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9/19/2014 9:17:37 AM

Which social media platform is right for your business?

In 2014, there are endless established and emerging social networks. We’re currently spending a significant portion of our daily lives sharing disappearing instant messages, six-second videos of our online and offline escapades and in the extreme, simply saying the word “Yo!” to complete strangers. From a business perspective, we would like to tap into their success and have a presence, albeit limited on some, on all of the social channels available to us. However, finding the time and resources to maintain every social platform out there can be extremely time-consuming, if not downright impossible.

If your business is just beginning to tread the online waters, then you may need some help in establishing the appropriate social networks for you. Many make the, admittedly easy, assumption of plumping for the most popular and visible networks, however, this can often have unfortunate and costly consequences, as each business has individual needs to meet on the ever-evolving social scale. To help you decide which social media platform is best suited for your business, we have created a simple guide that should help you identify the right social fit for you.  

Ask yourself: Why?

Before we take a look at the many social offerings, at the heart of almost every successful social campaign is an effective and detailed strategy. You wouldn’t enter into a new business venture blind, so don’t attempt to do the same with your social networks. Before you proceed, you must ask yourself: Why am I trying to take my business social? What am I hoping to achieve? How will I maintain the channels?

At its core, social media is all about reaching out and connecting with your audience on an authentic level. In order to be able to do that well, you need to understand exactly who your existing and prospective customers are. If you own a business with a storefront, you will be more than aware of the types of people who cross over your threshold on a daily basis, but they may not be the people that will actively engage with you online and via social networks.

When defining your target audience, you should start to distinguish their character, personalities and habits. Who are your customers? How old are they? What do they like most about your brand? What do they like to do online? Do they already share content from brands and businesses they enjoy? You will need to leverage the activities and interests of those you’re looking to attract in order to see if the demand for your social presence is out there.

From here, identify exactly what you’re looking to get out of social media. Are you looking to boost conversions? Engage with your customers? Maintain an active online presence? Ideally, these should all be by-products of social media usage and in the digital age, an online presence is, in many ways, fundamental to success. By completing this step, you can pinpoint any potential problems or concerns you may have with your existing online setup, and then begin to establish how, or if they can be resolved by increasing your social output.  

Upon carefully defining your audience and social intent, take the time to work out which social networks your customers are using and currently prefer. Each individual channel has its own features, user base and quirks. Twitter is an excellent platform for keeping up-to-date from a media and news perspective, Facebook will allow you to converse with friends and loved ones, whilst sharing personal content and Google+ has many different search benefits that come from the channel’s social features. With billions using social media every single day, it is incredibly important to understand the differences between the platforms, so you can begin to focus your efforts on the right areas.  

Once you have evaluated your current setup and proposals, it is time to delve into the expanding and developing world of social media. As referenced to earlier, there are countless social options available to you. Here are just a few of the most successful platforms used by those with a strong social strategy for their business:

Twitter

Who should use Twitter: To put it simply, if you are a business owner looking to increase almost any element of your business, Twitter could help you in the long term. At present, there are around 15 million individuals, SMBs and multinational corporations tweeting from the UK on a daily basis. Twitter has become part of the fabric of everyday life for many, and we can almost guarantee that there will currently be a conversation that is relevant to your industry or business occurring on Twitter. If you’re not on board, you simply cannot be a part of it and you will miss out.

What should I share with my followers: Twitter allows you to start and join the conversation – it’s a fully-fledged democracy in its own right. Whether you are sharing a unique promotion, personal recommendation or providing individual commentary on the latest news from your industry, Twitter will provide you with the appropriate moment to reach out and engage with your audience. Remember, you must be professional at all times and listen to what is being said around you. Harnessing the thoughts and opinions of others can go a long way in improving your social technique.

How often should I post: Ideally, you should be posting content to Twitter, on average 3-5 times per day. You must make it worthwhile, though. Don’t simply spend your time re-tweeting the thoughts and opinions of others – this will stilt the natural ebb and flow of potential conversation and give the wrong impression to those that are considering following or engaging with you. Try and express your personality through your tweets and reflect the values and beliefs you hold in high regard for your business.

