Thursday, January 12, 2017 by Casey Kelly-BartonPreviously on the blog, we wrote about 11 steps to get your home-based business off the ground. Now we’re taking a closer look at each of those steps, with a post on each one. In this first deep dive of our HostGator Home Business Guide, we find out if you have what it takes to start and run a business. Starting your own business can be rewarding as long as you’re working with the right people. Because you’ll be both the boss and the employee, it’s important to make sure you’re ready to fill those roles before you commit your time, money, and effort to your new venture. One way to check? “Interview” yourself before you begin, to get a sense of your strengths and any weaknesses you need to work on. These questions focus on the traits and habits successful small business owners need. The good news is you probably have several of them. The better news is you can train yourself to handle the rest. So, put on your best home-based business interview outfit (yes, sweats are okay) and ask yourself the following...
Monday, January 9, 2017 by Shayla Price
With the New Year comes new goals for your business. And as you begin to reevaluate your finances and hire new employees, it’s important that you maintain your website, too. You don’t want to repel visitors with an out-of-date site. “One of the most often overlooked components—yet one of the most critical—to any successful website strategy is ongoing maintenance. While the initial website project is critical to creating the right foundation, the ongoing maintenance and upkeep is where you’ll really see your website shine,” writes Don Cranford, principal and director of technology at Katalyst Solutions. Maximize your return on investment by giving your website extra attention. Here are a few best practices to help you in 2017.
1. Revamp Your HomepageThe homepage is the bread and butter of your brand’s online presence. People visit your website to learn more about your company’s products, team, and mission. So, when visitors arrive for the first time, you don’t want to scare them away. Instead, your goal is to offer an experience like no other. Update your design by tweaking the navigation of your site. Anticipate where consumers will click and provide clear calls-to-action to help them locate what they need. Eliminate any wording that doesn’t benefit the visitor. Too many words can distract customers from their intended reason for checking out your site. In the example below, HostGator customer Hiatus Spa + Retreat uses its site to say more with less. Coupled with a few words and vivid imagery, the spa chain invites the customer to learn more. Make the best first impression by showcasing a modern, uncluttered homepage. It’ll give clarity and accessibility to your visitors.
2. Revive Old (But Useful) ContentYour marketing team has spent countless hours creating content to educate and entertain your customers. And once it’s posted, you probably move on to the next one and then another. But if you’re creating 10x content, like I know you’re doing, your old content still has value to new and existing customers. Rather than producing new content, revive your old, but useful content. Work with your team to add the latest trends to an old blog post. Insert new data into an infographic containing outdated statistics. Or you can transform one content form into another. Kim Garst, founder and CEO of Boom! Social, offers the following suggestion, "Compile a bunch of blog posts on a particular topic, and promote them as a multi-day e-course. Each day, send one email (blog post) to your new subscribers to help them accomplish whatever goal you have promised to help them achieve.” Don’t be afraid to revisit your content archives. Give your audience an opportunity to experience the content again.
3. Fix Any Checkout Process IssuesSales matter in business. If you’re not driving revenue, you won’t sustain in the marketplace. To attain your aggressive sales goals, your checkout process must possess no friction. Friction is any obstacle causing your consumers to think twice about continuing with their purchase. It can be a technical issue, like a page not loading fast enough. Or it may be a psychological trigger, like they don’t trust your site security. “There are many reasons a customer will abandon your site during the checkout process. Top of the list, after technical problems, is that you ask for too much. Too many steps in the process, too much information, having to create an account to make a single purchase— you are too needy, and this relationship is over,” says Jeremy Said, a conversion expert. If you discover that customers hate creating member registrations, one solution is to try a social login. This one-click alternative will help consumers move through the checkout process faster. Stopping the sale from happening isn’t good for business. Remove any roadblocks in your customer’s pathway.
