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8/27/2014 2:02:52 PM

Native apps vs. responsive design

In the height of the digital age, many business owners are faced with the dilemma of choosing between adopting a responsive design for their website or focusing exclusively on building a native mobile application. There is no uniform or easy answer to the dilemma, as each business has different demographics, requirements and platforms. Both options present clear and ambiguous advantages and disadvantages that must be explored fully before progressing with sincerity.

Research carried out by analytics provider, Flurry shows that native applications are continuing to cement their usage lead in 2014 - commanding 86% of mobile consumer’s time. Time spent engaging with content via a mobile device continued to decline - averaging just 14% of consumer’s time. The data suggests that apps, which were considered to be something of a novelty by many respected figures within the industry a few years ago, are maintaining a firm grip on the mobile market, with the mobile browser becoming a mere afterthought amongst users.

However, it would be naïve and irresponsible to assume that the case for mobile browsing ends there. Now, thanks to responsive design, alongside the development and increased usage of HTML5 across a number of high-profile sites, mobile sites can offer many of the same features that were once unique to apps. Previously, a dedicated app could boast geo-location tagging, barcode scanning and in-store benefits unique to that platform, but now, many businesses and organisations are ensuring their designs allow for these features to be factored into their mobile platforms, so every user receives the same experience and reaps the same rewards.

Making the decision between a native app and adopting a responsive design requires time, preparation and thought. Acting on impulse without the hard data to back-up your reasoning is a recipe for disaster, and could result in significant loss. For those looking for a more pragmatic and logical approach to choosing between native applications and mobile websites, here are some of the pressing advantages and disadvantages of both platforms:

A native mobile application

Mobile applications are dedicated programs that are downloaded by the user and saved to a mobile device’s storage. Mobile applications must be designed and developed for the mobile operating systems you wish for it to run on. This generally includes supporting Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms – some businesses plump for one or the other, others choose to develop their apps for both platforms. This choice should be heavily influenced by data, as this will highlight exactly where and what device your existing consumers are using to reach you.  As a result of this, preparing, testing and distributing a mobile application for your business can be very time-consuming and expensive in the long term, but for many businesses, the development process and initial cost is immaterial once the app has delivered on it’s potential.  

  1. Strengthening the user experience: Native applications can offer a cleaner, faster and more succinct UX compared to many other existing mobile platforms – providing your designer and developer, or those you have outsourced have the time and dedication to deliver a high quality product.
  2. Boosting accessibility and speed: One of the major benefits of mobile applications is the ability to operate without an active internet connection, allowing customers to access their information and history at any time. Once more, if the developers behind the build are experienced and can code, test and remove bugs effectively, there’s a strong chance your application will load cleanly and quickly for your customers.
  3. The possibilities are endless: An application will allow you to be as creative as possible. With the development of technology, mobile platforms boast features that are far better suited to on-the-go usage and are just waiting to be implemented and tested by users.
  4. Improving your visibility: Upon installing your application on a device, users will have a one-tap, one-stop portal to your products and services. This puts your business at your customer’s fingertips and ensures you’re never out of reach.

In the interest of fairness, and to make you aware of the intricacies and practicalities of the native application, we must also assess the potential disadvantages of choosing to solely focus on the platform.

  1. Accessibility has its limitations: As your application will be built for a particular OS, you will have to ensure the application meets the current guidelines laid out by Apple and Google. If you don’t keep your platform up-to-date, you may find your application loses elements of, or all, functionality when the latest OS update is pushed out to the public.
  2. Playing the waiting game: All incremental and major application updates have to be submitted and approved by each respective app store, which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Preparation is key with this, so if you have a major campaign or promotion in the pipeline and you would like your application to reflect this event, you will need to make sure your updates are submitted promptly in order to combat any issues.
  3. Estimating the cost: Native application development will, more often than not be the most expensive option available to you.
  4. Accessing data: You will need to approach SEO in a very different manner with a mobile app. Google Analytics isn’t quite ready to offer all of the data you may require or expect having used the service on desktop, but a major update from Google will almost certainly be in the pipeline.

A responsive mobile design

Adopting a responsive design for your existing website will allow you maintain a single site that automatically fits the screen size and orientation of the device on which it is being viewed by the user. This is achieved by adapting the content, navigation and user interaction to deliver the same comfort and usability to the mobile user as you would to the desktop user.

  1. Maintaining a single website: A responsive design ensures the majority of your content remains the same, allowing you to maintain just one site and control the content that is pushed out across each design.
  2. Keeping one single URL: By keeping one URL for your site, you will ensure your users find your site just as easily on mobile devices, without the need for redirects or a separate website, which ultimately, will have a negative effect on any undertaken search engine optimisation.
  3. Controlling the cost: By adopting a responsive design for your mobile site, you remove the immediate need for a native application and additional domain and keep the development costs down in the process.
  4. Easily access your data: With a responsive design, there is no need to amend your current tracking platforms. Google Analytics will work in the same way it does for your desktop site, allowing you to create dedicated segments to track your website’s desktop and mobile users with ease.

Once more, and in the interest of fairness, we must also assess the potential disadvantages of solely investing in a responsive mobile design for your website.

  1. Content changes: You may need to amend some of your existing content or create new material in order to place emphasis on certain elements of the page, as the form factor will change as the design responds to the constraints of the user’s browser.
  2. Backwards compatibility: As responsive web design is a relatively new technology, there are still some outdated devices in circulation with built-in browsers that cannot adapt to the latest technology and design changes, leaving some users with no option but to use the full desktop site, which can often be a frustrating and off-putting experience.
  3. Creating a balance: Mobile, by nature and design, offers a vastly different user experience compared to desktop. Therefore, you will need to ensure you create balanced design that suits both the avid mobile and desktop user.
  4. Compromising on unique features: Although a responsive website optimises the experience for the user, it can fall short in offering the same technical features as a dedicated mobile application. Depending on the device’s software and permissions, a responsive website may not be able to obtain access the device’s camera or exact geo-location, for example.