Are there any useful tools I can use: HootSuite is an effective management tool that will allow you to work alongside Twitter and schedule your tweets in advance. This tool can come in particularly handy if you’re finding that you don’t have time to sit and monitor the social network on a regular basis. However, you should try to monitor your Twitter feed at least once per day, as a lack of response or content gaps in your feed can give a negative impression to those viewing your profile externally. HootSuite also allows you to create personalised lists that can help you keep track of any engagement from your followers and movements made by your competitors.

Facebook

Who should use Facebook: There are nearly 1.3 billion users on Facebook, but that’s not to say the network is a safe and secure bet, particularly for businesses. The platform can be a difficult beast to tame and not every business can truly reap the rewards the channel can offer. Ultimately, Facebook is perhaps best equipped to share updates and instantly respond to questions or comments from your followers. So, if your products or services require that level of customer service, then Facebook may be ideal for you.

What should I share with my followers: You can share a lot of content via Facebook. Perhaps the most relevant for business is event posting, posting product/service information and the deployment of paid advertisements. Once again, you should be looking to spark conversation amongst your followers, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or share content that requires a response from your followers.

How often should I post: Generally, once or twice a day. You can also share content from others, so this figure may increase from time-to-time. It is worth noting that because of the personal nature of Facebook, usage typically peaks outside of traditional work hours, so you may find any tracked data is skewed slightly more towards the early morning or late evening, depending on the nature of the services you offer. Vitally, Facebook does allow you to track the success of your published content by date and time, so ensure that you monitor this and post any future content with the knowledge gained from this data.

Are there any useful tools I can use: If a dedicated analytics or tracking platform is outside of your initial budget, you should consider using a URL shortener for any links sent out from your existing platforms. Every time a user clicks on a shortened link, the service will register the click and provide insightful and relevant data that will highlight how much traffic is gained directly from sharing to and from Facebook.

Google+

Who should use Google+: Ideally, you’ll be toying with the idea of using Google+ if you already have an existing online and social presence. More importantly, if you’re yet to use the service, you should be looking into making waves by looking to strengthen your search engine positioning and take advantage of the local benefits the network has to offer. You can read more about leveraging Google+ for local search purposes in our‘Your guide to Google My Business’. 

What should I share with those within my circle: Google+ refers to followers as those within your ‘circle’ – Google’s terminology for a list or group of followers. Google+ is almost certainly more formal and professional compared to the laidback approach Twitter and Facebook offer. Therefore, you need to amend your content styling accordingly. You should be promoting industry-relevant  published content from your website via Google+, in order to encourage conversation with your followers and those within your industry.

How often should I post: As the platform is Google’s proposed alternative to Facebook, keywords, hashtags and search engine optimisation are central to the appeal of Google+. You should push out updates to your Google+ profile each time you publish content on your website. By linking to your content, you could increase traffic to your website significantly.

Are there any useful tools I can use: In the past, Google Authorship was seen as the big beneficial  draw for Google+ users. By becoming an authorised user, your content would see a significant boost in search positioning and would generally see an increase in external online commentary and traffic. However, Google has since retired the program. Google has been experimenting with other useful extensions to the network and is expected to launch a new publishing platform for user-generated content in the near future.

LinkedIn

Who should use LinkedIn: If you long for familiarity and a traditional approach to social activity, many of LinkedIn’s features are reminiscent of old-hat networking techniques. The main principle behind the network, is the number and the degree of connections you have with other users. The platform is mainly used by business owners (with an associated company page), those looking to recruit and those looking for employment/looking to keep in touch with colleagues and old friends.

What should I share with my followers: Once more, you should be pushing out any published content from your website. Providing you make strong connections, LinkedIn provides an excellent way to engage and converse with like-minded individuals and monitor the digital movements of your competitors and those you hold in high regard. Also, when the opportunity arises, you should be posting and promoting any vacancies you may have.

