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  • 5 College Entrepreneurs Whose Online Businesses Paid For Their Education

    Wednesday, August 24, 2016 by
    College Entrepreneurs

    Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have become household names in recent years, as they’ve enabled the launch of such products as the Pebble Watch and the Veronica Mars movie. According to Business Insider, now university students are cashing in on the trend, with “the number of GoFundMe campaigns specifically mentioning ‘tuition’ having risen 4,547% from 2011 to 2014.”

    With the increasing cost of university tuition, it should come as no surprise that students are unearthing whatever revenue streams they can.

    While some students turn to crowdfunding to help with tuition costs, others question why they should have to wait until graduation to start their own business. Five of these enterprising students shared with HostGator how their online businesses grew from ideas to cash cows.

     

    1. Pandy Apparel

    Founded by Kate Delossantos, University of Maryland at College Park

    Pandy Apparel

    Kate hopped on the crowdfunding trend to test the viability of her business idea. “Back in the summer of 2015, I held a successful Kickstarter to print my very own line of clothing. After I sent out the clothing to my backers, I was really happy and excited that people liked the clothes I made. That's when I decided to start my own online clothing store, which I named pandy apparel.”

    In addition to designing the clothing, Kate creates all the graphics and photography for the site and codes the layout. She credits this experience for helping her decide her college major. “After putting so much work into it, I realized that this was the kind of thing I was really passionate about, and I changed from a computer science major to an art major.”

     

    2. Board Blazers

    Founded by Greg Rudolph, Arizona State University

    Board Blazers

    They say all it takes is one good idea, and in Greg’s case, that idea was based on something as simple as duct tape. Greg is now a graduate student pursuing his MBA, and he still marvels at how one innocuous observation grew into a worldwide business:

    “After I spotted a student who had duct-taped Christmas lights to his skateboard riding around the Arizona State University campus one night in 2011, I was inspired with the idea for Board Blazers LED Underglow Skateboard Lights. I risked most of my personal savings and started the company while an undergrad at ASU at age 20 in March 2012. Since then, the company has grown surprisingly to sales in all 50 states and 35 countries around the world. Our lights have been featured at SXSW, by celebrity Casey Niestat, and by pro skater Tech Na$ty.”

     

    3. MOVE

    Founded by Ashley Olafsen, University of Massachusetts Amherst

    MOVE Official

    When they were just teenagers, Ashley and her best friend Lexie Phipps founded MOVE, which stands for Motivate. Overcome. Value. Empower. The duo is “dedicated to working with middle and high school aged girls on body image, media, self esteem, mental health, and more.”

    Not only do they host workshops and summer programs, but Ashley has already achieved one of her life goals, giving a TED Talk. You can shop MOVE’s products or sign up for a workshop at their website.

     

    4. Ace Work Gear

    Founded by Max Robinson, Imperial College London

    Ace Work Gear

    Max had made a hobby out of building websites for fun, but it wasn’t until a friend introduced him to e-commerce that he considered doing something similar.

    Based in Fife, Scotland, Ace Work Gear sells and ships hardware tools and workwear to construction businesses worldwide. “It took me quite a while to build the site properly and I had to find a company that was willing to rent the website from me, but I'm very happy with how it turned out and continue to make updates and adjustments on a weekly basis. I've even been able to use the website as part of my college portfolio!”

     

    5. Game Learners

    Founded by Ravel Charles, Northeastern University

    Game Learners

    Game Learners serves as an online resource to help gamers and parents tap into the educational power and health benefits of video games. Not only did Ravel start Game Learners as a student, but he was also inspired by one of his classes.

    “I realized how similar one of my favorite video games was to the concepts I learned that day in my Project Management class. That day I learned about the project management life cycle and managing a project. As I was learning about it I realized that the concepts came easier to me because it was very similar to how I play Franchise Mode (Called MyGM Mode) in NBA 2K16 and manage my own sports team. In the video game, the owner of the team will give directions and I will have to make sure to complete them in a timely fashion, with goals that needed to be achieved along the way. This is similar to managing a project in real life. From there, I thought, how can other children benefit from this type of learning?”

    Ravel keeps the website open-source and free for members, making money off of advertising.

    Are you inspired by these student entrepreneurs? Start your online business today with your very own website from HostGator.

    Get Started With HostGator!

  • Airbnb, Uber — Now: The Rise of Online Lending

    Tuesday, August 23, 2016 by

    Online Lending

    Cash flow. It’s the #1 priority for any business owner.

