How to decisively invest in your business’ website

You’ve been contemplating overhauling your business’ website. Perhaps it’s running slow, bordering on unresponsive. Maybe it doesn’t work well with mobile devices. Or the design is just plain outdated. Whatever the reason, you’ve got two choices: fix what’s already there, or build a new website.

Before you decide, take a moment to really consider what’s at stake — because making the wrong choice could cost you tens of thousands of dollars from your precious marketing budget.

The truth is, the vast majority of businesses that choose to rebuild their website don’t actually need to. Of course, when you contact custom website builders for a second opinion, you’ll hear that you simply must have one. But for most, that option amounts to buying a new house because a light bulb has blown in your current one.

You might need a custom website at some point. But timing is everything. Here’s what you need to take into account before making that crucial and often costly choice to invest in a business’ website

How much will it cost me?

 Many don’t realize the extent of what they’re getting into when engaging a custom website builder. A brand new site will likely cost you a minimum of $10,000, but you could be facing a bill as high as $75,000 or beyond.

You may have received a much lower estimate, but remember that might not be the final price you pay. It’s common practice for website builders to lowball the initial proposal to ensure your business, only for the scope to increase as the project proceeds. This usually happens when contracts don’t list every feature and the website builder ads costs for “out of scope” features.

Updating your current website, on the other hand, is a whole different ballpark. Depending on the scope of what you need, engaging someone to do the work could cost you as little as $100 to $3,000. Considering that many businesses buckle under the weight of an unnecessary expenditures, cost should be your top priority when facing this decision.

How long will it take?

Building a custom website doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it often takes at least six months and sometimes up to a year to complete. Not ideal for a business that decides it needs a new website to prop up a time-sensitive event, like the launch of a campaign or a request for funding.

If you’re able to wait, then a custom site can be yours. If you need it yesterday, most updates to an existing site take no longer than two to four weeks.

Will it make my website more SEO friendly?

When you work in the SEO industry, you learn that most people don’t need to rebuild their site from scratch to become more SEO friendly. They just need to fix what’s broken.

You can improve your search engine ranking by making even minor tweaks to your existing site, especially ones that make it load faster. If the platform you’re using is abysmally slow, you might want to consider a fresh website. But often the platform isn’t the problem. Compressing images, cleaning up code and setting up more effective caching can all improve your website’s speed, earning it favor with the search engines.

So when should I rebuild my website, and how?

 A custom website can be worth the money, but don’t rush into the project unless you’re sure it’s what you need.

The best reason to rebuild your site is when you need to add major functionality changes, like the ability for visitors to enter a zip code to discover something. Managing large amounts of user data, like passwords and shipping addresses, can also be easier on a purpose-built website or a completely customized design to represent something specific about your business.

If you do go with a custom site, do it right. Find a few companies that build websites for your industry, and find out if they fit your budget — some charge a minimum fee, often around $25,000. Get proposals and remember to ask about both the total cost and the timeline. Before you get locked into a contract, lock down the price and beware confusing verbiage that might be masking hidden fees.

If you’re relatively technical minded, you might be able to build the site yourself. Check out platforms like Squarespace or Wix. They’re easy to use and might be a good fit for the DIY personality.

Whether you go custom or give your current website a facelift, the best thing you can do is know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Don’t rush into a costly rebuild, and you’ll be fine.

Jimmy Park is founder and CEO of Codejockey, and former director of digital media at the Robin Hood Foundation.

Three fundamental steps to make your website more mobile friendly

It’s no secret that today’s Internet demands that your website is mobile friendly. With the majority of time spent on the Internet being from either a smartphone or tablet, your website needs to present users the same experience they would come to expect while on a traditional desktop or laptop. Otherwise, you risk losing them to frustration and to your competitors who are only a Google search away. In this guide, you’ll learn the three fundamental steps you need to take in order to provide an awesome mobile experience.


Choose a responsive framework

In the early days of mobile Web design, website teams would build adaptive websites. This meant the team would create a large screen PC version and a separate, simplified mobile version. The mobile version would be drastically reduced, offering the bare essentials — like contact information and a company overview — to the user. If a user wanted the full experience, he or she would have to access the website from a PC to purchase products or see things like image galleries, movies, tools, etc. Additionally, extra work was created for the website administrators because now a PC and mobile version of the website had to be updated each time new content was added.