How often should I post: You should roughly post your published content on the network roughly two-to-four times per week, depending on your current content schedule. You should also make use of the ‘Pin’ tab – this allows you to pin a particular piece of content to the top of you profile, ensuring your followers and visitors are immediately drawn to the post.

For continued success on LinkedIn, you must ensure you have entered a relevant, rich and SEO-friendly company description that details the work you have carried out previously and the work you currently carry out. Similarly, ensure all of your businesses contact details are present and correct. If you are the owner of a SMB, ensure that you have made connections with those you currently employ. This can prove invaluable in making further connections and boosting engagement with those from your industry.

The new crowd

Aside from the increasingly successful, and often overlooked, Pinterest and Instagram, the (relatively) new social platforms currently receiving online acclaim are Snapchat and Vine – particularly amongst the youth market (13-20 year olds). Both of these networks continue Instagram’s trend for mobile adoption, with both channels starting out as dedicated smartphone applications.

Snapchat’s USP is already being emulated by some of tech’s major players, with Facebook expected to launch their own version of the service imminently. The application lets users set a time limit for the availability of each message they send;  with any expired posts being deleted from the app’s servers within a matter of minutes. At this point, substantial user statistics are notoriously hard to come by. However, these flippant and whimsical applications are expected to increase their grip on social over the coming months as new features are launched. Therefore, if you believe your business can benefit from these new networks or can offer something unique and interesting, then now may be the best time to get involved.

Keep focussed and press on

Choosing the appropriate social channels for your business is the first step to maintaining a successful social campaign. Moving forward, you should aim to define the character and traits of your audience and identify the best platforms that will help you to reach out and engage with them on an authentic and dedicated level. Ultimately, whether your choices are being driven by which networks your audience spend time on, hard analytical data or how to showcase your content in a unique manner - you should harness the influential power of the network’s best practices in order to boost engagement, increase your ROI and build a confident and assured online presence.

9/16/2014 9:31:17 AM

The future of Twitter

Twitter prepares UX changes

In recent months, Twitter has begun testing and teasing potential timeline changes that could dramatically alter the way in which you interact with the service. The reaction both online-and-offline has been apprehensive, to say the least. However, the subdued response shouldn’t come as a shock to many. By nature, human beings are reticent to change. We long for familiarity, and any sudden modifications can cause significant displeasure. It is also worth noting that at time of writing, many of these proposed changes are just that. Very few can be certain of Twitter’s long term strategy, but these proposals and ideas can give us a seemingly clear indication of where the service is heading right now.

Below are some of the mooted Twitter timeline changes and the implications they may have on your current Twitter experience in the not-so distant future:

Tweets from those you do not follow

Earlier this year, a number of Twitter users began to notice tweets from those they didn’t follow appearing in their timeline. The unfamiliar tweets appeared in two forms: favourited tweets from non-followers and tweets from non-followers that are seen to be popular within your network.

The introduction of these tweets almost certainly came as a surprise to those affected. The very nature of Twitter allows the user to independently select the users they wish to follow. Including tweets from those the user has not agreed to follow is a disheartening and surprising change. Twitter’s official stance on the matter is one of positivity and improvement. Moving forward, if Twitter identifies a tweet, account or piece of content that you may find interesting or relevant, they may automatically add it to your timeline. Each tweet is selected using a variety of signals, including how popular the tweet is deemed to be and how those that you follow are currently interacting with it. Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, has also assured users that these promoted items will only appear in your timeline if you pull-to-refresh your feed and no original content is found. Twitter will then populate content for you based on its current algorithm.

Will the changes affect me?

