Apr 212015
 

I offer a ton of tips and advice on how to protect your small business from a data security issue. But let’s face it, no matter how well we protect our data, the hackers are always going to be ahead of us. So there is always the potential of having a data security issue, and one of the most common problems small businesses face is website hacking.

If you are running a content management system like WordPress or if you have an e-commerce shopping cart, it is crucial that you keep it updated with the latest security updates, back it up regularly, and take steps to protect it such as utilizing a firewall, malware/virus detector, etc. Most hosting companies will offer these products for a small monthly fee, you can buy them yourself, and/or WordPress has many security plugin offerings for free.

Of course we all get busy, especially in a small business, and sometimes we just let things slip. So what do you do in the event your website is hacked?

I recently ran a test with WordPress, and based on my experience, it should take you 24 – 48 hours to get your website clean and up and running again – if you have a cooperative hosting company. Here are the steps you should take.

Step 1 – How do you know you’ve been hacked?
You need a way to be notified your website has been hacked. Many hosting companies will notify you, but you are on their timeline. So to ensure you are covered, you should also make sure your website is setup with a Webmaster Tools program like Google. Google will notify you when your website is hacked, and they do it fairly quickly. In fact they will even mark in the search engine results that your website may have been hacked so you want to fix the issue asap.

Step 2 – Contact your hosting company
Don’t panic! If your hosting company didn’t notify you, then you need to notify them as quickly as possible. If you are setup with a Webmaster Tools program, you should have some information on the type of hack, a list of the website pages affected, and when it occurred. Most hacks are going to be one or a combination of all the following types: install of virus/malware on your website, redirect links to spam websites, and/or an attempt to access/steal information.

Step 3 – Remove it
In most cases if you didn’t already have some type of protective service installed on your website, your hosting company can either install one and clean it for you or they can provide you with a list of the affected files for you to manually delete via FTP. Once you think everything has been removed, either run the scan or have your hosting company run another scan to verify.

One thing to consider – Ideally you would have had a backup, and you might just be tempted to delete everything from the beginning and start all over. This can be a lot of work so I wouldn’t necessarily just jump to taking this step. Let’s say you had 100 files affected on your website. In reality with an FTP program, it will only take you about an hour to delete those files, and hopefully the damage will be minimal. In my test with WordPress, I had 78 infected files. Once I deleted those files, I only needed to reload my WordPress theme, and I was back the way I started. Either way though make sure you have a backup in the first place, and back it up on a regular basis.

Step 4 – Fix it
Once you remove all of the hack instances, you’ll then need to go about fixing the issues that allowed the hack in the first place. The first thing you want to do is upgrade since this was the most likely issue allowing the hacker to access your website. Using WordPress again as example, you’ll need to update the WordPress version, all plugins, and the theme. Once you’ve upgraded everything, if you didn’t have any type of website firewall/virus/malware scanner, then get one. It’ll go a long way towards preventing you from ever having to endure this headache again.

And that’s it. Remember don’t panic. It may look daunting at first, but in reality if you have a good hosting company and you are backed up, you can actually fix a website hacking issue fairly quickly.

Mar 092012
 

Promoting your social media networking via your website is an important step in marketing your small business.  There are several benefits to doing this.

  • Allows your customers to more easily interact with you
  • Makes it easier for your customers to promote you through their social networks
  • Helps from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint – fresh content, link promotion via social networks, etc.

Here are some tips on how to do it.

1.  Use social media buttons to link to your main social network websites.  Place the images in the top or bottom navigation bar.  See number 1 in the image below.

2.  Do you have a blog?  If so when you create new blog posts, link them from your home page (see number 2 in the image below).  It is a good way to show the search engines, in addition to your customers, that you are constantly creating new and valuable content.

Website Social Network Promotion

3.  If you have a blog, also make sure you provide social share buttons to allow your readers to share your content with their social networks.

Blog Social Recommend Buttons

4.  Do you post articles on your website?  Do you have an e-commerce store?  Do you have a newsletter?  Use social share buttons to allow your website users to recommend or share your content.  AddThis offers and easy to customize social share toolbar. 

Social Share Buttons

Follow these easy steps, and you will effectively promote your social networks via your small business website.  Just keep it simple and don’t overdo it.

