Original Post Date; September 9, 2008 (Now we know who is responsible for Excel!)
Every day there’s a new invitation to a network here in NYC. Some groups are “out of the wrapper, still have styrofoam peanuts in the nooks and crannies” new, others have been laboring online for years. Few have hit the sweet spot combination like The New York Tech Meet Up. Started only a few years ago, the numbers of registrants increases every year. In June 2009, the Meet Up had over 10,000 members. Held in the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT — gotta love it!) Auditorium, attendees listen to speakers from every aspect of application development.
I was pleased to see the presentation by Dan Bricklin, founder of the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc. Now a spreadsheet does not sound sexy, but think about how much can not be achieved without a cell to hold important information (Update: Here is an All Analytics post “Don’t Toss Out Excel Yet” that notes how far Excel plug-in development has come). Zimana’s business, along with many other analytics tools, business firms, consultancies and organizations, rely on the ol’ spreadsheet as a starting point for data analysis. This movement owes much to VisiCalc.
But Dan did not bore the audience with just column-and-row talk. His autobiographical book Bricklin On Technology covers the early days of his start up and serves as a window into the early days of the computer industry. Bricklin spoke to the New York Tech audience about entrepreneurship, how many people are looking for the pot of gold, but should just try to run a solid business. Says Bricklin, “You’ll end up in an nice home, just focus on what you love to do.” I personally like that statement!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
With so many small businesses still struggling to establish a website, the choice of hosting has been numerous – and complicated. To make the choices a bit simplier and to help small businesses evaluate hosting option, take a look at this excel list of hosting options (with a few other packages thrown in). The comparison runs the gamut from Intuit (which also offers its web building services to Verizon) to dedicated hosting for Fatcow and, of course, Godaddy. Click here for a downloadable pdf of hosting solutions.
Keep a few aspects in mind:
Some options can limit operational capability. I have seen one business rely on the now-defunct Microsoft Officelive but because there was no MySQL, PHP, or other backend applications required at the site, the business was limited in creating features for visitors, some of which were revenue generating.
For frequent updates, Use a FTP Client to upload large number of files quickly into your website – Fetch Softworks offers an excellent client, as is Filezilla. Filezilla is free; Fetch is an Mac-only client but inexpensive $49.
For those using WordPress, include the Add from Server plug in (author Dion Hulse) with your file server. The plugin is especially useful for large image files – once uploaded media files need to be placed in the correct directory to be accessible for post, so essentially the plugin is an additional required tool if confronted with a large number of media files with some larger than the wordpress filesize limit.
Consider customer service and support as a factor – many hosting services are similar technological features and benefits across the board. Good customer service is essential for the hang ups that can occur with a website or blog.
Thinking of an eCommerce business? Select a cart that makes digital analytic measurement easy to plan first!
I’ve made this chart of eCommerce shopping cart solutions available. Each offer different capability to integrate an analytics solution. Although some coding effort is needed in general, some solutions provide a plug-and-play capability. The chart includes a consideration of which kinds of banking/payment options are available, whether the sites include Facebook commerce option, and if analytics integration is available. Having these features in place makes sales easy to manage, and to permit an analytics tools to reveal when customers are dropping out of a cart…and not purchasing your product.