    We can (and should) talk about passion, leadership, and full-stack/content/social marketing, but at the end of the day (and Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful would concur), cash is king.

    In the past, if you needed a loan for your business, you had to go to a bank. You had to dress up in your best suit, provide a ton of records, and go through an arduous application process.

    And after all that, there was no guarantee you'd be approved. It was stressful, tedious, and frustrating. Now there’s a faster, easier way to get the funding your small business needs. In a sense, it's an Uber for lending.

     

    Wait, There’s an Uber for Borrowing Funds?

    With online lending, you not only don’t have to go to a bank to get a loan, you don’t even need to leave your house! Instead of putting on your best suit, you can apply for a loan in your footie pajamas. (We don’t judge.) And your chances of approval are based on the health of your business rather than just your personal credit score.

     

    How Does Online Lending Work?

    Online lending lets you apply for a small business loan in just a few minutes with a few keystrokes (or taps on your phone). You’ll be spared the long wait to see if you’ve been approved, as most applicants hear back within minutes to just a couple of days. You could have access to the money your business needs as soon as the same day.

    Online lending has exploded in the last decade as nimble upstarts, armed with the insights of data and unburdened by the capital requirements of traditional banks, aim to disrupt lending the same way Uber has disrupted transportation and Airbnb has given hotels a run for their money.

     

    But What’s Wrong with Traditional Banks?

    Following the financial crisis, many risk-shy banks seriously cut back on their small business loans. Regulations designed to rein in the excesses of the subprime mortgage bubble further contributed to the crunch. According to Biz2Credit, only about 17% of small business loan applications are approved by big banks.

    That’s less than a one-in-five shot for any business owner needing an infusion of cash.

     

    Online Lenders Save Small Businesses

    Enter online lending, which, as an industry, has doubled in size every year since 2010. By 2014, it accounted for more than $12 billion in loans. While that’s just a growing slice of the lending pie, these new lenders are eager to expand to serve increasing numbers of customers.

    The loans (and lines of credit) given out by these companies can range from as little as $2,000 to as much as $100,000 and beyond. The terms of the loans can range from six months to several years. Interest rates vary, and some companies, like Kabbage, don’t charge interest in the traditional sense; rather, they assess a monthly fee, usually a small percentage of your principal, when you qualify.

    The application and approval process is also different for online lenders. Rather than require stacks of financial records, they review your business accounts, like PayPal QuickBooks, or a business checking account. They use technology to analyze your cash flow and give you a decision in just minutes. 

    Like with any source of funding, there are risks to online lending: Any business should be careful to invest funds in things that will provide a return and should only borrow what they can pay back. But used wisely, they can be an indispensable tool as you build your business from the ground up.

    Find out how much working capital you qualify for at Kabbage. HostGator is currently giving away $100 Amazon* gift cards to those with approved applications.

     

    *Customer will receive a $100 Amazon gift card upon submitting a qualified application to Kabbage by 11:59pm EST September 6, 2016 through the link provided in this post. The gift card promotion is being run by Endurance International Group. Gift cards will be delivered to qualified customers electronically October 6, 2016. Amazon is a trademark of Amazon Technologies, Inc. Amazon is in no way affiliated with or a sponsor of this promotion.

  • When Should You Upgrade To A Dedicated Server?

    Monday, August 22, 2016 by

    Upgrade Dedicated Server 

    Most businesses reach a point where they need to upgrade their hosting environment in order to continue to provide their users with a stellar browsing experience. Shared hosting can be an easy way to get started, however, if you’ve been aiming for growth since the early stages, then the time will come where you’ll outgrow your current hosting plan.

    But, it can be difficult to determine when is the right time to make the switch. By being able to see the potential limitations that a shared hosting plan might place on your website, you’ll be able to make the jump to a dedicated server at the right time.

     

    When is it Time to Make The Switch?

    Not every website and hosting environment is the same. It’s near impossible to make a blanket statement that covers every single kind of website and existing hosting plan available. Still, there are a few indicators that’ll tell you it’s time to make the switch to dedicated hosting.

     

    1. Slow Website Performance

    If your website performance has been slipping, then it might be time to upgrade to a dedicated server. If your visitors are continually hit with a server error page, or have to wait a long time for your site to load, then you could possibly benefit from making the switch to a dedicated server.

     

    2. Overall Traffic is Increasing

    Are your monthly traffic numbers steadily increasing? When your website is seeing steadily increasing traffic numbers it could be a good idea to switch to a dedicated host before it becomes a problem.