Which platform is right for my business?

In order to answer this question appropriately and with confidence, you must refer back to the goals and aspirations you have for your business, the current scale of the business and the project you require and then finally, the budget you have available. If your business has a content-heavy site that hosts a significant amount of product/service information, then a responsive design website may be better suited in the long term. If your businesses’ site operates an e-commerce store that requires instinctive cross-device performance and a strong UX, a dedicated native application should serve you and your existing and prospective customers well. Ultimately, as technology and the online interface thrives and develops, adopting a responsive design should be an instinctive and fundamental decision. Developing a native application will require further assured consideration in order to assess whether or not it would be a worthy and sound investment for your businesses online future.

Whichever platform you choose to move forward with, keep one intention at the fore: to provide the best overall product and solution for your users.

8/26/2014 9:31:05 AM

Twitter Cards for SMBs

For small businesses with regularly updated content on their website, Twitter Cards can offer a diversified approach to building your brand’s identity online. Launched in 2013, Twitter Cards act in a very similar way to rich snippets and schema within search engine results and generally offer comparable benefits. A bolder and strategically placed rich snippet or inline card has the ability to make content more noticeable, reputable and engaging, and in turn, encourages the user to click through to your content and additional platforms as a result.

Twitter provides developer account owners (you can create an account for free, using your existing Twitter account) with a number of card types: App, Gallery, Lead Generation, Photo, Player, Product, Summary and Summary Large Image. However, it is worth noting that using Lead Generation cards comes at a cost, as it is a paid feature for those with a Twitter Ads account.

App card

If your business has developed a native application for your customers, the App card will allow you to promote your application to your followers and the wider Twitter community. Upon clicking on the app card, the user will be greeted with a brief pre-defined meta-description and application logo or associated image. If the user is browsing Twitter via desktop, they will be given the option of viewing the application’s listing on the web, or if they’re visiting on their mobile device, they will be given the option to download the application instantly, with a redirected link taking them to their respective application store.

Gallery card

If you’re looking for a fresh way of displaying visual content, then the Gallery card will allow you to promote a number of photos within a single tweet. The user will be presented with four individual frames, the account holder’s clickable Twitter handle and two individual links to the gallery; one from within the title and one that redirects the user to an external website hosting their content.

It is worth noting that this option does have compatibility limitations. If the Gallery card is embedded by the user elsewhere on the web, only one of the four images will be displayed. At this stage, only Twitter can display the card correctly on their platform.

Lead Generation card

The Lead Generation card can provide a simplistic and creative way to boost your newsletter sign-ups and create new relationships via Twitter. The user will be greeted with a title, a wide company banner and text to describe exactly what their inputted information will be used for in the long term. From here, they can simply click a single button and share the email address associated with their Twitter account, or any other email account, with you for further communication. If the first option is preferred, Twitter will automatically populate the user’s email address into the relevant field – reducing the time taken dramatically.

Photo card

The Photo card is presented in a very similar way to the Gallery card and the Summary Large Image card. The card provides businesses that wish to promote their own photography with the outlet to do so. The user will be presented with the initial tweet, a reasonably-sized embedded image, either uploaded directly by the user or linked to from a third-party extension and then the option to view the image externally, if it has been linked to from another website. Clicking on the photo will also expand the page to reveal a richer and more detailed view of the imagery.

Player card

If your business uses video or audio to convey your message, you can use the Player card to tweet each individual piece of media you create. If you use Vine or YouTube to publish and distribute your original multimedia content, then this card will allow you to embed an external player within your tweet that allows users to control playback, and in some cases, attach additional comments directly. When viewing a tweet with a Player card attached via desktop, the video will be rendered and shown automatically to the user. However, if browsing on Twitter's iPhone or Android native applications, the card will appear as an image preview with a ‘play’ icon over the image, allowing the user to control playback.

Product card

If you host an e-commerce store that allows customers to purchase items directly from your site, or you simply detail the products you offer in-store or offline via your website, you should almost certainly consider using the Product card without haste. The card allows you to include a title, meta-description, thumbnail image and Twitter handle for your product, along with other important details such as the recommended retail price, the location of the item and your business and the availability of the item at the time of tweeting. The card is designed to showcase your products and with Twitter’s interest in adding in-tweet ‘Buy’ and ‘Purchase’ buttons, this card could effectively become a unique platform for selling your items directly via Twitter in the not too distant future.

Summary card

If your content is focused upon conveying information, then a Summary card will be the most suitable option for you. The Summary card will allow you to include a title for the linked content, a small meta-description, a thumbnail image and an associated Twitter handle, allowing you to reference your businesses’ Twitter account or attribute authorship to a third-party. You will also receive an additional 200 characters to effectively summarise your content, in addition to the 140 characters of your initial tweet.

There is also an additional Summary card available with a larger image attachment, allowing you to focus on visual content, which will be explored further below.

Summary Large Image card

Twitter also offers a variation of the Summary card, with larger image integration. The Summary Large Image card boasts a larger, full-width image alongside the tweet and promoted content. It is designed to give the reader a richer visual experience, whereas the standard Summary card allows for a generalised text-based card. The user will be presented with the standard tweet, the larger image, a brief pre-defined meta-description and access to a clickable Twitter handle.

When browsing via desktop or exploring Twitter via the official iPhone or Android Twitter client, the larger image will be placed below the initial tweet. Clicking on the image will direct the user to your website.

