Let’s face it, no one likes having to update or tweak their website — or (shudder) having to redesign it. It can be time-consuming and expensive. But if online sales have been slipping, and even if they haven’t (yet), it behooves small business owners to periodically and objectively evaluate their web or ecommerce sites — and make the necessary fixes.

So what are some signs that your web or ecommerce site needs a bit of tweaking (or a major overhaul)? I queried dozens of ecommerce, web design and analytics experts to find out. They identified nine giveaways that your small business web or ecommerce site is in need of some help — and how you can make the necessary fixes without spending a lot of time or money.

If any of these problems sound familiar, it’s time to update your website!

Problem No. 1: Your Traffic Isn’t Converting Into Sales.

Problem No. 2: High Bounce Rates.

Problem No. 3: Your Site Takes Forever to Load.

Problem No. 4: It’s Difficult to Add Content or Update Your Site — Without Having to Pay Someone a Lot of Money to Do it for You.

Problem No. 5: Your Website Isn’t Mobile Friendly.

Problem No. 6: No Way to Opt In/Sign Up to Receive News or Promotions.

Problem No. 7: Stale Content.

Problem No. 8: No Social Media Linkage.

Problem No. 9: Your Buttons Look Dated.

(To see explanations of each tip/problem and learn how to inexpensively update or freshen up your web or ecommerce site, read my article “9 Signs It’s Time to Update Your Website (and How to Fix It.”)

By the way, after researching this article, I realized my ecommerce site, Prepster Pineapple Clothing, which sells Hawaiian-inspired cotton clothing, was in dire need of some tweaking, especially on the Home page. But I was loath to spend a lot of money or time doing it. Fortunately, I found SiteTech Media, a small but eager web design/developer that specializes in Bigcommerce stores.

Don’t know anyone? “Elance and oDesk both can connect you with hundreds of qualified freelancers who will compete and bid to work on your website,” for just a few hundred dollars, says Simon Slade, CEO and cofounder of SaleHoo , a platform for building your own online store and an online wholesale directory of over 8,000 prescreened suppliers. And if you are thinking about redesigning your whole site or want to give your business a new look, to save some money (and time) “shop at template marketplaces, such as Envato and Creative Market , which both offer stunning website designs for as little as $4,” he suggests.

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Posted on March 21, 2014
Filed Under (Marketing, Mobile, Web Design) by jennifer

mobile-vs-standard-websiteJust because your website can be viewed on a mobile device (smartphone, tablet) doesn’t make it mobile-friendly. To find out how to ensure your mobile customers have a positive experience, follow these 12 suggestions from mobile experts and Web design and development pros.

1. Be responsive (i.e., use responsive design).

2. Think with your thumb (or index finger).

3. Keep the design simple.

4. Keep content short and to the point.

5. Remember, an icon is worth a thousand (or, okay, a dozen) words.

6. Make it fast — by serving images that are optimized for mobile.

7. Don’t go overboard with Java.

8. Make it easy to find your phone number, location, and contact info.

9. Consider video, but add it wisely.

10. Make sure forms are designed for mobile.

11. Consider geolocation (directions to the nearest store, in-store availability of merchandise).

12. Test to ensure your content can be properly viewed on different devices, platforms, and operating systems.

To see full explanations of each mobile web design tip, go to my article, 12 Tips for Creating a Mobile-Friendly Website.”

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Posted on June 27, 2013
Filed Under (Web Design) by jennifer

Your website is often the first  and only  encounter prospective customers will have with your business. So it’s important to make a good first impression. Yet so many businesses, especially small businesses, ignore or refuse to spend money on good website design. And this can be a fatal mistake.

As numerous studies have shown, how your website is laid out, what colors, fonts, and images you use (or don’t use) can mean the difference between success (low bounce and exit rates, high conversion) and failure (high abandonment, low sales). And you do not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to create a website that is both functional (easy to navigate) and attractive (easy on the eye).