Eventually, responsive websites entered the scene and life got a lot easier. Responsive websites use code frameworks that allow one website to be designed that is intelligent and morphs to fit any size screen a person might be using. This new technique also helps save content teams time by removing the necessity of having to update two or more websites with each new post. It also cuts down on the initial design time since only one overall website style needs to be defined instead of creating fixed width layouts for each screen size.

Implementing a responsive website can be accomplished in one of two ways.  Your website design team can use a framework and build a template from scratch. This is the best method when your design aesthetics are your highest priority in order to communicate your brand’s quality. Using a framework will allow you to tweak your website design in any way you need to accomplish your brand’s goals. Some of the most popular frameworks on the market today, which are available under open source licenses, are Twitter Bootstrap,Foundation and HTML5 boilerplate. The second way you can implement a responsive theme is to look for themes for WordPress, Magento, Drupal and other popular content management systems that are based on the frameworks just mentioned. There are numerous theme marketplaces on the Web where you can purchase these. This solution is best when trying to save on costs and your aesthetics are not the highest priority for a given project.

Keep your image sizes small

A long load time on a mobile device equals a bad user experience. If using a program like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator be sure to use the “Save for Web” feature when saving files. Simple graphics typically tend to have the best file sizes using GIF or PNG formats. Graphic files like your photos from high-end digital cameras tend to do best using JPG. You can also squeeze a little extra file size out of your PNG images by using online compression tools like www.tinypng.com, which reduce the file size even more without losing visual quality.

Use a good Web hosting company

Your website can only be as fast as the web host serving it to the Internet. Many small businesses opt for cheap hosting from companies like GoDaddy, HostMonster and HostGator, but pay for it in site load time. According to a study by Forrester Research, users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less, yet most mobile websites loaded in an average of 6.2 seconds. Compounding the situation further, every second of additional load time also resulted in a conversion rate loss of 7 percent. For many companies, this problem can be easily remedied by switching to a more robust hosting platform offered by multi-platform companies like www.rackspace.com and www.mediatemple.com or CMS-specific platforms likewww.wpengine.com and www.websynthesis.com for WordPress and www.nexcess.com for Magento. To see if you have a potential website load time problem, Google provides a free tool to help analyze your website at http://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/.

By focusing on these three core areas of your website, you are sure to offer a great mobile experience to your visitors. Ultimately, the faster and simpler you can make your website for user to accomplish your desired business goals the more likely you will be rewarded in return.

Frank Spohr is the founder of Clicked Studios, a responsive website design and online marketing company offering a new way to design websites that converts more visitors into customers and turns poorly performing websites into valuable revenue generators by using integrated knowledge of design, sales, marketing and human psychology.

Why your business needs a website

Ryan Niddel, CEO, Brain Host

Ryan Niddel, CEO, Brain Host

The Internet is the first place most people go to look for a business, yet 72 percent of small businesses in Ohio do not have their own website, says Ryan Niddel, CEO of Brain Host.

“It’s surprising because having a website seems so commonplace,” says Niddel. “But if you find businesses in the Yellow Pages or the state business registry and try to pull up their domains, you see they don’t have a Web presence.”

Smart Business spoke with Niddel about the reasons businesses need websites and the costs and options of building and maintaining an online presence.

Why do so many businesses not have websites?

People think it’s more difficult, expensive or time consuming than it is. Small businesses don’t understand that someone can operate the site for them and it’s not going to cost thousands of dollars.

Businesses can get a website for free as part of a Web hosting contract costing as little as $15 a month. That way they can test the marketplace and see if their ROI increases and they’re making more money before expanding the site or getting involved in a social media marketing program.

Is a website a necessary tool for every business, no matter the product or service?

Yes, based on the number of people who search for businesses from a smartphone, tablet or computer. People look for restaurants and small businesses online before becoming customers. They want to see a website that shows products and services offered, price points and testimonials.

E-commerce stores, businesses that actually sell products online, are a small piece of the marketplace. Most websites are informational; it’s giving a consumer peace of mind about what they’re getting into before doing business with a company. Websites can benefit service industries, nonprofits, specialty shops and everything in between.

What is the advantage of a website compared to a free Facebook page?

Websites give additional validity to businesses because everyone knows Facebook is complimentary. When someone sees you’re willing to invest in your brand, it gives an additional level of comfort. Also, Facebook is a couple of pictures and quotes about your company, whereas a website can be much more in-depth.

