Monday, December 18, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
What You Need To Know About SEO In 2018It's the time of year when most of us set fresh goals for our websites, whether we're blogging, promoting our professional services, selling goods, or some combination of those activities. It's also a good time to make sure the foundations of your search-results presence are still solid so prospective readers, clients, and customers can find you. Without an SEO update, you'll be missing out on prospects in 2018. If you set up your SEO a couple of years ago and think you're still good, you may be surprised by how quickly the best SEO practices have evolved since then. To help you get the most from your online efforts in the year ahead, here's what you need to know about SEO in 2018.
What exactly is SEO?SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” A few years ago, SEO was shorthand for a few key activities: posting useful content, including relevant keywords, and linking to high-quality sites, all of which had a big impact on where a site ranked in search results compiled by Google, Bing, and other search engines. These things still matter, but SEO is an umbrella term that covers a lot of ground, and that ground is always shifting to deliver better results. Right now, Google Search uses some 200 algorithms (including keywords and links) to rank search results. Not all of the factors are things that you can control. For example, the location and search history of the person searching will influence the results Google delivers. So a search for “affordable braces” may display a Denver orthodontist's website for a searcher in Colorado who has a history of looking for school supplies and teen clothing, while the same search in the UK by a man who shops for clothes online will almost certainly turn up what we in the US call suspenders. But there are a few new-ish SEO factors that you can control, and they matter as much or more than link-building and keywords, thanks to the changing ways people use the internet.
Why does “mobile first” matter for SEO?If you've been seeing the phrase “mobile first” lately, here's why: Google is in the process of slowly rolling out a mobile-first index, adding sites a few at a time. This change has been in the works since at least 2016 and will take a while to fully implement. When it's done, Google will prioritize mobile-friendly sites in search results. Why? More than half the world's online searches are done on mobile devices, which means most users need mobile-optimized sites to find what they're looking for. How do you know if your site meets Google's mobile-friendly standard? Just ask. Enter your URL on Google's mobile-friendly test page. If your site is mobile-friendly, you'll have the option to submit it to Google for inclusion in the new mobile-first index, although that may take some time. Your test results will also include a site-wide mobile usability report with suggestions on improving your mobile friendliness. There's also a guide for getting started with mobile optimization.
Does page speed affect SEO?Yes, now more than ever. Page load times have been a factor in search rankings for several years, and there was a lot of talk in 2017 about how important it is for sites to load quickly. Google is giving page speed a higher priority in part because mobile users don't like to wait and in part because no one else likes to wait, either. The bottom line is that if your site doesn't load on desktops and mobile devices within 2 or 3 seconds, it's going to be harder to find than it needs to be—and people who do find it are more likely to bail after waiting a few seconds for it to load. How do you know if your site's page speed is OK? Use Google's PageSpeed test.Here's where things can get interesting. Even if your site passes Google's mobile-friendly test, your page speed may still need work. For example, my professional site aced the mobile-friendly test, and I gave myself a hearty pat on the back for using a mobile-optimized WordPress template. But Google's PageSpeed tools are not happy with my mobile page load times. While my desktop page speed rated 86 out of a possible 100, my mobile page speed earned a failing grade of 55. Fortunately, when you run your test, you'll get a list of possible ways to optimize your page speed and improve your score. If, like me, you need to raise your site's score, consider these suggestions your homework for better SEO in 2018.
