Articles tagged "website"

Search Engine Optimization 101

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
July 2nd, 2012

Search Engine Optimization 101

Content Quality

More than anything else, are you producing quality content? If you’re selling something, do you go beyond being only a brochure with the same information that can be found on hundreds of other sites?

Do you provide a reason for people to spend more than a few seconds reading your pages?

Do you offer real value, something of substance to visitors, anything unique, different, useful and that they won’t find elsewhere?

These are just some of the questions to ask yourself in assessing whether you’re providing quality content. Do provide it, because it is literally the cornerstone upon which other factors depend.

Content Research / Keyword Research

Perhaps the most important SEO tactic after creating good content is good keyword research. There are a variety of tools that allow you to easily, and for free, discover the ways that people may be searching for your content.

You want to create content using those keywords, the search terms people are using. That effectively lets your content “answer” them.

For example, a page about “Avoiding Melanoma” may be using technical jargon to describe ways to prevent the most dangerous type of skin cancer. If people are searching for “skin cancer prevention tips,” then writing in the wrong “language” might cause search engines to skip your content as a possible answer.

Create content that speaks to what people are searching for, that uses the language that they themselves are using.

 Content Words / Use Of Keywords

Having done your keyword research (you did that, right?), have you actually used those words in your content? Or if you’ve already created some quality content before doing research, perhaps it’s time to revisit that material and do some editing.

Bottom line: if you want your pages to be found for particular words, it’s a good idea to actually use those words in your copy.

How often? Repeat each word you want to be found for at least five times or seek out a keyword density of 2.45%, for best results.

OK, that was a joke. There’s no precise number of times, and even if “keyword density” sounds scientific, honest, even if you hit some promised “ideal” percentage, that would guarantee nothing.

Just use common sense. Think about the words you want a page to be found for, the words you especially feel are relevant from your keyword research. Then use them naturally on the page. If you commonly shift to pronouns on a second and further references, maybe use the actual noun again here and there, rather than a pronoun.

Content Engagement

If you’ve written quality content, then users will be engaging with it. To determine that, search engines may try to measure engagement in a variety of ways.

For example, did someone search, find your page in the listings, click through but then immediately “bounce” back to the results to try something else? That can be a sign that your content isn’t engaging. It’s also a metric search engines can measure.

Are people sending a relatively long time reviewing your content, in relation to similar content on other sites? That “time on site” metric is another thing that search engines can measure, such as through toolbars that both Google and Bing offer.

Social “likes” of the Facebook type and other varieties are another way that engagement might be measured, and we’ll cover these more in the Social section of this guide.

Search engines are typically cagey about if they use engagement metrics much, much less exactly what metrics they may use. But we do think it is a factor being measured in several ways. Success here is highly linked to the quality of your content.

Content Freshness

No you can’t just update your pages every day thinking that will make them “fresh” and thus more likely to rank better with search engines. Nor can you just add new pages on anything constantly and think that gives you a freshness boost, either.

However, Google does have something it calls Query Deserved Freshness. This means that if there’s a search that’s suddenly getting unusually popular versus its normal activity for some reason, Google will look to see if there’s any fresh content on that topic and give it a boost toward the top results.

If you’ve got the right content, on the right topic when QDF hits, you may enjoy being in the top results for a week or two or three. Just be aware that after that, your page might disappear. It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong. It’s just that the freshness boost has worn off.

Do you really own your domain?

by Ventura County Now

March 5th, 2012

Over the years I’ve run into this problem a lot. People or businesses think they own their domain name to later then find out they don’t. Let’s say you’ve found this great domain name that fits your business, keyword-rich and great for SEO. It perfectly fits your website’s image and all is going well. It’s your business name, what could happen? Now for some reasons you need to move your website to another host… Surprise, suprise! Your web host is the domain name owner. Your website and/or email could go down or your website could be held hostage. All of these can make for a really bad week. However, your website address or domain name is most likely on all your company publications – business cards, letterhead, brochures, signage, other websites. So for you not to have access to one of your most prized web properties is not benefiting you at all. If you don’t own it, it can be sold or hijacked and all traffic destined for your website will go elsewhere!

FYI – it is common for web agencies, to bundle domain and hosting with website packages and order it for you either as an affiliate or reseller of domain registration and hosting services.  One rule of thumb almost always applies: never register your domain name at the same place you’re hosting your website. I do happen to register my domain names at the same place when the web host offers free registration and I’m 100% sure that I will be owning the domain name. One example of a web host where I would register my domain name is GoDaddy.com. They are one of the largest registrars on the web and they can be trusted.

So, how do you avoid falling into this trap? Simple! Buy your own domain name and keep a record of your account information. Though, I beg you to get help from someone, to make sure you buy the best domain name(s) for your needs.

How do I know if I own my domain name? It’s easy to find out if your domain name is truly yours. Follow this link http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp and enter your domain name. This will display all of the domain data (a Who is report). The one piece of information you should focus on is the Registrant. This should have your information. This is the owner of the domain name. There will also be other information such as who the domain was registered through (ex. GoDaddy.com, Register.com, Network Solutions.com, etc.) and expiration. If you name appears, you’re good to go. Just don’t forget the expiration. If your domain expires your website and any email through that domain will go down. In addition to that, it may cost you a lot more money to get it back.

What if you are NOT the registrant? You will need to contact the person or company that is the registrant. Hopefully they’ll be nice and transfer the domain over to you. Unfortunately, if they choose to be trolls about it, you may need to call a lawyer and have them send a letter.

Unfortunately, this happens more than you would think and I’ve had customers not get their domains back or had to pay premium prices to get their domains back. This can really damage your business online. So make sure you own your domain.

7 New Ways to Improve Your Google Rankings

by Robert McMurray

Blog Writer
October 31st, 2011

Wondering how to respond to Google’s recent algorithm changes (known as Panda)?

Keep reading to find out.

A bit of history

In an interview with Wired MagazineUdi Manber, Google’s head of search, said that Google will make as many as 550 changes to its search algorithm this year. One of the bigger changes happened this past winter in what has been called the Panda or Farmer update.

According to a report by Sistrix.com, within days of the update, a number of very large websites saw their Google rankings take a drastic drop. Sites such asEzinearticles.com and Suite101.com lost 90% or more of their visibility on Google. 

sistrix chart

This Sistrix table shows the domain and the percentage loss since Google's change.

Although a 90% drop in visibility may seem extreme, it was a direct result of Google’s attempts to weed out content farms (websites with high-volume, low-quality content) and those trying to game the system. In the process, a number of unsuspecting websites got caught in the fray.

For the average small business owner, stories like this can be concerning. It’s hard enough to move to the top of the Google search rankings, let alone keep up with the constantly evolving magic that makes Google work.

However, for those looking to build quality websites that achieve high Google search results, nothing has really changed. As always, the key is to focus on publishing high-quality content that readers will want to share.

Here are 7 tips to help your business move to the top of the Google search rankings.

#1: It’s all about the user

It’s important to remember that the reason for the continually changing algorithms and updates is that Google has one objective—to provide the highest quality, most relevant search results possible. If they fail to do so, competitors such as Bing and Facebook are nipping at their heels ready to take up the slack.

Google is not out to penalize websites or hurt website owners. They want to ensure that users find the information they seek on the first try.