What is essential to having a good website?

A good website not only provides insights into your business, but also enables you to capture and consistently follow up with visitors. You should leave any visitor with a hook that allows you to stay in touch periodically and keep them engaged with your brand. A company selling golf equipment — and that golf equipment doesn’t have to be sold online — might have a free download or brochure about how to take five strokes off of your game. Potential customers give an email address, and you send them specials or information about clinics or new locations.

Circle back with Twitter and Facebook accounts by sending an email that offers a 5 percent discount coupon if they ‘like’ your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter. Then, potential customers get an automatic update every time you post something to Facebook or Twitter; you’re getting an entire marketing package at no cost.

Websites have been referred to as a modern equivalent of an ad in a telephone directory. Is that accurate?

That’s correct. Catalog-size paper telephone directories are a thing of the past. About 95 percent of consumers will do some sort of online research before setting foot in your establishment. If they do an Internet search on a small business and all they see are sites with reviews or contact information, that doesn’t make them very comfortable about the business.

If you have a competitor nearby that has an Internet presence and they come up right away on a Web search, consumers are twice as likely to go to that storefront because they will not feel as engaged with your brand.

In today’s market of Internet savvy consumers, it’s imperative for small businesses to maintain a solid web presence or risk becoming obsolete.

Ryan Niddel is the CEO of Brain Host. Reach him at (419) 631-1270 or [email protected]

Insights Internet is brought to you by Brain Host

 

Invest in developing a marketing strategy if you want to improve business results

Dave Fazekas, Director of Digital Marketing, Smart Business Network

How often do you go to market without a solid business strategy? Probably never, right?

Wrong.

The reality is that if you’re like most organizations, then you’re doing this right now — and you don’t even know it.

That’s because most organizations do not have a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Instead, most are doing what somebody told them they should do. This includes creating a mobile website, engaging in social media and advertising.

All of these are “smart” marketing initiatives. But if they’re done in a vacuum, there’s no way to measure what results those initiatives are intended to accomplish. Worse, you’re chasing tactics instead of delivering results.

There is a significant difference between marketing tactics and marketing strategy. Marketing tactics are ways to bring channels to life. This could be a new website or a mobile-optimized version of your site. Or it could be creating new sales collateral. Tactics should be used to bring your brand message and value proposition to life.

Unfortunately, if they’re not tied to a cohesive strategy, you will not achieve the results you desire.

A marketing strategy, however, allows you to understand the results you should achieve. It also keeps everyone aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in the process.

As an example, there are three main reasons for a website: to verify your organization’s brand message to potential customers, to deliver your value proposition and conversion.

Conversion can mean different things for different industries. In retail, it might mean picking out a product, putting it in your shopping cart and making the purchase. In business-to-business, conversion might mean picking up the phone to contact the company, providing a name, email and phone number, or signing up to receive a newsletter.

Without understanding how consumers behave, you may be selling your marketing efforts short. You might not be providing enough information to clearly articulate your brand message or value proposition or you might not be offering users an easy experience that allows for conversion. So how do you ensure that a consistent brand message, value proposition and the ability to target customers converts across all marketing channels?

First, understand who the target consumer is and their needs, attitudes and behaviors. This can be discovered through research, including focus groups or through industry-based segmentation.

Then, conduct a deep dive to understand your business goals and objectives. In retail, this might be the number of sales you want to drive. In B2B, it could be increasing the numbers of prospects in your pipeline.

Finally, evaluate your company’s existing marketing tactics — your website, marketing collateral and overall brand message.

Only then will you be well-equipped to evaluate your overall tactics and compare them to marketing best practices and the competitive landscape. This results in recommendations that include expected business results and return on investment.

Prioritize these by measuring the highest impact against investment levels, and then create a timeline to implement them over a one- to two-year period. Share this strategy throughout the entire organization so everyone understands what will be accomplished and what the expected results are.

Without strategy, and an understanding of everything that goes into it, any money you pour into tactics tends to be money poorly spent. Done correctly, your marketing strategy suddenly becomes your organization’s key driver and leads to tangible and measurable business results.

Dave Fazekas is director of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at [email protected] or (440) 250-7056.