Jun 292011
 

In a previous blog post, I showed you how to develop a keyword strategy for your search engine optimization (SEO) and website design campaigns.  In today’s post I am going to dive a little deeper into keyword analysis and show you how to develop the right keyword phrases for your small business website.  In a nutshell you want to pick the keywords people are searching for online when they are researching the products and services you offer.

Let’s take a look at an example as it applies to my business.  I offer online marketing services to small business in Georgia.  By performing a quick keyword analysis comparison between “online marketing Georgia” and internet marketing Georgia,” I will see that “internet marketing Georgia,” is searched much more often than “online marketing Georgia.”  And when I review the additional keyword ideas, I see that “Atlanta internet marketing” receives 4 times the amount of searches as “internet marketing Georgia” so it makes sense to focus my website keyword phrases on Atlanta instead of Georgia.  In addition I would target other cities in my content such as Warner Robins and Macon.

Here are the steps for performing a keyword analysis for your small business website content.

  1. First you want to write down keyword phrases that apply to your small business product and/or service offerings.  Review your marketing materials, competitor websites, and get input from co-workers or colleagues who are familiar with your business offerings. 
  2. Once you have your keyword list in hand, you want to review them in a keyword analysis tool such as Google’s keyword tool.
  3. Using the Google keyword tool as an example, you would enter in individual keywords or keyword comparison’s such as the example I used for my business. 
  4. Depending on whether the keyword phrase was broad or narrow, you would select Broad, Exact, or Phrase in the Match Type in the left hand navigation area of the Google Keyword Tool.  For example if one of your keywords is very narrow in focus with a minimal amount of searches, you would choose Broad Match.  Most of the time, however, you should select Exact to get the most relevant results.
  5. After you submit your keyword, review the Keyword Ideas results below your search to see what other related keywords people are searching for in addition to the number of times the keyword is searched.
  6. When reviewing the Keyword idea results, you want to choose keywords that apply to your business, but do not rely to much on heavily trafficked keywords, as these phrases will oftentimes be very competitive and difficult to rank highly.  Essentially what you are looking for here are keywords that apply to your small business offerings, receive a fair amount of traffic, but are not too competitive.  The goal is to discover similar keywords that you may not have thought of such as my “online” vs “internet” example above.

When you have completed your keyword analysis and developed a complete list of targeted keywords for your small business offerings, you are ready to begin working on the content for your website.  Check out my link at the beginning of this post for help on setting up your website content using your new keyword list.

Jun 142011
 

Although there have been many reports over the last several years about the death of blogging, it still remains very popular, and it can be a great asset for your small business social marketing strategy.  And blogging is not only a great marketing tool, but it is also an easy way to add fresh content to your small business website which will help your search engine optimization (SEO) campaign as well.  I always recommend to my small business clients to use a self-hosted blogging platform software (ie. one that is hosted on your website domain so it would be www.yourcompanyname.com/blog), and many hosting companies offer free blog hosting applications.  So let’s take a  look at a few of the more popular self-hosted blogging platforms available.

WordPress.org

I am a big fan of WordPress, and I use it as my blogging platform.  

  • WordPress is great from an SEO standpoint
  • It is easy to use and setup
  • There are tons of plugins and themes available allowing you to customize the look and feel

On the downside WordPress does have a few security vulnerabilities.  Here is a recent post I wrote on some security WordPress plugins available, and there are several other security adjustments you should make such as changing the default WordPress database table prefixes.

Movable Type

Although I have personally never used Movable Type, it has been around since 2001, and it has a well-earned reputation as being a solid blogging software platform.  In addition they have a solid reputation of providing security updates and fixes rather quickly. 

Drupal

Drupal offers a very popular blogging platform.  It is also considered to be very SEO friendly, and because of its popularity there are a ton of themes and modules available to allow you to customize it.  Some of the criticisms of Drupal are that the documentation can be lacking, it is not as user friendly as other programs like WordPress, and the learning curve is a little steeper. 

b2evolution

b2evolution is another blog platform software that has been around for a while.  It is not as popular as some of the other platforms mentioned, but it has a devoted following, and it also has a reputation of offering some more robust and advanced features over competing blog platforms.

Jun 032011
 

One of the most often overlooked areas by small business owners when building a website is the use of images and potential copyright violations.  Many times when a small business owner hires a website design company to build a website, including securing and adding images, they assume the images are paid for, but sometimes this is not the case.  Another mistake small business owners sometimes make when building the website themselves is to search for images via popular search engines and assume they are free to use. 

