Outdated Website? Try these six starting points for website optimization (updated)

 Website Images
Maintaining an up to date website has become a necessary price for running a business

Remember Sam Goody? No, not the fourth grader who made funny sounds. I’m talking the former record retailer, aka Musicland in some parts of the United States.   Music industry changes lead to the demise of Sam Goody – who would’ve thought that Apple and Amazon would become the largest music retailers?

A similar effect can happen to your website.  Changes in industry preferences, customer tastes, and new advances in online media can affect how your site is discovered. Scripting language has lead to new ways that webpages can function and interact, which gets translated into new ways a visitor experiences a website.  Moreover, online experiences are become more closely aligned with offline sales.  According to Experian in the 2011 Digital Marketer benchmark study, 73% of surveyed digital users review prices online before making a purchase, while 69% research products. 17% search social networks sites for information before a purchase. So the importance of online vitality has become essential to sales and business growth.

Updates also yield a positive effect on search engines rank. Search engines like updated sites, with more placing emphasis on visitor actions.  Google’s Panda introduction, for  example, reportedly downplaying links since so many black-hat SEO activities occurred with buying useless links attempting to gain more website authority.

Yet many businesses treat their website as a static property, because website maintenance seems to take both time and patience if there is a coding problem. But a balance of evolutionary changes, and a monitoring schedule with a web analytics solution, can convey business vitality that can lead to sales.  Here’s some starting points to consider and what can be done.

  1. Inspect site function Google has a HTML checker that gives feedback on which changes are needed – it is located in Webmaster Tools, so you would need a Google account and include your site. You can check how your website appears in a browser, the speed in which pages are loaded, and verify the function of an analytics code.  To check the appearance of a website in a browser, use  Adobe’s BrowserLab or Browsershots. For page speed, use Yottaa, a free MongoDB-based solution in which you upload your URL for a page load test. Another similar tool is Pingdom, which combines Yottaa’s features into s neat waterfall results graph similar to Browershots.   In addition, Google offers a page speed testing service to support its search engine’s emphasis on page loading (see here). The service increase page speed performance for website.
Pingdom waterfall results graph
Type in the URL, and Pingdom provides a snapshop of the Javascript, CSS, and image files which load when the page loads. This indicates which elements should receive attention to improve site load speed.


  1. Is the traffic navigating in the manner in which you planned? Examine the goal and funnel reports to determine where along the traffic is dropping out of your site. Consider a heatmap at the point of visitor drop-off, and also consider a A/B test.  These tests can indicate if minor changes would be effective to increase goal conversions – the number of intended actions a goal page visitor undertakes.
  2. Is the exit rate high on a page with a number of links to additional material – One way to minimize exits on a page with a number of outbpound links is to add a “_target=blank” to those links; The link will appear as <a href = “http://www.yoursite.com _target=blank”> in the HTML code.  Doing so will permit the new page to open in a new tab (This works for laptop/desktop browsers, and will not work in a mobile site, however).  If the exit continues to be high, consider revising the content – use an A/B test for comparison.
  3. Is the trend of returning visitors increasing? A new site may have a high number of new visits at the start, but returning visitors are key for long term success – Their presence shortens the number of times to complete a sale if they are researching your business.  To further engage them, consider social media widgets that display your activity and where visitors can reach you regularly. Twitter and Facebook both offer free widgets which can be embedded into a website. There are plugins for blogs as well.  Yoast offers a Slideshare plugin for WordPress.
  4. Can unique content be offered as mobile site? You may have mobile traffic according your analytics, but the data may also be self-referential — visitors may be coming to your site through a mobile device but low conversion can occur if the site is too difficult to navigate.  Try creating a mobile css that arranges for one particular offering or transaction and a mobile link that automatically dials your business. Creating a mobile site may allow for better access for potential customers who have a cellphone but may not have, say, Javascript capability to view a standard website feature or a way to view a large amount of text.
  5. Can you participate on sharing sites that can refer traffic sources? Though still useful, gaining quality sites to link to yours can be a time consuming task. Finding communities to augment a linking strategy may provide a consistent source of traffic.  Images posted in Pinterest can be linked to blogs, creating another source for visitors to discover your site. BizSugar, Digg, and StumbleUpon can be combined with Facebook and Twitter for sharing your generated content.

As your business grows and changes, your site should also grow and change as well, reflecting your new products, services, locations, testimonials, articles, listings and anything else you would like to share with your current and potential customers. When you do not create a regular plan for updating your website, you are giving the advantage to your competitors.  Regardless if you created your site or paid for your website, you have wasted time and money if no reinvestment occurs.

