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How to Find a New Web Host for Your Small Business

The phone’s ringing off the hook, your only employee didn’t show up today and your website and email just crashed. It’s another hectic day in the life of a busy entrepreneur. Someday, you’ll be able to take a day off – maybe even a whole week! But that won’t be anytime soon.

Until you can afford to pay higher wages, you may be stuck with that one deadbeat employee. But you don’t have to put up with your website being unreliable. The problem is most likely your Web host, so if you’re not getting what you need, it’s time to make a change.

Choosing a Host

As you begin your search for a website host, take advantage of resources available to you as a small business owner. Consult with your local chamber of commerce and check the U.S. Small Business Administration website for advice. Talk to other small-business owners in your community and ask them what Web host they use.

Responsiveness Matters Most

Look for a Web hosting provider that offers excellent customer service and 24/7 technical support. Once you’ve narrowed-down your list of reputable hosting companies, call them to ask a few questions. Make a note of whether the person you speak with seems friendly and knowledgeable, how long you’re on hold before someone takes your call, and how many times you’re transferred or put on-hold. Because any time you’re on the phone with your Web hosting service is time you can’t field phone calls from your own customers.

Ask each company you’re comparing for an “uptime guarantee,” which is the amount of time you can expect your website to be functional. Ideally, your uptime would be 100 percent, but that’s difficult to guarantee. You should expect, however, your uptime to be 99 percent or higher.

If you have content on your website written by bloggers or copywriters, make sure you ask any potential Web hosts how they respond to allegations of plagiarism or misappropriation of content. In some cases, website hosts will shut down an entire website, rather than investigate whether such claims are legitimate.

Ask whether a new host can handle the transfer for you, or at least help you understand the steps involved.

Look for Ample Storage

While storage space needs will vary from business to business, 200GB should cover your needs. Aim higher than that if you foresee your business growing or offering new services.

Before you transfer to your new host, download all the files from your website and save them to your hard drive. Even though you should experience little – if any – downtime as you move to a new host, plan to move files to your new server at a time when customers normally wouldn’t be trying to access your site.

Hassle-free Hosting

With all of your responsibilities as a small business owner, you need a Web hosting service you can count on, because if your host’s server crashes, your website stops working, and you could lose customers as a result. Find a host that values customer service as much as you do, with an exceptional uptime guarantee, so you don’t have to worry about website outages complicating your day.

What Information Should I Include in my Business Website?

You’re in the process of building your small business website. Congratulations. You’ve designed it beautifully (or hired a professional to), but you want to make sure it has all of the information you need. How much is too much? Or worse – how much information is not enough? And how should I organize it?

These are all common questions for small businesses. You’ll want to make sure you answer all of your customer’s questions on your website. You’ll also need to make sure that the information is organized well. If you answer your customer’s questions, not only about your company but about the industry as a whole, they will return to your site every time they have a question. When a problem occurs, your website users will think of your products and services before your competition’s.

For your website, think of the content you need to include in sections. While these will probably be pages for most websites, some designs include all of the content on one page. One-page websites work well for small businesses or businesses that expect their website to be accessed regularly from mobile devices. Obviously 1-page designs won’t work for online retail companies because they need product pages. No matter what web design you choose, make sure your design is responsive so that consumers can access it easily from all of their devices like tablets and cell phones.

The sections you need are:


This doesn’t need to be a long section. Some sites just include a large photo or collection of photos that represents their company. You do want to give a signal about what your business does and the name of your business, but don’t type out a long message. Your customers won’t read it.


This page or section will go into detail about what your company has to offer. Including what makes your company stand out against the competition can be powerful information to include here. Call to action buttons, or buttons that encourage your customer to do something, will most likely be included here. “Click here for a quote,” “Purchase” or “Add to cart” would all be call to action buttons.


This should be the largest section of your website. Make sure you answer every question you’ve ever received about your company. You can include estimated pricing here, too. Give consumers more information than they need. This makes your website incredibly valuable to them and unforgettable. But again, make sure this information is organized. No one will read 1000 questions on one page.


Be sure to include contact information. Have your phone number and e-mail address handy for your customers, but also your address. Do not include contact information in a graphic or picture. Search engines can’t read information in pictures. You want the search engine to be able to find you so they can direct local customers to you. Including maps and call to action telephone buttons can make it very easy for customers to contact you.