How can you optimize your site for voice search?Have you ever wondered why so many headlines, subheads, and article topics are written as questions? It used to be that savvy marketers and writers included questions because they make readers more likely to click on headlines and read articles. That's still true, but now there's another good reason – because voice search is getting more popular by the day. Remember all those people searching in mobile devices? A lot of them would rather ask Siri, “Where can I pick up grain-free dog food?” instead of trying to key in “grain free dog food near me” on their phones. And Amazon Echo users can ask Alexa to look things up for them all day long without ever coming near a keyboard, which is part of the reason industry watchers expect 30% of online searches to be screenless within the next two years. How can your site deliver what voice searchers are looking for? First, look at your site traffic from searches and review your customer service inquiries to see which questions lead people to your site and what questions they ask once they're there. You can develop those questions into an FAQ section or work them into your site as headlines, subheads or copy. Then be sure to provide the answers to those questions. This sounds obvious, but you'll want to write those answers in a way that delivers the information quickly and clearly for people who are on the go. Short snippets work best for voice-search results. If you're looking for local customers, make sure to set up your My Business listing with Google. Fill it out as completely as possible and keep it up to date. That way, when people ask Siri or Alexa for your product or service “near me,” you'll rank higher in their results (regardless of whether it's a voice or text search). Want more information about local SEO? Check out this post on finding high-quality local SEO services.
Monday, December 4, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
9 Tips for Enjoying Success With Your E-commerce SiteStarting an online store is a business decision and a bit of a leap of faith. Will your carefully researched target audience respond to your offers? Will customers buy what you think they'll buy, as often as you expect they will? Will your order, checkout, and shipping processes run smoothly? Will customer reviews boost or tank your online reputation? There's no single formula for online store success, but there are some best practices that can raise your chances of success. Here are nine of the many things successful online stores do, and why they matter.
1. They make their stores easy to navigate on smartphones.By now almost every online store has some features to make it smartphone-user friendly. But that just means the bar for a great mobile user experience is now higher. One of the best and easiest-to-use mobile retail sites is BlueNile.com. The heavily visual menu and build-your-own ring tools make it easy for users to pick up a $5,000 pair of diamond stud earrings or build a custom $42,000 engagement ring while they're waiting for the train or taking a lunch break. I was able to create a fabulous looking diamond solitaire ring to my specs for next day delivery in under two minutes. That ease of use is something shoppers are coming to expect in every store. For a store that sells high-value items as Blue Nile does, it's a must.
2. They suggest other products shoppers may like in real time on the site.Product recommendation tools can boost your store's sales by reminding shoppers of other items they meant to get, spurring impulse purchases, or encouraging shoppers to buy items that work with the product they're viewing. The best recommendation algorithms are based on personal details like customer location and purchase history, but your shop can make recommendations for brand-new customers, too. For example, if you visit Sephora's site as a guest to snap up your shade of Fenty Beauty foundation before it sells out, you'll also see Use It With recommendations for Fenty foundation primer and brushes.
3. They make their shipping and return policies clear and fair.Shoppers don't like surprises when it comes to shipping charges, so put your shipping policy in simple language on every page in your store. More than 80% of shoppers surveyed in the last quarter of 2016 said shipping costs had caused them to ditch their online carts before buying. Confusion about return policies can lead to lost customers and negative reviews, so spell out that policy clearly, too. Nordstrom Rack summarizes their shipping and return policies with a simple statement at the top of each page that links to more details.
4. They offer more than one shipping option.It's no secret that consumers love free shipping, even though they understand that the price is built into the cost of the products they buy. But you should also offer options for people who are trying to beat gift-giving deadlines or who just want their items sooner. Whatever shipping menu you offer, make sure that every option includes tracking. Tracking can cut down on customer complaints and false claims that orders weren't delivered. You can find more shipping tips and information on holiday season surcharges here.
5. They follow up on abandoned carts.From one end of the internet to the other, millions of items languish in shopping carts abandoned by customers. Whether they changed their minds, forgot, or had to get back to work, shopping cart abandonment is the rule rather than the exception – as of November 2016, 78% of items put in online carts by mobile users were just left there. Successful retailers follow up with reminders when established customers abandon items. For example, if I leave a dress in my ThredUp cart, I'll get a reminder email with a picture of the item and a checkout button embedded in the email. A Magento extension can help you recover some of those abandoned carts and raise your conversion rates.