By keeping your site up to date, you have contributed to the vitality of your business. Yottaa notes that a 1% increase in load speed leads to a 7% decrease in conversions.


Melinda Emerson - Small Biz Lady

Zimana Client Spotlight: @SmallBizLady Melinda Emerson – Shining a big bright light on small business

Melinda Emerson - Small Biz Lady
Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, has hosted a weekly Twitterchat called #SmallBizChat, a premiere “town hall” for small business owners on Twitter.

You have to admire Melinda Emerson.  Her motto is to eliminate small business failure, and 2012 is shaping to be a great year for her to do so.  With her media site Succeed As Your Own Boss being seen by a quarter of a million unique visitors (and rising) annually, Melinda has been steadily attracting new  entrepreneurs seeking  ideas to operate a successful business and manage growth.   Melinda has seen growth in her own business, thanks to steadily increasing participation of  #SmallBizChat. SmallBizChat is a weekly Twitter town hall for small business owners.  Every Wednesday at 8pm Eastern, tweeting entrepreneurs gather to tweet questions and view answers from guest experts in finance, marketing, operations, social media, employee concerns, and more.   SmallBizChat followers also have the opportunity to give a shout out of their business at the end of the chat.  The mini-promotion is worth it – Melinda currently has over 160,000 followers on Twitter, and has seen increasing numbers of returning followers to SmallBizChat week  after week.

Melinda authored a book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months (read a review from Zimana client Small Business Trends).  The book’s success encouraged Melinda to launch Succeed As Your Own Boss , which features business tips and summaries of the weekly SmallBizChats.  The site continues to attract other contributors such as Tai Goodwin of Launch While Working and a plethora of guests well known in small business circles, such as Deborah Shane, Michael Hyatt, Anita Campbell, Allan Weiss, and Barry Moltz.

Melinda Emerson "Small Biz Lady"
“Small Biz Lady” Melinda Emerson, addressing an audience at the 2012 New York Expo about start up pitfalls

Melinda has also branched out to commentary for several major media outlets and corporate online community sites, such as MSNBC, FedEx, American Express OPEN, and Pitney Bowes Smart Essentials.  In addition, she has been a guest speaker at numerous business trade shows such as the New York Expo and Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference.    The New York Times has added Melinda as a regular contributor to their small business online segment.

Zimana has provided analytic support to Melinda for the past year, and continues to salute Melinda in her quest to protect small businesses from failure. Join her by following the hashtag #SmallBizChat every Wednesday at 8 PM EST – learn more about SmallBizChat at Succeed As Your Own Boss.   While on the Succeed As Your Own Boss site, check out the Zimana twitterchat on analytics here.  And if you would like to see Melinda in action, check out her appearance on NBC Philadelphia.

How Web Analytics Helps Small Businesses – Where to Start with Measurement

Many small businesses think of web analytics as search engine optimization, but that perspective is a partial view. Analytics encourages the organization of a digital presence for a business or an organization. These days such planning is important. It means providing speedy management of marketing content, be it online or off, such that a business can ultimately manage costs.

Some small businesses analyze results from a campaign effort – after a website is launched, a video is uploaded in YouTube, or a Facebook page is launched. This is an understandable step – many businesses see analytics in an application and treat the analysis as an audit. But the real work happens during the preliminary planning of a digital presence. This can consume some time, particularly now with so many options for a small business to choose. A business should review two aspects  first before tweet or a site visit is measured.

1. What is the purpose of the website in the business model? Does it serve as an augment for offline marketing?  Is it for sales through e-Commerce? Is it a way to deliver customer support through online chats and community hosting? Answering these questions will set the tone for what content should be on the site – images, downloads, and which pages should retain visitors for longer than a moment. Even trust badges can be influential (see my Business Agility post Building Trust Through Transparency).  It will also lead to how a site and its subdomains are set. The end result is the arrangement of how a site should be tagged.

2. What marketing is planned? Thanks to QR codes and URL tagging, for example, small businesses can create marketing plans to anticipate how customers discover the company site, and ultimately the business itself.  Experian, eMarketer, and other research firms have indicators that people tend to review products and services online prior to making a purchase.  The ideas is establishing an reasonable assumption of how your business is exposed to leads and customers.  An assumption may change overtime, but that is reasonable given that marketing materials can become outdated over time.