U.S. Bancorp, PNC latest bank websites to face access issues

WASHINGTON, Wed Sep 26, 2012 – Some U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services customers were having trouble accessing the banks’ websites on Wednesday, as U.S. financial institutions appear to be threatened by another round of cyber attacks.

Wells Fargo & Co. also faced lingering problems with its website after customers had intermittent access issues on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the bank said.

U.S. Bancorp is experiencing “unusual and high-traffic volume” on its site that is designed to slow down the system, bank spokesman Tom Joyce said. The problem is similar to what other banks have faced in the past week, he said.

“We are working closely with federal law enforcement officials to address this issue,” he said. Customers data and funds are not at risk, he added.

A PNC spokesman said some if its customers may be experiencing difficulty logging into the bank’s website on the first attempt. “We are aware of the situation and are working to restore full access,” spokesman Fred Solomon said.

The attacks came after a posting on the Internet on Tuesday by an unknown person, calling for cyber-attacks this week against Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp and PNC. A similar posting last week warned of attacks against Bank of America Corp and the New York Stock Exchange.

The person who posted the message on a site called pastebin.com said the attacks will continue until the film that had stirred anti-U.S. protests across the Middle East was removed from the Internet.

Five strategies from Fay Sharpe on protecting yourself against cybersquatters

Sandra M. Koenig, Partner, Fay Sharpe LLP

Cybersquatting is a fairly common practice that enables another entity to cash in on the goodwill someone else has established with a name or destination on the Internet.

“Cybersquatters direct traffic away from a valid website, often to a website with a list of advertisements that relate to the industry, brand or subject being searched. These ads could actually lead traffic to competitors,” says Sandra M. Koenig, a partner and intellectual property attorney with Fay Sharpe LLP.

While the hope is that visitors realize they’re not on the correct website and move along, some might see a link to the same product or service on the imposter site and proceed to the imposter website instead of seeking out the correct website, she says.

“Worse yet, your visitors might land on a disparaging website where negative things are said about your business,” Koenig says.

Smart Business spoke with Koenig about cybersquatting, how you can reduce your exposure to it, and how an increase in top-level domain name options might make the fight against this type of fraud more challenging.

What is cybersquatting?

When a trademark is used in a domain name with the intent to profit from the goodwill of another existing mark, it is considered cybersquatting. The Anti-Cybersquatting Piracy Act states civil action can be taken against any person who in bad faith uses, registers or traffics in a domain name that is confusingly similar to another’s trademark.

For example, someone might establish a domain name by transposing or omitting a few letters of a brand or company name or introducing or eliminating punctuation between words. They also could use a different top-level domain name — such as .net rather than .com — to confuse potential visitors into landing on their site instead of the site a visitor intended to access.

What is a top-level domain name and what is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) doing with them?

A top-level domain name is everything to the right of the dot, for instance .com or .gov.

ICANN has opened the door for businesses to establish their own top-level domain name beyond the 22 that already exist. The owner of the designation would become the administrator of a contrived top-level domain name, such as .google. A purchaser could also register the name of its brands or establish ownership of a generic name, such as .coupon. However, the window of opportunity to apply for a name has closed and about 2,000 applications, at around $185,000 each, have been made for a top-level domain. All of these applications are being evaluated by ICANN and likely won’t be used until around 2013.

How does ICANN allowing companies to file for and purchase top-level domain names affect cybersquatting?

On one hand, cybersquatters likely won’t seek to purchase these top-level domain names because they cost too much and there is a lengthy examination process required to prove you have the ability to administer it. Also, ICANN has put safeguards in place to eliminate duplication. Domain administrators will likely have protections in place to deal with trademark infringements on top-level domain names. The domain administrators will be controlling who gets to use the name and could potentially keep it for internal purposes or for use with suppliers.

However, for the generic names, such as .green or .wine, there’s a lot of opportunity for cybersquatting. The increase in these names expands the opportunities for cybersquatters to infringe on a company’s reputation.

What sort of resolution can a company pursue from cybersquatters?

If you are the brand holder and someone is cybersquatting on your property, you can take them to court under anti-cybersquatting legislation or pursue relief through less costly arbitration proceedings. In the latter case, you would file a complaint with an arbitration forum designated to handle this type of case and submit evidence of the bad-faith use of your name or mark and why you — and not the cybersquatter — should have the rights to the domain name. If the cybersquatter does not prove its right to the domain, the infringing domain name is either canceled or transferred to you. However, the other party might have a legal right to use the name even though it’s a similar trademark, such as a company with a similar name that works in a different, non-interfering industry.

