce, and attending formal networking meetings or business conventions.

As with most things, there are pros and cons to each.

With online networking you have access to a huge number of individuals. I have found that LinkedIn is one of the best resources for professional online networking. You can locate people within a specific line of business, in a certain demographic, in a particular geographic location, with a specific skill-set, etc. You can connect with them and develop relationships that can lead to improving both your and your connections’ career and/or business. The main problem with online networking is that it takes longer to reach that ‘comfort level’ with another person because it’s done primarily online through messaging and email.

With offline networking, you meet people face-to-face. You shake their hand. You look them in the eye and you can get that warm and fuzzy comfort level much more quickly. The problem with this approach is that your access to these individuals is limited to the groups and events that you attend, and the people you are associated with.

Onffline networking is a combination of both online and offline networking. You look for someone online that meets your preferred criteria. You connect with them however that particular network allows. In the case of LinkedIn, you connect through an associate, send a direct connection request, send an in-mail, or join a common group. Once connected, you get better acquainted initially through email or even a phone call and then, when it makes sense, you set up a time to share a cup of coffee and take the online ‘connection’ offline. This provides the best of both approaches, giving you access to the broad spectrum of people, as well as the warm and fuzzy feeling you get with a face-to-face meeting. This approach is not without its shortfall though. In order to take advantage of this technique, you are typically restricted to only those individuals that are in traveling distance from you. However, it does open the door to many more face-to-face meetings than you could probably arrange through only offline means.

You don’t have to stop connecting the traditional online or offline ways, but add this to your networking approach. Try it and see for yourself if it works for you. It’s worth the effort.

Should I Use Pinterest For My Business?

As a small business owner you’re in a great position to start exploiting social media for all its worth. Although social media can be a fairly time consuming practice depending on how many platforms you choose to use, it’s also the key for a small business to develop awareness, raise its profile, gauge its market and interact with existing and future customers. Pinterest is a three year old visual media platform that has exploded onto the social media stage and gained traction with about 70 million users. The increasing popularity of Pinterest may have you asking, “Should I use Pinterest for my business?”

Some Pinterest Statistics

  • Pinterest has more than 70 million global users.
  • Pinterest is one of the fastest growing websites in history.
  • 79% of the active Pinterest users are from the U.S.
  • Pinterest drives more traffic to brands than Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit and Google+ combined.
  • Pinterest shoppers in the US spend an average of $140 – $180 per order, compared to Facebook and Twitter shoppers who spend on average $60 – $80.
  • Pinterest represents about 41% of e-commerce traffic.
  • 90% of US online specialty retailers use Pinterest.
  • 25% of Fortune 100 companies are on Pinterest.
  • The average Pinterest user has a household income of over $100,000 per year.
  • 47% of online shoppers in the U.S. have made a purchase based on a recommendation via Pinterest.

Advantages of Pinterest
Pinterest is by its very nature a visual medium: everything on the site you post is an image. Images are the fastest and most direct form of communication we have.

Pinterest is magnetic: users spend more than an hour and a half on the site every month, sharing and re-sharing content. It’s a site that’s very easy to get lost in (aptly nicknamed “the rabbit hole”), so retaining the user’s interest is key. Therefore the more varied and interesting your content is the better.

Pinterest is a viral marketing machine: more than 80% of content consists of re-pins. Users actively promote your company for you. In fact 70% of brand engagement on Pinterest is generated by users themselves, not brands.

How can your small business use these advantages?

Be visual – This means using bright, bold colors, large interesting images and consistent yet imaginatively themed boards. The more visually captivating your pin is, the more likely it is to be re-pinned. The best boards have a good mixture of photographs, graphics and a small amount of text. Keep it varied.

Be resourceful – Large brands pin images of their own products to their boards; it’s easy for the user to click on an image and be taken directly to the brand’s own ecommerce page where the user can purchase the product.

Be friendly – Create a board called “Inside your company”. Give the viewer a sneak peek at the faces and what’s going on behind the scenes. This lets users take a closer look at the company, and personally identify with it in ways that perhaps couldn’t be achieved via other channels.

Be informative – Whatever your business, you can use specific boards to offer help and guidance on how to do all kinds of creative or practical things; tying into the products or services you offer. Perhaps if you run a gardening business you could offer advice on planting at the right time of year, if it’s a DIY business, you could offer advice on how to build something.

Be entertaining – It’s important on Pinterest to show a desire to provide a deeper consumer experience by going beyond self-publicizing.

With Pinterest you have access to countless images and an almost infinite number of themes, it’s easy to get lost among the ‘PINS’. If your company is only touting its corporate message and promoting its wares, you probably won’t achieve mass engagement and users will quickly move on.

Though Pinterest may not be thought of in the same way as Twitter and Facebook for marketing purposes, this research proves that Pinterest is quickly becoming a powerful marketing tool for businesses. Give it a try and if you get caught up in the “Rabbit Hole” and aren’t sure which way to turn, seek professional help for advice and guidance.