4. Check Your Domain RegistrationIs it that time again? You know what I’m referring to. Yes, your domain registration! No matter how many email notifications you receive, somehow renewing your domain falls through the cracks. But no worries. Contact your hosting provider to learn when your registration will expire. If it’s due soon, go ahead and pay for the renewal. You might want to sign up for auto-renewals for future registrations. And remember to update any contact information—business name, address, and phone number. It also may be time to purchase a new domain for upcoming brand changes. So, ask your provider for details about availability and prices. Sometimes the smallest things in your business are overlooked. Make sure your domain is registered to offer uninterrupted service to your customers.
5. Reinvest in Your Brand CommunityAs your business grows, it’s essential to keep your brand community engaged. Your customers want to interact with your team. In 2017, pledge to give your consumers the engagement they deserve. Respond promptly to comments left on your blog posts, and ensure that no complaint goes unanswered. Experiment with starting or reorganizing your loyalty programs. Brand ambassadors serve as an extension of your company. If they’re not satisfied, you may expose your business to unwanted negative publicity. In addition, expand your community to generate new ideas. To do this, install a pop-up box on your website asking visitors to join your exclusive newsletter. Here's an example from Bebe: Get reacquainted with your target audience. A dedicated community opens the door to business opportunities.
6. Evaluate Your AnalyticsAnalytics is the ultimate tool for examining the health of your website traffic. It’s vital for your team to know how your visitors and qualified leads find your business. Organic search or Facebook? Avoid moving analytics to the bottom of your to-do list. Jenn Soloway, senior art director of Strategic Insights Brand Marketing, gives her perspective: "Website analytics and website maintenance updates go hand in hand when it comes to truly owning your website. With this combination, pain points that can add up over time and lead to an expensive—and time-intensive—relaunch can be addressed as part of an ongoing maintenance plan.” Compare your traffic from month to month and year to year. Assess your current campaigns and develop a plan to target sources that bring the most return. You may even need to change your SEO strategy.
A New Year, A Better WebsiteIt’s time to roll up your sleeves. The New Year is a time to reflect and reassess your business’s needs, which includes your website. Revamp your homepage to gain immediate attention from visitors. Fix any friction issues influencing potential buyers to abandon your shopping cart. Also, reinvest in your brand community by responding to blog comments. Start 2017 off right! A better website is where you should begin.
Sunday, January 8, 2017 by Kevin Wood
There’s no doubt about it – website speed matters now more than ever before!
As average internet connection speeds increase around the world, web users are becoming less and less tolerant of slow load times. At the same time, Google has stated unequivocally that it prefers to reward fast sites with higher positions in the natural search results.
To take advantage of these dual benefits, you need to make site speed a priority on your site. Any of the following seven tips will help to get you started on this important path.Test your HostGator server upload/download speed here!
Tip #1 – Size images before uploading themIf you use a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla, you’ve probably noticed that you can upload images at full size and then adjust their display size within your website’s backend. However, doing so forces web browsers to execute multiple commands – pulling up the initial images and then re-sizing them on the fly – which can slow down your site. To prevent this from occurring, use an image-editing program to adjust images to the correct size before adding them to your site. Most of us will have access to a simple tool like Preview (on Mac), or even Microsoft Paint (on Windows). With these programs all you have to do is open up the image and re-size it in your editor of choice. Once you’ve done this you can take your image editing to the next level with a compression tool. Even after re-sizing each image the total file size might be pretty large and this will slow down your site’s loading speed. One of the best tools available is an online tool called TinyPNG. All you have to do is click the link, upload your re-sized image and this tool will reduce the file size without reducing the resolution. Then, all you have to do is download the image and upload it to your site. With this tool your images will look exactly the same and will load much faster.