Once these two steps are addressed, a small business can begin to make reasonable adjustments to a marketing plan with few headaches and reduced expense.  There are still some technical verifications needed, depending on the complexity of the site and tagging required – many large enterprises have a team on analytic experts to manage the effort. But for small businesses developing a plan and monitoring as it moves ahead makes any analytics information valuable.


What Kick-Ass Teaches Small Businesses About Targeting the Right Market

Kick Ass The Movie
A product can gain buzz, like the movie Kick Ass did initially… but is the buzz coming from the right audience?


USA Today posted an article on the movie box office. Not unusual. In it, the article mentions the anticipation built for the movie Kick-Ass, even with comparison to another comic book turned movie 300. Not usual either. What was unusual was the relatively low box office. Yes there was online buzz. What’s not kicking ass here?

Well, the common belief is that buzz does help for exposure.  But the movie had a risk — The main characters were kids, yet the movie had an R rating.  That meant kids that would have been interested in the movie would be prohibited by the rating.

Takeaway for small businesses:

  • Any ol’ buzz is not equivalent to sales — if the audience talking about the product the most can not use/see/purchase it, then the buzz is worthless. Which means….
  • The target consumers really need to be the ones doing the buzzing to make an event/product launch a success. Otherwise…
  • The benefit of what is being offered is not of value to the intended consumer. In this case, the tough sell was getting adults who could see an R-rated movie interested in seeing an action movie with children as main characters.

The last point is not a light subject in movie making. Even Star Wars creator George Lucas, who admits he likes the R2-D2 character the most, was concerned that the first Star Wars movie (Episode I: A New Hope) may not appeal to moviegoers because the earliest scenes  – between the attack on Princess Leia’s ship and when audience first meet Luke Skywalker – contained no human faces onscreen for the audience to relate to.

In short terms, the benefit of a product may not be of value to a consumer.  In the case of Kick-Ass, the buzz may have been a distortion to whether the movie was marketed to the right audience. But there is some financial hope for Lionsgate (see this article on the box office for Kick-Ass in the LA Times).

What do you think? Offer your thoughts…



Customer Service in the age of social media and analytics

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Ever fill your gas tank in New Jersey (ok, a bad question for a Garden State car owner)? As a native Hoosier, I for one get amazed every time I fill a tank passing through New Jersey on the way to New York. New Jersey, along with Oregon, does not permit self service at fuel stations. This throws off my typical routine at times, as I have fueled my car in many states of driving. Full service in general has declined in America, so the idea of letting someone pump my gas, but not wipe my windshield or offer anything else while I am sitting in my car is an enigma. This is “full service-ish” at best.

The variation of a shopper experience can lead to that same sort of “ish” I experience with Garden State fill ups. It can alter the expectation between a consumer and service provider to create the experience. What are my “duties” as a consumer? What responsibility does the business provide? With exposure to difference experiences, the answer each consumer and business owner comes to varies.

We are in a new age of consumer interaction, thanks to the growth of e-commerce and the increased capability of websites to deliver consumer information. A Technorati post by Doug Stephens talks about how the consumer’s need for low price eliminated customer service in many cases. He references a survey in which respondents scored 1000 businesses at 48 points out of 100, a low score. I also agree with the article’s claim that there is a trade off between price and customer service, as well as a low score brings opportunity to improve the customer service experience. From the blog post:

For most consumers it’s become a matter of making trades and concessions based on the type of product, the brand, or the store we choose to shop at. Just as we don’t expect the lowest price for a laptop at the Apple Store, we can’t in good conscience demand brilliant service at Sears, whose stores have become a virtual sea of sale banners. And if in fact we really can’t live with that trade-off, then I’m afraid we’ll need to rethink our definition of value as consumers and as a society.

However, getting consumers to agree to a collective consciousness of the consumer service trade offs is an endless pursuit. Moreover a quick glance of customer service questions in Linked In and other sites indicate the idea that in business it may be more profitable to eliminate annoying customers — what is the yardstick to measure an annoying customer vs. an need to improve service?

A potential idea is to get businesses to state what the buying experience will generally be like. Apple has done a great job of this, setting the expectation through consistent behavior of product introduction and trained store experts, and further monitoring its results to create an experience rewarded by enthusiastic, loyal customers (Monitoring results is where analytics can support a business, small or large). For another successful example, read about Zappos and its customer service experience, mentioned in this Zimanablog post.

How has customer service changed for you, as a consumer or business, in the age of e-commerce.

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