This decision will more than likely impact users who don't follow many accounts, as these are the users Twitter are fighting tooth and nail to attract in the long term. The company’s methodology seems to suggest that they are pinning their hopes on light users becoming heavy users because of this promoted content. Twitter envisage that by populating interesting content from across the network when the user doesn’t have any updates from their current followers to engage with, they will then be motivated to follow new accounts that may not have been visible to them previously. However, heavy Twitter users are not completely immune to Twitter’s meddling and could still succumb to the changes, as promoted content could cause potential noise and intrusion for users who have meticulously crafted their followers and lists.

Filtering your Twitter feed

Throughout the year, the news that Twitter could be on the verge of abandoning its most distinguishing feature: a timeline that shows every tweet from each individual you follow, in order of how recently it was tweeted, has caused momentous commentary online. Many fear that Twitter is set to emulate the methods used by Facebook, which allows algorithms to decide which posts its users will see and which they don’t. Those algorithms have caused many to desert the network, as users forfeit the control over the content they share and view. If Twitter was to adopt similar algorithms, it would represent a major change in strategy. It’s a change that could vastly broaden its reach and take the social network to the next level, but as those at Facebook have learnt, it could come at a grave cost.

At present, Twitter’s timeline is organised in reverse chronological order, a system that hasn’t been amended or updated since the service was launched eight years ago. However, Twitter’s CFO, Anthony Noto believes this “isn’t the most relevant experience for the user.” If the user doesn’t check their feed regularly, content can be pushed to the bottom of the feed – content that could actually be more interesting or relevant to the user. Noto added: “Putting that content in front of the person at that moment in time is a way to organise that content better.”

Twitter has confirmed that any changes will be implemented carefully and incrementally, but this statement of intent almost certainly guarantees that changes to the existing timeline will come, perhaps sooner rather than later.

Will the changes affect me?

The changes made here are not too dissimilar from Facebook’s dramatic overhaul of its News Feed. Facebook began to show posts from friends of friends, display targeted advertisements and relevant promoted posts. The key takeaway here is that the reverse chronological feed has been at the very heart of Twitter since its conception, whereas Facebook’s intention is to surface content based on your activity, relationships and personal preferences.  Twitter’s foundations are built on the publishing of real-time updates and many turn to Twitter to gain a whistle-stop tour of the latest news. If a new algorithm is introduced, the chronology that is a fundamental element of news is lost, and the user experience will suffer as a result.

Developing and introducing an algorithm could also mean that businesses and brands would have to pay Twitter in order for their real-time tweets to reach the right people at the right time, in a similar way to Google’s ads takeover with AdWords. Elements of this concept can already be seen in many of the paid services associated with Twitter Ads. It is certainly possible that Twitter could implement this service in particular in order to help take the platform to new financial heights.

In-tweet purchases

One of the most recent changes made to the timeline is the announcement of an in-tweet buy/purchase button – allowing you to make purchases directly from your Twitter feed.

Currently only available to those in the US, a small percentage of Twitter’s user base will be able to tap a ‘buy’ button on tweets from authorised partners. Upon doing so, the user will follow an external link that will provide them with additional production information, the chance to input their shipping and billing details and, of course, tweet about the latest and greatest product they have just purchased via the service. With the likes of Amazon already signed up as a partner, the new feature is expected to add a new dynamic layer to the e-commerce industry.

The service is expected to bring in new functionality for the social network, with the service allowing mobile users to shop with ease in a compelling new manner. Twitter is also expected to promote engagement and conversions by allowing users’ access to unique offers and promotions that will be unobtainable elsewhere.

Will the changes affect me?

First and foremost, this is perhaps less of a change and more of an add-on for the network. There is no requirement to use this service - you will only do so if you wish to. For those conscious of security and privacy, Twitter has attempted to alleviate concerns by ensuring all shipping, billing and payment information is encrypted and stored safely and securely.

