E-commerce: Expectations & Reality. The Untold Truths.

E-commerce, is not a ‘new’ thing, and not even a ‘trend’ any more. It may be so for some companies here in Malta as some did come in late to the game, but in reality, e-commerce is now a must.

The share of consumers that switched to buying online is now in the range of 15 to 17% globally. Even that sounds quite low, think of it as a 15 to 20% drop in your sales. How would that feel? Can your business survive such a drop? Possibly… Do you want to though? Absolutely not.

Setting up an online store has in the last few years become a relatively simple matter. But the downside of it is; How do I make sure what is the best solution for my specific business needs? There is unfortunately, no straightforward answer to this. Therefore, I am writing some thoughts here about this topic and addressing also some untold truths on the topic. If you are currently thinking of going down the e-commerce route, this article is for you.

E-commerce will immediately boost my sales

Whilst there is no denying that an online store, will greatly facilitate the way that clients will do business with you, it doesn’t mean that once your online shop is launched, you can’t just sit back, relax and watch the sales numbers grow. An online store without proper marketing is nothing. If people don’t know about your shop, they will not buy. Many companies invest a lot of money to build a top-notch online store but then fail to budget for its marketing. The truth is, that there are hundreds of online shops selling probably the exact same thing you are selling – so standing out from the crowd is never easy. Setting up an online business has its perks, but must also be treated as an offline business.

Takeaway: Plan ahead. Budget for the construction of your online shop but also for its marketing. 

I will use only social media to promote my online store

We are constantly inundated with ads on social media. So it’s fair to start thinking that social media is the marketing holy grail.

The truth is, that it is not. Whilst there is no denying that via social media, you can do highly effective marketing campaigns that will expose your products and services to a potential customer, but social media marketing doesn’t essentially work for everything and everyone.

Social media, for most businesses, is an important part of their marketing mix – but companies and business owners should not forget other areas such as email marketing, search engine marketing, search engine optimisation and even some traditional marketing options.

Takeaway: Definitely don’t miss out on opportunities of marketing on social media, but to not make the mistake of using only that.

I’m selling my products on social media or other marketplaces, I don’t need my own website.

Whilst this approach works for some time, this is very much a short term approach. A long term business strategy should include building your own online store and brand presence so that people can do business with you directly rather than a marketplace.

When you have your products in a big marketplace such as Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook etc… you will gain immediate access to thousands and thousands of possible customers who may potentially be looking for your product. However, the moment that your business starts expanding, your needs will grow as well, and this is when you will need some customisations, deeper analytics and various other requirements that such sites will not be able to provide.

Additionally, there is also the issue that if you only sell via one or more of these platforms, if suddenly, they decide to change their policies in any way (pricing, allowed/disallowed products etc.) your online store could take a tremendous hit or have to close down overnight.

Takeaway: Enrolling to sell within marketplaces is a great start, but while you are increasing business this way, work on your own platform to start selling independently. 

The e-commerce platform doesn’t matter

Nowadays, there are so many online shop platforms that can make the building of an online shop a breeze, the decision on which one to go for is actually rather critical.

Platforms such as Shopify and Wix are popular options, and they allow you to build your own online shop with great ease. It is a great short-term, low budget option for anyone that wants to dip their toes into building an online store with the least investment.

The reality is however, that this is very often a short-term option. Through experience in developing several online stores for local and international businesses I have seen that many business owners, outgrow what these platforms provide very quickly. We have seen companies having to migrate to a more robust and full-featured system within their first year of operation, and in some cases even after a few months.

Other bigger and more full-featured platforms such as WooCommerce or Magento are examples of great platforms that can give you a lot more than what Wix and Shopify can, but since these platforms are generally more complex, you will need to invest more time and resources to get them up and running.

Takeaway: For a short term, low budget or perhaps a business that is at a very early stage, Wix and Shopify platforms, should work, but be prepared to invest in a more fully-fledged solution for a more professional online store.

The online shop: Set it and forget it

Many business owners think that setting up an online shop is a one-time investment and once set, it’s just profit all the way. This is not the case. Many low-cost web development companies advertise their e-commerce building services with one flat fee, and therefore it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the quoted price is the first and last investment in the online store.

Think of an online store as a brick and mortar shop. In a traditional shop, things break, things need replacing, you have service fees for water and electricity, you need staff, insurances, and the occasional maintenance and upgrade to keep things fresh. Your online store should be treated in the exact same way.

Once the online shop is built and launched, most companies will not need to invest further… but as needs grow, traffic starts increasing, the number of sales increase and new feature requests are required, there will be a time where additional investment may need to be made. During heavy periods such as special occasions and holidays, certain stores may also experience very heavy traffic flow, and therefore in such situations, it is important that the servers that run the website are equipped to handle such loads.

Takeaway: Your online store, is like your physical store. It sure costs less to operate and requires a much smaller investment than a physical store, but don’t forget that some maintenance and some upgrades from time to time, will be required.

We will handle the online store like our shop!

Planning your back-end operation and optimising it for a different workflow is essential task when launching a new online shop. It is however an area that is very often overlooked. Whilst in many aspects an online store is considered a virtual version of your check out counters, you will need to consider the critical differences between them. Whilst a counter transaction can be fairly quick, and once it’s done the client is out of the door… an online transaction is where the bulk of the work starts.