Following are 11 simple tips for creating a well designed site  or improving an existing one.

1. Have a polished, professional logo – and link it to your home page.

2. Use intuitive navigation(e.g., horizontal menu at top and remembering that people read from left to right, top to bottom, like the letter Z).

3. Get rid of clutter. Excessive use of graphics and too much text distract and turn off readers. Give readers (white) space to breathe.

4. Use color strategically – to highlight items. Don’t think of your website as a coloring book.

5. Invest in professional or really good photography – and avoid those free or cheap stock images that everyone uses. Remember, visitors are more likely to judge you by your images rather than any text (no matter how clever).

6. Choose fonts that are easy to read across devices and browsers.

7. Put the most important information at or near the top of pages.

8. Design pages as if every one could be a landing page. (Not everyone is going to arrive at your site via the Home page.)

9. Say no to Flash and frames!

10. Use responsive design, i.e., design tools or a platform that automatically adjusts pages to users’ browsers.

11. Test your design – by having friends, colleagues, or paid testers review web pages and provide honest feedback.

To see full tips with explanations, read my article “13 Simple Tips for Improving Your Web Design.”

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Posted on November 13, 2012
Filed Under (Ecommerce, Web Design) by jennifer

Whether you are an ecommerce only small business or you have a bricks-and-mortar store in addition to an online one, your website speaks volumes about you. But many small business owners often confuse a good-looking website with a good website — or ignore the design, layout, content, and navigation of their website. And these can be fatal mistakes.

Following are 12 common website mistakes small businesses make.

Mistake #1: Forgetting who your target audience is.

Mistake #2: Not making your website mobile friendly.

Mistake #3: Changing your URLs without adding a redirect.

Mistake #4: Not clearly and concisely explaining what you do or what you are selling; using jargon and cliches.

Mistake #5: Not refreshing or updating your content on a regular basis.

Mistake #6: Not leveraging social media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) and having links to social networking sites on your Home and product pages.

Mistake #7: Using Flash.

Mistake #8: Not including an email opt-in form on your Home or Contact pages.

Mistake #9: Not doing UX (customer experience/usability) testing.

Mistake #10: Not checking that the site looks good — and functions properly — on all major browsers, both desktop and mobile.

Mistake #11: Taking cybersecurity for granted — i.e., not having appropriate anti-virus software or security measures (firewall) in place.

Mistake #12:  Not monitoring/tracking visitor behavior.

To learn more about each mistake and how to fix them, read my latest article, “12 Ways to (Not) Screw Up Your Website.”

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Today’s guest post was written by Uri Foox, the founder of Pixafy, a NYC-based web development and technology firm.

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If you are a business owner who is not an expert in web development, finding someone (or an agency) you can trust to build your website is critical. To help with your vetting process, here are eleven questions to ask your would-be developers before making a decision.

Hiring a Web Developer – 11 Questions You Must Ask Ahead of Time:

1. What do you do? Developers should be able to explain what they do in terms you can understand. Don’t let them confuse and/or bore you into working with them!

2. Can you break down the process for me from start to end? If there is too little developer/client interaction, chances are the final deliverable will resemble the developer’s vision of the project, not yours. Choose developers who use an iterative approach rather than a ‘waterfall’ — or one giant deliverable — approach.

3. What are your goals for my website and how do you intend to accomplish them? Asking this forces them to outline their future plans… It’s important to know they have some!

4. What part of your job excites you? You can teach coding but you can’t teach passion. Look for a developer or team that will treat working on your site more like a creative challenge than ajob task.

5. How reliant will I be on you after my site launches? A good developer installs a CMS to give the clients a level of control over the day-to-day operations, while still forming a partnership for any technical needs down the road. You shouldn’t have to wait a week for your developer to change a letter on your site.

6. Do you work predominantly with open source or proprietary software? One of the main benefits of open source software is being able to pick up where others left off. Should you choose a firm working with proprietary software however, you may be locked in with that company for good. They might be the only people in the world who know how to update, troubleshoot, expand, and train you in this particular piece of software.