Tip #2 – Eliminate unnecessary pluginsThe huge number of plugins and scripts that are freely available today makes it tempting for website owners to add more than they truly need. Keep in mind, every plugin you add requires resources to run – and more resources mean a slower site. Before adding any new plugins to your site, ask yourself if the functionality you gain is worth the trade-off in site speed, or whether the plugin’s content could be coded into your site’s theme instead. If you notice your site is running slowly, or you believe it could be running much more effectively, perform a plugin run-through. This involves you disabling every plugin on your site, one by one. After you disable a plugin, run your site through a tool like GT Metrix. This will show you the speed of your website. If you find that the speed of your site greatly increases after deactivating a plugin, then you’ve found your culprit. If you absolutely require that specific plugin’s functionality for your site to work, then experiment until you find another plugin that doesn’t affect the speed of your site. Plus, getting rid of plugins can prevent plugin conflicts that arise when you have too many active plugins at once. The more plugins your site has active at any given time, then more likely their code may conflict and cause them to not work properly.
Tip #3 – Make sure your site’s scripts are up-to-dateDepending on the CMS or e-commerce platform your site uses, you may need to check back regularly to determine whether new releases of your site’s scripts are available. If they are, upgrade your site as soon as possible (making sure that you have a current backup file in place first). Site script developers are always working on improving their code for future releases, particularly when it comes to site speed. Updating your scripts to the latest versions could go a long way towards eliminating coded roadblocks that prevent your site from loading quickly. Now, remembering to check-in and update your website can be tough. After all, you have so much stuff on your plate already. Lucky for you this isn’t something you have to do on a daily basis. Often, once a month is enough to do a simple run-though of your site and install any updates that might be available. If your site runs on WordPress, then you’ll find these updates within the Updates tab of your WordPress dashboard. Just one click and your site will install the latest software updates. No need for anything else on your end. Set a recurring event on your calendar and set aside an hour every single month. Usually, it’ll take much less time than this, but it’s important to build the habit of always ensuring your site and plugins are running the latest version. Plus, having all of your software up to date will help to patch up any holes that could lead to your site being hacked.
Tip #4 – Make use of CDNsContent Delivery Networks, or CDNs, are vast networks of servers that are housed around the world. Typically, if you’re not using a CDN, then your users will have to access your web host’s server at its central location. This can lead to slow site speeds, especially if your visitors are located far away from the central location of your server. Additionally, if you’re just using a single server, there’s a chance it could get overloaded and cause your site to crash. CDN’s solve both of these problems by letting your users access a cached version of your site from the web host that’s closest to them. Better yet, if one of your server locations is overloaded, then they can be switched to a new server location. The result? Faster load times that will make your customers and the search engines happy. To get started, look into the CDN services offered by SiteLock TrueSpeed, MaxCDN, or Cloudflare.
Tip #5 – Enable browser cachingBrowser caching is a technology that allows a website visitor’s browser to store copies of your site’s individual pages so that, when the visitor returns in the future, the content can be called up from within the cache rather than reloading the entire page. This saves the number of resources used to display your pages, resulting in faster overall load times for your visitor. The easiest way to enable browser caching is with a plugin like WordPress W3 Total Cache. To install this plugin on your WordPress site, follow the steps below:
- Navigate to your site’s Dashboard, then Plugins>Add New, and search for W3 Total Cache. Click Install, then Activate.
- Once the plugin is activated, navigated to the new Performance tab at the top or lefthand side. This is where you’ll control all of the features of the plugin.
- There are a ton of features that you can turn on or off with this plugin. If you want to fully configure this plugin, then check out this post by WPMU DEV.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017 by Kevin WoodWhen you’re just starting to blog you’re going to have a lot on your plate. Beyond learning how to write for the web and mastering the technical side of posting, you probably have one large question floating around your head. How am I going to get traffic to my blog? You’ve probably already come across dozens of methods to get traffic back to your website. One of the most tried and true methods for sustainable long-term traffic is SEO. But, when it comes to SEO there are a few things you’ll need to get right from the get go. Below we offer seven of our best SEO tips for new bloggers, so you can make sure you’re laying the right foundation for future rankings.