Unfortunately if the image has not been paid for, or you do not have persmission to use it, you could be on the hook for hundreds or even thousands of dollars for copyright infringement of the image which may have only cost you a few dollars to purchase.  So here are a few tips to help you avoid this costly mistake.

  1. Review your current website, and if you are not sure of the source of any image, replace it. 
  2. If you are using a website design company, ensure they properly secure the image, and make them provide proof.
  3. Or better yet purchase the image yourself.  You will have a better idea of the types of images that will fit best with your company brand.  Images and photos are very inexpensive, usually only costing a few dollars for web quality, and there are multiple websites selling images.  Two prominent websites are http://www.istockphoto.com and http://www.bigstockphoto.com
  4. If you find a free image, although it may not be required by the owner, I would still recommend linking to the source. 

Follow these tips for using images in your small business website design, and avoid this potentially costly mistake.

May 182011
 

If your small business relies on e-commerce or website generated leads, here are a few tips to improve your conversion rates and turn those website visitors into paying customers or website leads.  But before you begin to improve your website design, you first need to understand what your website visitors are doing while on your site, and to do this you need a good website analytics program such as Quantcast or Google Analytics.

Once you have your website analytics program up and running, here are a few items you want to monitor. 

  1. On what pages are visitors entering your website?
  2. On what pages are visitors leaving your website?
  3. How long are they staying?
  4. What is the bounce rate?  Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of single page visits where the visitor left your website from the entrance page.  So in other words, they enter your website on a page, do not see anything further to entice them, and leave your website from the same page.  Ideal bounce rates will vary depending on your site, but as a general rule, if the bounce rate for my website is above 50%, I will make changes to correct.  For the e-commerce shopping cart section of your website, I would be concerned if your bounce rate is above 70%.
  5. Conversion rates – A conversion rate is the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action.  Conversion rates for people contacting you via a website form or downloading a free offer will be higher than e-commerce rates, but as a general rule of thumb, if your website conversion rates are below 1%, you will probably need to make some changes.  For contact forms or free downloads, look for conversion rates in the 2 – 3% range, and if you are above 5%, then do not change a thing. 

There are lots of website analytic numbers that you can evaluate to determine the overall health of your website, but the five I referenced above are a good start when looking to improve your e-commerce shopping cart and/or website leads.  So once you understand your metrics, and if you determine you have a problem, here are some tips to help improve your website design.

  1. You have to grab the website visitor’s attention.  You only have a few seconds to grab the visitor’s attention so use bold headings, strong content, descriptive images, and great product descriptions.  Consider using videos to further enhance the product description, or enhanced graphic images such as 360 degree and maginified views. 
  2. You need effective calls to action.  Guide the website visitor along the path to achieve your ultimate goal.  For example a website visitor may enter your website via a product page on your e-commerce website.  You may have a great product description and wonderful and descriptive images, but if your Add to Shopping Cart button does not stand out, the visitor may leave quickly.
  3. Let your website visitor know your differentiator.  Are you a small family run business that has lived in and supported the local community for decades?  Do you have the lowest prices, offer free delivery, or offer unique hard-to-find products?  Whatever sets you apart from the competition, let your potential customers know it.
  4. Provide an easy to use shopping cart.  Do not force visitors to open an account to save their shopping cart.  Many people like to shop around and will add items to a shopping cart, and then move onto something else before purchasing.  Make it easy for website visitors to come back and purchase from you.
  5. Have a clear and easy to find return policy. 
  6. Make it easy for your website visitors to contact you.  A Contact Us link should be on every page, and if you have the available staff, consider adding a website operator program so visitors can contact you immediately while browsing your website. 
  7. Show your stock.  If your e-commerce shopping cart software has the option to show what products you have in stock, consider activating this function.  The fastest way to lose a customer is for them to order something you do not have in stock, and they wait for the product while you process their payment.
  8. The user needs to know your shopping cart is secure.  Display your secure certificate.  And although allowing users to open accounts and store their credit card information is a convenience, it is also another security hole that can be exploited so give customers the option of purchasing as a visitor. 
  9. Give customers purchase options.  If your only option is for people to use PayPal to make a purchase, you are going to lose customers.  Give your website visitors options to make purchases.

