Put Wind in Your Small Business’ Sails with These 8 Useful Online Tools

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Put Wind in Your Small Business’ Sails with These 8 Useful Online ToolsThe fact that small business owners are going to face challenges in growing their business and making it successful here in the digital age isn’t likely to change. It’s all too common to be up against box stores and large nationwide chains that boast marketing budgets, development teams, programmers, and pricing freedoms that simply aren’t an option for the smaller guy. But there are ways to give your business a boost with regards to your digital marketing efforts.

We encourage you to become familiar with these various online tools that are proven-effective for giving big boosts for small businesses, and then begin utilizing any number of them for yourself. From heat mapping to email marketing, they can help you generate more customers AND allocate your digital marketing budget more wisely and whether you’re an online store or a physical retail shop is of no matter here. These tools are easily accessible, surprisingly simple to implement, and again – proven effective for people just like you.

  1. Google Alerts

Google Alerts gets thumbs up right across the board from small business owners. All you need to do – after registering for the service of course – is select keywords that are related to the nature of your business and then request to be notified by Google Alerts when an article is published with one of those keywords.

This is particularly helpful for quickly and easily finding content for you to link to from your company blog, keeping in mind that doing so is an important part of maintaining your SEO.

For example, if you’d like to find content for your outdoor sporting goods store’s blog that’s seasonally relevant for this time of the year, you might have an alert with all articles with “ice fishing tips.”

You can also receive alerts for when your company name is mentioned on the web, allowing you to share good news, commendations, or more simply when you’re being talked about. You can also set up alerts for your competitors as well, and be informed similarly when people are talking about them.

Check out Google Alerts here

  1. SumoMe

For us, SumoMe is pretty much a must-have for small businesses. It provides a suite filled with free lead-generation and analytical tools, the first of which provides a website welcome mat that introduces your business and collects email addresses (with permission of course). Another is a heat map that is able to identify where and how visitors are clicking on your website. Along with dozens of other free tools like these, we’re almost certain you’ll want to incorporate it.

Check out SumoMe here

  1. Canva

Quality graphic design is often beyond the means of most small business owners, and most of us in general really. Canva is great – it lets anyone assemble beautiful designs for their digital marketing collaterals. Choose from a large collection of templates, and design items like social media cover pages, blog post featured images and presentations. We like to think of it as Photoshop for the non-computer savvy types.

Check out Canva here

  1. MailChimp

MailChimp is the go-to-guy for email marketing campaigns. It’s an excellent resource for business owners! It not only helps you collect email addresses, but it has a great selection of templates for email newsletters and easy-to-understand analytics for understanding how your customers are interacting with your emails and newsletters and how you can see better results from them

Email marketing is so important these days for increasing your exposure to prospective customers and establishing your visibility, and with MailChimp the first 2,000 email subscribers are completely free. As your business grows, your MailChimp package can grow with it. Sign up today and start building mailing lists and reaching out to people the smart and effective way.

Check out MailChimp here

  1. Buffer

Social media marketing is absolutely huge these days, and you can’t afford not to be promoting yourself on at least a few (if not all) of the major platforms. A small business without a social media marketing strategy may well miss out on huge segments of the market that their competitors are all over and reaping the rewards.

We’ll go ahead and assume you don’t need to be further convinced of this, so on to Buffer. With Buffer, you can manage all of your accounts from one dashboard and schedule your social media posts well into the future so that you remain consistently visible with fresh content – a definite must-do. Buffer shares your content at the best possible times throughout the day so that your followers and fans see your updates more often. And you can even create images with the perfect size and format for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest.

Check out Buffer here

  1. Zopim

Great customer service goes a LONG way in building repeat customers, and that’s also extremely important and something any business owner should be striving for. Zopim is great for improving the customer service experience. It offers a free and paid plans for live chatting with your customers while they are online, enabling you to reach out and speak to the visitors who are currently at your website, and by giving them this level of first-person interaction they are bound to feel more ‘catered to’ in regards to their consumer experience. You have the ability to set triggers for when the chat box pops up, and Zopim provides a chat history to go back and see what you have talked about in the past with customers.

Zopim also gives you real-time analytics to evaluate what users are doing on your site, which you can then use to tailor your responses AND create a more streamlined and helpful FAQ page if you have one. In addition, Zopim gives you the option to break your team up into departments so that customers’ inquiries are directed properly and to the right individuals.

If you’re in e-commerce and sell any type of product online, Zopim comes highly recommended.

Check out Zopim here

  1. Zendesk

Businesses without relationships tend to become out of business before long. Fostering and managing relationships is of key importance, and Zendesk helps make them easier by delivering an effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module for managing your contacts and providing the best customer support you can.

This smartly designed help desk software has options for knowledge bases and reporting, and you can setup multiple agents so that you’re never limited to having just one team individual interacting with inbound customers. Community forums, widgets and business rules add to the appeal of this great piece of software. Over 75,000 companies trust Zendesk with their customers, and you may want to as well.