1. Get Your Titles RightYour titles are more important than you might think. Your titles matter a lot when it comes to your rankings. For starters, you should try to include your target keyword in your title, if possible. Second, your title will determine if people are actually going to open and read your posts. People will only share and read titles that are intriguing, so make sure your titles are interesting and relevant. Unsure of how to create epic titles for your blog posts? Then make sure you check out this post from HubSpot.
2. Do Keyword Research FirstBefore you begin writing you should have a solid understanding of the keywords you’re going to rank for. At the very least, understanding which search engine keywords your market is based around will point you in the right direction towards creating useful content. It will also help get you traffic, as having a keyword focus for each post, and optimizing that keyword properly will increase the chances of your post ranking.
3. Quality MattersOne of the biggest elements to focus on should be the quality of your post. In the old days of blogging and SEO you could throw up a crappy, keyword-stuffed post, and the thing would rank. Today search engines are much smarter than that. They want to rank high-quality content as it provides more value to their users - the people who use search engines like Google and Bing to find answers to their questions. Plus, people are more likely to share high-quality content, and other bloggers are more likely to link to it. The quality of your post is directly related to how valuable others find it.
4. Know the Power of LinkingOnsite SEO is just as important as offsite SEO. One great onsite SEO strategy is interlinking all of your content together. Go to Wikipedia to see a site that’s done this effectively. Every single article on their site links out to other content they’ve written dozens of times, at least. Interlinking your content makes it easier for the search engine robots to crawl your site; it helps to disperse link juice throughout your site, and provides more value to your readers.
5. Consider Using a PluginThere are a lot of technical elements you need to get right when it comes to optimizing your blog posts. Instead of trying to do all of these things yourself it can be effective to utilize a plugin like Yoast SEO. This is one of the most commonly used SEO plugins for WordPress, and for good reason. This plugin will help you optimize every single post on your site for SEO, while educating you about the basics of SEO in the process.
6. Focus on Readers Over RobotsYour biggest focus as a blogger should be making your readers happy. By focusing on user experience you’ll improve certain metrics across your site that are good for SEO. For instance, if one of your posts has a low bounce rate and an increased site dwell time (how long a user stays on your site), Google will mark this piece of content as very high-value and it’ll rank much higher. You can watch these metrics using Google Analytics. Delight your readers and see your rankings improve.
7. Know Your NetworkChances are there’s already a network of existing blogs that serving your space. It’s in your best interest to become very familiar with these blogs and network with those who run them. If you continue to produce stellar content, link to them on a regular basis, and share their content across social media, you’ll start to build up a reputation. Often, just a single share or link from these massive sites can do a lot for your traffic levels and rankings. SEO is constantly evolving, but by implementing the practices above, you’ll set yourself and your site up for success in the long run. Having a long-term focus will always be beneficial when it comes to SEO. Any beginner SEO tips we failed to mention above? Share your favorites in the comments below.
Friday, December 30, 2016 by Jeremy JensenEvery year, right around the time December 31st begins to approach, we may find ourselves reminiscing on the prior year's happenings, for better or worse. Our thoughts soon turn to New Year's Resolutions. The word resolution in many definitions is intended to be the action of solving a problem, making a firm decision to do, or not to do, something. As an online entrepreneur, the very nature of succeeding is to try, and with trying, it is practically guaranteed we're going to experience failures along the way. Failures, however, aren't an aspect to business you should be setting resolutions to abolish; instead, pat yourself on the back for opening up opportunities to learn which strategies are worthwhile. This year we've chosen to emphasize resolutions catering to your health, happiness, and vitality as an online entrepreneur. Running your business from the online space takes an enormous amount of time and energy. This year let's plan to take some of that time and energy back, so you can keep pushing forward professionally.