You have to think of the item pickup, packing, delivery and so on… and if the people at your check out counters are busy all the time, they will not be able to also handle your online transactions. What do you do when the ordered item is actually out of stock? You will need to hire additional staff to deliver, or use a logistics company to handle the delivery of the item/s to the customer. You have to account for delivery issues and items that could get damaged in transit or incorrectly delivered items. You will also encounter an increase in the volume of customer contacts either by email, phone or social media encountering issues with the product, either to malfunctions and/or queries about the proper functioning of your product. In some industries, you will also need to account for the 15-day cooling-off period, return policies and so on.

We have seen very well known companies locally that have rushed into creating their online shop, and failed to plan their back-end operation, resulting in hugely delayed (2 to 3 weeks delivery time!) for client orders and then ending up in a situation where customers end up angry, requesting refunds and order cancellations which will make the situation a lot worse.

Takeaway: Pre-plan about how these situations are going to be handled so you don’t have to take critical decisions on the fly. 

Conclusion

In today’s business environment, an online store is a necessity, not a luxury. The first step that we recommend in the creation of an online store is to get to know your target audience very well, and build an online store and marketing strategy that fits such a customer. Partnering with the right experts in this journey is critical, so if you need some help or are thinking of getting started in this online journey, do not hesitate to contact us so that we can have a quick call and see how we can assist you further.

Make Bad Reviews Positive for Your Business

No matter how hard you work or how well you deliver a service or product, bad reviews will happen from time to time. We’re only human after all, and we do make mistakes. Sometimes, it could be also that your customer or client is a tad highly strung, i.e. unreasonable or simply having a really bad day. Miscommunication plays a big role too. And let’s not forget that a troll could have written the bad review.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the best way to deal with bad reviews.

Don’t Panic

It is easy to become fixated on a bad review, even if you have plenty of good ones. The secret to dealing with a bad review is to try and get to the heart of the issue. So:

  • Did you make a mistake(s)? What was it? How can it be fixed?
  • Were they dissatisfied with the product or service?
  • Is their complaint vague? Is it really a valid complaint?

How you respond will not only be a damage limitation exercise it might actually make you more authentic and trustworthy among your existing and potential customer and client base. Let’s take a look at how that’s achieved.

Responding to Reviews

It is good business practice to respond to reviews, both good and bad in a timely fashion. Your customer or client has given you feedback, took the time to do it, and as such, you should respond. Good reviews are fairly easy to respond to. Anything from a simple ‘Thank you so much, we’re so glad you found [insert product name] useful’, to ‘We are thrilled to hear that you are satisfied with our service/s, thank you so much for your feedback, it’s been a pleasure assisting you’, is good.

Bad reviews, however, require a different approach:

  • Mistakes – Obviously apologise and offer to rectify the mistake. Throw in a freebie, offer discounts on next purchases, a few sweeteners go a long way.
  • Dissatisfaction – It could be the customer or client is dissatisfied with what your business delivered, often due to miscommunication. It happens from time to time. It is worth taking feedback here so you can add a bit more clarity as to what the product or service is. There are instances where your customer or client may not have read the description/instructions well enough, hence the dissatisfaction. Again, sweeteners and refunds go along way. Make sure your bad review response highlights the facts tactfully.
  • Vague Reviews – Vague reviews could be signs of a fake review. Other signs are overly aggressive and angry language. If it feels a bit fake, then check out a few competitors and see if the same reviewer has heaped glowing praise on them. If they have, this could well be a fake review. In this instance, apologise and offer to follow up with a phone call or email. If they refuse or don’t respond, it is probably a fake review. Google has a reporting system for this, and it is good practice to use it.


There is no Such Thing as a Bad Review

Bad reviews make the good ones stand out. Most people don’t really trust businesses that have a glowing 5* reviews. It looks a bit dubious. Having an authentic bad review makes good reviews look better, and it adds value to your business overall.

Controversy also generates interest. People start looking at your website reading the other reviews to get the low down on your business. No doubt, you can see how this can be a bonus and provides opportunities for you to leverage.

Final Thoughts on Bad Reviews

Many business have combatted bad reviews using humour. This shows the world that you acknowledge you have made a mistake and have a sense of humour about the whole affair. There are opportunities with bad reviews, and it is worth taking the time to explore them.

Our tips on your Online Marketing vs Covid-19

Here is a short, no frills guide to what we believe is a good marketing strategy to maintain during this time of uncertainty.

While some businesses who cater for essential needs have seen massive increases in sales, especially since the government-imposed closures, most other businesses are seeing aggressive drops. This is a very normal trend all over the world. Most businesses will experience a sudden loss in revenue and will be forced to start having thoughts and discussions about how to deal with this and how to reduce budgets.

Marketing Budget Cuts

Marketing is usually one of the first areas in businesses that experiences budget cuts in a time of crisis. In all honesty, I can never understand this thinking and in many ways, this could have a disastrous effect on your business. Marketing is the vehicle that puts your business in front of your prospective clients. So if you stop that vehicle, your customers will no longer be exposed to what you sell.