How can a company protect itself from cybersquatters?

In many ways it is getting more difficult to guard against cybersquatters. Not that long ago the advice one would give would be to think of all the potential misspellings of your brand or company name or variations using punctuation, but it is a lot of work and expense to attempt to get every adaptation registered in your name, especially with the proliferation of top-level domains. However, it is still important to make sure you try to protect yourself in at least the .com and .net fields, and it is also beneficial to own other domains as described below.

Be proactive and protect yourself as best you can. While the increase in domain options will offer legitimate businesses greater possibilities for branding on the Web, it also creates more opportunities for cybersquatters to take advantage of the goodwill you’ve established through your brand and company name.

Here are five strategies to protect against cybersquatters:

  • Register your trademarks in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Register your important trademarks as domain names with several different top-level domains.
  • Register variations of your domain names including common misspellings, typographical errors and punctuation edits.
  • Secure disparaging domains, e.g. brandsucks.com, or domains that may put you in an unfavorable light for your industry, e.g. brand.xxx.
  • Be aware of the new top-level domains that will be available beginning in 2013 and seek registration for those that might be relevant to your business or industry.

Sandra M. Koenig is a partner and intellectual property attorney with Fay Sharpe LLP. Reach her at (216) 363-9000 or [email protected]

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Fay Sharpe LLP.

How Alexa von Tobel makes understanding finance fun and easy with LearnVest

Alexa von Tobel, Founder & CEO, LearnVest

Alexa von Tobel was getting a great education from Harvard Business School, but like many young people, she soon realized there was a significant gap in her education — she’d never been taught the basics of personal finance.

With further research bringing up little to help her, von Tobel decided to take matters into her own hands. She took a leave from school to create LearnVest.com in 2008, an interactive personal finance site providing women with information, tools and support for money management.

“[Personal finance] is really important for having a positive future and being able to be in control of your own destiny,” von Tobel, founder and CEO, says.

“As individuals, we make six to 10 money decisions every day, from ‘Should I take a cab?’ to ‘Am I buying my coffee or bringing my lunch?’ to ‘What are we doing this weekend?’ Those are all money decisions, and I just felt that there had to be something out there that would be a great resource for millions of Americans.”

Smart Business sat down with von Tobel at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how she makes understanding personal finance both easy and fun through her thriving, user-friendly start-up.

Q: What online delivery mechanisms do you use to educate people?

LearnVest is now the leading site for women and their money online. You can get free content and tools, everything from ‘Whether or not to buy a home’ calculators to ‘How much is your hour worth?’ And then we have free newsletters that you can come and subscribe to that teach you how to earn well, save well and spend well, [with] content from something like ‘How to save money on dry cleaning?’ to ‘How to negotiate for a better salary?’ [that are] every day delivered to your inbox for free. That’s sort of the free content side.

We’ve then over the last few months rolled out what I believe to be one of the more innovative things happening in the personal finance space, which is you can now pay a small subscription fee to talk directly to certified financial planners through the LearnVest platform. LearnVest goes out and finds the best financial planners here in the United States. We work with them directly, and we actually allow you to pay a small fee and talk directly to them and ask your own personal questions.

Q: What process do you use to develop and test ideas for new products and services?

The simplest answer: I listen to our users. All day long, we have hundreds of people who write in and say, ‘I wish you could do this; I wish you could do that,’ ‘I have this question,’ ‘God, it would be so great if you could help do this.’

Then we go through a really rigorous product process of building, testing. We actually bring in live users all the time. We have this thing called LearnVest Labs where we’ve 7,500 users that we actually vet our tested product through. And then finally, if I would use it, then it’s good enough. I think that that’s the final sort of sniff test, is ‘Is this something that I would use every day that would really make my life better?’ And if the answer is yes after that, at the end of that process, then I’m like, ‘It’s ready to go.’

Q: How do you deliver service that goes beyond world class service?

Money is daunting. It’s stressful. It keeps you up at night. And so what we think is ‘How can we make money engaging and fun and easy for you to digest and get your answers?’ That’s literally what our business is about, is ‘How do we make money not stressful?’ It’s not an easy thing to accomplish and we go through that product process. We talk to millions of users.