Where do I go from here?

To begin using any of the aforementioned Twitter cards, you will need to amend your website’s code and add the appropriate metadata to the correct section of your site. You can access all of the relevant metadata on the developer page for each respective card. Twitter will ask you to fill out a number of forms based on the card format you have chosen and the nature of the content you are promoting in order to populate sample metadata that you can add to your website’s code.

Upon amending your website’s code and correctly inserting the card’s metadata into the appropriate content, you will need to validate your chosen card by using Twitter’s Card Validator. This process ensures all of the elements required to publish your card are working correctly. It is worth noting that the process is slightly different for the creation of Lead Generation cards, as you must associate your existing Twitter account with the Twitter Ads platform if you wish to take advantage of these cards. Once you have completed the necessary steps, you will be given a custom link to add to your tweets.

At time of writing, many major organisations are just beginning to implement Twitter Cards into their social strategies. Therefore, credible and fruitful data on the definitive benefits of Twitter Cards as a social success or search benefactor is yet to be published. However, based on initial industry musings, there are clear identifiable parallels with other successful inline social features. Additionally, the average click-through rate on Twitter ranges from .5% to 3%. As Twitter Cards allow visual content to be attached to ‘shareable’ content, your content is statistically more likely to stand out in the Twitter stream, potentially resulting in increased social engagement and increased traffic to your website and promoted content.

Whilst the cards are in their infancy, any SMB looking to embrace the latest developments and approach their social strategy from a unique perspective should begin to factor Twitter Cards into their ongoing strategy, as the benefits are as yet certified, but could prove incredibly profitable in the long term.

8/19/2014 9:32:37 AM

Exploring the value of the web

In this fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, owning and operating a successful small business is far easier said than done. New technology is constantly unearthed and implemented, and it ultimately falls to the overloaded business owner to realise and assess these developments in order for the business to stay abreast.

With these existing constraints, many smaller businesses are failing to adjust their ongoing online strategy, and in many cases, most business owners fail to see - or simply let online potential pass them by. To many, the idea of making a big impact online will be the product of spending a significant amount of money on development.  However, in order to make a start and increase your visibility online, your business needs to be relevant, consistent and accessible on the web.

In 2013, there were 4.9 million businesses operating in the UK, with over 99% of those businesses employing fewer than 50 people. However, 52% of those small businesses still have no online presence to speak of. Now, many business owners may argue that their businesses don’t need to be online; they don’t sell actively sell products, their services require a personal approach that a website cannot offer or, they already advertise via more traditional channels.

Taking a laidback approach, in the current climate, could leave you in the dust, with your competitors racing ahead and cornering the market you’re looking to tap into. Already, there’s a 50/50 chance that at least one of your competitors does have a website and is acquiring new business because of it. A recent study carried out by the Office of National Statistics identified that 38 million adults head online every single day - 21 million more than in 2006, when records began. To add to this figure, users are no longer just heading online to find information or research their interests; they’re now tweeting, liking, sharing, engaging, commenting, reviewing, comparing – the opportunities are endless and so are the choices on offer. If you’re not online, you can’t be factored into the decision making process and you will be overlooked.

As a small business, it's unlikely you'll have the time, inclination or resources to develop a complex online strategy, but that’s not to say that there aren’t manageable and affordable options available to you. At the fore, a website is the most important element for a small business to establish their online presence. A website will serve as the focal destination for the whole brand, as a storefront and as a conveyor. If a company has one thing, it should be a well done website.

If you’re serious about taking your business online and the future and growth of your company matters to you, then the cost of developing and launching a website is immaterial, when you factor in the potential return of investment that a fully-functioning and interactive website can offer. To look at things from a wider perspective, a website will allow you to trade globally, accept payments, manage your content and output, build subscriptions, engage with your audience, accept newsletter registrations and present your products and services to the masses.

Running before you can walk

Making your presence known online doesn't necessarily mean trying to take your business global in an instant. Building relationships with your existing offline customers and peers on a local level is fundamental to the success of many small businesses – they are, after all, the reason you’re looking to expand. By engaging with your core demographic and bridging the commerce gap, you can create a seamless experience that allows for an always-active online connection, with offline sales working on equal footing. This will, in turn, allow you to build a network of loyal and valued customers who will return to your business again and again.

Highlighting your accessibility

By developing a website for your business, you will be allowing people to interact with you in a way that suits them, at a time that suits them. The days of conventional opening hours have long gone for the majority of online businesses. Now, a simple enquiry form can ignite the sales process, as potential customers can ask questions and request further contact at any moment, from anywhere in the world. From a wider perspective, this level of accessibility can be heightened by developing a social media strategy, an option that will be explored further in the next section of this blog post. However, to begin with, the need for a well-designed professional website with product/service descriptions, calls-to-action and easily identifiable contact details will be the most important elements moving forward.

Incorporating social into your strategy

Tapping into the value of social media is a task that can be carried out during the development of the website - it shouldn’t be an afterthought and it definitely shouldn’t be the only way in which you engage with your customers online. Creating numerous social media channels and hoping for the best outcome can often result in a confused and misinformed social strategy. If you’re looking to take your brand onto social media, you need to establish where your potential customers will be. Assumption can often lead to time wasted and money being lost, something which few business owners will appreciate. So, you need to identify the right social media channels for your business, be consistent with the tone, branding and messages you convey and produce rich content for each individual channel. The majority of these platforms are free and if used correctly, they can help you engage with your customers and potentially reach a wider audience, but they should be additional channels that, ultimately, lead back to your website.