7. Can I see examples of your work? Look at sites that the developer or agency has built.

8. What is the discovery process and how will you learn about my business and business goals before we start the project? Make sure they understand your business goals before engaging with them.

9. How long will it take you to respond to emails? If you find yourself waiting around awhile for answers, chances are your developer team has not been working on your site or has taken the project in a different direction.

10. Do you outsource? Web companies that outsource their projects tend to subscribe to the ‘one size fits all’ approach, and you are unlikely to get the custom solution you desire.

11. Will my website be scalable? Your developer should be familiar with the combination of hardware/software needed to ensure full scalability so that your site doesn’t crash the instant it gets some traffic. Important systems like database clustering, memcache, query optimizaition, and others shouldn’t be foreign concepts to them.

Uri Foox is the founder of Pixafy, a NYC-based web development and technology firm.

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Posted on September 22, 2010
Filed Under (Advice, Ecommerce, General Business, Web Design) by jennifer

Why work with one designer or agency and pay thousands of dollars for a logo or web design when you can work with hundreds of designers and receive hundreds of great designs — for less than a thousand dollars? That is the premise — and promise — behind crowdSPRING and 99designs, two of the most popular design crowdsourcing sites.

Still, as many small business owners know, more choice or an attractive-sounding price tag doesn’t necessarily yield a better small business marketing result. So to find out if crowdsourcing design makes both good design and good economic sense, I spoke with four small businesses — Big Feet Pajama Company, Norman’s Rare Guitars, Globetrooper.com, and Shiny Heart Ventures — that have used crowdSPRING or 99designs to come up with a new logo and/or web design.

To find out what these small businesses learned about crowdsourcing design, as well as tips for working with a crowdsourcing site, read my article, “Small Business Web Design: The Power of Crowdsourcing,” which was just published on Small Business Computing.

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More ecommerce businesses are using the crowd (i.e., their customers, Facebook fans and/or employees) to help them develop new products and build brand loyalty — and the strategy seems to be working, at least for some online businesses. But is crowdsourcing a viable marketing and/or product development strategy for every small business? And how do you successfully harness the power of the crowd? I spoke to ecommerce businesses OfficeDrop, SitStay.com, and Minted, all of whom had experimented with crowdsourcing, to find out.

Their advice? First and foremost, before you do any kind of crowdsourcing, you need to consider your audience [e.g., age, gender, how likely they are to use or participate in social media] and make the determination whether it’s going to help or hurt, said SitStay.com’s Chief Dog Spoiler, Kent Krueger.

For example, don’t just go out and randomly use Twitter or Facebook, cautioned Healy Jones, the head of marketing at OfficeDrop, because you can get a bunch of 22-year-old people who’ve never used your product before. Get people who are your target demographic, the people who will potentially be using your product.

It’s also wise to limit the number of choices you make available to consumers. There is this issue of paradox of choice, where if you show somebody a thousand items … that it might be too daunting, said Minted founder Mariam Naficy. And you risk overwhelming or alienating the very people you are trying to attract.

To find out more great tips, as well as how and when to use the wisdom of the crowd, please read my article titled “Crowdsourcing as a Small Business Marketing Strategy,” which is featured on SmallBusinessComputing.com, a terrific publication for and about small businesses.

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My latest article for Small Business Computing (which also got picked up by Ecommerce Guide) is titled “Marketing Strategy: Why Logo and Web Design Matter.” And, in my humble opinion, it is must reading for any small (or really any) business owner thinking about rebranding or just starting out.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the experts:

I won’t go so far to say that having a good or bad logo will make or break the success of your business, said Candy Phelps, the owner of iCandy Graphics and Printing, but it will definitely increase your success if you have a great logo and branding identity. If you have a cheap-looking, generic website and a cheap-looking logo, you’re sending a message to your customers that you may be cheap about other areas of your business, like your products and services.