As your key strategy, a business should retain (or even grow if possible) their marketing spend. Companies that keep advertising during the tough times, are more likely to remain in the customer’s mind. And this was proven over and over again.

According to a study of the 1974-1975 recession from American Business Press and Meldrum and Fewsmith, “[c]ompanies which did not cut marketing expenditures experienced higher sales and net income during those two years and the two years following than those companies which cut in either or both recession years.”

According to McGraw-Hill Research’s look at the 1985 recession, companies that either maintained or increased their ad budgets during that time experienced a 256 percent increase in sales versus companies that cut their ad budgets.

And according to a 1990 study from the WPP Group’s Center for Research and Development, companies that increased their ad spending by 20 to 100 percent saw an average gain of 0.9 percent of the market share, while those that cut spending only gained 0.2 percent of the market share.

Key take away

Reducing the marketing budget, is BAD. Instead, use your marketing budgets more efficiently. Instead of spending thousands on one expensive TV campaign, try switching to a YouTube ad campaign where you may get possibly far greater exposure at half of the cost. Online marketing tends to be cheaper than everywhere else and is far more trackable with clear performance indicators. But don’t just jump into it blindly, seek expert advice and KNOW where your customers are. Thank also of your main marketing ‘call to action’. Direct them to your shop is not a good call to action. Directing them to call to order, or to buy from the website is the only call to action usable right now.[/vc_message][vc_column_text]

Your Website Analytics Information May Not Be Accurate

During our weekly reporting projects for some of our clients, we have noticed that some data was not making sense. Whilst most websites were experiencing traffic drops, we have noticed some odd cases where some sites increased in traffic, time on site went up through the roof, but no sales were being registered.

The cause here was a simple one, but it took us a while to figure out. What happened was that some businesses that have employees working from home, were accessing the main company website more frequently, and since their home IP’s were not excluded from analytics, this resulted in an increase in those stats.

Key take away

This is not really solvable, unless you ask your employees for their home IP addresses, which will change from time to time. We recommend making a note of this period where your employees are working from home and keep that in mind when you are doing your reporting.

Maximise ‘FREE’ marketing

Social media and email marketing provide opportunities where you can market your products and services for free. Social media is the easiest one of most companies, as most have been doing it already. Take this time to really boost up your social media presence. If Facebook is your main social media vehicle, you can try several innovative ways of how to keep spreading your reach without spending any budgets. You can also use this time to do some more competitor research or even get into some research to see if there are new social networks that you may want to start getting into.

Email marketing, provided that you had prepared for this ahead, is one of the cheapest and effective marketing mediums. If you have managed in the past to build a healthy customer database (ensuring it’s GDPR compliant) you now have an engaged audience that is most likely spending more time at home and is possibly more engaged. You can use your email database to deliver some high quality, valuable or interesting content that your users can engage with.

Be mindful about the timing of your messages and take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously. This is not the time to hard-sell some sort of Covid-19 offer.

Key take aways

Use the below to get inspired in relation to your business – use these ideas in an email marketing campaign or social media posts could include:

  • If you sell daily needs and also offer delivery services, promote this message so that your customers can make use of your services.
  • If you offer a service that can be used during this time – promote it along side the steps you are using to ensure customer and employee safety
  • If your business sells fishing supplies (hobbyist or professional) – you can forward tips, tricks and other informative content.
  • If you sell interior design services – post before and after photos to highlight your skills. Post simple home renovation tips that clients can use for free
  • Photographers – can make a short video with some tips and tricks on how to take better photos in various situations.
  • Restaurants – can share some simple meal ideas, or even video recipes of how clients can create a fine dining experience at home.
  • Electronics and home goods – promote any delivery services offered, whilst also promoting the latest products being released and tips and tricks on how to service and maintain safely some home appliances.
  • IT software/hardware – a much harder sell, but this may be the time to appeal to business owners where especially their employees may be working at home. Introducing new applications in a business or upgrading hardware is always a challenge but doing this while most employees are not completely depending on internal systems may be the right time to do with minimal interruption. Ensure that if new tools for employees are being added, that adequate training is being provided to avoid disruptions in service.

Other important tips

  • Don’t spam – big no no.
  • Ensure you have explicit OPT IN (permission to use client’s email for marketing)
  • Make sure you are using a professional email marketing platform to send your emails – don’t just CC or BCC your database.
  • Don’t email too frequently.
  • Make sure the emails are of value. Real value, not just what you think is valuable.

SEO and Content Marketing

As like the performance drops in search engine advertising, organic search has also experienced some reductions. However, this is truly the perfect time to engage in a proper content marketing exercise and boost your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). This is the time when search engines may start seeing drops in effort on your competitor’s websites (therefore potential drops in their organic rankings), but see that your efforts have been maintained, your users still in some form or other still engaged, still receiving traffic – basically, still alive. This will boost your rankings and contribute towards a faster recovery of your business once this pandemic is over.

Key take away

Losing organic search rankings right now, could wreak havoc in your plans to recover your business once this pandemic is over. Righat now, it is vital to maintain all SEO and content marketing efforts (or even increase).

Paid Search (Google Ads) What to do?

Many companies, understandably so, have reduced their Search engine advertising budgets. This is especially the case with non-essential services. It is a viable strategy. Proceed with caution. And only reduce your budgets if you know for a fact that the product or service you sell is not a customer priority right now.