When it comes to search engine rankings and improving SEO, start by looking at the site from the perspective of the user searching Google. Does your site provide the best, most relevant information for a given search term and if not, what can you do to fix it?

Google’s Amit Singhal, head of Google’s core ranking team, provided 23 questions to consider when evaluating web content. These are some of the same questions that Google is using to test algorithms and evaluate websites using third-party beta testers. The questions provide an excellent insight into Google’s perspective and a tool to analyze your website from the user’s point of view.

#2: Content: Focus on quality over quantity

In an earlier post I wrote on how to increase your Google ranking, I talked about using blogs to increase the number of pages indexed in Google. And while it still holds true that more pages indexed for a given search term gives you a better chance of achieving a high Google rank, it isn’t enough just to publish text optimized for keywords. The quality of the content is now a factor.

words

Using the list of 23 questions will help you assess the quality of your content.

Since the Panda update, Google has attempted to screen out those publishing high-volume, low-quality content. Now, in the eyes of Google, it’s better to have fewer high-quality pages then lots of low-quality pages.

Blogging is still one of the best ways to move up the search engine rankings as it is a good way to add high-quality information to a website. However, web pages or blog posts offering little of value can now negatively impact a website. Removing these pages might actually help a website move up the rankings or recover from a drop in ranking.

#3: Links: Focus on quality over quantity

Incoming links have always looked good in the eyes of Google. As a result, one way to move a site up the search engine rankings was to generate a high number of incoming links all pointing to a given web page.

As Google places higher and higher value on the quality of the content, this tactic is not as effective, and can even harm a website’s ranking if overdone.

For the small business website owner, this should come as good news. Instead of generating 50 articles with subpar content, website owners can now focus on creating fewer high-quality articles or incoming links, as Google is no longer placing much value in links from article distribution sites such as Ezine.com.

In another article on ways to improve your blog SEO with inbound links, I suggested that press releases were a good way to generate incoming links because distribution services often generated back-links as articles were placed on various press release syndication websites. This link-building strategy has also changed post-Panda update, as these links are not as highly valued as they once were. However, a well-written press release can still be very effective when picked up and reported by a journalist or major publication.

Focus on getting high-quality links from high-quality websites. Guest posting is still an excellent way to generate high-quality incoming links. If possible, try to wrap links in important keywords. For example, as a content marketing copywriter, a link around “content marketing copywriter” would be more effective than a link wrapped around my name.

#4: Make the most of social media, social sharing and social search

It’s hard to tell exactly how much impact Twitter and Facebook have on Google search results, but at the very least we know that Google is providing real-time social sharing in the search results.

Google’s addition of the Google +1 button and the ability of Google users to block sites take this a step further. Although it’s still unclear how Google is using the +1 button in their algorithms, they have stated publicly that users blocking a site can have a negative impact on returns. This again demonstrates the importance of high-quality content.

#5: Let the search engines know you’re there

Once you’ve published high-quality content, it’s important to tell Google about the content and make it easy for users to find. This means that meta titles and descriptions should closely match the content on the page.

Keyword stuffing and intentionally filling meta descriptions with keywords that don’t match the page in an attempt to deceive will only hurt your search engine results. The closer the match, the better.

It’s also important to make the most of the SERP, the short paragraph showing in the Google search returns. Use this space to provide a clear description of the content and encourage users to click through to your site.

serp

Be sure your meta description matches the post and encourages users to click through. This is what shows in the Search Engine Results Page or SERP.

#6: The truth behind duplicate content

It’s not that Google penalizes websites for duplicate content; Google just doesn’t show it in the search results. Remember what I said in the beginning about providing the best possible search returns. When it comes to duplicate content, that’s all Google is doing.

Instead of showing 20 pages with the same content, Google tries to present the most relevant and original content and omit the rest. Users can still view omitted search returns, they just need to make an effort and most won’t.

This only becomes a problem if you’re using canned content or directly publishing RSS feeds from other websites. Content of this sort might be seen as low-quality and result in lower Google returns. Hopefully the days of stolen web content and RSS scrapers will soon be a thing of the past.

#7: Don’t overdo the advertising

Too much advertising can also result in lower Google rankings. This again is a result of Google’s attempts to improve search results for the user. Google tends to equate an overabundance of advertising to lower-quality or “spam” websites.

ads

Excessive advertising can also hurt your Google returns. Note how the actual content on this site isn't even visible above the fold. This website is also "scraping" content from Social Media Examiner which can also hurt search engine ranking.

Be sure that advertising does not interfere with the content on the page. This is especially important with advertising above the fold and within the text.

Google is constantly evolving, but the fundamentals of SEO will always remain the same. High-quality content that people want to share will always do well in the eyes of Google. Search Engine Land has put together a free guide that will help you gain traffic from search engines such as Google and Bing.

periodic table of seo

"Search Engine Land has created a Periodic Table of 'SEO Ranking Factors.' Notice the importance placed on content.

 

By: Jim Lodico

Want to Create a Free Website? Think Again...

by Robert McMurray

Blog Writer
October 24th, 2011

This article may sound a little harsh to you.  It's not meant to be as I am just stating the facts from my own experiences. 

Mark my words: If you use a free host for your business you are making a huge mistake. Period.

I don't thinkmany people realize the number of disadvantages that go along with creating free websites. Hopefully this article will shed some light on the subject.

Don't make the same mistake I did. After this nightmare, I vowed to never go the "free route" again. Creating your site from scratch with its own domain name (yoursite.com) is affordable and definitely worth the small investment.

Parking your site at a free host is often like building a house on sand.  It may be quick and and it may seem easy at first, but I can almost guarantee you it won't last long.

Disadvantages of Free Web Hosts

  • Limited web page space
  • Can't add interactive features (chat rooms, message boards, games, online ordering etc.)
  • Search engines often ignore them (Your traffic will be limited)
  • Your visitors may doubt your credibility
  • May have banners and/or pop ads on your homepage and/or all of your pages
  • Long and hard-to-remember web address (instead of yourdomain.com)
  • No guarantees of site availability and longevity
  • No branded emails addresses (you@yourdomain.com)
  • Poor help and support options (if any)
  • May not be free forever

Advantages of Owning Your Own Dot Com Name

  • Easy to remember website address (yourdomain.com)
  • No banners or popups
  • Easier to get listed in search engines (Google, Yahoo etc.)
  • You have more control over the look and feel of your website.
  • Multiple branded email addresses (you@yourdomain.com)
  • Plenty of web page space for site expansion
  • Looks more professional
  • More flexibility for design and functionality

You might be tempted to create a free website because you don't want to spend any money. Trust me. I'd rather you wait until you've saved some money than start your site on a free host and then switch later.

Free Websites & Making Money Online Don't Mix

It amazes me how many people tell me that they want to start a business website but don't want to spend any money. 

I personally don't know of a single successful website owner that created their business website on a free host.

If you were starting an offline business, you'd plan on investing some money right?  Well, doing business on the web is no different despite many beliefs.  If you don't plan to invest anything to start a business then I'd have to question your drive.

I've been making money on the Internet for over a decade and I have YET to read a success story from someone hosting their site on Blogger.com, Yola, and Weebly. It's no coincidence that successful people own their own domains.

Plus, you can't expect people to take you or your site seriously if your website address starts with something like is http://myfreesite...