6. They make checkout as easy as possible.Hassles at checkout are a big reason many shoppers ditch their carts. Requiring shoppers to key in a credit card number on a mobile device is practically asking them to go away. Your shop's payment options should include log-in-and-go choices like PayPal, Apple Pay, and Visa Checkout. And now that Amazon's patent on 1-Click checkout has expired, this relatively simple code can work for your store, too.
7. They request reviews from satisfied shoppers.Good reviews can boost sales, because consumers see customer reviews—even those written by strangers--the same way they view recommendations from friends and family. And because nearly 90% of consumers read reviews when they shop online, your store is at a disadvantage without reviews. Encouraging customers to review their purchases can be tricky: it's unethical to offer incentives for reviews, and consumers get review requests for most of the purchases they make these days. You can tailor your review request strategy based on your customers' preferences, your brand voice, and these do's and don'ts for small business reviews.
8. They take customer feedback seriously.You may not like what you read in every customer review. But all customer feedback is information you can use to improve your products, your site, your checkout process, and your shipping. Before you get offended (or worse, angry) about negative feedback, remember that you can use it—even if it comes from site visitors who haven't yet made a purchase. Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite, wrote that a profane tweet from a free user made a good point about the early product's usability.
9. They're constantly improving.It can be daunting to read through a list like this and compare it to your fledgling online store, but here's a habit for success you can adopt right away: Great online stores are always refining their site, based on customer feedback, sales, and traffic. You don't have to tackle everything on this list right now, but by continually assessing your shop's performance and user experience, you can make incremental improvements that lead to bigger gains over time.
Monday, November 27, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Don't Fall For These Falsehoods About EntrepreneurshipWant to start a new business? Start by questioning everything you know about launching a business. There are a lot of entrepreneurship myths that trip up new business owners, so before you invest time and money in an idea based on what you think you know, it's wise to get a clear idea of what to expect in terms of time commitment, expenses, planning, and personnel. Here's a reality-check list of common myths about entrepreneurship to arm you with realistic expectations and a better chance of success.
Myth #1: When you start your own business, you have more freedom in your scheduleIf by freedom you mean “the freedom to work a heck of a lot more hours than a salaried employee,” then yes, you'll have that. After your business is well established and profitable, you might reach a point where you can work a “normal” schedule. When you're just launching, though, plan on at least a year of spending most of your waking hours (and some of your sleeping ones) working. This is as true for self-made millionaires as it is for more modestly successful independent writers, photographers, shop owners, and other new business owners.
Myth #2: You need a brand-new product or service idea to succeedThink about how long humans have been making, selling, and buying things. For thousands of years, people have worn clothes, eaten food, used some type of transportation to get around, and so on. Those items have evolved over time, but there's never been a blockbuster new item that's completely replaced, say, the wheel. Refining existing ideas to serve customers better is how you're most likely to find a successful niche or opportunity. Develop a clear and concise business plan based on your “better mouse trap” and go from there instead of trying to summon something unheard of out of your imagination.
Myth #3: As a business owner, it's cost-effective to do everything yourselfMaybe at the very beginning you can take care of the books, the products, the marketing, and office cleanup, but at some point, your time is going to be more valuable spent working on the business than doing tasks within the business. Once you reach that point, any time you spend on tasks that could be delegated instead of developing new products, booking new clients, or expanding your market is a lost opportunity cost. That point can arrive sooner than you expect, especially once your sales are growing.
Myth #4: You can outsource virtually every aspect of your businessAs mentioned above, at some point it may make sense to outsource some of your business tasks. But the fantasy of starting out by farming out all your processes and then sitting back and collecting revenue is not realistic. That's because high quality outsourcing costs money that you may not have available to spend when you're just starting out. And using cheap, low-quality outsourcing is a good way to fail quickly. Your business processes, product quality, and customer service can all suffer, and you may end up putting out fires instead of growing your business.