The vital takeaway from this blog post is the fundamental necessity of a website for emerging small businesses. Some of the additional platforms and channels can be explored in time, with patience, practice and informed analysis. However, it is clear that in today’s marketplace, with users adopting a critical approach to purchasing, a company needs to have an existing online presence in order to appear legitimate and worthy in the eyes of the consumer.

8/12/2014 3:11:08 PM

Google backs web-wide encryption

Last week, Google announced that it will now factor a website’s HTTPS encryption into its search results rankings. This follows the company's call for "HTTPS everywhere on the web” at their annual developer conference, Google I/O in June.

The company has since adjusted its search engine algorithms to provide websites that use HTTPS encryption with a boost in its search engine results pages.

Why has Google made this algorithm adjustment?

Google has been experimenting with encryption across its various platforms for a number of years. In September 2013, they confirmed the staggered rollout of encrypted search to all users and earlier this year, they expanded encrypted search to all registered clicks from paid advertisements. This shift to encrypting search queries has also been replicated by the other major players in the search engine field, with Bing, Duck Duck Go and Yahoo also embracing the move and allowing for secure search activity.

At first glance, Google’s minor algorithm update may seem largely insignificant. The company often makes minor changes on a monthly basis, with larger, more substantial adjustments being pushed out quarterly. However, with a degree of critical thinking, this change could be viewed as Google using its undeniable influence to put even more pressure on websites to conform to what it believes to be “best practice” online.

Google’s penchant for promoting best practices began as an effort to help teams within Google establish their seniority within SERPs, but has now branched out to help webmasters that are new to the topic of search engine optimisation and wish to improve their sites' interaction with their users and search engines across the web. Generally speaking, following these specified best practices will make it easier for search engines to crawl, index and understand your content, which allows for a developed understanding of what your website offers to users.

The multinational corporation has attempted to alleviate fears of conformity by stating that usage of HTTPS as a ranking factor “will affect less than 1% of search queries worldwide.” However, this lightweight figure may seem immaterial at present, but the direct notion of Google encouraging site owners to make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS will in time, cause this figure to rise, as they aim to match competitors and increase their brand’s online security. The ‘S’ in HTTPS stands for secure, so this change essentially means that websites using correctly installed, secure and encrypted connections across their domains will benefit from this ranking update at some point in the near future.

What effect will the changes have on existing websites?

Ultimately, this is a positive step in the right direction for secure online activity, and the changes made will provide benefits for online businesses, regardless of industry, sector or online platform. Whether you run an e-commerce store and you host customer credentials locally or you simply offer a community portal for users - sites using HTTPS encrypt the data between the user’s browser and the site, providing vital security and protection of user privacy on a site-wide basis. At present, the majority of sites online using HTTPS to encrypt data are e-commerce websites. These sites require additional security protocols, as they host payment details, billing information and transaction history, but that’s not to say non-commerce sites don’t need or require the fundamental protection HTTPS can offer.

We often read or hear about hackers targeting websites, but we frequently misjudge the ease in which they can attack a browser. Hackers can actively push harmful malware or falsely lull a user into visiting a cloned site in order to gain access to private information. These techniques don’t require targeting a singular specific victim, they can be launched en-masse from anywhere on the web, irrespective of the attacker’s geographic location or immediate relationship with the target.

HTTPS encryption can help minimise these online attacks by concealing the data from prying eyes and moving it to a more appropriate location within the sitemap. The traffic will still remain visible, but it will now appear as a stream of random, harmless bytes rather than raw HTML, links, cookies and confidential passwords. The encryption contained within HTTPS is intended to provide security benefits like maintaining confidentiality, integrity and identity for users supplied data. Their information is kept hidden because only the browser they’re using and the server that’s hosting the website can decrypt the incoming information and traffic.

As a result of these changes and a well-documented desire from website owner’s to make the web a more secure and safer platform, secure and encrypted connections will almost certainly become commonplace for all websites in the immediate future.

How can I set up HTTPS encryption for my website?

In the coming weeks, Google are expected to publish a detailed document, highlighting new best practices to make adapting to HTTPS easier and to avoid common mistakes throughout the journey. If your website is already using HTTPS encryption, you can test its security level and configuration with the Qualys Lab tool. In the meantime, here are some basic tips to get started:

  • Identify and decide upon the appropriate certificate that your platform needs: a single, multi-domain or wildcard certificate.
  • Use 2048-bit key certificates.
  • Use relative URLs for elements that reside on the same secure domain.
  • Use protocol relative URLs for all other associated domains.
  • Read Google’s guidelines on how to change your website’s address and make any required adjustments.
  • Don’t block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt, as Google cannot identify the content hosted on the site.
  • Allow appropriate indexing of your pages by search engines wherever possible. Avoid the ‘noindex’ meta tag for your site.

In the short term, these changes won’t make a huge difference to positioning within the search rankings. Google maintains that site’s boasting the encryption won’t automatically shoot to the top of their results pages and that signals such as rich and diverse content will continue to play the biggest role in getting your businesses’ name out into the digital landscape.

7/21/2014 9:05:52 AM

Your guide to Google My Business

What is Google My Business?

In June, Google launched an adapted all-in-one platform for local and non-local businesses to increase their online presence, in the shape of, ‘Google My Business’. The new platform allows business owners to create a free integrated Google profile for their business, with the ability to promote content to their connected audience, add customer reviews and heighten location accuracy and increase visibility within search results and Google Maps all included within the easy-to-use interface.

Why do I need Google My Business?