And if the address doesn't tip your visitor's off, the banners and pop-ups you'll be forced to display sure will.  Also, the templates they provide are generally very basic and lacking a professional appearance.

Think about it. Wouldn't you be a little suspicious if the web address of a business was something like http://members.aol.com/users/myhomepage.html with pop-ups and banners instead of www.companyABC.com?

Web surfers are becoming much more Internet savvy and they can smell a "cheap site" a mile away.  You don't want to lose credibility and potential customers because of the unprofessional feel.

Any time someone sends me their "business" site on Blogger.com I immediately discredit the site. Sorry, but that's what most people do. Free web hosts just aren't taken seriously.

Not to mention, you can only do so much with them. So if you want to add shopping carts, order forms and additional interactive features you probably won't be able to do this because most free hosting companies don't offer that kind of functionality.

More Problems Free Website Hosters May Encounter

It is quite expensive for these companies to run a free hosting service because the company has to pay for the space and the bandwidth (traffic) to host thousands of web sites. And since they offering these sites for free, some companies find themselves losing money very quickly. 

They try to keep their service free by slapping banners on the member's pages, hoping that people will click and purchase products...but think about it...how many banners have you clicked on lately?

Exactly.

Then some may try to redeem themselves by charging a "small" fee for their service. And of course, if you aren't willing to pay for your site, you can say "bye bye" to all of your hard work. 

If you haven't read my story, here it is again.

Almost all free website providers let you know in their terms and conditions that there are NO GUARANTEES when it comes to keeping your website available.  Which means they reserve the right to remove your site at anytime, regardless of how much work you've put into it.

The Best Way to Build a Website

My recommendation is to register your own domain (dot com) name and build your site from scratch.

The registration process is very easy.  You're able to search the Internet's domain name database until you find a name that hasn't been taken.  Within seconds you can reserve it and it's yours for as long as you want.

Once you have the name you want, you'll need a place to create your web pages.  A web hosting company will provide you with the help you need in this area.  You'll be happy to know that the hosting options recommended here provide top notch support.

Just do yourself a favor and try it. If your business needs help with any of these needs please contact us today. Ventura County Now is a co-op of local businesses: web design, video production, photography, seo, programming, and marketing. Our services are designed to fit any business owners budget. We take the guess work out of the web and are here to build for you.

Give us a call today 855-826-2999.

How ICANN’s Approval of New Domains Will Change the Web

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
September 1st, 2011

The final barrier to a new era for the Internet was lifted Monday morning, when the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted 13 to 3 in favor of introducing new top-level domains (TLDs) to compete with .com, .net, .org and country codes like .ca and .mx.

The vote, held in Singapore before a thousand-strong audience of tech insiders and broadcast live online, was met with a standing ovation. A core deliverable of ICANN since its inception, new TLDs have been the subject of six years of intense debate contributing to ICANN’s bottom-up approach to policy making. As one board member put it, “every imaginable aspect has been examined six ways from Sunday.”

A hundred potential applicants have gone public over those years with their ambitions to acquire new top level domains. These range from cities like .paris and .nyc, to brands like .canon and .hitachi, to verticals like .gay and .ski. Hundreds more have kept their plans secret, particularly due to the uncertainty that previously clouded the topic.

Why the need for these new TLDs? ICANN’s mission includes introducing more consumer choice — a blessing for everyone frustrated with finding that the ideal domain name for their new project is unavailable at the existing extensions.

For trademark owners, acquiring their own TLD creates a completely brand-safe online zone free from phishing, domain spoofing, knock-off sites, counterfeiting, and the gamut of other damaging activities that plague the Internet. Plus, a .brand TLD gives marketers the choice of any domain they want ending with their trademark. No matter what name you come up with for your new product or promotion, with your own .brand, the domain is available.


A More Equitable Internet


On a global scale, the need for new TLDs derives from the drive for an altogether greater good — a more equitable Internet. Regional communities such as the Galicians in Spain, the Venetians in Italy and the Kurds in Iraq have been active in asserting their need for domains that reflect their languages and cultures.

Moreover, recent developments will permit new TLDs to be in characters other than ASCII text (the letters and numbers on English-language keyboards). These new top level domains will usher in a true globalization of the Internet, with URL support in Chinese, Japanese, Cyrillic, Arabic, and dozens of other scripts.

Supporting the view that the public wants new top level domains are the recent successes of “repurposed country codes” like .co (officially the TLD for Colombia, but sold as an abbreviation for “company”) and .me (officially for Montenegro, sold for “unique personal brands”) as well as new SLDs (second level domains) like us.org in the United States and .com.de, about to be launched in Germany.


Opposition


There are of course opponents to new TLDs. Complaints about the cost (an $185,000 application fee plus the cost of producing a 200-odd page application, plus the set-up and running costs) have been responded to by ICANN with the announcement of a $2 million grant program designated for applicants from developing countries. But the main objections actually come from major brands that already spend hundreds of thousands of dollars registering domains “defensively” to prevent others from using them, and which are concerned that a proliferation of new domains will cause these costs to escalate vastly with no added benefits.

ICANN has sought to mitigate this risk by introducing far more stringent protections for trademark owners than those that exist under the current generic TLDs, including a system that allows the rapid takedown of domains that abuse trademarks.


The Process


The timetable announced for the introduction of the new top level domains starts immediately with the preparation of complex application documents. As running a TLD involves taking responsibility for core infrastructure of the Internet, specialist technical providers are required to support each new TLD, and the applications must include comprehensive and fully-funded business plans and detailed policy documents governing the rules for usage of the new domains. The application window is between January and April 2012, and the applications are scrutinized by ICANN and then made public, so that objections from any quarter may be heard before the domain is granted.

The earliest we are likely to see one of these new TLDs in our search engine results is early 2013.

For new TLDs that are contested — for instance where multiple applicants apply for the same or similar domains — assuming all applications are of equal merit, the domain will be auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. As premium dot com domains occasionally sell for millions of dollars, we can expect these bidding wars to reach tens of millions of dollars. Toys ‘R’ Us paid $5.1 million for the domain toys.com in 2009. What does that mean for the value of .toys?

 

By:Ben Crawford

12 Social Media Tools Recommended by the Pros

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 31st, 2011

Are you struggling to make social media work for your business? Sometimes a few well-chosen tools are all you need to get your social media marketing working for you.

In our recent Social Media Success Summit, there were presentations that covered all the key topics you need to make your social media marketing easy. In this article, I’ll share 12 of those tools that were recommended by the pros.

Tools to Refine Your Visibility and Engagement

Here are three tools recommended by Mari Smith during her first presentation on increasing your visibility and engagement on Facebook.

#1: Socialbakers

Get useful stats from SocialbakersSocialbakers offers paid services to monitor your Facebook statistics, but it also provides useful free statistics for Facebook and LinkedIn.

socialbakers

Check out the useful marketing data on Socialbakers.

#2: Kurrently

Find out what’s being shared on social media with Kurrentlya free, easy-to-use, real-time search engine for results from Twitter and Facebook. “Companies can capitalize on just-in-time marketing and social CRM opportunities like never before.”

kurrently

You can search through Facebook or Twitter or both.

#3: Blekko

Select the sites you want to search with Blekko. You can create “slashtags” for groups of URLs, friends, experts and communities and you can “slash in” what you want and “slash out” what you don’t want to search.

blekko

With Blekko, you have more control over your search results thanks to the slashtags you create.