1. Take Control Of Your Time Spent WorkingFor the typical American, a forty hour work week is the standard expectation when it comes to time spent on the clock. For the typical entrepreneur, forty hours a week sounds like the amount of time spent working on their last vacation. Entrepreneurs do not have the luxury of always specifying when or how long they're going to work. When business comes knocking on the door you answer it; when business is feeling scarce you dig deeper to find it. Working away your life, however, isn't the reason you became an entrepreneur in the first place. This year make it your number one priority to divide your time between all the areas of your life that matter, be it entertainment, friends, time at the gym, or just getting enough sleep. Balance will always be key to long-term business sustainability and growth. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I actually focused on work, while I work? Or am I constantly checking my phone?
- Can I give myself a quit time everyday?
- Do I do too much work while I'm at home or around friends?
- Can I stop working on the weekends?
2. Sharpen Up Your Financial KnowledgeWhether you've hired a personal CPA, or have to run the books all on your own, there's always more to learn when it comes to saving money for your business. Starting a new year means all of your expenses get reset, and the knowledge you carry with you starting January 1st will greatly improve your quarterly tallies. Here are a few smart spending tips for 2017:
- Maximize your deductions by meeting with a reputable CPA who will refresh your memory on which lunches can be written off, in addition to all the other business expenses you want to keep fresh in your mind.
- Still have bad debts with high APRs? Get rid of them this year for good. It may seem difficult but swallowing interest costs will really add up over time.
- If possible, lower your operating costs without sacrificing noticeable quality.
- If you're debt free, but actually could benefit from a loan, work on raising your personal credit as this is a major factor in getting business loans.
- Use 2016's revenue as a prediction for which months performed best, and learn to anticipate future efforts for improving these numbers.
3. Make Health A Priority EverydayOf all the cliche New Year Resolutions, “eat better and workout” has to be among the most prevalent. Sadly most people start with a burst of motivation, only to quit once the Super Bowl party or box of Valentine's Day chocolates disrupts their determination. How do you make health a priority everyday? You mix it up, and set one realistic goal every morning. No one, except professional athletes and devout gym rats, can find time to exercise everyday. So don't tell yourself you're going to, only to feel like you've broken a resolution when you don't. Make exercise a craving. Do it in the middle of the day, opposed to after you're done working. Do it in the morning. Squeeze it into your schedule every given opportunity just like every other aspect of being an entrepreneur. Below are some healthy tips to follow besides exercise. Successfully implementing one of these everyday will allow you to achieve micro goals which add up to long term healthy habits:
- Buy a large water bottle, 32oz or more, and make it a goal to refill it several times a day. Being hydrated is often under prioritized for most people.
- Get into making nutrient dense smoothies in the morning. They’re quick, easy, and will keep you running until well past lunch time.
- Spend less time on your screens, and more time outside.
- Take a five minute breather every 30 minutes. Just because you sit in front of your desk for three hours, doesn't mean you were actually working.
4. Give Back To Your CommunityLeaving politics aside, 2016 was a pretty rough year for a lot of people. This cloud of negativity has given the impression things in the world are not okay, and our general attitude towards one another is divisive to say the least. As a business person dependent upon the support of your community, whether locally or in an online sphere, it's up to you to play a role in bringing people back together.
- Use your technical skills to assist a non-profit organization.
- Sponsor events catered to less fortunate community members.
- Mentor other entrepreneurs just starting out to provide a sense of support and guidance.
5. Do Not Let Others Define Your SuccessPart of obtaining health and happiness is remembering how to be grateful for what we have, and not focus on what we think we're missing. Being an entrepreneur is undeniably competitive; however, measuring yourself against the highlight reels and successes of your peers is not a formula for having an excellent 2017. The best thing about “success” is that it is entirely subjective. Someone may make more money than you, but do they have the time to enjoy their earnings. How is their health? The point is, define your own success. Which of these resolutions do you plan to follow in 2017? Let us know in the comments! We wish you a happy new year filled with success, growth, and new opportunities!