As we mentioned earlier, Twitter has earned its stripes by providing instant and impactful content to its users. This service mirrors the functionality Twitter will be hoping the new buy button will have. Users are highly unlikely to make lavish purchases via Twitter; they will do so in the comfort and safety of dedicated and respected retailers. However, there is infinite potential for the sale of low-value purchases.  Digital downloads in particular could see a significant boost because of the service. Mobile applications caused a major boost in sales, and Twitter’s venture into e-commerce could just as easily inspire users, breathe new life into social engagement and increase growth and profit for all concerned. Facebook ultimately failed in attempting to break into the e-commerce market, but providing Twitter pitch their approach in the correct way, they could set low-value risk-free sales soaring in ways that have been very rarely seen before.

Twitter remains indispensable for personal and professional use. At present, any social strategy will struggle without the fundamental role Twitter helps play in marketing your business and products. Many argue that the proposed changes will help attract a new set of core users and build relationships with the causal browser. However, Twitter must tread very carefully moving forward. As seen across social networks previously, numerous dramatic alterations could alter the service that is admired by so many, and leave its users in limbo.

9/11/2014 10:06:10 AM

Is your site Pigeon-proof?

Google's Pigeon update

In July, Google pushed out its latest search algorithm update, affectionately nicknamed, ‘Pigeon’. The update offers several significant changes to local search queries, with Google hoping the update will now allow local search to match the success of organic search’s optimised ranking signals. These changes have sparked intense discussion online, and many local businesses are now attempting to patch up any glaringly obvious cracks in their SEO strategy in order to keep their SERPs positioning safe.

Has Pigeon had any effect on search rankings so far?

In terms of the immediate effects of the algorithm update, early reports indicate that specific local search queries and individual sectors have been impacted the most by the update, both positively and negatively. Data provided by BrightEdge, from June to August shows a positive change for queries related to:

  • Hospitality - saw a 28 per cent growth in ‘Google Places’ results
  • Food - saw a 19 per cent growth in ‘Google Places’ results
  • Education - saw a 13 per cent growth in ‘Google Places’ results

Whilst the latest local update has addressed previous algorithm issues for some users, many businesses have also suffered fresh or repeated loss from the introduction of Pigeon. The following queries have suffered negatively:

  • Jobs - saw a 68 per cent decline in ‘Google Places’ results
  • Property - saw a 63 per cent decline in ‘Google Places’ results
  • Films - saw a 36 per cent decline in ‘Google Places’ results
  • Insurance - saw a 11 per cent decline in ‘Google Places’ results

Will the positioning changes seen so far be conclusive? It is highly unlikely. Those that have previously gained or suffered from Google’s sporadic algorithm updates will be aware that the effects are often short lived, as another update will come along soon enough, but they can potentially cripple your search positioning and SEO strategy for an extended period. It is also worth noting that reports suggest that Google is currently testing up-to three different carnations of Pigeon for further use.

However, perhaps the biggest adjustment to SERPs seen so far is the update’s facelift to Google’s local ‘7-pack’ group.  The ‘7-pack’ is the name coined for the grouped listings you are presented with when you search for a local business or organisation. Google integrates its own Maps data and rich snippets to present you with a group of subjects that should be the most important or relevant to you.  Many users have reported changes to this section, with others users no longer being able to view the listings when conducting a local search. For those users that can still see the pack when searching, it is believed that Google is now tightly focusing on local businesses and organisations within the user’s immediate area – offering those nearby a significant ranking boost.

At time of writing, these changes are only being seen across Google’s US site. If you are browsing from outside of the US, then you may not see any of the aforementioned changes. It may simply be a matter of, when or if, the algorithm update is pushed out to different regions. When this occurs, you may witness a fluctuation in rankings.

What can I do to ensure I won’t be negatively affected by the update?