Myth #5: These days, you can start a business with no moneyYou might be able to start a business with minimal upfront costs, and you might be able to use someone else's money to get started, but either way you're going to need some funds. Starting with nothing may seem scrappy and admirable, but it's not realistic and can undermine your chances of success before you begin. I sometimes talk to people who want to start selling their professional services like writing or photography without investing in a proper website, a professional headshot, the right kind of insurance to protect their new business, and other must-haves. Without these things, your business may look unprofessional to prospects and—if you go uninsured—it can expose you to liability.
Myth #6: You need venture capital to start your businessCompetition for private investment is fierce and serious. Unless you have some successes under your belt and an idea that captures the attention of investors, you're probably not going to get venture capital—and you probably don't need it. Most people who want to start a new business and need capital should consider a loan from the Small Business Administration, a local bank, or a credit union.
Myth #7: Your family and friends can help you launch your businessEvery budding entrepreneur considers hiring friends and family at some point--or even asking them to work for free. The temptation is understandable. You already know and trust these folks, and they may have skills you need. However, most experts discourage new business owners from relying on friends and family for two big reasons (although there are certainly more). First, working with relatives and friends is an expert-level skill that even experienced business owners struggle to master. Work dynamics affect personal relationships outside the office even if you never have to correct, retrain, or fire someone you care about. Second, asking anyone to work on your business for free devalues their work—and people working for free may not give your projects the time and attention they require.
Myth #8: Successful business owners go it aloneBusiness is competitive, but it's also collaborative. Owners—especially inexperienced new ones—who keep to themselves miss out on opportunities for learning, networking, and growth. You need other people's input and ideas to make your business work. Mentors who've been through the startup process are a valuable source of information, encouragement, and inspiration. Conferences in your field and in-person or online peer discussions can help you identify common pitfalls, answer questions, and provide advice. Every smart business owner focuses on hearing customer feedback, and supporting community activities or causes that matter to you can raise your business profile and build goodwill among your customers. By getting clear on what's actually involved in starting a business, you may find you have to change your approach before you get started. But by going in knowing what you can expect, you're more likely to get your new business off to a strong start.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Hot Brands That Started as Small E-CommerceEvery brand you've ever heard of had to start somewhere, and most of them started out small. For previous generations, that meant starting up in a garage or a tiny storefront. Today it's more likely to mean starting out with a small online store on a website or an e-commerce marketplace. How can you grow your little shop into a recognized brand? Here are a few examples of companies that have done just that, and what we can learn from them.
ModCloth: From dorm-room operation to mega-retailer subsidiaryModCloth is one of the highest profile new fashion brands of the digital age, thanks to its vintage-inspired styles and inclusive sizing. The vintage motif is no accident; ModCloth started in 2002 as a way for co-founder Susan Gregg Koger to sell her surplus thrift store finds online from the comfort of her dorm room. As the company's reputation grew among shoppers, sales grew—slowly at first, and then by 40% annually as of 2013. Earlier this year, Walmart subsidiary Jet.com bought ModCloth for an estimated $50-$75 million.
Lessons from ModCloth:1. Do what you love and use what you know. Susan's thrifting habit formed the basis of her business, and she knew how to find styles that would appeal to her customers. 2. Listen to your customers. In 2015, after ModCloth surveyed its customers and found that more than half were embarrassed to have to shop in “plus sized” sections, the brand dropped the plus-size designation from its store. Now, sizes XS through 4X are simply presented as sizes—a decision that supported customer preferences and generated a fresh round of positive publicity for the company. 3. Turn your customers into a community. For several years, ModCloth's site featured a Be The Buyer tool that let customers vote on samples to gauge demand for new items. Customers can share their product photos in ModCloth's Style Gallery. ModCloth is also active on social media platforms like Pinterest, where the brand has 2.2 million followers, and Instagram. ModCloth also runs Make The Cut themed design contests for its customers that generate lots of buzz.