Tools to Measure Specific Social Media Goals

Jay Baer gave a fantastic presentation on measuring social media. He clearly identified the different goals a company could have on social media and recommended tools to use to monitor results for each specific goal. Here are three of those tools.

#4: Social Mention

If social awareness is your main social media goal, then be sure to check outSocial Mentionwhich allows you to set up social media alerts so you can measure awareness for specific keywords.

socialmention

"Social Mention is a social media search and analysis platform that aggregates user-generated content from across the universe into a single stream of information."

#5: Klout

Klout is another tool you can use to measure awareness on Twitter and Facebook.

klout

Check out the different graphs for your score results on Klout.

#6: PostRank Analytics

If customer loyalty is your main social media goal, you can use PostRank Analytics to measure results in improving loyalty.

postrank analytics

PostRank Analytics is a favorite tool of social media marketers.

Tools to Get the Job Done

Frank Eliason gave an overview of how to use social media in business and shared two of the tools he’s found useful.

#7: Blogsearch.Google

Use Blogsearch.Google.com for better search results than Google Alerts. There are many tools to monitor keywords. Don’t forget to use this one!

google blogs

Remember to check out what blogs are writing about you through Blogsearch.Google.com.

#8: Twitterfall

Use Twitterfall when you need to show executives how you can monitor what’s being said about your brand on Twitter.

twitterfall

Twitterfall specializes in real-time tweet searches.

A Useful Tool for Twitter Marketing

Hollis Thomases showed businesses how to use Twitter marketing to grow using this tool:

#9: Friend or Follow

Friend or Follow helps you improve your Twitter marketing. It tells you who’s not following you back on Twitter and who you’re not following back.

friend or follow

Use Friend or Follow to craft a stronger Twitter presence with your audience.

Tools to Make Video Blogging Easy

Steve Garfield always makes video blogging easy for everyone. Here are three tools to create on-the-fly videos to enhance your social media content.

#10: Wetoku

Sign up for Wetoku to make the popular side-by-side video interviews. All you need to do is sign in and send an invite code by email to the person you want to interview.

wetoku

Wetoku is an easy tool to use for interview videos.

#11: Socialcam

If you have an iPhone or an Android phone, be sure to check out Socialcam. Steve says this is the easiest way to share videos with your social networks.

socialcam

Socialcam combines video sharing with social communities.

#12: Stupeflix

Use Stupeflix to integrate after-effects and photos to your videos. If you want to do editing without using editing software, this tool is for you.

stupeflix

Stupeflix is an easy way to make your videos more appealing.

Find the Tools You Need

One of my takeaways from the summit was that you don’t need to use all of the tools available. Businesses have different cultures, different goals and are at different stages in integrating social media into their marketing mix. These social media pros found the tools that worked best for them.

Do you think any of the tools above can make your social media marketing easier to execute? Please let us know in the comments below if you’re going to try any of them.

 

By: Cindy King

Flash Websites - Pros and Cons

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 13th, 2011

Flash is a very intriguing technology to add interactivity and flashy graphics to a website. Learning to write good animations and forms in Flash can be difficult and time-consuming, so developers who know Flash are motivated to use it in every situation. But as with all technology, Flash has some drawbacks for many readers and putting up a site in Flash can be a detriment to the site rather than a draw.

If you are planning on putting up a Flash website, you should know both the positive aspects of Flash as well as the drawbacks. This, combined with your knowledge of your customers, should help you to decide if creating a site in Flash or using Flash for certain elements of your site is a good idea.Using Flash can be risky too, as some customers are immediately put off by a Flash website and while search engines it can be very difficult to get an all-Flash website to rank high in search engines.

 

Reasons to Use Flash
  • Cross-platform compatibility
    Flash is well-supported on the Web browsers out there, and if you build a site or application in Flash, you know that it will be viewed correctly by anyone who has the Flash plugin. It is operating system and browser independent.
  • Animations
    Flash was originally used primarily as an animation tool, and that is what it is best suited for. It is easy to create animations in Flash, and then easy to view them.
  • Games
    Games can be fun, and Flash games don't have the browser support issues of Ajax the bandwidth limitations of server-side games written in CGI.
  • Vector graphics
    Vector graphics can look smoother and more attractive and Flash allows developers to create applications with smooth lines requiring that the customer have a vector-graphic tool installed on their hard drive.
  • Image replacement for special fonts
    Web designers who need a special font family in their Web designs can use an image replacementtechnique called sIFR (or Scalable Inman Flash Replacement) which replaces text in the design with Flash to get specific fonts.
  • Flash applications can perform script actions, collect data, and do most of the same things that server-side scripts can do.
Drawbacks to Using Flash
  • Bandwidth and Speed Limitations
    Unless the designer works very hard to optimize Flash most Flash applications and websites can be very large and slow to download. In many situations, the entire Flash site must be downloaded before it can be used. And while it is possible to add in graphical countdowns and other features to make the time pass more quickly, many people still won't wait.
  • Not Viewable on many Smart Phones
  • Usability is impaired
    One of the most important buttons on a Web browser is the back button. It is used all the time by most people browsing the Web. But a Flash site typically removes that functionality. When a customer hits the back button after delving deeply into a Flash site, s/he is taken back to the website they were on before they visited your site. Then if they return to your Flash site, they have to renavigate to where they were. Some people might be willing to do their work twice, but most won't.
  • Accessibility is also impaired
    Because most Flash sites are based on images, and don't generally have a lot of alternative text, they can be very difficult or impossible for a screen reader to read.
  • Search engines can't read them either
    Search engine spiders are a lot like screen readers, they can't parse images. Plus, many of them have trouble following links that are not standard HTML links - and most links in Flash are not in HTML - they are in Flash. Because of this, many Flash developers have a very difficult time getting their Flash sites to rank high in search engines. In fact, most Flash sites that do rank well, do so because they have two versions of the site - one Flash and one HTML. And then they have to maintain two copies of the same website.
  • Flash requires a plug-in
    While a large proportion of Web browsers have the plug-in pre-installed, the fact is that Flash does require a plug-in which some people and companies don't allow.
  • Some people just don't like Flash pages
    Similar to sound and animated graphics, Flash has developed a reputation among some customers as being more of an annoyance than a benefit to a Web page. This is especially true when the Flash serves no purpose other than to decorate a page - such as an animated banner or splash page. While these customers may be less common than those who don't care, they are often more vocal and more likely to sway opinion away from your site if you use Flash gratuitously.
Resolution

Should You Use Flash?

Only the designer and site owner can make that decision. Flash is a wonderful tool for adding games and animation to your Web site, and if those types of features are important, then you should use Flash.

Use Flash Where It's Effective

There are very few sites that benefit from using only Flash. The drawbacks to SEO, accessibility, and customer satisfaction make it impossible for me to recommend using Flash for your entire site. In fact, even Google recommends only using Flash in select situations if at all.

Never Use Flash for Navigation

It can be very tempting to create Flash navigation because you can add exciting transitions, rollovers, and vector graphics using Flash. But the navigation is the most important part of your Web page. If your customers can't use your navigation for any reason, they will simply leave - bandwidth and accessibility issues can both contribute to a Flash navigation structure being unusable. 