You can now link all your accounts to LearnVest so you can see your financial picture in one place for free. That’s a great service, and it really helps you understand where your net worth is and how much you’re spending on things like restaurants and food. And we have this beautiful user interface that our design team came up with that actually makes it fun to look at all your spending.

So those are the ways that we think about solving problems, to get someone to care about looking every day at their money. We make it really fun.

If we have the products and we give and deliver the right trusted, unbiased advice to people, they’re going to spread it.

Q:  How do you define the culture of your organization?

We just in the last year and a half have reached $25 million. We have big dreams, big pictures, and we’re moving at lightning pace.

I’m tremendously impatient, for better or for worse, and so I always want us to move as quickly as possible. So the things that I care about are ‘Let’s move rapidly, let’s make sure we have extremely high standards and good checks and balances built in internally.’

I’m OK if we fail, if we make bad mistakes. You’re going to. And if we’re not failing at least some of the times, we’re not pushing boundaries quick enough. That’s sort of how I think of our culture.

Q: How can you encourage failure as a catalyst for innovation and change?

By not letting people be worried there’s going to be internal consequences if we do fail, of saying ‘Listen, we’ve got to push the boundary.’ And sometimes, when you’re moving as quickly as we are … there are going to be failures. There are going to be things you don’t do right. Say ‘Hey, listen, that’s OK but let’s quickly notice it. Let’s cut it, let’s move on, let’s get something better out there.’ And then just be really transparent both internally as a team and with our users.

I’m sure there will be a product that we’ll launch soon that users don’t love as much as we thought they would, and that’s OK. We’ll cut it, say ‘Hey, you guys don’t love that. What do you love?’ and we’ll go out and build it.

I always ask, publically, ‘How do you want us to use this money? What can we build you that’s going to make your life better every single day?’ I think that’s a really transparent way to talk to customers.

How to reach: LearnVest, (212) 675-6711 or www.learnvest.com

Who should own your website?

Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO, Bayshore Solutions

In every business’s growth plan, performance goals are set for specific business units with corresponding resource budgets allocated to support the plan. It used to be assumed that anything “tech” was under the purview of the IT department. So responsibility for building and maintaining the first corporate websites naturally evolved in the IT area.

“As digital tactics have become major channels in business marketing today, key ‘tech’ performance requirements have shifted,” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and Internet marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.  “A critical element in today’s business growth plan is to make sure resources, ‘ownership’ and accountabilities are properly aligned when it comes to your website.”

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to align the accountability and ownership of your business website to bring your business its best results.

Who should ‘own’ my business website?

Companies excel when marketing generates leads and sales. Increasingly, this lead generation and customer acquisition is accomplished by leveraging the company website as a tool, a facilitator, or a direct driver of results.

Businesses that are not using their website to its fullest potential as a lead and sales generator are missing out.  It is only a matter of time before not addressing the situation will allow competitors to pass you by, and put you out of business.

For most businesses, website results expectations have transitioned from the IT realm to the marketing realm.  If you are expecting marketing to deliver web business results, then marketing has to have the ownership to enable their accountability

How does IT technical expertise contribute?

The technical knowledge and skill base of IT and Marketing professionals is still an “apples and oranges” type of scenario. However, the skill sets of today’s digital marketers and IT professionals are closer than in the past, such that they can coexist, communicate and complement each other on the same corporate team, in pursuit of the same company goals: leads, sales and growth. Most marketers are not tech experts.  IT professionals aren’t typically marketing experts.  However, because of the very technical nature of digital marketing, a good relationship between IT and marketing needs to exist to ensure successful web results.

Marketing will be best at the dynamic and continuous iterations of market messaging, content and design that drives digital channels including online advertising, web page optimization, content marketing, and social media marketing and integration.  An essential tool to enable your marketers to “market” your website is a Content Management System (CMS). This tool facilitates quick and easy messaging, styling, and implementation of proper coding for tracking, analytics and user experience functionality.

IT is best positioned to set up and deploy the infrastructure of your business website to help it optimally deliver the results that marketing (and you) expect to gain from it. IT support for a business website is often essential in implementing the recommendations of webmaster tools and other website monitoring discoveries. These include implementing ongoing redirects that avert SEO error penalties in the search engines, preventing hacking attacks and spamming to your site, and seamless handling of website stress loads (like ensuring the bandwidth to allow thousands of holiday shoppers to purchase through your website shopping cart simultaneously.)