For a number of years, these features and services were managed across various Google platforms, namely Google Pages and Google+ Local - causing a visible disconnect between local businesses looking to market their services online and the world’s most frequently used search engine. However, the new Google My Business interface presents a much more accessible approach to building your brand’s online identity and also allows you to easily edit and publish information to keep your audience updated and connected. First and foremost, Google My Business could help improve your site’s ongoing search engine optimisation strategy. As Google My Business places your correct business information throughout Google Search, Google Maps, and Google+, more often than not you will find yourself ranking higher in local search results than you would have without the help of Google My Business. You’ll also be giving yourself a healthy competitive advantage with Google My Business, as the majority of local businesses have not yet taken full advantage of the platform, nor has the platform reached its full potential.  

Additionally, if you previously used Google Places or Google+ Local to manage your business’ information and have not recently logged in, your account will have been automatically upgraded to Google My Business.

How to use Google My Business

At this point, you will be presented with the option to sign in or “Get onto Google” to access their services.

Sign in

If you already have an existing Google+ account for your business or you have previously set up a Google Places account or similar, you can login with your existing details to associate your account. If you have yet to use Google’s services, you will need to create a new Google+ account before proceeding.

You will now be presented with a map of the world. If you have associated your business with Google in any way previously, you can search for it using its address and postal code. If your details produce no matches, you can create a new profile for your business. Simply click the cog symbol next to “Not a local business?” and click “Create new page” to proceed.

Local business setup

Despite Google asking if you’re not a local business, following this approach will still allow you to successfully set up a Google My Business account for your local business.

Select your business type

To add your business to Google My Business, you must have a verified postal address and meet Google’s quality guidelines. If you meet these necessary requirements, you will then be asked to select the most appropriate match for your business: a shop front, a business serving a dedicated area or a brand. If you’d like to promote a brand, product, organisation or any other entity without a verifiable address, you should create a brand, organisation or artist page.

Your business details

You will then be asked to provide various details for your business, including the business name, the city the business operates in and the main business telephone number. As Google collects data from many sources to compose business information in their search results, each business is required to verify their identity. To ensure that the basic information you submit is accurate, Google will ask you to verify it by entering a verification code that will be sent to your business address or via telephone.

Google+ header

Once complete, your account will be set up and you’ll be directed to a new window, highlighting the new Google My Business interface. Upon visiting for the first time, you will be greeted with a largely featureless header. You are encouraged to edit additional information, such as business opening hours, a link to your website and your Google Maps-associated address to increase your visibility within search engine results pages and allow your followers or potential customers to gain access to your information as and when they need it. You are also strongly advised to upload several photos of your business to the platform, as Google can often include these images and other additional textual information within local search results as rich snippets, which will significantly increase your search engine visibility. 

Below the main header, you will find a number of feature tabs:

  • The ‘Share’ tab will allow you to push out updates and photographs to your followers, link to your own content or content you would like to share and also publish information for upcoming events.
  • The ‘Insights’ tab will offer analytics for your business page. The basic metrics recorded include visibility (the number of page visits), engagement (the number of Google shares from users) and audience (follower growth). You can then use this data to help shape and influence potential social media campaigns and develop an ongoing informed relationship with your followers.

Additionally, you can also view Google Analytics data within the Google My Business platform, providing you have a working Analytics account.

Google My Business is a pro-active step in the right direction to get your local business on the online map. The platform offers a free and simple way of finding and connecting with the people that may be most interested in the products and services you have to offer, no matter where you are in the world. In turn, Google has produced a streamlined and more coherent process for managing data, reviews and social interactions for local businesses and has consolidated their wide range of small business marketing products to allow local businesses to find their feet online.

7/18/2014 4:08:01 PM

Monopolising the mobile market

The digital landscape has irrevocably splintered, with an emerging acute focus on the mobile market. Simply put, users now expect to receive the information they require with immediacy, accuracy and context, across multiple platforms. Naturally, with these changes in technology and customer expectations comes a shift in marketing techniques, as marketers promptly reassess their targets and strive to engage and interact with customers in stimulating new ways.

When trying to predict where this shift to mobile will lead, a definitive answer will be hard to come by, but with 1.75 billion people worldwide expected to own and actively use a smartphone by the end of 2014, the mobile industry will almost certainly continue to thrive and develop. Google has predicted that mobile searches will overtake desktop-based searches in 2015, with around 85 billion searches originating from a mobile or tablet. Similarly, spending for adverts promoted within Google’s search engine saw a 120% growth for paid mobile adverts, whereas desktop adverts registered a growth of just 2.3%

This surge in mobile-based communications creates an important opportunity for businesses to transform their customer’s perceptions of their brand, boost conversions and reach out to prospective customers by ensuring their marketing and advertising strategies are focused and their platforms are equipped to deal with enquiries from multiple devices.

Building with mobile in mind

John Lewis website

First and foremost, businesses must begin to understand the context in which their customers use mobile devices to view their website, rather than simply transferring the existing desktop experience to hastily meet mobile demand.

Responsive design allows for a platform that responds to the user’s behaviour and environment based on their device type, screen size and orientation. As the user switches from their laptop to iPad, the website should automatically switch to accommodate the screen’s resolution, image size and scripting abilities – all whilst maintaining vital page elements from the desktop site and offering a unified user experience regardless of the user’s browsing device.

A consistent user experience will increase the likelihood that users who discover your business’ products or services on their desktop can easily make conversions on their mobile device, or vice versa, at a later date. With research suggesting that 70% of mobile searches lead to conversions on websites within one hour and websites that choose to adopt a responsive design could receive a conversion boost of 20%, it is vital that your site is optimised to be viewed on portable devices.

Crafting the mobile advert

Beyond on-page elements and design, this leaning propensity towards browsing and viewing content via mobile devices presents a potential opportunity for advertisers to capture mobile success in ways that were previously unobtainable via traditional methods. Recent statistics show that consumers spend 20% of their time consuming media via portable devices, up from 12% last year. However, advertisers are still only spending 4% of their total budget on securing mobile ads online. Print media, on the other hand, receives an injection of 19% to secure ads, despite taking up just 5% of consumers' time on a daily basis.