On the other hand, since many companies are reducing their Search engine budget spends, this also means that there is far less competition. If you know how search engine marketing works, you will know that if there are less competitors, you are most likely going to get a better (ie, cheaper) cost per click. Therefore, this could be the time where you can actually get more demand for less budget.

Final bit

Don’t think about only the short term. Think long term. Besides your marketing efforts, you have to also think long term and ensure that your business is prepared for the future. This is not the first time something like this has happened, in 2003 we had to deal with SARS, in 2009 H1N1 came along, and in 2014/15 Ebola killed over 11,000 people. What will you do to ensure that your business can withstand these outbreaks? We have compiled another article last week, highlighting What can businesses learn from the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic?. Have a read and see what you can implement in your business to ensure that your business can operate as ‘close to normal’ as possible.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

A personal note from us.

In this time of uncertainty, all businesses have to put their top priority on their customers and employees’ safety. We all need to be kind and considerate and aware of all that is happening in this situation. Businesses that do this well, are the ones that will recover the quickest once this whole ordeal is over. Until then, keep a watchful eye on your efforts and take a lean and effective approach to make the most of what is available to you.

We are available for our customers and readers of this post, for a free Skype consultation to address any concerns or require further information. Kindly get in touch with us now to schedule a meeting time. 

8 stats that online shop owners should be monitoring.

NEW: If you would like to read this post’s highlights as a WEB STORY, please click here.

One of the biggest advantages of doing things on the web vs real life is that on the web, many things are trackable. This gives you the advantage that you can take certain decisions based off data, and not just assumptions. Business owners that have a physical shop… do you know how many people came through your doors last year? How does that compare to this year? I bet you cannot tell right? Online it’s a totally different story, and website visitors can be tracked to a great accuracy (around 95%). This gives you the possibility to do some data crunching and make changes to your web operation to make improvements where it matters.

These are some of the most basic data points that you should be looking at:

  • Traffic
  • Time on site
  • Traffic Source
  • Device usage
  • Conversion rate
  • Average order value
  • Purchase frequency
  • Abandoned Carts

Let’s dive in a bit more detail about each of these.

Traffic – is the absolute most basic metric that you need to keep an eye on. You need to be aware how much traffic is coming on to the website daily, weekly or monthly (depending how busy your online shop is, or how much you depend on it). Less traffic (in most cases) will inevitably mean less sales, so if you notice any traffic dips, you will need to remediate the situation asap, and push some marketing out to take the traffic levels back up.

Time on site – is a second, very important metric that you need to keep an eye on, along side the traffic numbers. The reality is, that I would personally prefer to get 100 visits to my website, but each person is spending 5 minutes on the site, rather than getting 1000 visits, but they are spending only 20-30 seconds. A longer time on site, means that the visitor is more engaged with the content, and therefore, in the case of an online shop, is also more likely to purchase.

Traffic source – is simply the measurement of where did the user access your website from. This is great information to keep track of to determine your most effective marketing campaigns. There are 5 main traffic categories.

  • Direct – visitors that accessed your website by typing in your website address directly, in our case storm-design.net. This however also includes visitors that the website tracking software was not able to determine where the source originated from. An increase in direct traffic could mean that your offline marketing (not on the web) could be pushing people to your website.
  • Referral – Visitors that visit your site by clicking on a URL on another website.
  • Organic – Visitors that find your website by searching a keyword or key phrase in a search engine (Google, Bing etc.) and click on your listing.
  • Paid – Paid means usually via Google Ads
  • Social – traffic originating from social media, clicking link from your social pages, content marketing or paid ads.

Device usage tracking – allows you to monitor which devices are primarily used to view your website. The trend indicates that a large percentage of web traffic in 2020 is leaning towards mobile devices. But this is not always the same for all industries and/or all age cohorts. Have a look at what are the most common ways that your users are using to access your website, and then make sure that your site works perfectly with those devices. Say that 70% of your website traffic is on mobile, but then your website is not mobile responsive, then your are basically wasting 70% of your marketing effort.

Conversion rate – is slightly more mathematical, but it’s a very simple calculation. The conversion rate, is simply the percentage rate of how many of your website visitors are making a purchase. Here is a sample calculation.

If on your website, you get 1000 visitors a month, and your conversion rate is a solid 10% – then, if means that you will get 100 sales (10% of 1000).

To get your conversion rate, the calculation is very simple. And you can use a tool such as this https://percentagecalculator.net/ to make these simple percentage calculations.

Example – if you had 176 orders on your website this month, and you had 3569 website visitors. Then your online shop’s conversion rate is %4.93

This conversion rate needs to be monitored month over month to see if your website / online shop is experiencing increases or decreases. If the metric remains stable, you can also make some basic predictions, that every x amount of people visiting the website, will generate y amount of sales. That’s never guaranteed of course, but with good quality, target marketing, your online shop can achieve a stable conversion rate.

Average order value – is a significant metric that not simply averages out the number of sales on the site, but also the average order value. A similar example to the below, I would prefer to have 10 orders, with an average order value of €200, rather than 100 orders of €15 each. Each sale is important of course, but getting a higher number of sales, with a low order value typically means that you need more time to fulfil each order. This metric allows you to monitor your online shop average and determine the marketing campaigns or channels that are bringing higher valued orders.