Put another way, think of your website as your top salesperson or your first point of contact with prospective customers.

You wouldn’t hire, or keep, a salesperson that went out to meet customers in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, without showering, would you? asked Brad Leszczynski, the chief creative officer at 8fold. So why would you have an awful looking website and a badly designed logo? If a customer perceives your business — based on your logo and your website — to be sloppy, what are they going to think about the product or service you are offering?

Think about the last time you went to buy a product or service and were faced with multiple online choices. Did you gravitate to the website that looks like it was designed at the dawn of the Internet age — crammed with text, with multiple colors, fonts and images and hard-to-use navigation?

Or did you shop at the well-designed, easy-to-navigate site with the memorable name and eye-catching logo and color/design scheme?

If you are like most people, nine out of 10 times, price being relatively equal (or even unequal), you chose the business with the attractively designed website with a clear branding message. And your customers are doing the same thing.

To learn more, including what two successful small business owners had to say about how having an eye-catching logo and a well-designed website helped them attract more visitors and increase sales, click on this link to my article. And be sure to check out my upcoming article on crowd sourcing as an effective and inexpensive way to get a great logo or design help, which will be published on Small Business Computing in mid-August

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These days, if you really want to know what your customers are thinking (and where they are shopping), you need to connect with them online, on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed, in today’s social media-driven world, having a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile, and a blog where you can interact with customers and, more importantly, they can interact with you are an essential part of customer relationship management (CRM).

To help you get the most out of the leading social media tools, I asked business owners and social media experts to share their most successful tips for using social media to help improve CRM the top 10 of which appear below.

Use free tools like HootSuite or TweetDeck to monitor what customers are saying about you on Twitter. “I provide community management for 10 to 15 clients at the same time on a regular basis. [And] responding to my clients’ customers in a timely manner and getting good content out on a regular basis is critical to great customer service,” said Lisa Loeffler, Principal, Genuine Media. That’s why Loeffler uses HootSuite and TweetDeck, “to help manage all my clients in one place, so I can respond on the fly to their clients’ needs.”

Create Twitter lists. “I have found creating Twitter lists helps me keep my Twitter audience organized,” said Jillian Koeneman, the founder of Freshlime Marketing. “I can scan any particular list to get a pulse on what [people] are thinking or talking about and respond if appropriate.”

Store Twitter and blog URLs as well as important tweets and comments in your CRM system.

Use LinkedIn to ramp up your networking and find new prospects. Patrick O’Malley, a social media consultant who goes by the name (617) PATRICK, is a big fan of LinkedIn for networking and generating sales and claims that this specific LinkedIn tip resulted in over $150,000 in sales (over the course of six to eight deals) for one of his clients, a company that sells insurance to other companies: “If you are going to contact a new company, see if any of your [LinkedIn] contacts knows someone there.” The way to do this, he explained, is to log onto LinkedIn and click on ‘Advanced’ in the upper right-hand corner, then put in the name of the company, and just below it, select ‘Current.’ In the search results, you’ll see names for people in that company. If someone is a first-level connection, you know them. More importantly, if someone is a second-level connection, you have a common contact. (The person will be listed as a ‘shared connection.’) “You can now use your own sales techniques to use them as a reference, or use their name to get in the door,” said O’Malley.

Give your Facebook fans and Twitter followers exclusive discounts and notify them of any specials, promotions or sales. “We use social media to improve customer relationship management [by] offering a discount code when a potential customer becomes a Facebook Fan of Rosena Sammi Jewelry,” said Rosena Sammi of Rosena Sammi Jewelry. As a result, the company has attracted many new customers who tend to be very loyal. The James Store, a 64-year-old clothing boutique located in Granville, Ohio, similarly rewards Facebook fans with discount codes. Those Facebook discount codes in turn “drive new fans to our Facebook page, which in turn drives foot traffic to the store,” said Peter Morse, the James Store’s marketing director, who also uses Twitter to alert followers to sales and specials.