If your business needs help with with web design please contact us today. Ventura County Now is a co-op of local businesses: web design, video production, photography, seo, programming, and marketing. Our services are designed to fit any business owners budget. We take the guess work out of the web and are here to build for you.

Give us a call today 855-826-2999.

 

Social Networking Accounts for 1 of Every 6 minutes spent online

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 8th, 2011

Social networking use has doubled since 2007, and it’s all thanks to Facebook, Twitter and an array of other social companies reaching record traffic highs.

comScore’s latest numbers are out, and they paint a familiar story: social networking is on the rise. It’s the rate of growth that’s surprising, though.

According to the web analytics firm, the average online user in the U.S. now spends nearly 16% of his or her time on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr or Twitter. That’s up from just 8% in July 2007. In the last year alone, social networking use has increased by approximately 25%.

The biggest reason for the increase in social networking is Facebook and its 700+ million users. In August 2005, Facebook was tiny compared to MySpace, its primary competitor. Facebook attracted less than 10 million monthly U.S. visitors, compared to MySpace’s 20+ million.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t until May 2009 when Facebook finally caught up with its competitor, and ever since then Facebook has been on the rise, while MySpace has experienced a dramatic fall from grace. In May 2011, Facebook garnered 157.2 million visitors, more than four times the size of Myspace (34.9 million visitors). Facebook now reaches 73% of the U.S. Internet population each month, while MySpace has lost nearly 50% of its audience in the last year alone.

It’s not just Facebook that’s doing well, though: LinkedIn, Tumblr and Twitter all hit record highs in May, 2011. LinkedIn now attracts 33.4 million U.S. visitors, more than Twitter’s 27 million and Tumblr’s 10.7 million. Tumblr is the fastest-growing of the three companies though, boasting 166% growth in the last year. LinkedIn’s U.S. audience rose by a strong 58% in the last twelve months.

The spotlight is shining bright on these companies, thanks to a string of successful IPOs. LinkedIn shares soared during its public offering, while Pandora upped its share price twice due to heightened demand. The light is brightest for Facebook though, which could be one of the largest IPOs in history. comScore’s data contradicts recent reports that Facebook’s growth is slowing down.

Are you surprised by comScore’s numbers? Do you think social network’s growth is sustainable? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

by: Ben Parr

 

9 Things You Need to Know About ICANN’s New Top Level Domains

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 6th, 2011

On Monday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), approved the creation of generic top-level domains(TLDs) for brands and organizations.

Historically, only 22 general use-approved TLDs, which include .com, .org, .net and a host of others, have existed across the web. A number of country code top-level domains (like .me and .ly) also exist and throughout the years, many individuals not from those countries have used those domains to give their domain or brand a more memorable (or in some cases, shorter) URL.

The promise of more generic TLDs is immense because it could conceivably open up new domain extensions and opportunities for a wider variety of brands, organizations and services.

 

SEE ALSO: How Big Is the Web & How Fast Is It Growing?

 

Still, the entire TLD process is complicated and difficult to understand. We’ve been sucked down the rabbit hole of ICANN and the gTLD application process in the past, and it isn’t something we recommend for the faint of heart.

We read (or at least skimmed) the 352-page draft New gTLD Applicant Guidebook [PDF] to get to the bottom of what the gTLD process is, how much it costs, and ultimately, why regular users should care.


1. How Many New TLDs Will Be Issued?


ICANN has said between 300 and 1,000 new gTLDs could be created per year under the new program.

Still, this number assumes ICANN can process and deal with that many applications in a timely matter. Thousands of applications could take years to evaluate and process.

ICANN says it is limiting the first batch to 500 applications and subsequent batches — or rounds — will be limited to 400 applications.


2. What Is the Application Period?


Applications will be accepted for new TLDs between January 12, 2012 and April 12, 2012. This will be for the first round — or batch. Subsequent application periods will become available in the future.


3. How Much Will Registration Cost?


The evaluation fee from prospective applicants is $185,000. According to the gTLD Applicant Guidebook, a $5,000 deposit is required “at the time the user requests an application slot within TAS, and a payment of the remaining $180,000 submitted with the full application.”

This is just to start the evaluation process. Additional fees may be required during the course of the application review process, and this fee doesn’t include additional infrastructure fees that a gTLD may generate.


4. How Long Will the Evaluation Process Take?


ICANN estimates that the evaluation process could be as short as nine months or as long as twenty months, depending on the application, intended usage and other issues.

ICANN expects the first new gTLDs to appear within the year, but it’s likely going to be 2013 before end users see the new domains in action.


5. What Happens if Two Entities Apply for the Same gTLD?


It depends on the timeline. If one of the users has already completed process before another party has applied, the TLD will be delegated on a first-come, first-serve basis.

If neither applicant has completed the process, ICANN has a more detailed resolution process in place. The applicants will be given points in four different categories. The applicant that amasses the most points, based on this set of criteria, will win the domain. In the even of a tie in points, an auction will take place and the TLD will go to the highest bidder.

Additionally, community-based applications (that is, applications from an organization or entity and not a specific brand or company) will have the opportunity to have a priority evaluation in this process.

ICANN will notify applicants who are part of a contention set. Applicants can decide to try to reach their own resolution together (for instance, a compromise might be able to be reached for a more generic TLD like “soda” or “pizza”).


6. What About Trademarks?


This is going to be a very, very tricky situation for ICANN to mitigate. Although users do not need to own a Trademark to apply for a new TLD, the evaluation review will take any existing trademarks (from all over the world) into account when looking at the application.

Users cannot “reserve” a TLD of a trademarked name, they must go through the same process as everyone else. In addition to checking for trademarked names for a TLD, ICANN will also look at similar names that may be trademarked or might be confusing.

Additionally, trademark owners or other interested parties can file an objection during the evaluation process.


7. How Much Does Filing an Objection Cost?


The Applicant Guidebook is still just a draft, so we don’t have the final figures; but it will cost the thousands of dollars to file an objection — not including any additional mediation or court costs.

One of the reasons that ICANN is charging so much for its evaluation fees is that it is doing lots of due diligence to try to settle the feasibility of a TLD before granting it to an organization. Moreover, ICANN wants to prevent domain squatters from grabbing TLDs.


8. If I Get a New TLD, Do I Have to Let My Competitors Use It?


Once a new TLD is granted, the owner essentially becomes a registrar. That means that if he or she wants to let anyone willing to pay a registration fee get their own domain on that TLD, they can. Alternatively, the owner could limit the use of the domain to certain entities or prevent people without certain qualifications from gaining access to the TLD.


9. Will This Have Any Real Impact on My Life as a Web User or a Brand?


Not in the immediate future. However, it’s important to remember that it took years for the current TLD structure to become a viable and affordable strategy for individuals and non-Fortune 100 companies.

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t common for brands, small businesses or individuals to have their own domains. Today, a staggering number of registrars exist. It took a long time for the TLD market as we know it today to really start to open up.

I bought my first domain name in 1999, I think I paid $45 for registration that first year. Prior to 1998 or so, domain registration was a multi-hundred or multi-thousand dollar investment. I now pay $8 or $9 for a .com or .net domain, and that includes private registration.

It will take time for the process and oversight aspect of the new gTLD policies to be worked out and automated. However, we expect that community-driven TLDs for things like .music, .sports and .film become more available in the future.