Advertisers are attempting to respond to consumers’ rapidly increasing time spent with mobile devices, but there are numerous challenges that currently prevent them from reaching their goal of securing profitable mobile ads. These challenges include issues with tracking the outreach of ads and the sheer number of devices currently available on the market making it difficult for development teams to identify an appropriate landing page for a number of different devices. The latter can be remedied by businesses adapting to responsive design, thus eliminating styling and optimisation issues when the user clicks through the advert on a device that doesn’t fit the intended form factor.

At face value, tracking the efficiency of ads can be a difficult process for an advertiser. It can be challenging to measure conversions that start on one device or browser and resume on another and it can also be challenging to see if a user has made further contact with the business behind the advert, as in-person follow-ups or phone calls cannot be quantified easily via an electronic platform. However, Google has now introduced estimated cross-device conversions in AdWords to enable advertisers to track actions that start on one device and lead to a conversion on another – such as when a customer searches for a product or service on their mobile device but ultimately switches to their desktop to complete the purchase.

Mobile as a necessity

If your business is going to compete and accommodate those browsing via mobile or tablet, then first and foremost, you must understand the journey the user will take when browsing your site. Mobile users have increasingly contrasting requirements and priorities compared to those who browse via a desktop, despite them looking to achieve the same end result. If your site is designed with e-commerce in mind, you must meet your customer’s and any prospective customer’s expectations within a matter of seconds, otherwise they can very easily utilise their power of choice and venture elsewhere.

A report published in 2013 suggested that the median load time for first-time visitors to e-commerce sites was 7.04 seconds. In theory, this figure should be considerably less for a mobile version of a site, with fewer resources required to push content to the user. With this, monitoring and measuring user behaviour is vital for understanding the mobile user journey. If you are not aware of the path your customers take when viewing your website via a portable device, you cannot understand what to improve, where to improve it and why it should be done.

Google Analytics

Tracking and analysing mobile data is vital to assess your website’s performance and more importantly, improve engagement with your audience across multiple channels. More importantly, understanding site usage patterns for mobile, desktop and tablet users is of paramount importance in an age where users are using a variety of devices to access and consume your content. The Advanced Segments feature within Google Analytics allows you to isolate these different types of traffic across numerous platforms within your reporting. The feature lets you filter device data by almost any metric available on the platform, before applying it to your reports for further analysis – allowing for a simplified method of tracking  visitor data across multiple devices.

From a design and development perspective, you must also ask yourself: Can our users navigate the mobile site easily? Are all of the elements identifiable to the user? Are there certain areas that require further attention? Are these problematic areas causing users to abandon potential purchases? These are all important questions to ask when attempting to analyse the mobile user journey, but to truly gain insight into the customer experience, you should experience the site as a potential customer and assess whether or not you would find it easy to achieve the goals you would like your customer’s to reach.

Irrespective of your focus or industry, the mobile platform is increasingly becoming an instinctive tool for millions of users. Those who embrace this shift in behaviour with immediacy and begin to deliver what their customers need and require from them on a digital level will gain a healthier advantage moving forward than those that continue to view mobile in isolation.

7/17/2014 9:06:59 AM

The importance of content throughout the customer journey

Content is king

Content marketing is no longer solely focused on raising awareness for the consumer of the latest and greatest. Content needs to provide assurance, drive engagement and deliver knowledge and understanding. Simply housing content on your site, like a blog or a series of product pages, and expecting them to deliver is a sure-fire way of approaching the increasingly non-linear customer journey in the wrong manner. For content to be truly effective, you will need to establish a content strategy that can provide the right content at the right time.

The path a customer takes on their journey to making a purchase, and the need for relevant information and support at each incremental stage, naturally vary by product and service. However, there are key transferable elements that can be used to identify the relationship between creating content and catering for the customer on their journey. Understanding these stages will allow you to create appropriate content for your target audience as and when they need it.

From the perspective of the customer, their journey can be simplified into three stages: discovering the brand; be it via a search engine, social media campaign or branded newsletter, researching the best or most suitable product for their needs and finally, purchasing the product. From the businesses’ perspective, the corresponding stages are: raising awareness; via your branded platform or social media accounts, asserting your expertise and credibility and fundamentally, making the sale. To get to this crucial third and final stage, you need to ensure your potential buyer is provided with compelling content that offers a solution at every step.

Making the discovery/Raising brand awareness

At the beginning of the customer journey, the prospective customer is searching for a solution and you want to be the company that they plump for to solve their query. At this stage, your aim should be to provide rich, informative content that sets you apart from your competition. There are numerous ways to present your business to potential customers: unique blog posts, high-quality infographics and rich video content, all promoted via your social media accounts, are among the most effective pieces of content to help you get your products and services noticed.

Whilst creating dynamic content is important, assessing its effectiveness is also vital for boosting conversions and building relationships with your customers. Measuring the data behind your content can help your business become more responsive to the ever-changing needs of your customers and keep up with emerging trends within the industry. Analysing data can be a daunting process, but by using an online analytics tool, the process can become more intelligent, organised and the software can help you capture important metrics that may have previously been out of reach, such as; campaigns, in-site search and on-site user behaviour. Google Analytics is the most popular tool used by online marketers in measuring metrics, tracking social data and analysing trends for improved SEO.

You should also ensure your branding is consistent across all of your online platforms. Your website, logo and ads all play a significant role in boosting your visibility and consistency assures the customer of your visual approach. Your online presence is essential, if potential customers cannot see you, they cannot think of you when it comes to the next step: researching the appropriate product for their needs.