So in conclustion once you understand your website analytics and determine where you may have potential problems with your website, follow the applicable tips I have listed, and you will see an increase in your conversion rates.  And if you have additional tips to offer, please feel free to add them in the comments section below.

Mar 312011
 

You may have noticed I recently changed my blog design. I am a big fan of keeping your website and blog design simple, but sometimes it can be too simple. I used the Default WordPress theme based on the Kubrick theme, and although it was very simple and easy to navigate, there were some key design elements missing for a successful small business blog.

Now of course if you are in the website design business like me, then you can make programming changes to a blog design to meet your needs, but the majority of small businesses need a simple out of the box solution. So in addition to looking for a blog design you like, here are some key design elements you should make sure the blog theme offers so you will have a successful small business blog. And by successful small business blog design, I mean a blog that makes it easy for potential customers to contact you, subscribe, follow and recommend you to their social networks, and is “sticky” to keep users on your blog and coming back.

Prominent links to your small business website such as the Homepage, Contact, etc

One of the major items missing from the WordPress Default was the ability to easily add links back to my website in the header area. It was easy to add main website links to the sidebar, but these links were not in a prominent position for people to easily find and click to go to my website and view the services I offer. And since I do very little advertising of my services in my blog posts, I want to make it easy for readers of my blog to go to my main website.

When choosing your blog theme, make sure the design allows you to prominently display links back to your main website.

Email subscription to allow users to subscribe to your blog posts

Although you should allow your blog users to sign-up via an RSS feed, most people are more familiar and prefer an email subscription so you should provide an email subscribe box. In a previous post, I detailed how to setup an email subscribe box for your small business blog.

Related Posts

In order to create “stickiness,” your blog design should incorporate related posts links to allow users to read similar posts. If you use WordPress, a good plugin is Yet Another Related Posts.

Social links below posts and for the main blog

A good blog design theme will incorporate social share links in the main blog area (eg. the header) which allows readers of your blog to share it with their social networks. In addition you can add social share links for individual blog posts via plugins. Two excellent social share plugins for WordPress are Share and Follow and SexyBookmarks.

Ensure your blog theme provides for these design elements, and you will have a successful small business blog.

Mar 102011
 

Recently I wrote a blog post listing 21 tips to make your website more user friendly. In this blog post, I am covering 12 mistakes to avoid with your small business website design.

    Cluttered content and design

  1. Avoid cluttered content. Keep your home page simple with links to your main pages only. Secondary website pages should focus on one to two topics only. When visitors come to your home page, they need to know what your business has to offer them.
  2. Keep your design simple as well. Avoid Flash, other graphic intensive displays (unless graphics is your small business focus), videos that just start playing out of nowhere, etc. These types of design elements are frustrating to viewers of your website because of slow download times and there is little content value unless you are showcasing your graphic capabilities. In addition search engines are unable to crawl Flash content.
  3. Keep it simple with navigation as well, and periodically check for broken links. Avoid large navigation structures, and check out your website design and navigation structures in the major internet browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, etc) to ensure there are no issues. And do not forget mobile browsing as well.
  4. Avoid fixed font sizes. Allow users to resize text via their browser.
  5. Avoid large blocks of text. Break up your text via bullet points, and lists and make it easy to scan and read.
  6. Avoid too much advertising. If you offer advertising on your site, keep it simple and do not clutter the pages so your website viewers are unable to find the information you offer.
  7. Complicated contact methods or lack thereof and no responses

  8. Avoid complicated contact methods. Keep your contact forms simple and only require the bare minimum information.
  9. Avoid NOT using contact forms. Do not use just an email address or phone number. You want to at least capture the viewer’s name, contact info, and the reason they are contacting you, and it is harder to obtain this necessary information when you just use an email address.
  10. Do not make your website viewers jump through hoops, like filling out contact forms, to obtain content. There is plenty of free content online, and they will just go elsewhere. If you are offering something such as a software download, then contact forms are justified.
  11. And most importantly, do not ignore or respond slowly to people who contact you. Monitor your contact forms and respond in a timely manner. Hint: 24 hours later is too long.
  12. No call to action

  13. Do not forget the call to action. You want to convert your website viewers to paying customers so provide them with useful contact, and direct them to contact you.
  14. And the toss up – Opening web pages in new browsers

  15. There are two schools of thoughts in regards to opening web pages in new browsers. The first is that it is rude to open a web page in a new browser because you are taking control of the user’s browser, and many times it could be blocked by a pop-up blocker anyway. The second is that if you immediately send the user to a new site, you could distract from the viewer’s current attention on the immediate content and of course could be sending them away from your site. Personally when I am browsing, I prefer the link to open in a new browser (if it is directing me to a new site) because I can explore this link at my leisure and continue focusing on the current content I am viewing. On this issue, you should make up your own mind.