Yes, actually owning a customized TLD, like .google or .apple or .facebook might be something that only large corporations or government entities can afford to do, but with time, we expect that even that process will start to change, just as they did in the .com and .net space.

by: Christina Warren

Why Gift Cards Will Lead the Transition From Plastic to Digital

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 1st, 2011

Over the past several years, gift cards have become the most popular kind of gift. They are the most widely-used addressable person-to-person payment method, totaling $91 billion in sales during the 2010 holiday shopping season. We love them because of their convenience. And we hate them because they don’t truly feel personal.

The mobile digital device will help to wipe away this awkward paradox. The days of plastic-based payment and gift cards are numbered. The ability to make a payment or send a gift from any device, anytime, anywhere, in any amount, dramatically shifts the convenience paradigm. And the gift card’s shift from plastic to digital may pave the way for other forms of digital payment.

Here, we’ll take a look at the three major factors driving this shift.


1. Embracing Digital Gifting


The first is the exponential growth of businesses that are embracing digital gifting. They are doing so to extend their revenue streams and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. RSR Research reported in late 2010 that half of the top 100 Internet retailers now offer digital gift cards. In January, Starbucks estimated that digital gift cards would represent as much as 20% of its gift card business in the near future.

But there are hundreds of others shifting away from plastic as well — from global brand names to smaller regional and local retailers. According to Urban Wallace Associates, more than 6 million U.S. shoppers bought digital gift cards within the past 6 months — a 150% increase since last measured three years ago.


2. Virtual Goods


The second key trend is increased purchasing and gifting of “virtual goods.” This market — already nearly $2 billion in the U.S., according to Inside Network Research — has millions of fans who love to buy and give gifts like virtual cakes, clothing, badges and FarmVille goods.

The next logical extension is for consumers to give digital gift cards that can actually be used to buy real stuff. Facebook already sells its credits as gift cards in retail stores. As the popularity of Zynga, Facebook and digital gift card currencies grow, they may well become major payment modes in both the virtual and physical worlds.


3. Personalization


The third major trend is personalization. The digital age not only enables it but stimulates it. Plastic is a form factor that knows nothing about you, nor can it easily express your personal gifting sentiments. Digital gifting is radically different. The Home Depot eGifting program, for example, enables consumers to upload not only photos but can now also capture live video on its digital gift cards.

Mobile apps are proliferating to support creative and new forms of retail promotion and value. Digital forms of stored value offer new experiences and opportunities never before possible with plastic. Three examples illustrate how versatile and pervasive the post-plastic era is becoming. These include:

  • Starbucks Foursquare checkin: To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Starbucks gave the first 600 customers to “check in” an instantly redeemable mobile gift card.
  • IntoNow: This social TV companion app partnered with Pepsi to give users instant digital gift cards for watching certain TV ads.
  • Chase GiftShelf: Chase’s iPhone app lets you redeem credit card points on the go for digital gift cards at Gap, Chili’s, Papa John’s, The Container Store and a dozen other retailers.

Conclusion


These developments provide only a glimpse of what is possible in the post-plastic card era. Digital gifting and payments are creating new possibilities of “instancy.” If you forgot to bring your nephew a present, you can order him a digital gift card for his birthday as you’re walking toward his house. Or you can send your niece one via Facebook and personalize it with a photo or short video telling her how proud you are of her.

It is no longer a question of “if” but rather of “how fast.” Market interest is clearly there. Starbucks’ new mobile card, for example, has already generated more than 3 million transactions, proving that mobile payments using digitally stored value can work.

Skeptics remain, but they’re of the same mind as those who said people would never prefer credit cards over cash. People, however, love convenience and immediacy. In 1975, one of the major credit card companies made a name for itself with the tagline “Don’t leave home without it.” Today, you will never have to leave home without a means of paying digitally. Those in the market who support that transition will be the winners.

3 Important E-Commerce Principles for Small Business

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
July 31st, 2011

If your business needs help with any of these needs please contact us today. Ventura County Now is a co-op of local businesses: web design, video production, photography, seo, programming, and marketing. Our services are designed to fit any business owners budget. We take the guess work out of the web and are here to build for you.

Give us a call today 855-826-2999.

It’s no secret that the internet can enable small business to compete on an equal playing field with larger online competitors; however, due to budget differences between the two the approach might be a bit different.

The current economy has made some small business owners shy away from internet marketing thinking it “simply costs too much to operate online.” This misconception is one that has caused many ecommerce businesses to close their doors during the past year or so.

The fact is that operating an ecommerce business online can actually be more profitable than operating the same retail business offline — but you must make sure you adhere to a few fundamental principles to make it work.

  1. Create ICE (Investment, Credibility, Exposure): Invest in your website design ensuring it speaks to your customers in their language and with a professional image. Talk about the benefits your products have for them rather than about yourself. Site design and functionality is important as it helps build credibility. Gain exposure for your products using a combination of online marketing channels such as SEO, Paid Search (PPC), and Social Media (great viral effect). The combination of marketing channels ensures that if one channel’s effectiveness temporarily lags the rest can help pick up the slack.
  2. Don’t Quit: Whatever you do, don’t stop marketing or promotions — doing this is a sure way to lose market share and sales. It may be tempting especially during tough economic times such as these, but refrain from doing it. Some of the most successful companies online actually increase their marketing spend during economic downturns. A previous article I wrote titled Ecommerce Survival in a Tough Economy – 6 Tips goes into that a bit more. If you think you do not have the funds to invest in marketing you need to consider enlisting the help of an expert who can ensure your marketing dollars provide you a proper rate of return and/or look carefully at your business model and product you are offering. Marketing should be an asset to a company not a liability. Proper marketing almost always drives sales.
  3. Instill Trust: I’ve asked this question before; “What is the one word that makes people buy?” The answer is trust. If you want to compete with the big guys then you need to ensure your approach always builds customer trust. Things like site design, use and appearance of security seals, and customer points of assurance go a long way toward building trust. If you can’t build trust you won’t build sales. It doesn’t matter whether a product or service is priced lower than the competition, if potential customers are uncertain about the quality of their purchase — or the companies behind them — they simply won’t buy.

Why Ecommerce Is So Important To Embrace?

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
July 25th, 2011

The Internet is an unlimited space for the growth of any ecommerce industry and many possibilities and opportunities are constantly becoming available for anyone to create their own online business. This new media is an open area for communication and the exchanging of experiences and wide range of opportunities across the globe. If you want to grow and expand your business, you will need to embrace this new opportunity and set up an interactive business in the cyber community.

Any Ecommerce website expansion is a significant obligation and commitment for any online trade. The main goal of any ecommerce trade is to expand business by an ever growing website presence. It is a platform that requires more and more traffic in order to succeed. The users and visitors are potential clients, need to be persuaded to come and surf and then buy your products or services, you have to identify and feel their wishes and requirements. This requires you to think like a buyer. We must appreciate that everyone will have their own shopping experience and method, however it is possible to create a general flow whereby you can direct a client, without him or her actually knowing they are being ed. Always remember that clients can be quite capricious, so try and think out of the box as well as catering for the ordinary client.

You should continue this list of questions and ask yourself what is needed, always remember you must start with a good plan. If all features and details are planned and included into your draft, then you will have far less and unexpected chances for failure.