The optional sections to include depend on your business. Optional pages/content:


This is sometimes thought of as a necessary component for websites, but it isn’t. Unless your business was started for a special reason or has a specific mission, most people won’t read this information. If you decide you need one, you can find tips and tricks for an “About us” page here.


Depending on what your business does, you may want to include examples of your work or customer testimonials. In some cases, it may not be possible or practical to show off your work. Consult a professional if you’re not sure if you need this information.

Again, include the information that you think is most important. If you’re really stuck, consult a professional. As long as the information is organized well and designed in a user-friendly way, you should have a successful website.

Localized is Better: Gearing Your Site for Local Search

A localized webpage can make all the difference between a new conversion and a missed opportunity. 88 percent of users searching for a particular business from a mobile phone follow up with an in-person visit to the business within 24 hours. If people can’t find your business when they search for the service you provide in your town, you’re losing out to your competitors. Try these tips to give your website a localized SEO boost.

Going local

—      Include an address. While you may already have your address on your contact page, you’ll get more mileage by including it on every page. Put it in the footer so it’s in the same position on each page.

—      Don’t forget your phone number. Make it easy for potential customers to be in touch and always include the phone number with your address. Use both your local number — area code included — and your toll free number.

—      Mention local landmarks. If you’re near a tourist attraction, it can pay off to list it in your Web copy. So don’t forget to mention that your dentist office is near Willis Tower or Navy Pier. This reinforces your location with Google and can help your business rank for long tail phrases. For example, if you’re a florist near Navy Pier and you’ve mentioned that fact on your site, you could rank highly for the phrase “florists near Navy Pier.” As a bonus, this data can also help new clients locate your business.

—      Localize your keywords. Your keywords tell search engines what you do, and information on your business’s location is integral to your ranking success as a small business. Include geographic data in your Web copy to boost your location-specific rankings and receive a higher spot in search engine results pages. Your goal is to be on that first page of search results for your keyword.

—      Use webmaster tools. Google and Bing’s webmaster tools help you format your page for indexing by search engines. Once you’ve created a free account, you can set your geographic location.

—      Get listed locally. Local listings through provider directories, local search engines and social tools — like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Places and Yahoo Local — help people find you. They also provide valuable information for people using those services and their mobile apps.

Why it works

Google prioritizes three things when returning search results: Relevance, distance and prominence. By localizing your website, you’ve tackled the distance part of the equation. Google uses basic information gleaned from your Web copy and the user’s search terms to determine relevance. By optimizing your webpage to include keywords for your product or service — for example, by inserting the more relevant “Chicago dentist” over “dentist” — you help inform Google that you’re relevant to those searches. To realize the most relevance, include variations on the main keywords. For the dentist example, “dentist in Chicago,” “Chicago root canal,” “top dentist in Chicago” or “dentist in Chicago, IL” are good variations. For prominence, Google tries to assess your popularity compared with other service providers. If you have inbound links from authoritative Web pages, such as the Chicago Dental Society or local search tools like Yelp, you’re deemed more prominent than competitors that lack these references.

Track your progress by setting up a Google analytics account and monitoring your page views and referral traffic. Over time, you’ll be able to see your business rise in search results and receive positive feedback that your strategy is working or you’ll identify areas you need to improve in.


Communication of the Social Message: Tips for Business

For every brand, it’s important to think about public perception. How the public, your customers, thinks and feels about your company is vital for maintaining a competitive edge. Companies make impressions through their corporate message and how it’s delivered. As your organization grows, and you add talented players to your team, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that every member of your staff is on the same page. The last thing you want is for a team member to send out a Tweet or status update that’s completely at odds with your company’s overarching social message.

It’s also important to realize that your message may experience some shifts throughout the course of your company’s life. Every company needs technology to help keep everyone up to speed on your company’s branding message. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the resources and tools companies of all sizes should consider and implement.

Tools for Unifying Your Message

—     Collaboration Tools: Collaboration is the lifeblood of the modern business structure. With tools like hosted SharePoint services, companies of all types can stay connected in real time with employees. This is one of the most effective ways to keep everyone up to speed on branding. In most cases, if your employees are engaged with your collaboration platform, it’s easy to disseminate information in a way that is both non-intrusive and easy to access.