Check out Zendesk here

  1. CrazyEgg

‘Bounce Rate’ is a term used to describe the number of visitors who leave your website prematurely. Needless to say, that’s a negative and you want to know what’s prompting them to leave. CrazyEgg is one means of giving you that insight, using advanced heat mapping to highlight the buttons and areas people are clicking on your site. It also details how far users scroll down your page and when they stop. We also recommend this very valuable tool for understanding the behavior of all your potential customers, and preventing the ‘why’ and ‘where’ of their ‘bouncing.’

Try it out for yourself, and see how you can retain site visitors!

Check out CrazyEgg here

We’d love to hear from you about your successes with any of these tools, so please do be in touch with us if you’d like to share your stories. Wishing you all a Happy Holidays and continued growth and success with your business for all of us at 4GoodHosting.com

Improved Cloud Security a Welcome Reassurance for Cloud-Hosted Websites

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Improved Cloud Security a Welcome Reassurance for Cloud-Hosted WebsitesIt wasn’t that long ago that cloud storage was making quite the splash on the IT scene, and the fact that retaining files and data didn’t have to exclusively occur within hard drives was quite a revolutionary development. Right from day one, however, some people had concerns about the security of their information and other concerns related to a form of storage that wasn’t exclusively theirs.

If it’s not my storage, they asked – then what’s to stop someone from reaching into that ‘cloud’ and helping themselves?

The question’s fair enough, and in truth there’s been increasing concerns over pretty much every aspect of exchanging data over the Internet. A public survey down south in the States earlier this year revealed that 47% of people have cloud security concerns, and 80% of respondents support federal certification of cloud services.

We can’t be certain if those same percentages would be reflected up here, but they likely would be. The next question, though, would quite naturally be – what would a web hosting or other related-service provider have to do, show, or prove to be federally (or nationally in our case) certified?

Products and Services Fueling the Cloud Phenomenon

There are all sorts of examples. Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s integrated cloud are two good ones of where extremely in-demand products are establishing the cloud as the norm for accessible data and services. Small and medium sized businesses are also coming around en masse to cloud hosting, and e-commerce is especially familiar with the cloud now too.

So for as uniformly well-received as its been, the overall security of cloud computing is still a work in progress. But the key word there is progress. Progress is being made, and recently very much so.

It’s a common belief that – because the cloud is so increasingly popular and yet still a remote ‘location’ for external storage – hackers will be particularly enthusiastic about seeing if they can get their way in and pillage the village. The extent to which that’s true is highly debatable, but fact is it’s increasingly important for web hosting companies offering cloud products to anticipate weaknesses in cloud security and address them aggressively.

It’s the everyday guys and gals who are becoming more savvy with potential security issues connected to cloud computing, and as such web hosts are often being presented with very direct questions about what they do to counter very specific risks. We’ve seen a trend where people see ‘malware’ as more than just a strange word, and are now actually quite familiar with it and the threat it poses.

We think that’s great, an informed consumer is good for everyone in the big picture and the more of them that push us to be at our best makes for better service and more satisfied customers along the way to being a more successful business.

More and More – And More – Differentiation Among Cloud Providers

The third more there was definitely intentionally added for effect, but it’s not entirely out of place as there has been extensive differentiation among cloud providers in the last few years.

The aforementioned trend of catering to security concerns had contributed to it, but equally front and center behind the trend is a focus on creating infrastructure that works more effectively for specific user groups.

This inevitably leads to increases in service rates, but solid infrastructure is definitely worth the money for most of us so that’s unlikely to see much opposition. One very noteworthy trend here is automation with the way individuals receive these different ‘wrinkles’ to their cloud hosting and services. For you as a consumer, it’s going to be helpful to understand how your host’s processes are going to go with all of this, so feel free to ask if there’s anything you want / need clarification on.

Then there’s the issue of communicating advantages to customers. Quality customer service is important, but it’s only part of the equation. Cloud web hosting providers need to also find proven-advantageous points of differentiation and market them to customers effectively.

One such example is Cloud VPS hosting, with all the ‘elbow room’ of a virtual private server paired with the super functionality of the cloud.

There’s sure to be more developments regarding Cloud hosting in the near future, and as always we’ll be as on top of it here at 4GoodHosting.

Build it Better: Getting the Most Out of Your Website

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Build it Better: Getting the Most Out of Your WebsiteIt’s increasingly rare these days to find a business that doesn’t have their own website. As is the case with every one of them, there’s a whole lot of work that goes into a website – planning, designing, and the actual construction of the different HTML elements that together make up those web pages we’re happy to just visit and browse through as we like.

Be aware that there are choices you can make when putting your website together, however, that can have negative repercussions down the line and quite possibly sabotage the successes you envisioned for yourself when you decided to take your business onto the World Wide Web.

Start with the Right Conceptual Thinking

First off, all of the following are FALSE:

  1. I need a flashy website that looks ‘cool’

Believe us when we tell you that substance trumps flush in a big way when it comes to the entirety of your online presence. Stressing to your web designer that it’s all-important to have a ‘cutting edge’ site is creating the wrong perspective for what you want to be accomplishing here.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a competition about ‘looks’, it’s about effectively conveying to your customers THAT WHICH IS IMPORTANT TO THEM – which, in nearly every instance, is a quality product or service that’s priced reasonably and comes with positive reviews from buyers just like them. What your website looks like will pretty much be the last of their considerations.