    A lot of webmasters have faced the dreaded server error page the very moment one of their posts went viral. Don’t let a poor server choice limit your business’s potential.

     

    3. Running Multiple Sites

    If you have multiple shared properties then it could be beneficial to bring all of your sites under a single dedicated server.

     

    The Advantages of Dedicated Hosting

    Dedicated hosting can be incredibly valuable to your business. But, upgrading to a dedicated server does mean you’ll have to increase your tech skills, or bring someone on board who knows how to manage a server. Server management can be tricky, but can be worthwhile once you explore the benefits of upgrading as shown below.

     

    1. Complete Server Control

    Being on a dedicated server means you have control of the entire server. You’re no longer sharing resources with a variety of different websites that you have no affiliation with. Sometimes other sites can end up hogging all of the server resources, which means that your site could perform slower as a result.

    Some dedicated servers do require a bit of added technical knowledge. You’ll need to be able to upgrade and maintain the server in order for it to run effectively. However, some dedicated server options do have dedicated support teams to help you.

     

    2. Increased Security

    If your business is at the point where you need to upgrade to a dedicated server, then you probably have a lot of valuable information stored on your website. For this reason increasing the security of your site is incredibly important.

    Dedicated servers are naturally more secure as you’ll be the only site using the server. If your site gets infected, or hacked, at least you know it’ll be your own doing. And not due to another site becoming infected on the server. This will make it much easier to take proactive action.

     

    3. Increased Website Speed

    Your website needs to be fast if you want to compete in today’s marketplace. If your site doesn’t load in under a couple seconds, then you run the risk of your visitor clicking away before they get a chance to experience what you have to offer.

    A dedicated server that’s configured correctly is a surefire way to ensure your site will always load quickly, even when it’s being inundated with a ton of traffic.

    Dedicated servers aren’t appropriate for every kind of website. But, if your site is experiencing some of the signs above and you think you could benefit from a dedicated host, then it might be worth making the switch. As long as you have the tech skills and the incoming profit to pay for the costs.

    Do you run a dedicated server? Share your experience in the comments below.

    If you're ready to make the switch to a dedicated server, HostGator offers a variety of plans based on your particular site needs.

    Get Started With HostGator!

  • Want to Change Your Domain Name? Here’s What You Need to Do

    Friday, August 19, 2016 by

    Change Domain Name

    Changing your domain name can be a scary process. After all, you’ve worked hard to build brand awareness and you probably have some backlinks pointing to your site at this point. You don’t want to sacrifice your rankings or any authority, but you’ve reached the point where changing your domain name is inevitable.

    What are you to do?

    Don’t fret; we’ve got you covered. Below we showcase a few main concerns when changing your domain name and walk you through the process of changing your domain without harming your SEO.

    Common Reasons to Change a Domain

    Before we dive into the process of actually changing your domain let’s take a look at some of the common reasons you’ll want to make this change in the first place. When changing your domain always make sure to give it a lot of thought. It’s not something you’ll want to jump into lightly.

    1. You Want to Change the Extension

    Sometimes when you originally bought your domain name the domain extension you wanted wasn’t available. When you have a .net or .biz domain name this can convey less authority to your visitors. Websites like .com can also be easier to remember and can be the default domain extension your visitor types into the search bar.

    2. Your Business Name Has Changed

    If you’ve changed the name of your business, then there really isn’t a way around it. Your domain name needs to change with. This is one aspect of maintaining a clear and consistent brand online.

    3. You’re Tired Of Your Old Domain

    It can be tempting to change your domain name, because you want to give your site a facelift and freshen things up. However, you’ll want to make sure you’re thinking this through. Make sure that changing your domain is worth the risk of potentially lost rankings and traffic.

    How to Change Your Domain While Keeping SEO Juice

    If you’re absolutely positive you want to change your domain name, then follow the steps below to minimize any risk of lost rankings.

    If you're a current HostGator customer, please read our support documentation on changing your domain name.

    1. Back Up Your Site

    Backing up your current website will help you avoid any potential pitfalls up the road. Before you make any massive changes to your website make sure you have a working backup. You’ll want to test your backup to make sure all of your content and file are intact and nothing is corrupted.

    To help with your domain change, as well as to avoid any potential catastrophes later on, it's always recommended to back up your site regularly. Current HostGator customers can get automatic daily backups with CodeGuard for as little as $1.67/mo - click here for more info.