—     Cloud Data Access: Another similar way to deliver this information is through an integrated cloud storage service. Not unlike your collaboration tool, a cloud storage platform is a seamless way to deliver complex branding information in an easy-to-access package. While some companies are still wary of the cloud, studies indicate that more businesses are experiencing both the financial and logistical benefits of implementing cloud resources.

—     Virtualization Infrastructure: Regardless of what platform you use to deliver sensitive branding data to your staff, every company needs a powerful infrastructure to make branding data easily accessible for everyone. The problem many SMBs are facing relates to infrastructure itself. Smaller businesses often don’t have the financial resources to integrate and manage a dedicated server to deploy and manage complex branding and messaging information. This is why many SMBs are migrating to virtualized infrastructure solutions like virtual private server technology, which gives you the control and computing power of the cloud without costing what an entire cloud platform would.

Branding Communication is Serious Business

Keeping your team up to speed on your overall social message is no easy task. Not only is it difficult logistically, but you’ll come up against employees that disagree with how you approach your branding. It’s crucial to maintain dialogue about branding processes with your employees. If your employees weren’t on staff, they would be potential customers, so their feedback is valuable. The fact that not everyone is in the same geographic location can muffle this communication. Again, having powerful collaboration and cloud storage tools can serve as the proper remedy.

Social Media Positives: Conversion is Achieved with a Personal Touch

Marketing strategies are always evolving, and chances are, even the best methods today will be outdated within five years. However, that doesn’t mean that your business should ignore them. You need to be up-to-date with the best ways to reach your customer base, and right now, social media marketing is one of the methods at the top of the list. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the road when it comes to marketing on social media, both in terms of what to avoid and how to reach people and convert them into customers.

Remember you’re reaching individuals: Even if the person you’re marketing to is representing a company, you’re still interacting with an individual. Therefore, your marketing needs to have that personal appeal that will engage people. After all, your content is going to be lumped in with everything people are seeing from their friends, too. A casual voice, lighthearted tone and a little bit of personality will go a long way in connecting with your audience. Before posting anything, ask yourself whether it’s something you would be interested in looking at during your leisure time. If it’s not, rethink your content and adjust it to make it more interesting and relevant for the people you’re trying to reach.

Be trendy, but don’t break copyright: Sharing viral content on social media is all the rage, but you have to do so in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. For example, many companies ran into trouble when they tried to post Harlem Shake videos because of copyright issues with the song. The safe method is to reference trends, while still keeping all of your actual content original. That way you’ll attract the attention of your customers without running into legal issues.

Keep the conversation going: Social media marketing isn’t your traditional outbound marketing. Rather, it’s a continual conversation with the people who interact with your company or brand. People are going to be posting questions or comments directed at you, or replying to questions or comments you make. Therefore, you need to be checking these and engaging with the people who have made the effort to engage with you. This often comes easily when people have positive reactions or honest questions about your products, but it can be more difficult with customer complaints. Remain polite and address everything, even the negative items.

Consider what people are interested in: People who are connected with you on social media don’t just want to hear about your brand and products all the time. Instead, they’re interested in information, fun facts, and news related to your type of product and services. Therefore, do lots of linking to interesting blog posts, news stories, and other content that will add value to those you reach. Go light on the promotional links, and tread carefully if you’re linking to anything that could be considered misleading.

Your business marketing strategy needs to include social media involvement, but it’s not going to be effective in converting customers unless you’re using the right tactics. Take a look at how companies similar to yours run their social media accounts and the results they’re getting in terms of customer engagement. Engagement often translates into sales, so if people are interacting with them, they’re doing something right. Of course, you don’t want to just copy your competitors, but to put your company’s unique voice and style into your social media marketing messages.


Designing for Social Engagement

Businesses invested in social media are aware of the benefits it can deliver. While social media is a long-term investment focused on increasing brand visibility and recognition through consumer engagement and relationship building, it can pay out enormous dividends over time. A social presence is particularly useful when your website is publishing original content with value to your consumer base.