Conducting research/Asserting your knowledge

Once the customer has identified the product or service they need, ensuring they have sufficient credible information on hand allows them to make an assured decision about what is right for them. Content at this stage of the customer journey offers a developed insight into the product or service itself, exploring features in-depth, demonstrating provenance and assessing the response of those who have previously purchased the product or similar.

A 2013 case study carried out by VWO (Visual Web Optimiser) highlighted the considerable potential of implementing third-party review add-ons to a web page in a bid to boost credibility and conversions. In their A/B test, they added a small widget to e-commerce store, Express Watches’ website, with genuine customer reviews added to each product page. The test was a success for the business, with the positive customer reviews reducing initial buyer apprehensions, highlighting their success and boosting sales by 58 percent.

Credibility and user trust is something that is established and earned over time as you build up your customer base, but there are ways to increase the trust level of your website, even on a basic level if you’re a new business starting up. This can involve:

  • Building relationships with influential social followers from your field – assuring the customer that their peers approve of your products.
  • Client testimonials – offering intimate recommendations to alleviate hesitance. ·
  • Implementing visible SSL certificates - allowing for secure connections from server to browser and secure payment transactions.

Purchasing a product/Making a sale

The final stage of the customer journey is naturally the most important for any business, but also the most difficult to achieve. If you’ve done a good job establishing your viability to the customer throughout the journey, the final stage should result in a natural conclusion. The customer will have invested into your business and the products or services you have to offer and be ready to proceed on their journey. However, there is still a possibility that your content during the latter stages of the journey could result in the customer referring back to your competitors if the quality diminishes.

As of Q1 2014, 60% of online activity is mobile and mobile is quickly becoming the customer’s instinctive platform. This increase has dramatically transformed customer expectations and if there is a dichotomy between desktop and mobile platforms, the customer could miss out on important content during the final stages of the journey. A way to combat a stark contrast between platforms is to invest in responsive design for your website. Responsive design allows for a unified user experience across multiple platforms and ensures the customer receives a mirrored experience throughout the journey. Some businesses choose to opt for desktop and mobile-friendly sites, others for just one or the other, but more often than not, a lack of consistency diminishes any effort put in by their development team and can harm conversions long term.

The nature of web design means that those purchasing via a desktop site will have a different aesthetic experience compared to those purchasing on their mobile or tablet. However, aside from visual changes, perhaps the most concerning issue is the difference between the pages displayed across the mobile version of the site. The consumer could potentially miss out on delivery information and support forms – all vital pieces of content that enable a smooth customer journey, reduce confusion and increase the likelihood of the customer returning to the site post-sale. More worryingly, if there is a disconnect between desktop and mobile, users may miss out on enquiry forms or subscription services – two fundamental on-page elements that boost engagement and increase conversions for your site. Tracking these events via Google Analytics can offer impressive benefits for any site, so ensuring users on both desktop and mobile can view these pages across both platforms is vital.

Moving forward, to excel in your industry and build a core trusting audience will require the ability to engage with the customer throughout their journey, reaching out across multiple platforms with engaging and informative content that is rich, rooted by data and measured for efficiency. Rather than relying upon one preferred marketing method to drive business and increase conversions, we must inherently focus on digital marketing as a whole and focus upon the bigger picture. 

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6/27/2014 11:50:29 AM

Google scales back authorship design

Google has announced that they will be removing authorship profile photos and ‘Circles’ counts from its search results over the next few days.

The alteration is expected to create a more consistent look across multiple devices and allow for a more streamlined and “less-cluttered” design for the results page. The new design will feature a clickable author name before the content’s title, with the URL and timestamp following below.

Launched in 2011, Google’s authorisation tag allows for additional professional information to appear in search results for content created by an individual.

John Mueller's authorship announcement

John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster trends analyst, suggested that those with existing authorship should not be concerned about a drop in click-through behaviour, as (Google’s) tests indicate that behaviour on this new design is “similar” to the previous incarnation.

Google is continually making amendments to its user interface, often most noticeably to its SERPs (search engine results pages), desktop and mobile platforms. With a recent change to its mobile user interface increasing the visibility of PPC adverts and obscuring the immediacy of organic search results, a case could be made for the idea that Google has reduced the visual impact of authorship-backed content to ensure more financially viable results are positioned appropriately.

The true nature of the UI changes can only be left open to interpretation, bar an official explanation from Google, but at the forefront of these amendments is the notion that Google has potentially removed one of the fundamental reasons to sign up to its authorship programme.

Will these changes make authorship redundant?

Previously, having an image associated with your content in the SERPs was one of the most compelling reasons for obtaining authorship, simply for the potential positioning change, visual exposure and seniority on the topic of your choice amongst peers. With this imagery removed, is authorship still worthwhile?

In the short term, yes it is. There isn’t an obvious downside to having your Google+ profile associated with your content and there is still the potential for positioning changes at a later date when Google’s algorithm is updated. Equally, if you are deemed by Google to have authority over a particular subject and your content is displayed positively, there is no immediate negative associated with authorship.

In the long term, the potential effect this update may have is that Google witness a distinct drop in users attempting to sign up for authorship, with the most visual and socially interactive incentives now missing from the service.

How do I set-up authorship for my content?

If, despite these emerging changes, you would like to obtain authorship for your content, a detailed Google+ profile with a clear, high-quality headshot for use as a profile photo is required, first and foremost. From here, you can verify authorship for your content by associating it with your Google+ profile.