    2. Check for Domain Penalties

    Did you know that your new domain could already be penalized? When buying a used domain there’s a chance there could be some low-quality backlinks pointing at your site. You’ll want to disavow these links before you move forward with migrating your site.

    The best way to do this is to utilize Google Webmaster Tools. Navigate to Search Traffic>Manual Actions and see if there are any instances of web spam targeting your domain. If there are, just submit a removal request and you’ll be all set.

    3. Migrate Your Content

    Now that you’ve done the foundational work it’s time to move your content over to your new domain. If you can do this all at once it will help to speed up the process and reduce the risk of any negative SEO impact.

    You can use a plugin like All-in-One WP Migration to simplify the process, if you’re utilizing WordPress. If you’re doing it manually, then you’ll want to set aside a period of time where you can copy everything over.

    4. Redirect Your Old Pages

    Now it’s time to add URL redirects on all of your old content to your new site. You’ll want to use a 301 redirect, which is a permanent redirect. This will pass your SEO juice onto your new site.

    You can use a plugin like Simple 301 Redirects if your site runs on WordPress, but if not, then refer to this article from Google Support. These resources will help you implement redirects to all of your necessary pages.

    If you have pages that are no longer present on your new site, then make sure you create a relevant page, so users don’t land on a funky 404 page.

    5. Tell Google You’ve Moved

    Now we’ve reached the final step in the process. It’s time to tell Google we’ve moved. You can do this by navigating to the gear icon in the right-hand corner and submitting a change of address within your Google Webmaster Tools dashboard. This will alert Google to your new location, just make sure you complete all of the previous steps first.

    To further increase the functionality of your new site you can create a new XML sitemap. According to Google, you should actually create two sitemaps. One for your old domain and one for your new domain. Over time, you’ll see that the old domains will be de-indexed and your new domains will take their place.

    There you have it. If you’ve followed the steps above, your new site should be migrated and you should be error free.

    Ready to make the change? Purchase a new domain with HostGator.

    Get My New Domain!

  • What We Learned From A/B Testing Over 300 Million Emails

    Thursday, August 18, 2016 by

    AB Testing Email Best Practices

    Take a look at the two emails below. Which one do you think performed better, the one on the left or the one on the right?

    Email Testing

    If you guessed the one on the left, you were right!

    We found the email with more text had a 11.83% lift in open rates and a 22.49% lift in click-thru rate.  The open rate is more of a red herring, as readers can't tell until they open the email what the contents look like. But the nearly 23% lift in click-thru rate makes a strong argument for readers preferring the email with more textual context for the images.

    Having more text that explains the images could help in cases where the HTML doesn't come through properly on an email reader, as it gives readers more information about the value they can hope to gain from the linked content.

    You can see that both emails have different formatting, as well, so that could also be contributing to the increase. We would need to test out more of the individual elements to narrow down how much of the increase was due to the heavier text.

    At HostGator we send millions of emails in a year. With each email comes a new opportunity to test something. The example above illustrates multivariate testing (which involves testing multiple variables), but today we're going to focus on A/B testing.

    What Is A/B Testing?

    The A/B test is a simple tool that businesses of all sizes use to make their email marketing more effective. If you’re not familiar with A/B testing, we’ve put together this guide to show you why A/B tests are so useful and how to get started.

    A/B email tests are real-world experiments you create to see how changing one element in an email – such as the subject line, graphics, or timing – affects the way recipients respond. Each test compares only one variable (A) to only one other variable (B) to keep the results clear and easy to interpret.

    For example, a café owner might create two different subject lines for the same email newsletter and then send version A to one part of her list and version B to another part. If subject line A gets noticeably more opens and click-throughs than B, the café owner knows subject line A is the best choice to send to the rest of her list and to serve as a template for future subject lines.

    Speaking of subject lines, it's time for another test. Take a look at the subject lines below. Which one do you think resulted in higher open rates - the one on the left or the one on the right?

    Subject Line Test

    In this test we tested subject lines that highlighted different aspects of our cloud hosting product launch. We wondered, which is more important to users - the value add/features of the product or the discount?

    We found that the features won! With 99% statistical significance, the subject line focused on features ("double your speed") had a 7% lift in opens and a huge 46% lift in click-through rate.

    We've rerun similar subject line tests, and again and again, the subject lines that promote features outperform the discount.

    What's the takeaway here? Consumers first need to be interested in what you're selling, before they'll care about getting a discount.

    We've learned a lot from testing subject lines over the years. Here's what we found works for us. Let us know in the comments if something different works for your brand!