By creating content designed for social sharing, you can essentially turn a normal blog post into productive inroads with prospective customers, using a shared link to bring new traffic to your website. From there, you have the opportunity to produce a conversion — but only if you have a well-developed website waiting on the other end of the link. I repeat, if there’s no ill web design waiting for users who click through, they’ll bounce faster than the king of the four square courts. Whether you do it yourself or hire some professional Web designers, make sure it looks good!

Ultimately, social media can become another conversion and revenue stream if you use smart development strategy at every point. Read on for tips to make sure your online strategy is aligned to maximize social opportunities.

Creating content worth sharing

Developing a social brand should be the first focus of any company. In the early stages, you don’t need to worry about creating phenomenal, mind-blowing content as long as you keep the quality high and consistent. Instead, start cultivating followings on major social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest, to create a broad base of followers.

Once that base is established, work on increasing the uniqueness and quality of your content. Whether you offer whitepapers, blogs or static Web pages, the things you produce need to be relevant and useful to your consumers in ways that point to the value of your business. These aren’t explicit marketing materials, but they all need to relate to your company’s mission and your value to prospective customers.

As you develop your following and people consume your content, you’ll see more people sharing your content with others. Not only is social sharing a high-exposure, low-cost form of marketing, but it’s a great way to gauge what content is most valuable to your followers.

From content consumer to product consumer

By sharing your website’s content online, you’ll draw followers to your website. When that happens, they become social referrals and potential sales or lead conversions. That’s where your website comes in. As your content is making a case for your company’s value to the consumer, your website should make it easy for them to identify and enter the conversion process.

To do this, you need a simplified Web design that makes your marketing mission clear. Your site’s various links and images need to be simplified so they aren’t distracting — you want consumers to immediately recognize where and how to begin the conversion process. If you can get online referrals this far down the funnel, you’ve got a good chance at securing a conversion.

Efficiency in the conversion process

Once in the conversion process, the trick is in seeing consumers through to the conversion’s completion. This is an efficiency game you have to play well to maximize your opportunities. Online consumers are deterred by seemingly insignificant obstacles. Every line of data you request — address, phone number or email — decreases the odds of potential customers completing the process.

Similarly, every step in the process — every time they have to click “next” or wait for processing to take place — gives them a chance to reconsider their purchase. The more you condense steps and minimize workload, the better. The proof is in the numbers: the easier you make the process, the more conversions you’ll accrue.

By optimizing every point in the consumer process, you can increase the efficiency of your website. From there, focus on creating worthwhile content that engages your consumers. The more useful and worthwhile your content, the more social shares — and, ultimately, referred traffic — you’ll generate from this rich resource.

Email Marketing and the Importance of the Title

Email marketing isn’t dead, but it sure could use a style makeover. Those old, boring titles just don’t grab a potential reader’s attention anymore. It’s no longer enough to be informative; you have to be creative and just a little bit snazzy as well. You want to stand out among business emails, communique from your customer’s family and friends, messages they’re receiving about store discounts, and, unfortunately spam.

Why email titles are important

How many email marketing messages have you opened recently? If you’re like most of us, you’re very selective about which email messages you choose to spend your time reading. Nine out of 10 messages get deleted without ever being opened. There’s a reason for that. Nearly 90 trillion emails were sent in 2009. There’s likely more today. You simply can’t read everything that hits your inbox.

What that means is that the majority of your hard work composing, researching and editing your email marketing message ends up in the recipient’s computer trash can. Just think of the results — i.e., sales — you could reap if you could get an extra 10 percent of your recipients to open your message. That’s where email titles come in. Make the title enticing and the recipient turns into a reader.

How to write effective email titles

How do you write email titles that will grab a recipient’s attention? It’s a slightly different skill than is necessary for the body of your email message, so it may take you a few tries to come up with a winner. Don’t feel bad if it does. Here are some suggestions for success:

  • Keep it short: Although each email service is slightly different, you have approximately 60 characters (including spaces) to grab your reader. Anything longer than that will get cut off and not show in the recipient’s email log. Be concise and be seen.
  • Be intriguing: Nearly 90 percent of online consumers check their email inbox at least once a day. In this age of information overload, you can be assured most readers have seen, heard and read all of the obvious marketing lead-ins. Be original to grab the recipient’s interest.
  • Pick clarity over creativity: The average email reader wants to know what’s in the body of the email before he or she opens it. If your title, intriguing as it may be, doesn’t impart that information, the recipient isn’t likely to become a reader. Subject lines like “Hey” or “Check this out” can come off spammy and result in your perfectly legitimate email being moved to the trash folder post haste.
  • Use numbers: Numbered lists attract readers. Titles like “5 Reasons to Buy More Car Insurance” or “7 Kitchen Accessories You Can’t Live Without” will get read more often than the same titles without the numbers. Readers like detailed information that’s also packaged in an easy-to-read format.
  • Use your name: Email titles that include the name of your company or the name of the sender get opened at a dramatically higher rate than those without a name. Yes, your name is probably in the sender information, but add it again. You’ll be surprised.

Don’t settle for just any title atop your email marketing messages. The title is the key to whether any of the rest of your work will get read. Content is king and that includes email subject lines.

Getting the message across: Best practices for Multi-channel Marketing

We’ve all seen the people who have stacks of papers, folders, and a dozen different electronic devices all spread out across a desk. Sure, they might just be messy, but often they’re some of the busiest people in an office, keeping track of hundreds of different things all at once. They might be the jacks-of-all-trades to whom everyone goes when they have a problem they just can’t answer.

Or, they might just be a marketer.

When it comes to Internet marketing, it’s always been helpful to be a multitasker. This is especially true if have a lot of clients. You can imagine the disaster that would happen if you cross-posted a status update to the wrong client’s Facebook account. No matter how quickly you got the rogue post deleted, you know someone would capture it. You would then have to deal with the public relations mess you created, and then you would likely lose a client.

Handling that to-do list

Cross-channel marketing isn’t as easy as hopping between social media platforms and making posts. Marketers could be handling email newsletters, SMS messages, social media accounts, websites – and all for multiple clients. If that sounds a little something like your reality, you may need to get some help from experts in cross-channel marketing, so you can always represent your clients in the best light.

Another advantage of getting some professional guidance is that you’re able to track how effective your marketing campaigns are. You want to know who’s reading your SMS blasts, your tweets and posts – and which form of communication is most lucrative for your client.

Sorting things out

Organization is your best tool in any marketing campaign. There are tools and software that can help you stay on top of marketing campaigns and allow you to focus on the platforms that appeal most to the audience you hope to reach.

Cross-channel marketing can be intimidating – especially if you’re someone who’s new to the world of hashtags, memes and viral videos. It takes some expertise to launch a marketing campaign across multiple platforms. You have to understand when to post, what to say, how to say it and how to time your message for the best results. Many companies report that they simply don’t have adequate staff to accomplish such a goal, or that their staff doesn’t have the knowledge to undertake such a campaign.

By bringing in an industry expert to help you analyze and fine-tune your cross-channel marketing, you can be confident that you’re getting the best results and making your clients happy.

The Joy of Text: The Right Way to Do It

SMS marketing can be an easy and inexpensive way to stay in touch with your customers. SMS — also known as Short Message Service — marketing is when you send a text message to your customer database in order to tell them about your service or product. Various sources will tell you that a majority of people now own cell phones and that text messaging is prevalent among those who do. Usually SMS marketing is a means to get your customers through your door — physical or metaphorical — in order to purchase your product. SMS marketing can be tricky, so it’s important to have the right people helping you along the way. As you get started with SMS marketing, here are some basics to think about.

Get customers to grant permission

Given the laws about soliciting people via cell phone — including by text — it’s important you ensure your customer signs up to receive your texts. One of the best ways to do this is to provide an incentive like a chance to win an exciting new piece of technology or a gift certificate. Provide the number for your customer to enter the contest. Be sure to let entrants know that entering the contest also grants their permission to receive further text messages from your company. Although some consumers utilize unlimited texting plans, others do not and will want to know they will be charged a fee for receiving your texts. Be frank but friendly; letting customers know pertinent information upfront will decrease the likelihood of angry customers blocking your texts in the future.

Keep customers engaged

Offer your customers promotions to entice them to continue receiving your text messages. Give them a certain percentage off by entering the code given in the text message. You could offer a bonus item to the first ten people through your door the following day. If you’re a company that gives out free samples, considering including some kind of giveaway with orders, whether placed in person or online.