  1. It’s always good to save few bucks by having my friend / relative / other design my website for a discount

For sure, hiring designers or developers with many years of experience and a proven portfolio of work can be expensive. The best professionals can and do charge what they do because – in addition to designing the website – they also often research, plan, and strategize the entire conversion process and site flow as well.

Needless to say, you stand to benefit IMMENSELY from this value-added part of their service, and these types of analytical approaches are very likely going to be beyond the ability of the guy or gal you know.

Hiring a qualified design pro can also mean that your project isn’t completed as quickly as you’d like. Without going on at length, we’ll just suffice to say that – again – any delay that’s related to making your website a more soundly constructed portal THAT WORKS TO SERVE YOUR MARKETING INTERESTS effectively is very much worth it in the long run.

Conversions, sales, followers, in-store visits (if you’ve got a brick n mortar) etc etc. – you want them, and working with a reputable and experienced web designer / developer is the straightest path to getting there.

  1. A simple ‘electronic brochure’ is really all I need from my website

Maybe so if you’re fine with just staying where you are in as far as the size and scope of your business (and its success). In all likelihood though, you’d like to see more out of your business and in this day and age the BEST way to build your business is to promote it effectively online. And if we were to tell you that there’s not too much involved in going from an electronic brochure to a fully-vamped website, why wouldn’t you choose the one that’s going to give your more sales / service opportunities and make your brand all the more visible?

Right then.

Taking the Right Approach

This starts with answering one direct question – what is it that you need your website to do? The answer can vary, but it’s safe enough to assume that anyone who’s in business will have ‘helping us sell more of our product(s)’ at or near the top of their list.

So, with that understood, your website MUST:

  • Attract the right customers

Determine what your customer demographic has for a ‘buyer profile’ – how do they buy, when do they buy, what types of advertising / marketing collaterals are they attracted to? If you can’t answer these questions yourself, it’s very wise to hire someone who can analyze these correctly for you

Once these questions are answered, your designer should be able to start making design choices that are in line with the findings. Your website’s primary focus must be on attracting the right prospective customers to your site, keeping them there, and converting many of those visits into conversions etc.

  • Be optimized for people and their searches through Google, Bing etc.

Are you familiar with the acronym SEO? You should be, and if not then – again – you REALLY need to hire a web copywriter to put together your site content. SEO is search engine optimization, and having quality SEO for your content means your site will be presented higher up in search results conducted by potential visitors / customers

  • Be sufficiently easy to use

A frustrated or flustered visitor is never a good thing, and 9 times out of 10 they become a contributor to your site’s bounce rate (also a big negative). Your website must be explicitly user friendly, where content is supported, messages are clearly communicated, calls-to-action are firmly identified, and visitors are guided – subtly – toward a conversion.

  • Help you stand out in the crowd

This one tends to be overlooked sometime, but it’s important to remember that there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of websites out there that are similar to yours. You need to distinguish your site from them as best you can, ensuring that your visitors are likely to remember you, respect you, and – down the line – even refer you!

Some of this stuff can be very overly-conceptual for many folks, so if it’s above and beyond your comprehension then do trust your website to a digital marketing professional. You’ll be glad you did.

Determining the Best Website Strategy

Every page of every business website has some type of conversion objective, even if that objective is simply to redirect them to the page where you’re making your primary conversion objective accessible.

This last part if important to keep in mind, because it’s a fact that not every visitor to your website will enter it via the landing page. A clear, comprehensive website strategy outlines the paths to conversion from multiple entry points on the website. How they move from their entry points, and what type of information they request on their way to a) buying or b) bouncing is very relevant to take into consideration.

So, we’ll now introduce the 4 types of content found on effective websites;

‘Know’ content – lets them learn about you, your brand, and the products and services that you believe will be of value to them. Always be sure to show yourself to be an authority with your subject matter.

‘Like’ content – helps visitors see who you are, where you stand on certain issues related to your products / services, and what you have to say. It can offer quick looks into your personal life, your personality, and your opinions

‘Trust’ content – to attach credibility, reliability, and trust to you in the eyes of your visitors. Shows you to be an expert with a history of proven results, and conveys an understanding that there’s no risk to choosing you as a retailer or provider.

‘Conversion’ content – utilized to persuade visitors to take specific actions and convert new visitors into clients, customers, subscribers, or any other role in the promotion of your business online

Let’s Get Going

Now you’ll have a more broad-reaching conceptual approach. Remember – don’t rush headlong into anything, think things through and get second opinions along with revisiting your own.

When you understand your website’s function, eliminate distractions, establish multiple different paths to conversion, and apply the 4-type content process highlighted above, you’ll be on the right path for sure. Last but not least, keep in mind that all websites need web hosting, and quite often a web hosting service provider in Canada will offer Internet Marketing services that include optimizing your website. 4GoodHosting certainly does, and you’re encouraged to learn more at www.4goodhosting.com