How do I bring this all together?

Unfortunately, I have seen marketing and IT divisions within organizations that are non-communicative and even adversarial. A common factor I see in these instances is a perspective of territorial resources, misaligned expectations and communication barriers.

I have also seen many examples of great collaboration between IT and Marketing arms of a business that uncover opportunities for educating each other on the dynamics of their respective specialties, and discover ways to implement better, track better, interpret metrics better and produce much greater business results though best utilizing each other’s talents.

Executive clarification of the lines of responsibility, creation of the resources to fulfill that responsibility and enabling the means for cross-functional communication with IT and Marketing will improve your business results.  Often a business may find that it is not able to quickly or economically accommodate the time or staff necessary to synergize IT and marketing with respect to driving website results. This is where partnering with a firm that specializes in digital marketing (and is fluent in the technical language involved) can alleviate overhead costs and streamline the integration of technology and marketing that brings next-level business results from your website.

In my experience, I have seen that businesses who are getting the best web results have assigned website accountability to marketing, and have forged a synergistic relationship between marketing and IT.  This relationship allows IT to help evaluate, set up and implement the tools that marketing needs to produce great results.  It also alleviates a burden on IT to keep up with the constant flux of digital market dynamics and focus on the IT infrastructure central to the business.  Most importantly, the relationship provides for the communication and cross training that assures mutual understanding of each team’s processes and contribution to the company’s goals.

Assigning responsibility and resources for website presence and performance to your marketing team will free up your IT team to better focus on the infrastructure management items that are mission critical to operating your business.   A healthy IT-Marketing relationship and the right tools for the job will allow your marketing experts to use the best digital marketing techniques to grow your business.

<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com/method

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Retailers adapt as mobile device holiday shopping booms

NEW YORK ― When it comes to holiday shopping, more people are phoning it in, forcing retailers to embrace new ways to connect or else lose sales.

Lowe’s Companies, Best Buy and Toys R Us are among retailers making big changes to prepare for a wave of holiday shoppers who will use smart phones to research products, check rivals’ prices and make purchases.

“The shopping experience is in the consumer’s hands and you can’t fight where they’re going,” said Gihad Jawhar, vice president of Lowes.com, the website of the second-largest home-improvement company. “Retailers can either hop on the bus or get left behind. We are choosing the first option.”

Lowe’s is issuing more than 42,000 Apple iPhones to employees in more than 1,700 stores.

When shoppers are in Lowes stores scanning bar codes with their phones, reading product reviews and checking prices, employees can engage them better using iPhones to track down similar information.Staff can also check quickly if products are in stock or if items are available on Lowes’ website or another store nearby, and can often match or beat a price a consumer finds elsewhere via a smart phone.

Best Buy has 63 so-called connected stores in which employees have been given mobile devices and are encouraged to use their own smart phones to help shoppers research products and check inventory.

“Employees are empowered to make the decision to match a competitor price on the spot,” a spokeswoman for Best Buy added.

More than 40 percent of retailers this year have a policy of at least competing with lower online prices found through mobile comparisons. Ahead of last year’s holiday season, most retailers were still in denial about this trend, according to research firm RSR.

The mobile shopping boom is putting billions of dollars in sales up for grabs in an industry that is being pummeled by lackluster economic growth and weak consumer confidence.

U.S. retail e-commerce holiday sales will rise 17 percent to $46.7 billion in 2011, while total retail sales will grow about 3 percent this season, eMarketer forecast on Thursday.

But mobile commerce is growing even faster.

The 300 largest U.S. mobile merchants, led by Amazon.com Inc, will generate $5.37 billion in sales through mobile devices this year, more than double 2010, according to a recent survey by Internet Retailer.

A recent survey of shoppers by the National Retail Federation found that 40 percent own a smart phone and more than half of those people plan to use their device to research products or make a purchase this holiday.

The peak day for mobile holiday shopping is expected to be the second Sunday in December (Dec. 11 this year), according to PayPal, the online payments business owned by eBay Inc. That’s the last non-work day when orders will be shipped in time for Christmas.