Know your customer and your product

It’s important for you to understand when your customers will be free to check their texts and respond to your message. If you’re appealing to stay-at-home parents or foodies who plan meals at the start of the day, considering sending a text in the morning about a dinner special you’re offering. Tantalize customers when they are likely to be hungry and looking for options. A late afternoon text can prompt action from a customer willing to stop by your place of business on his/her way home from the office, whether s/he’s picking up dinner or popping into your store to pick up a sweater on sale.

Use SMS marketing timing to your advantage

If business is slow, use SMS marketing to boost your sales. The message you send will get to your customers in a matter of seconds. Use that window of time to offer deals or discounts to customers who buy from you within a certain time frame. Be sure to be clear on the details of the offer, such as noting your offer is only good on the following Monday — not every Monday.

Be prepared for customers to respond

Once you have appealed to customers and you begin attracting business, make sure you’re able to provide what was offered. If you offer a buy-one-get-one special, have enough of that item to get through the promotional period. If you’re asking your customer to click on a link in a text message, ensure the link works so the customer can get to your website. Make sure the customer has a good experience so they will continue to receive the SMS marketing messages. Customers who have to jump through hoops just to save a small percentage off the regular price might not follow through if completing their purchase becomes an ordeal.

Opting out

Always give your customer a chance to opt out of receiving text messages from you. Every message you send should include instructions on how to stop receiving messages from you. Ideally, you’ll never lose any customers, but making it difficult to stop messages — no matter how interested the customer was when s/he signed up to receive communication from you — will only result in bad word of mouth that can affect the rest of your customer base.

SMS marketing is one of the easiest ways to stay connected to your customers. It’s crucial to get permission, respect your customer’s privacy and make it easy for them to both contact and shop with you. Happy customers breed positive feedback and return business!

Meeting Your Customers through Engagement

There’s a common suggestion many rock climbers have for those who want to start climbing: “Three on, one off.” This means you should have three extremities—two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand—touching the rock or wall at all times, ensuring multiple points of support. This is also a great way to think about cross-channel marketing. The more places you connect with customers, the more support you have. Even if a customer doesn’t connect with your business in one venue, they’ll hopefully connect with two or three others. This article will explain and highlight some tactics for cross-channel marketing, specifically in social media.

The pull method of marketing

Pull method marketing works when a product or service becomes so well-branded and valued that customers seek out the company’s stores and other places where their product is stocked. Rather than pushing the product at customers, marketers pull customers to the product through branding. How does a company brand their product or service? Cross-channel marketing to establish branding works like this: when customers hear about a product from a number of venues—like social media, email and television, as well as newspapers, storefronts and word of mouth—they then seek out and purchase the product or service due to the frequency and effective branding done by the company.

How should cross channel marketing work?

Pull method marketing is a simple theory, but a more complicated reality, as is cross-channel marketing. Cross-channel marketing creates a streamlined, repeated message that appears consistently in a variety of different venues, both physical and digital. But customers respond differently to emails than they would to ads on Facebook. Likewise, their presence and mentality on YouTube will be different from their mindset when sorting through the mail. Your marketing should be tailored to the particular medium—while repeating a streamlined message—so you connect with customers on a variety of levels. Cross-channeling focuses on meeting customers at each stop in a way that is applicable to the medium, re-establishing and repeating the company’s message.

What role should social media play?

Let’s look at an example when marketing on social media doesn’t work. The advertisements that appear on the sidebars of a website like Facebook or YouTube are often targeted to users based on their interests and search histories. While this is by no means a bad way to connect with new customers, it’s only doing half of the work that a streamlined, cross-channel campaign could accomplish. A more effective tactic would be to streamline communication with a customer through several venues, such as sending an email within a month of a similar-messaged ad that appears on Facebook and a video on YouTube. It’s important in a case like this to understand your customer and how they are likely to respond in a social media venue. Integrate data from multiple sources to better equip your cross-channel marketing strategy.

The fact is, customers won’t see every channel you employ for marketing. While it’s increasingly common for users to establish multiple presences online—Facebook, Twitter, blog, YouTube—they won’t be everywhere at once. What’s important is the availability and prominence of your message at each location so your message is consistent and streamlined when customers frequent a website or receive mail. This is a great way to achieve successful branding and your social media communication with customers will only grow from that point on.