Purchase frequency – Frequent orders by the same customers can make a tremendous difference. Customers that make a one-time purchase are valuable of course, but if you manage to get a customer or group of customers that make a purchase monthly or every few months, it’s even more valuable. Frequent purchases are not something that every business can actually get – so the type of product or service that you sell will make a difference. In the case of items that need to be frequently replaced or refilled, frequent orders are essential. Frequent orders will also reduce your client acquisition costs considerably (marketing cost) as once the client is reached and an order is placed – if the client is happy with the service and keeps coming back, that is a big win.

Abandoned carts – How many people are visiting your online shop, adding items to the cart, but never proceed to finalise the purchase? This information is critical, allowing you to closely monitor if something may be wrong on your website. If you see a large number of users adding stuff to the cart but never proceeding to finalise the purchase, could be:

  • an indication that there may be a problem with the website
  • maybe the cumulative price of the total items in the order was not as the client expected
  • maybe the website is not optimised to the device that the client is using
  • could be also that the shipping price was too high
  • maybe you are not marketing your website, product or service right
  • it could be also that the payment options provided are not convenient to your user

These are some of the most common causes of an abandoned cart. Therefore you need to monitor these closely to understand any difficulties the users may be having and resolving them to ensure a smooth order placement.

Conclusion

There are many more metrics that every online shop owner needs to monitor, but this is the perfect first step to get yourself acquainted with some basics which will then lead you to want to learn more about your website visitor’s behaviours. Keep visiting our blog from time to time, to read our highly informative content.

If you own an online shop already, and wish to learn more about how to study these stats, please do not hesitate to get in touch for a consultation. Alternatively, if you own a business that doesn’t have an online shop, and would like to get a free consultation about which is the best solution for you, speak to us so that we can discuss your requirements.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

4 elements to take your business branding to the next level

Branding is important to all businesses whether a startup or corporate giant. The fact is the earlier you define your value proposition, brand values and define your business feel in terms of logos and web design, the sooner you will establish your business, and start to generate new and repeat business. With this in mind let’s take a closer look at the elements needed to brand successfully.

Use Consistent Messaging to Differentiate your Brand

Every contact a potential customer and client has with your business be it online and offline is a branding experience. As such, it is vital that you do two things:

  • Differentiate your brand from your competitors. This involves identifying the differences through conducting competitor analysis and promoting the difference in a positive light on your marketing channels.
  • Keeping your marketing messages clear and consistent across all channels. Differences will dilute the message, and even create confusion in the minds of your target audience.

Once you have these two elements your brand image will become clear and from this point, you can formulate your brand values.

Research your Clients and Customers to Send the Right Message

A common mistake many businesses make is that they try to be all things to all people. This results in a weak diluted brand that is unengaging and has no clear value proposition to bring to the table. In turn, this leads to lower turnover.

Researching your client and customer will allow you to pitch your marketing far more accurately. For example, if your business appeals to teenagers the language of your marketing is going to be different to a target market predominantly 30+. Refining your brand based on this business intelligence will prove invaluable over time and help you shape a stronger brand.

One way to get this information is to put “listening posts” in place. This can include online surveys which are sharable on social media and your website or learn from your customer database, to know your audience better. simple demographics can help you understand what your typical customer looks like.

Deliver on Promises for Market Dominance

If you deliver a good service over the long term your brand will become stronger and synonymous with delivering a best in class offering to customers and clients. This is invaluable and given how some people can be so vocal online and share their opinions about businesses and brands, you need to bring your A game day in day out.

If you can pull this off, however, it will bring its own rewards. To this end manage comments about your business and respond to criticism constructively. Most buyers will read every word before making a purchase.

Keep on delivering a good service and you will soon be regarded as a reputable trusted brand in your field.

Ensure your employees are on point with your Brand Values

As discussed consistency is important in your marketing messages and it is also important your staff have a good understanding of brand values too. This gives teams something to work to and defines your expectations of them. This creates a win-win scenario and a better functioning and more productive business.

We can help you.

As an expert team of digital designers and brand experts, we can ensure your branding, logo and website represent your business to the right target audience. Click here and get in touch, and meet over coffee to discuss how we can take your business to the next level.

4 ways your website is letting your business down

When your business website is built well it is a valuable business tool. It generates leads and sales, offers a good user experience, and is a good representation of your brand and its values. If you feel your site is underperforming it could be due to a variety of reasons… but we have highlighted below a few of the most common reasons where your website may be working against you. All of these issues affect your site’s ranking on search engines in addition to giving your visitors headaches.

No SSL – No Trust

Site Secure Location (SSL) was introduced to prevent unencrypted information from being accessed by hackers. Specifically, this was when users entered sensitive data into a form and submitted it. Depending on the form, information submitted could be, name, address, age, credit card details, email address. Everything needed to commit identity theft and fraud.

If you do not have SSL enabled Google Chrome displays ‘Not Secure’ and a ‘ⓘ’ symbol in the address bar. Other browsers show similar messages. This can and will damage your site and business. Your visitors will be reluctant to submit information and some may even conclude you’re a spam site. If you have yet to migrate to HTTPS ensure you make this a priority.