The internet community now boasts millions of users all are potential purchasers, all of them have an internet connection and are surfing the net 24/7. Thus, think how wide your business can be or could be, don't think too rural. Think how much you could expand your business window from a simple website. Websites are designed popularize products and services around the world. If you try to embrace as many people as you can, you will gain more flow and potential sales profits, traffic and high numbers are a pre cursor to converting traffic into sales.

Also you must consider other competitors on the network who may have the same goals as you. Do you run away from this point? Do not think that competitors will only destroy your clientele and your faith in overall victory, this is absolutely wrong!Direct competition only makes you stronger and makes you to think day and night how to develop your business. You can and must use this power of competitive network. If you think laterally your network with have useful contacts and creating links you establish a good linkage and network. It will work for your website and boast your overall awareness far more than that of your competitors` websites. Improvise and develop your website from various points of view. If you need some  additional support and advice, then you are welcome to contact ecommerce web design Birmingham company. They will provide you with a range of services in all web building spheres, making sure that you will have a full control of your own website.

If your business needs help with any of these needs please contact us today. Ventura County Now is a co-op of local businesses: web design, video production, photography, seo, programming, and marketing. Our services are designed to fit any business owners budget. We take the guess work out of the web and are here to build for you.

Give us a call today 855-826-2999.

Static vs Dynamic Websites

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
June 27th, 2011

What is a static website? What is a dynamic website? 
What kind of website do I need?

A static website is one that seldom or never changes.  This means that once the site is designed and uploaded to a location on the Internet it is considered complete and not updated very often (other than annual or semi-annual maintenance). A viewer sees the exact same thing every time they go to the website.

While this may sound boring, static websites can be made more interesting through the use of slide shows, email forms, rollover buttons and programming such as Javascripts. Think of a static website as an online brochure.

A dynamic website's content is regenerated every time a user visits or reloads the site. The owner, viewer or automated programming can change the content constantly. This is done through the use of one or several databases located on the website hosting server.

Database driven websites are used for interactive websites such as online sales, blogs/message boards and sites that contain large amounts of information.  The data (or content) of a webpage is stored in the database and is retrieved when the viewer clicks on a specially programmed button or link.

An example of dynamic information is shown below. While this example is rather simple, dynamic sites can be very sophisticated and provide viewers with tremendous amounts of information with just a few mouse clicks.

There are many static websites on the Internet, you won’t be able to tell immediately if it is static, but the chances are, if the site looks basic and is for a smaller company, and simply delivers information without any bells and whistles, it could be a static website. Static websites can only really be updated by someone with a knowledge of website development. Static websites are the cheapest to develop and host, and many smaller companies still use these to get a web presence.

Advantages of static websites

  • Quick to develop
  • Cheap to develop
  • Cheap to host

Disadvantages of static websites

  • Requires web development expertise to update site
  • Site not as useful for the user
  • Content can get stagnant

Dynamic sites on the other hand can be more expensive to develop initially, but the advantages are numerous. At a basic level, a dynamic website can give the website owner the ability to simply update and add new content to the site. For example, news and events could be posted to the site through a simple browser interface. Dynamic features of a site are only limited by imagination. Some examples of dynamic website features could be: content management system, e-commerce system, bulletin / discussion boards, intranet or extranet facilities, ability for clients or users to upload documents, ability for administrators or users to create content or add information to a site (dynamic publishing).

Advantages of dynamic websites

  • Much more functional website
  • Much easier to update
  • New content brings people back to the site and helps in the search engines
  • Can work as a system to allow staff or users to collaborate

Disadvantages of dynamic websites

  • Slower / more expensive to develop
  • Hosting costs a little more

Summary

Many sites from the last decade are static, but more and more people are realising the advantages of having a dynamic website. Dynamic websites can make the most of your site and either use it as a tool or create a professional, interesting experience for your visitors.

This article aimed to tackle some of the questions faced by website owners. 

If your business needs help with any of these needs please contact us today. Ventura County Now is a co-op of local businesses: web design, video production, photography, seo, programming, and marketing. Our services are designed to fit any business owners budget. We take the guess work out of the web and are here to build for you.

Give us a call today 855-826-2999.

Why E-Commerce is Important For Small Business

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
June 20th, 2011

For the sake of the economy and the individuals involved, huge numbers of new small businesses are forming in hopes of making a positive impact to the community. In order to make that positive impact, you need to make sure that your small business is up-to-date and following the latest trends. When it comes to small businesses, current trends refer directly to e-commerce. Here are four major reasons why implementing e-commerce should be one of the top priorities in building any small business.

Internet is so Mainstream these Days

Just about every household in the US has at least a computer, laptop, or mobile device that can access the Internet and people worldwide are getting into it as well. With the introduction to social networking sites and online shopping, the Internet became a part of their daily lives conveniently getting work done.

Most Modern Businesses are Doing It

As a result of all the popularity the Internet has cultivated, it is a no-brainer for existing small businesses to jump on the electronic bandwagon and start doing transactions online. Most modern businesses do it primarily for convenience and also for security.

You need to get into it as well, not only because they are doing it, but also to stay competitive with any other small businesses offering similar products and services. E-commerce competition involves the innovative use of website design and creative development to give customers and visitors a seamless experience. It also adds brand awareness exposing your site to people that most frequently go online.

Reduces Workload

Ever since computers were introduced, processing of data has become faster and more accurate than ever before. Now E-commerce helps connect businesses and consumers closer than ever before. A lot of the tedious tasks such as calling for transactions and utilising e-mail are reduced here because the e-commerce systems handle the processing for you. The only work that is required is actually getting the e-commerce site up. This process is only done once so there is a lot of relief after the e-commerce site is finished. After that, it is all about getting the right people to use the system which should be easy and maintaining it to ensure the entire business is functional.

Necessary Step in Making the Small Business Grow Further

Once you already have an e-commerce site, the only direction you can go from here is upward. You will find more transactions to be done because of the ease in getting things done online and that very success can motivate you or any webmaster to improve the e-commerce experience and fill in any weaknesses discovered. Small businesses can grow into larger businesses in the same way as e-commerce sites becoming much larger and more feature rich.

E-commerce sites are an absolute necessity for any small business no matter what is being dealt. After efforts in marketing the e-commerce site, profits are sure to be made and further development can be planned from there. As long as there is maintenance involved, the e-commerce site should help the small business in every possible way.

If your business needs help with any of these needs please contact us today. Ventura County Now is a co-op of local businesses: web design, video production, photography, seo, programming, and marketing. Our services are designed to fit any business owners budget. We take the guess work out of the web and are here to build for you.

Give us a call today 855-826-2999.

Convert Boring Old Websites to one's that are Exciting and New

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
June 13th, 2011

Just about every web user has experienced landing on a website that just looks old.  Normally a quick scroll to the bottom of the page confirms the site copyright is from 2007 or worse.  To today’s web surfer, this two to three year old site may as well be a hundred years old.

If you were having guests for dinner, would you serve them two year-old leftovers.  Obviously not.  Why then are so many websites serving up two year-old content?  Two of the biggest reasons are:  First, it used to be enough just to have a website and a static site was fine.  Second, adding content was difficult and could be expensive.

Content Management Systems to the Rescue
Because of the rapid increase in social media applications such as blogging and sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Myspace, website visitors expect something more than three year old content.  They expect to see fresh relevant content, to be able to create content and form communities.