French Girl Organics: From sideline to boutique natural beauty brandFrench Girl Organics has been lauded by Vogue as a “brilliant beauty brand” and cited by actress Emma Watson as part of her regular beauty routine. The line's projected sales are $1.5 million for this year. That's not on par with ModCloth, but it's impressive for a brand that started as a knitting author's sideline, made with plants from her garden and sold on Etsy. Now French Girl is sold through its own website as well as through Neiman Marcus, Anthropologie, Goop, Amazon, and by the end of October, Madewell.
Lessons from French Girl Organics:1. Do what you love and use what you know. Author Kristeen Griffin-Grimes combined her appreciation for French culture and her gardening habit to give herself a break after leading tours of France based on her French Girl Knits books. 2. Leverage high-profile media and celebrity mentions. French Girl's website proudly proclaims the brand as French-born Watson's “top shelf pick” and links to Watson's interview with Into the Gloss. French Girl has done a good job of collecting mentions by other major beauty and lifestyle outlets, too, including InStyle, Allure, W, StyleCaster, and the Huffington Post. 3. Own your own digital real estate. French Girl Organics still has an Etsy presence, although as of this writing, the shop has been in vacation mode since July and invites visitors to shop the company's own website. Having an independent shop that you control is important for several reasons—not the least of which is that you can collect email addresses from customers on your own site to build and leverage your list. Of course, virtually everyone wears clothes and has some personal grooming ritual, a fact that gave ModCloth and French Girl Organics a broad potential market from the start. What if your business serves a tiny niche instead? Can it still become a “big” brand? To answer these questions, let's look at one of the most narrowly defined niches around: professional mermaids.
Finfolk Productions: From garage business to “splashy” Instagram iconHow much of a brand can you build selling $1,000 to $3,900 silicone mermaid tails to performers, resorts, and theatrical costumers? Ask artists (and twin sisters) Abby and Bryn Roberts. Their business, Finfolk Productions, has been cited by Hubspot and Inc. Magazine for its outstanding Instagram marketing, alongside better-known, deeper-pocketed brands such as Staples, Lululemon, National Geographic, and Starbucks. Finfolk's social media savvy has paid off. The five-year old company has announced its plans to move production this year from a residential garage to a 14,000-square foot space to accommodate “exponential growth.” Finfolk's Instagram photos are gorgeous, and the idea of being able to swim as a mermaid definitely has its appeal. But Finfolk Productions also checks all the boxes when it comes to brand-building.
Lessons from Finfolk Productions:1. Do what you love and use what you know. The Roberts sisters have a background in performance and fashion design that they put to work answering a casting director's call for mermaid tails. 2. Listen to your customers and act on what you hear. The sisters told their local newspaper that after they made their prototype tails they found a group of people in the “underground mermaid community” talking online about their work. Once they tapped into that market, their company took off. 3. Turn your customer base into a community via social media. Finfolk has 181,000 Instagram followers, several other social media accounts, and the respect of social media marketers and industry watchers. Finfolk also has customers around the world who make unboxing videos for YouTube to show off their new mermaid tails. One of those videos, made by a professional entertainer based in landlocked Oklahoma, has earned more than 2.7 million views. 4. Leverage high-profile media and celebrity mentions. Finfolk has been mentioned in media outlets from BabyCenter to Glamour UK and the South China Morning Post, and gets a boost from “FINfluencer” Lauren Elizabeth, a self-described stay-at-home mermaid with nearly 5,000 Instagram followers.
5. Own your own digital real estate. Finfolk Productions sells its mermaid tails, tops, scales, leggings, and accessories through its website. Having a freestanding site rather than selling through a marketplace allows the company to capture email addresses for future promotions and to study customer buying habits over time.
ConclusionThe moral of the story here is that certain brand-building steps can apply to virtually any type of retail business serving just about any group of consumers. If you love making good products, listen to your customers, leverage social and traditional media, and control your own customer data by having your own online store, you've got the tools you need to grow your brand.