    • Encouraging a sense of intrigue and hinting at content drives more opens
    • Spelling out the discount consistently suppresses response, both in subject lines and email content
    • Positioning offers as $ off seems to work better than % off
    • Using personalization - real or even implied (“you”, “your”) - is more engaging
    • Presenting an offer at the right time matters - response can be nearly double if you time it right
    • Subject lines influence clicks as well as opens, so work to get them right!

    How A/B testing boosts your marketing efforts

    A/B testing provides information beyond individual email elements. It can also give you:

    • Insight into what your audience cares about and responds to
    • Long-term, gradual improvement to your email metrics
    • A road map to build future campaigns
    • A proving ground for new ideas and offers
    • A test lab for design changes, such as new colors and templates, layout changes, and more
    • Data for tracking your overall marketing progress and share with your leadership team

    You can also test other elements of your marketing campaigns. Social media posts, web page design, paid ads, and more can be A/B tested to improve results.

    How do you run an A/B test?

    Careful planning, execution, and analysis will give you the most value from your A/B tests. Here are things to consider at each step. First, decide what one thing you want to test. The subject line is a common example, and it’s one of the simplest elements to test. Other basic elements to test include the email’s pre-header copy, button copy, button visual design elements like color or size, button placement in the email, and the number of links you include.

    Beyond that, the sky’s the limit. You can test for responses at different times of day or days of the week, the effect of including a discount offer, different images, and much more. Just remember to stick to one element per test. Additional variables can make it impossible to get useful results.

    Give yourself a pre-test

    You also need to examine your goals. Take the time to answer these pre-test questions.

    What do you want to learn from this test? For example, do you want to know if button shape influences click-through rates

    What question will this test answer? For the example above, the question is, “Which button shape, round or square, generates a higher CTR?”

    How will you use the test results in the future? This test may settle the issue of which button shape to use in future campaigns so the designer can focus on refining other elements.

    Can you generalize the test results? “Round versus square” is easy to repeat with another test if you’d like to verify your button-shape results. If you compare round versus heart-shaped buttons for a Valentine’s Day campaign, the results won’t help you with non-Valentine’s Day campaigns.

    Will the information you learn be meaningful? How much value will the test add to your brand over time? If you’re trying to raise overall CTR for your email newsletters, testing variables such as button shape makes sense. If your emails have high CTRs but low conversion rates, you’re probably better off focusing on a different variable.

    Once you’ve thought about what you want to test, think about how you’ll measure it.

    Choose your metrics. For a subject line test, open and click-through rates are the metrics you’ll probably want to watch. For our hypothetical round-versus-square button test, CTRs and conversion rates make the most sense.

    Schedule your test. Choose a time when seasonal fluctuations like summer slowdowns and pre-holiday peaks, concurrent sales, or current events won’t skew the results.

    Choose your test audience. Select audiences that should respond in similar ways. Don’t run your test on different audience segments, because they won’t behave in comparable ways. Run your test with a large enough group that your results can be statistically significant.

    Analyze your results. To be valid, the test must generate statistically significant results with a 95% or better level of confidence. What that means, in simple terms, is that if you keep repeating the same test, you’ll get the same results at least 95% of the time.

    If you’re comfortable calculating statistics, you can find the p-value of your test results to determine the level of confidence. If you’re not as skilled in statistics, there are plenty of A/B test calculators online to help. This one, from Dr. Pete of Moz, is easy to use. It will also tell you how many more visitors or audience members your test needs if it falls short of the 95% level-of-confidence threshold. That’s helpful because the required size may vary depending on other factors.

    An A/B email test checklist

    Email Test Planning Checklist

    Here’s a quick list to jumpstart your A/B test planning.

    • Name your test.
    • Answer the pre-test questions:
      1. What do you want to learn from this test?
      2. What question will this test answer?
      3. How will you use the test results in the future?
      4. Can you generalize the test results?
      5. Will the information you learn be meaningful?
    • Identify the metrics to observe (for example, open rate, CTR, or something else).
    • Schedule your test at an optimal time for valid results.
    • Choose test audience groups that will exhibit similar behavior.
    • Choose a test audience large enough to give you statistically significant results.
    • Review to see if you have you run this test before.
    • If this is a repeat test, clarify the reason and what, if anything, you’ll do differently this time.
    • Analyze your results.
    • Log and track your test results.

    A solid library of A/B test data is a valuable marketing resource you can build for your business, one variable at a time.

    What have you found in your A/B testing efforts? Share your results in the comments!

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