Slow Loading Speed

Given the rise of mobile use, it is essential your website loads quickly. People are impatient and if it doesn’t load straight away they may click off it and go elsewhere probably to a faster loading competitor.

If you feel this could be an issue you may want to give your site a speed test. The easiest way is to use Google’s free ‘Test my Site’ tool and see what rating it gives you. If it is rated as slow over 4G you may want to approach a web designer to give your site a much-needed push.

Poor Navigation

More sites than you may think have poor navigation. This results in visitors not being able to find the information they want, are unsure how to proceed, and this costs you in terms of generating leads and sales.

Some key features of this could be a poor or hard to notice call to action. Difficult to find products and information laid out in such a way that everything looks like a mess. If you feel your site could do with a navigation improvement talk to us. We know what works and how to implement it.

The better sites have information that is easy to find, laid out in an intuitive way. The site is easy to use and the visitor doesn’t really have to work out how to use the site to find the things they need. Moreover, the site’s design lends itself to mobile use which is becoming the dominant device of choice to use the web.

Broken Links, Typos, Incorrect or outdated information

Every business needs to be looking after the site’s maintenance, ensuring all of the links land on the pages the users expect and ensure that the information is always up to date and correct is essential. This tends to be a job that is put on the back burner, but it really shouldn’t. This is a serious issue especially when visitors cannot find the information they want or even worse, given the wrong information. They will lose patience with your site and trust in your brand.

How should I make sure that this doesn’t happen to me?

It is critical that the person/s you entrust to build your business website is able to take care of these things for you. An SSL Certificate, website speed and usability is a job that your web designer/developer needs to do for you. As for the content – most modern websites are running on what we call a “content management system” such as WordPress. If that’s the case, you can easily take care of the content of the website to make sure it is always up to date and current. Ensure that your web designer/developer takes adequate time to train you in the management of such system.

If you feel your site is letting your business down get in touch with us. We have years of expertise in web design and up to date on the latest trends. Click here and start your project with us.

What is a web design brief? What should be in it? Here are 9 tips.

Web design briefs are crucial to the success of your future business website. The better more accurate the brief, the better your website will be built to deliver the results that you need. It really is as simple as that.

In this post we look at the elements of a web design brief that should be covered in detail. The aim is to ensure your business is well supported by your business website.

Your Business

Any web design agency worth its salt needs to know what your business offers and the industry it operates within. This will shape your site both in terms of look and feel and how it achieves its objectives.

Business Objectives of your Site

In recent times web design has evolved from making clean, professional, and pretty websites into making websites conversion machines. With this in mind your objectives may include the following:

  • Lead generation
  • Making sales
  • To inform
  • Increase brand awareness and online presence
  • To educate
  • Bespoke offering for customers and clients – holiday rental websites are a good example of this.

By default, your new site should be mobile responsive. It is arguably business suicide to ignore the rise in mobile web browsing use. If you are re-designing your current website, and have any features from your current site you want to retain, list these in your brief.

Your Target Audience

Your new business website should be geared to serve your target audience. This is true in both in terms of how the site looks and feels, and how the site functions. So if potential new customers access your site is it easy for them to purchase or sign up? It should be so they go away feeling like they have had a satisfactory experience.

In many respects providing your design team with your ideal client will help them create a better, more accurate site.  Think about:

  • The age range of your customers / clients
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Occupation
  • Motivations to buy – They follow ladies’ fashion, they want a second home on the sea front, they are in the market for car accessories are good purchase motivators for example

Competitors and Sites you Admire

In the brief include your competitor’s sites and sites you admire. Try and separate sites you like with features that would be good for your business to have. So yes, you like the way a site’s sign up option works but if it doesn’t work for your business which is taking an entirely different approach, you may want to leave it out of the brief.

Do include appealing visuals such colour schemes and video/image use and sites you feel are easy to use and have good navigation.

When it comes to competitor sites you will probably find aspects you like and do not like. Make these aspects clear in the brief.

Technical Requirements

It is important to be as thorough as you can with technical requirements. This tends to be a costly part of the build and if an aspect is omitted and has to be built in later, then this can change the cost and extend the deadline considerably.

So, does your site feature:

  • User logins? If so how do you want registrations to operate? What needs to be on the user dashboard? Make sure you include everything
  • Is your site e-commerce enabled? What product categories are needed, payment options, shipping costs, tracking codes, discount codes, and referral options
  • Do you need to have a “listings” type website for a real estate, classifieds, or job vacancies?
  • Do you need API Integration? If so you need to be able to give full details of what’s needed and show examples
  • If you have in-house coding guidelines your design team will need to see these

As well as the complex requirements decide if your site needs any of the following

  • News / blog
  • Social media feeds
  • Team page
  • Interactive maps
  • Events
  • Email marketing subscription forms
  • Portfolio
  • Forms, for things like booking, contact, feedback, reviews
  • On-site search

The more thorough information you can provide the better your website will be and the faster it will be developed.

Look & Feel

The look and feel of your site often guides your user experience. One way to approach this is how you want your clients and customers to feel. This can be achieved by thinking about the design aesthetic in terms of your offering.