  • Certify that each piece of content is appropriately accredited to you, with a detailed byline. This byline must match your full Google+ profile name.
  • Ensure your Google+ profile has a recognisible headshot in use as the main profile photo.
  • Create link to your Google+ profile from your website, like this:

<a href="[profile_url]?rel=author">Google</a>

  • Replace [profile_url] with the your Google+ profile URL:

<a href="">Google</a>

  • Your link must contain the ?rel=author parameter. If it's missing, Google won't be able to associate your content with your Google+ profile.
  • Add a reciprocal link back from your profile to the website you just updated.
    • Edit the ‘Contributor to…’ section.
    • In the dialog that appears, click ‘Add custom link’, and then enter the website URL that hosts your content.
    • Click ‘Save’.

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6/19/2014 3:01:54 PM

Get to grips with Google Tag Manager

A common problem for most businesses in the digital age is getting changes made to their tracking platforms quickly and reliably. If you’re simply looking to deploy a new tag onto your website and you’re at the mercy of an already incredibly busy development team, this process can take a considerable amount of time – time that could be spent to greater benefit, elsewhere.

With the help of Google Tag Manager, tags can be deployed via an online user interface in a matter of minutes – removing the need for time-consuming code amendments.

What is Google Tag Manager?

Google Tag Manager is a tag management system that provides an alternative means of creating and managing all of your website’s tags and code from one centrally managed place. The platform is intended to be simple enough for those without technical know-how to use it efficiently and gain meaningful results. Tag management systems have been available for a number of years, but Google’s free tool integrates seamlessly with Google Analytics and Adwords, allowing for a unified method of tracking your website’s data. There is a slight caveat: it’s not completely aimed at the novice, as code does need to be added upon setup, but after that, creating new tags and amending old ones is a straightforward process.

What can it do for me?

At first glance, Google Tag Manager’s clean, easy-to-use interface and the luxury of having all of your website’s tags collated in one place is as big a benefit as any, but Google Tag Manager also offers several other distinctive benefits.

Firstly, Google Tag Manager is an asynchronous platform, so when it executes a task, it does not block other elements from rendering on the page. Tags can often add weight to your pages and sometimes slow down loading times. However, as Google Tag Manager deploys asynchronously, a slow loading tag won’t affect other functioning tags, resulting in better online response times and an improved user experience.

Having to debug your website’s code after it has been published can be time-consuming, but with Google Tag Manager you can easily amend and tweak any code snippets that aren’t functioning as they should, effectively minimising downtime and time spent correcting errors with your development team.

Google Tag Manager also allows you to assign access to multiple user accounts, with different levels of viewing, editing and publishing privileges. This feature provides convenience for businesses wanting to give multiple employees access to tools or needing to share access with clients while ensuring only certain individuals have appropriate control.

How do I set-up Google Tag Manager?

To begin managing tags using Google Tag Manager, you’ll need to:

  • Go to to create an account (or access an existing account).
  • Create a container for your site’s code (this should be your site’s domain name).
  • Once the container is created, you can start creating tags for your website via the user interface. Google provides a number of templates, but also allows custom tags to be added.
  • If you intend on synchronising Google Tag Manager with Google Analytics, simply choose ‘Google Analytics’ from the ‘Tag type’ dropdown menu when adding new tags to seamlessly connect the two platforms.

Google Tag Manager offers a valuable alternative to those wishing to take control of their tag management. It’s unified features and intuitive user interface attributes control to those who need the information tags can offer, but lack the experience and knowledge of coding that was previously required to extract the data. The valuable time saved and the information collected by Google Tag Manager, makes the platform a clear and necessary choice for any business looking to succeed in the digital age.

4/1/2014 2:55:24 PM

LinkedIn kills Product and Service pages

LinkedIn kills Product and Service Pages for business accounts

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or don’t have a LinkedIn business page, or even an Internet connection –in which case, how are you reading this in the first place?-, you might have heard that LinkedIn just decided to eliminate Products and Services Pages from your business account. The announced date is around the corner -April 14, 2014-, and you really want to catch up with LinkedIn before the site obliterates all this information and you find yourself with an almost blank company page. But don’t worry,we have the keys to help you overcome he problem.

What do I do with my LinkedIn product and services information?

LinkedIn Product and Service pages

LinkedIn launched its Showcase Pages in November, and after a few months of running-in they expect us all to move into them. These pages are extensions of your company page that allow you to extend your online presence by creating specific LinkedIn pages for your products and services. The main aim is for you to build long-term relationships with highly targeted audiences around each product or service that you offer.

These pages have their own wall, which allows you not only the possibility to add specific descriptions about your products and services –like you did in your company profile-, but also lets you publish status updates. This is especially useful because every time your followers engage with your updates, they will spread the information within their own networks, giving your business portfolio more visibility and increasing consumer awareness.

How do I create a Showcase Page?

To create a Showcase Page you just need a few minutes and administrator permission for the LinkedIn Company page:

  1. Identify those areas of your business that need a Showcase Page. If you had Products & Services pages, that would make the process easier; just remember that you’re meant to publish relevant information for each Showcase page on a regular basis, so just make sure that each business area is up to the challenge.
  2. Go to the “Edit” dropdown menu on he right site of the company profile and select “Create a Showcase Page”. LinkedIn creates the page straight away, so make sure you have thought about it through and through and have most of the service information ready.
  3. Our most important recommendation for your page optimisation is to include a good cover photo. It will make you stand out from the crowd.

Can I keep my LinkedIn product & service recommendations?

Finally -and if you were lucky enough- you might have some followers/client recommendations on your services pages, you most likely want to keep them at any cost. In this case, and according to LinkedIn, you should either copy the text from the tab into your own document. You can also request a copy from the social network for any recommendation made before March 4, 2014 –this service will be available until May 30, 2014.

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