Six Ways to improve your Website

  1. Add a blog.  Blogs are one of the easiest ways to generate new, relevant content and establish the website owners expertise.  Furthermore, comments provide interactivity.
  2. Convert the current static design into a Content Management System (CMS).  Converting to a CMS will make adding new content as easy as writing an email.
  3. Web users today want to build communities and collaborate with other users.
  4. Add Twitter and Facebook feeds. Social media is here to stay and is a great business tool. As was the case with websites several years ago, customers are beginning to expect that your web presence extend beyond your website. Twitter and Facebook are great ways to interact with your current and future customers.
  5. Add a shopping cart. If you sell products that could be ordered online, but don’t offer this service, expect to see reduced revenue. Add a shopping cart and allow your customers to buy your products at exactly when they want too.
  6. Add relevant content feeds from other sources. The web is now a huge content generating machine. So you don’t have to create all the content. Find reputable experts in your industry and feature their blog postings on your site.

If your business needs help with any of these needs please contact us today. Ventura County Now is a co-op of local businesses: web design, video production, photography, seo, programming, and marketing. Our services are designed to fit any business owners budget. We take the guess work out of the web and are here to build for you.

Give us a call today 855-826-2999.

Don't Overlook Customer Service Basics

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 16th, 2011

The liberal return policies and fast shipping that define Internet marketplaces have made customer service offered by many retailers better than ever, whether they operate brick-and-mortar storefronts or online sites, says Micah Solomon, co-author of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit. The problem, he argues, is that most individuals don't feel better about the service they receive—because of rising expectations, and because many smaller businesses don't do a good job keeping up with their larger counterparts. Solomon's tips for small business owners seeking to improve customer service:

1. Emphasize hellos and goodbyes. Ever wonder why hotels and resorts pay so much attention to the customer entrance experience? Solomon says it's because psychological studies show that people retain the strongest impressions of first and last encounters. "The ones in the middle are kind of a blur," he says.

Pay attention to where your first interaction with customers actually starts: It may be in your parking lot, on your website, or outside your front door. Wherever it is, make sure you "shine the doorknobs," Solomon says. "There's a superstore near me where people have to walk past all this trash and garbage to get inside. It looks like the store owners never stepped outside their front doors."

Avoid similar circumstances by being your own customer for a day. Park where your customers park, walk past what they see coming into your store. Search for your website and review all the links that turn up. "If Google Maps has your hours or phone number wrong, people will be mad at you before they ever get to your place," Solomon says. Make sure every page of your website includes a welcome message that orients customers to your home page and contact information.

2. Train greeters. Have a friendly employee stationed near your door who has a great smile and is not overly aggressive. "You want someone who can figure out what the customer needs but doesn't give off the feeling they're checking for shoplifters," Solomon says. "I was in a music store recently where I felt like a criminal. I made a $10 purchase and then on the way out they demanded to see my receipt. If your greeter is doing double-duty, at least have them be subtle about it."

3. Speed order fulfillment. The length of time customers expect to wait for orders has changed dramatically. "It's not even that you and I expect it faster than our parents did; we expect it faster than we did last year," Solomon says.

If you're a small retailer, think hard about the inventory you stock and what's available through your website. "Customers will not special order from your store anymore. They'll go online and buy it at your competitor, unless it's something very, very special they can't find elsewhere," Solomon says.

4. Hire selectively. It's nearly impossible to teach employees to have a genuine smile or a natural affinity for people. That's why you must hire optimistic, warm, and conscientious people, Solomon says. This is particularly true for those who will interact with customers in person, on the telephone, or online.

Once you have the right people on staff, give them the autonomy to make things right for your customers, no matter what the circumstances.

5. Get the language right. Even a nice person can unwittingly use words that make customers uncomfortable or insult them. "An employee may want to tell a customer, 'You owe $100.' But it's better to say, 'Our records seem to show you have a $100 balance,'" says Solomon. "That gives everyone a chance to save face,."

Don't be afraid to write some simple scripts for your employees—and make sure you model the language you want them to use. For instance, "May I take your plate?" is better wording for a waiter than "Are you still working on that?" A clerk should say, "You're welcome" or "my pleasure" rather than, "no problem," Solomon explains.

6. Develop a system to make each customer feel that employees care. An area where small businesses can shine is in relationships. Encourage employees to get to know regular customers and greet them personally, if possible. "The problem is," he says, "when a company gets even a couple branches bigger, [it loses] that personal touch."

Employ technology to assist you and your employees in remembering details about your customers, their preferences, and their typical purchases. "When a customer gets that feeling that he is remembered when he comes back, that's the best," says Solomon.

 

By: Karen Klein

5 Fatal Mistakes That Hold Back Start-up Business Owners

by Ventura County Now

May 9th, 2011

The definition of a sale is when preparation and opportunity meet on the same day. In business, it helps to understand that customers are working to minimize risk when they enter into contracts with small businesses.  Some small business owners often loose opportunities because of bad habits and not recognizing that certain things must be in place before they start marketing their products and services.  These issues speak directly to trust and credibility for a business owner.

Here are the top five mistakes that hold back start-up entrepreneurs:

1) Not Appreciating Social Intelligence

This is the mistake that small business owners make the most.  Having proper social skills and being in tune with your surroundings will take you a long way in business.

Here are some examples of poor social intelligence:

  • Do you have a tendency to talk too much at networking events, or worse, share too much personal information? No one except the banquet manager cares about how hard it was to find a parking space. Keep your networking chat smart.
  • Are you dressed like someone that has an executive presence? Or, like you should be serving the meal at the event. Everyone should have signature colors and at least three killer outfits. Men, the tie color and the shoes are very important.
  • Do you have a strong elevator pitch or do people need to ask you questions to help you define what you do? Great elevator pitches hit on three key things: explain the type of business, explain the target customer and close with a question.
  • Do you appropriately follow-up new leads and contacts or are you a stalker?  Be smart with follow-up. You can send an email, personal note and make a phone call within three months of meeting a contact unless instructed otherwise. Calling every week will not bring opportunity to your business.

2) Have a Professional Business Website

It’s surprising to me how many business owners still do not have a website.  I can’t remember the last time I used a paper directory or phone book to find a vendor. Many people will perform an internet search before they ever call you, so if your customers can’t find you online, you are missing out on opportunities. Nowadays, pulling together a business website is much easier.  Have an idea of what you want, and if you plan on incorporating a blog I strongly suggest you start writing blog posts at least three months prior to the launch of your website, so that you do not get backed-up trying to develop content once your business starts rolling.

 

3) Make Sure Your Email Address is Branded With Your Company Name and That the Email Address Works

I love my gmail account too, but that’s not the one I use for customer contact. Your emails should come from a branded account that promotes your business.

4) Not Investing in Your Brand

Yes, all of you out there using business cards that you can get for free online are really hurting your business brand.  Invest in a professional logo and a two color business card. Do not hand out business cards that have it printed on the back that they were free.  That tells a prospective customer that you are not serious about your business.

5) Have a Real Phone Number for Your Business

Your small business should have a dedicated phone line with voicemail.  Do not use your cell phone as your main business line.  You’ll never to do business with a major corporation with that as your brand image.  Also, please do not use those answering machines that come with the phone. No matter what you do, the message will never sound professional.

 

By Melinda Emerson