Engage your customers on Facebook and Twitter by asking them thought-provoking or funny questions. “One of the best ways that I have found to gain and retain [customers] is to ask fun or funny questions … on Facebook and Twitter,” said Paul Draper, a mentalist, anthropologist and speaker who runs the website www.mentalmysteries.com. Draper says that posting questions on Facebook and Twitter elicits more responses than a normal post does and “when [people] answer, your question and your page is seen on the pages and in the feeds of all of their friends.” Moreover, when people who aren’t yet fans or followers see how much fun you are, they are likely to become fans and are more inclined to do business with you. Draper cautions that you need to carefully gauge who your audience is, so you don’t offend people with your tone.

Use Facebook and Twitter as calling cards. Long-time customers and employees of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, fondly recall how Wally Bronner, the founder, would spend hours on the sales floor personally greeting customers and chatting with them, especially during the busy Christmas season. Today, employees are keeping that tradition alive with the help of Facebook. “When I see a fan post [on our Facebook page] that he’s coming to Bronner’s, I often post an invitation for him to stop by our reception desk and ask for me so I can meet him,” said store spokeswoman Lori Libka. “That personal touch, that face-to-face, is so important in making your guests feel that they are part of your extended family and you are welcoming them home for a visit.”

Respond to your customers on Facebook, Twitter and/or your blog in a timely fashion, even if they haven’t directly asked you for help. “For example, if you are a clothing retailer and a customer of yours has commented about a stain [on a dress] on their Facebook page, offer a solution,” said Carolyn Goodwin, the president of and senior strategist at Cake Communications. “By acting as a friend and advisor more than a product or service provider, you’ll develop a more personal relationship [with your customers]” and engender trust and loyalty.

Use social media to help customers find your products. “My company, Cape Classics, is a New York-based importer of South African wine to the U.S.,” said Courtney Luick. “As we do not have a store locator on our website, we use Twitter and Facebook to inform customers where they can find specific wines, either at a restaurant or retail.” The Nauti-Dog Company, a three-year-old retail dog-apparel business that sells both direct and online, likewise uses Facebook and Twitter to alert fans, followers and friends to where they can find Nauti-Dog products as well as events, such as its dog walks and offers them free product when they use a code phrase.

Use social media to involve your customers in product decisions. Few things engender more brand loyalty than involving customers in product development decisions. So next time you are working on a new product or service or revamping an existing one, considering querying your Facebook and Twitter followers, as well as asking for suggestions and input on your blog, advised Scott Bradley, the founder of Rapid Results Marketing Group and an expert on social media. Then when the new product or service is released, “give them recognition for helping come up with it, as well as a discount [or other token of your appreciation],” said Bradley.

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Posted on March 11, 2010
Filed Under (Ecommerce, Marketing, Web Design) by jennifer

If your website isn’t optimized to be viewed on mobile devices, you could be losing out on potential customers and sales.

Need a reason to go mobile? How about 234 million of them? That’s the number of Americans who were using mobile devices as of December 2009, and that number is increasing. And while not everyone (at least right now) uses his or her mobile device to surf the web, nearly a third of mobile/smart phone users did as of December. That’s 60 million potential customers you could be missing out on if your website isn’t optimized to be viewed on a mobile device (such as a BlackBerry, an Android smart phone, and/or an iPhone).

And contrary to what you may think, creating a mobile website is not that difficult or expensive, as I found out while researching my latest article for Small Business Computing, “Why You Need a Mobile Web Site.”

Indeed, thanks to services such as Mobify and MoFuse, you can create a mobile version of your website in a day (if you are ambitious and have some experience with HTML and CSS) and maintain it for under $100/month (or for free in some cases). And if you don’t have the time or inclination to create a mobile website yourself, you can turn to companies like Mobile Web Up, which specializes in helping smaller businesses go mobile.

To learn more about the benefits of mobile marketing and how to create a mobile version of your website, check out my article, “Why You Need a Mobile Web Site.”

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