You can also have a look at what your competitors may be doing and highlight what you like and don’t like about their sites to your design team.

Deadline and Budget

In some respects, tighter deadlines drive up the budget so it is a good idea to try and give your team some room where a deadline is concerned. That said if the site needs to be ready by a certain date, provide this upfront to give the agency time to plan resources.

Budget is an important factor as it gives the agency some flexibility in what it can and can’t do for your budget. Bigger budget projects could see considerable UX design research to determine what works. Lower budgets will not have this feature.

Bear in mind that is not just a site you are buying but people’s expertise, time and guidance.

Content

Graphics, images, videos, and copy that you want to feature on your site should be given to the agency on day one. The more a site takes shape the sooner it can be finalised which is best for all concerned.

As your site is undergoing a transformation process, it is a good idea to review your content. You may want to perform keyword research to ensure your content is attracting the right users, you may want to identify underperforming pages and revise, and you may want to refresh your logo and other elements.

Don’t forget to include aspects such as meta descriptions and the various SEO tags so the design agency can implement these straight away.

Include social media accounts as well so the team can put these into place and they are ready to go come launch date.

Final thoughts

Although a little abstract, think about your client and customer experience. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:

  • Satisfied
  • Engaged
  • Informed
  • Rewarded

This is hard to pin down from a design perspective but passing this to your web design agency will help them shape the site on a subconscious level.

Start your Project

Our experienced design team can help you make your business website a conversion machine. Start your project today and increase your online presence and business revenues.

My website is now live… but how do I promote it?

There can be no mistaking the buzz and excitement when you see your business website go live. It represents the fusion of creativity, ideas, business messaging, branding, and hard work to make your site a valuable business tool. You have every right to be proud.

After you crack open the champagne and enjoy a well-earned glass there is something, however, you need to know. Marketing and promoting the site is the next phase and this phase lasts for as long as you have a business.

With this in mind let’s look at the four core online marketing areas.

Pay per Click

The idea behind pay per click is that every time someone clicks on one of your online ads you pay a fee. This enables you to have thousands of impressions gaining plenty of online exposure on search engines, social media, and high traffic websites. There are caveats involved which are important to understand.

Google Ads are displayed on search engines and Google partner websites (not owned by google) as part of what is called the display network. Google’s model works on relevant keywords to your business and a bidding system. The higher your bid the better your positioning and the more times your ad will be displayed.

This drives up the cost of online advertising but as the visitors have search intent the chances are you should see more traffic to your site. Providing you have good context between ad and landing page you should also see a high conversion rate and a good ROI.

Facebook PPC works on the same model but ads are shown by interest and acquaintances of your page followers rather than keywords. They tend to have fewer conversions but are considerably cheaper. This is due to a visitor seeing an ad by chance rather than having an interest in your offering and searching for it. Again, it works on a bid system so the more competitive your industry the higher price of clicks.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Up until a few years ago, search engine positioning was everything, as the top three organic search results received the most traffic. Several algorithm updates later, the need for SEO is still there but other forms of online marketing such as email marketing and PPC have risen to compete with the once almighty marketing giant called search engine optimisation.

SEO is a two part operation: Onsite technicalities such as having a mobile responsive, fast loading website, and keyword specific copy in all the right places. The second part of the game is building external links and getting mentions from authority sites to push your website ranking higher.

SEO is a long game and often an expensive one. Being in the top 3 results no longer necessarily means you are capturing the most traffic. Google tends to promote brands over small businesses and also paid ads, and google maps listings, and as such users are starting to search a few pages to find what they are after. Nonetheless, good search engine positioning for your chosen keywords will drive lots and lots of traffic to your site.

SEO and content marketing are often used to build links. This is where you create a good piece of content say a blog post or video and promote it. Good use of content marketing can drive results both in terms of SEO and in their own right.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the most effective forms of online marketing there is. Once a visitor gives you their email contact details and consent to do so, you can put your sales message in their inbox where they are most likely to see it.

Many marketers see this as an essential form of marketing. If you have the right message and landing page you can drive sales and conversions, despite regulations such as GDPR.

Social Media

Social media is another way of driving visitors to your site and arguably it is more suited to B2C rather than a business to business entities with the possible exception of LinkedIn. There are two basic tricks to success on social media. One is to build followers who are in the market for your offerings and the second is to publish a mixture of conversational posts and product and service offering to your audience.

Again content marketing is invaluable here and many in the SEO community believes that a social media presence is a ranking factor for Google.

No business can be without social media even if you are not fond of the available platforms.  Embrace it do not shun it.

Online marketing is best when it works as a whole rather than separate facets although you may have consultants, agencies, and teams working on different aspects.

Do you need help to promote your website? Get in touch with us.

To make sense of all this, and discuss how we can work together to help your website reach the visibility it deserves, get in touch with us today and we can help you promote your site in all relevant fields.

Are Online Logo Makers Worth it?

As a start-up or an established business undergoing a rebrand, you may be tempted to look into an online logo maker rather than seek out professional services to design your logo.