Remember when you have a new visitor to your website, you only have a few seconds to make a great first impression. Avoid these 12 mistakes, and keep visitors on your website longer so you can convert them to paying customers.

Feb 162011
 

If you respond at all. Let’s face it…many small businesses are very slow to respond to their online customers if they ever respond to them. 48 hours and and they have most likely forgotten you, 24 hours and the customer will probably not respond to you, 8 hours and they may purchased another product/service.

When a customer contacts you via your website, they expect to hear from you within an hour. Remember they are not just contacting you, they are researching several online companies, and you are just one of many. If you do not respond quickly, then they have already moved on.

Take a look at my home page, and you will see a Call Me Now contact form. I commit to contacting my potential clients immediately if they contact me between 8am – 5pm. If a client contacts me via a general contact form, then I contact them within 2 hours tops.

In today’s “I need it now world,” you need to make every effort possible to respond to your customers quickly. The key is too make technology work for you and not against you. Here are some tips.

  • You have a cell phone so add a data package and setup email on your phone so you can respond when you are out of the office.
  • If you are in a meeting or unavailable, designate someone else to follow-up via email. Setup your contact forms so they go to a general email or multiple people.
  • If no one is available, setup an email auto reply letting the customer know when you will respond, and stick to it!
  • And finally control your email spam and email in general so you will not miss the lifeblood of your small business…the customer.

Customers are doing the majority of their research online. When they send you an email, it is no different than them leaving you a voicemail. Respond quickly, and you will set your small business apart from your competitors.

 Posted by at 8:42 pm
Feb 082011
 

Note:  This blog post focuses on informational websites and not e-commerce websites.  E-commerce websites have many additional usability factors to consider, and I will cover e-commerce sites in future blog posts.

Usability simply refers to the ease of use involved while browsing/using a website.  Obviously your goal in designing your website should be to make it as user friendly as possible…or to increase the usability.

    Navigation – It should be clear and concise.

  1. Keep your main links to a minimum (5 – 8), and include a Home page and Contact Us link.
  2. Link your company logo to the home page.
  3. Provide your users with a Site Map page linking to your main web page categories.
  4. If you have more than 20 – 30 website pages, consider a Site Search function.
  5. All website pages should have the same layout and uniform structure so the user can easily find prominent links.
  6. Setup a custom 404 error page so if a user clicks on a broken link, they will have the option to navigate further within your website.
  7. Use text links to link to other pages within your site, clearly name the text link, and use the standard blue with an underline.
  8. Content – Content should be simple, relevant, and easy to understand.

  9. Use headings to break up and organize the content on website pages.
  10. The most important information goes first on the web page.
  11. Use bullet points, numbers, etc to make it easy for readers to scan pages.
  12. Keep your style, design, and content consistent throughout your site.
  13. And finally do not write for search engines. Write for people. In other words do not keyword stuff, make your content easy to understand/read.
  14. Brand and Identity

  15. Your home page should cover what services and/or products your company offers, a brief description of your company, and it should be easy to read in a 5 – 10 seconds.
  16. Put your company logo in the top left or right side of the website.
  17. If you have a tagline, display it prominently in the top navigation bar on every page.
  18. Add an About Us page, and describe your company and history.
  19. User Feedback and Accessibility

  20. Provide a contact form(s), display it prominently, and make it easy to find.
  21. Keep required information on your contact forms to a minimum, but give users the option to provide you with additional information.
  22. Provide complete contact information including phone, address, fax, hours of operation, etc.
  23. Site load time should be fairly fast, and to achieve this provide more content and avoid large graphics and Flash.
  24. Use ALT/TITLE tags to describe images.

Follow these tips to make your website more user friendly. And if you have additional tips, please feel free to share in the comments below.