Make your website launch “Easy”: how to launch your website to successfully achieve its mission

Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO, Bayshore Solutions

The preflight check list prepares all kinds of flights, from gliders to spaceships, for a successful mission. The completion of this checklist is a complex work involving numerous specialized resources and accurate inputs.  “If you truly understand that your Web presence is strategic to your business, then preparing it for a successful site launch and ongoing performance requires the completion of a similar pre-launch exercise,” advises Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and Internet marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.  “Strategically addressing these points up front, can often make the difference between a businesses’ online return on investment reaching the stars, or blowing up on the launchpad.”

Smart Business spoke with Kevin about the mission critical points to cover in order to have a best performing business website.

What is the formula for a successful website?

The mission of a website is to reach its target audience(s), resonate with them and catalyze them to take the action that you desire (usually converting to a lead or customer). Prerequisite to all of this is knowing your target audience, how to connect with them and how to communicate with them in order to motivate the desired response.  When this complete, then you are ready to get started designing and building your website.

Building a website combines a variety of technical specialties.  Often the ideal approach for one specialty, say programming code-efficiency, is a less than ideal tact for another, like allowances for visitor experience or customization for best SEO.  There is a very real synergy and sweet-spot among aesthetics, functionality, programming complexity, interface and usability that every website needs to attune to so it is primed for maximum success.  This balance is unique to each business’s combination of target audience, product or service, and business model.

As you are designing, developing and preparing to deploy your website, putting it through what I call the ”Easy” checklist will help ensure that the correct and comprehensive preparations are taken for its successful business launch.  But be warned! As with most things that look ‘easy, there is a lot of disciplined hard work that brings together the final polished result; in this case a fine-tuned, high performance business website.

What is the ‘Easy’ Checklist?

The essence of the ‘Easy’ checklist is to be able to affirmatively answer that your website is clean, efficient and easy to interact with at all check-points.  Is it…

  • Easy to Navigate: Is the navigation clear and consistent? Can your visitor find any piece of information they want in the least amount of clicks?
  • Easy to Experience: Are you using language, visual content and design aesthetics that resonate with and motivate your visitors? In less than 5 seconds will they understand: who you are, how you can help them, and how they can take the next step or contact you? Do you have a mobile website customized for your mobile audience and their specific needs? Don’t waste your great, compelling content by making it not ‘easy’ to experience!
  • Easy for Search Engines to Read: Have you properly researched and identified your keywords?  Are your correct meta data and search engine verification tags in place to promote them?  Do you have HTML and XML Sitemaps, and are they linked in your site’s footer?  Also, use Flash sparingly because search engines don’t read or interact well with it.  When you do use it, make sure you incorporate underlying content that is search-engine friendly.
  • Easy to Transition: When launching a site that replaces an old one, are all your 301 redirects accurate and  deployed to prevent visitors from finding themselves in a black hole instead of the page they thought they were hyperlinking to?
  • Easy to Monitor & Review: Do you have analytics correctly attached to your site and all tracking and goals set up appropriately to help you make ongoing improvements and web marketing decisions?
  • Easy to Edit: Do you have a good Content Management System (CMS) administrative interface to your website? Do you know how to effectively use your CMS so non-programmers (i.e.: you and/or your marketing staff) can instantly make the edits and updates needed to keep your website current?)
  • Easy to Convert: Are your calls to action clear and bold enough to take your visitor on your desired directed path (to becoming a lead or customer)?  Are the forms you require them to complete made as easy as possible by only asking what you really need to know to convert the visitor or process their request?  When forms are barriers, are they only set up where absolutely necessary? When they are lead or purchase gateways, can the visitor find them in one (or even zero) clicks?
  • Easy to Integrate: Is your website integrated with your client relationship management (CRM) system, email manager, and internal business process workflow and communications.  Doing so will facilitate ongoing relationships, nurturing and service levels to your clients and prospects that are smooth, accurate and complete.
  • Easy to Find: Do you have your SEO website basics in place, and more importantly, do you have a search marketing strategy and ongoing plan to keep and build your website’s best performance?
  • Easy to Connect and Engage with: Is your website cohesively aligned and connected to your social media properties, local search profiles and other online presences?  Again, do you have an ongoing strategy to maintain and make the most of this marketing channel?

As new pre- and even post-launch items arise in your web presence, a great way to address them is by analyzing them in this light and then doing the needed work to make them “Easy.”   When these check points are addressed such that the interaction with your site is ‘easy’, your website has a strategic “Go for Launch” for a successful mission of bringing you leads, sales and measurable results.

For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, click to: www.BayshoreSolutions.com/method.

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.