The idea of an online logo maker is that you can easily and simply create logos for your business and brand. They model themselves on the following three aspects:

  • Cheap – the costs are considerably cheaper in comparison to paying a designer to build a logo for you
  • Fast – you can create logos quickly changing the colours and style at a click
  • Easy to use – many offer an intuitive interface to get you up and running quickly

All this sounds great but when we dig a little deeper we can see there are plenty of pitfalls to using an online logo maker.  Let’s consider them.

Logos are fundamental to branding and they set you apart from your competition. As such your logo needs to ooze professionalism in every pixel. If you have a logo that looks like it was made using Microsoft paint you’re not oozing professionalism at all. Arguably, the message you are sending out is ‘that will do’. This will not do at all.

Your company image is important and helps to drive sales. Your logo is a massive part of that. When your customers and potential customers see your logo, they should recognise you and associate you with your offering.  This cannot be done if your logo is below par.

To give you an example when you read these brands you think of their logo automatically.

  • Audi
  • Nike
  • Nestlé
  • BMW
  • Starbucks
  • Sony
  • Apple

How many of these brands would you think of if the logo had been put together with someone who lacks creative artistic flair?

Copyright and Trademark Issues

Potentially, if you and your competitors all used online logo makers you could come up with very similar designs which may create legal issues further down the line. Legal issues cost time and a lot of money neither of which you want to spend fighting your corner.

What Makes a Good Logo?

Your logo needs to give your brand a uniqueness and offer a professional hook to your customers and clients. Research shows that people buy brands because they trust them to deliver what they promise and customers can find what they want more quickly.

This should be the aim of your logo design and should convey:

  • Professionalism – There is a reason the most recognisable logos in the world were not made on an online logo designer.
  • Your Offering – Some of the best logos work in the abstract but give an impression of what they do. Audi uses wheels in a kind of inverse Olympic format while Nike’s swoosh gives the impression of speed. Of course, you may want to go down the McDonalds route and just use the first letter of your business. ‘M’ in McDonalds case.
  • Be Memorable – If your logo is remembered then arguably it has succeeded. If it offers a professional image and puts your offering in the minds of your prospects even better.

Should use an Online Logo Maker?

When you consider how powerful your logo can be and its widespread use in all aspects of your marketing, it is best to use a professional designer. Colours, fonts, and a whole range of other decisions need to be made to make your logo the best it can be. With this in mind, it is best left to a creative professional.

If you need a logo designed, get in touch. We can give you that professional flair and advice to enhance your brand. Start a project with us today.

Key Advantages of Embracing a Paperless Business

Hardcopy records and work from actual paper is fading fast, and therefore, there has never been a better time to start switching everything to digital in areas where it makes sense for your business.

Companies that have made the switch to almost everything digital are seeing numerous advantages including faster workflow, integrated record systems, better business intelligence, and cost savings.

We have been doing this since we have started operation in the year 2000. All our invoices are sent to clients as a PDF attachment via email, and renewal reminders are also sent automatically. Online payment options have also been in place for a very long time and we try to limit the use of paper as much as possible. The key here is baby steps, and do not even think about changing things overnight.

In this post, we look at how by becoming paper free you too could see your business become more productive and efficient.

Paperless Improves Productivity and Reduces Costs

For a long time, it has been recognised that administration is very time consuming and an overhead to your business, and therefore, switching to paperless systems would allow you to save on costs that may be better used in other areas of the business.

Invoicing and online payments

By switching to a paperless system and using online invoicing you will not need to print out invoices and make manual checks on whether you have received a payment. Many systems can reconcile an online payment with a specific invoice, so all of this information is handled by a button push – or even automatically.

Furthermore, taking online payments allows you to get paid easier and faster. Suddenly PayPal, credit/debit cards, bank transfers, Revolut etc.. become viable options to get paid. You will also be able to make payments using these systems speeding up the procurement process.

There is also no need to print out invoices and other financial documents spending money on consumables such as ink and paper. Everything you need including running reports for business intelligence is recorded and easy to retrieve.

Good invoicing systems automate the handling of late payments through sending automated reminders. You have control over the wording and tone of the reminder and often a nudge and a prompt are all that is needed to get paid.

Paperless in today’s business world saves time on areas which traditionally have been time-consuming. If you can save time on these tasks you will increase your productivity.

No hard copies required

Unless you need a hardcopy document for auditing purposes, or specific regulatory needs in your industry, a daily offsite backup ensures that you do not have to print and store documentation. The backup ensures your records are safe and secure should you lose the original data.

Embrace the cloud and better task management

With the capability to access the cloud you no longer require paper documents to organise your teams even if they work offsite or remotely. Meetings and notes can be recorded on mobile devices. This not only means no paper is needed but these notes can be accessed if needed by other team members.

Although this arguably the hardest part of the paperless office, the benefits far outweigh any negatives and ensure your teams and workflow are fluid and efficient. This leads to e-signatures allowing contracts to be secured faster and again, increases productivity.

Utilising AI

Increasingly AI automation is going to play a bigger part in how we work. They are used in complex industries such as the financial industry for compliance and analysis. The more of your business is online the easier it will be to tap into this resource which is only going to improve in the future.

Embrace the Advantages

Embrace the advantages of paperless business by talking to us today. We can discuss your business requirements and determine the best solutions to improve your workflow productivity and cut costs. Get in touch!.