Whilst Google continue to A/B test their latest algorithm, it will be incredibly beneficial for you to keep a clear and intuitive mind. In the short term, continue to focus your efforts on the assured and proven methods of local search that you’re used to carrying out. Ensure your basic, yet incredibly important, SEO techniques are current and functioning correctly. Ideally, you will have already completed this checklist, but if you have not, you must:

  • Ensure you’re signed up to Google My Business, with a strong, detailed profile that matches your businesses current branding.
  • Register for inclusion in major and local online directories. These are now being viewed as an important ranking signal for local businesses.
  • Maintain your online presence in order to increase the likelihood of inclusion in Google’s continually-updated search carousel.
  • If you are a local SMB: publish regular, fresh hyper-local content that appeals to your existing and prospective customers and promote it via your social media channels.
  • Utilise traditional on-page SEO tactics, such as keyword analysis and organic link-building.
  • Continue to engage with your followers via your existing social media platforms. 

In terms of wider administration, you should:

  • Continue to monitor the situation online. The update is still considered to be relatively new by those following its path. Therefore, many incremental changes could be made before the next significant update is pushed out to users.
  • As this update appears to factor online directories into rankings, it is more important than ever before to ensure you have consistent citations online. To test which directories are currently bumping you up the SERPs, search for your business using your most successful search terms and assess your positioning accordingly. If you are yet to include your business in online directories, then be aware that as there are many different sites, it can often be a time consuming, but ultimately rewarding, process. Not every single online directory will provide your business with a rankings boost, so use data to influence any decisions you make.
  • Amend your current keywords if your local reach has decreased since the update was released. You should continue to publish content with less competitive keywords in the meantime if you have seen significant negative changes.
  • Aim to steadily increase your online authority. This has been made a little harder with Google’s decision to remove authorship from SERPs. However, you can continue to publish quality content and increase traffic in many different ways. You can only see results by continuing to play ‘the game’.
  • It seems that a significant number of spam links have received a positioning boost by the update. If you come across these links when browsing the SERPs, you should report them to Google immediately. Don’t be tempted to mirror the techniques used by those currently publishing spam in order to receive a rankings boost.

The nature of search ensures that it will always be difficult to answer the golden question of ‘What should the business owner do in order to remain safe from the negative effects of an algorithm update?’ with certified assurance. However, in order to alleviate stress and concern, simply continue to deploy your current strategy and tactics. A strong, end-to-end local SEO campaign that hasn’t cut corners, attempted to obtain benefits from illegitimate sources or focus on one area over the other will always be the correct and profitable way in which to succeed online. By doing this, you can rest assured that your methods and intentions are reasoned and secure and that each algorithm update will ultimately bring change, but your foundations will ensure you don’t succumb to its negative effects.

9/5/2014 2:20:14 PM

Techology is transforming the customer experience

Social Wi-Fi

The combination of mobile devices and location-based services can be compellingly effective, yet very few businesses are taking full advantage of the services available. With advancements in Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi technologies and the UK’s mobile networks swiftly adopting and developing their 4G connections, business owners are now able to instinctively reach out to their customers at the most appropriate moment to help boost engagement and drive conversions.

For over a decade, online retailers have had the advantage of gathering insightful data about their customers; the journey the user takes before making their purchase, the pages that aren’t working as effectively in enticing customers to purchase products and which online promotions or campaigns receive the most clicks from users. These are some of the most common metrics that can be tracked and measured in order to gain insight into the user customer’s online journey. Armed with such powerful data, online businesses have been able to optimise their sites, increase customer engagement and monitor acquisition, leaving their offline counterparts with few similar options.

With these advancements in technology, bricks-and-mortar stores are finally capable of gathering equivalent data that allows them to build confident and assured profiles of their customers and their specific needs. For instance, by adopting one of the many in-store devices, you could carry out live in-store A/B testing that could assess the benefits of a particular campaign or product by examining fluctuations in foot traffic and sales. You could also activate unique social media-led promotional campaigns to passers-by, increasing your online and offline presence with one simple technique. On a behind-the-scenes level, you could use these devices to evaluate fluctuations in foot traffic and sales, allowing you to manage your time and staff effectively. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg for this new functionality.

What is social Wi-Fi?

Social Wi-Fi is accessible wireless Internet for those visiting a store or attraction within a public space. Rather than entering a pre-arranged password, the user is asked to simply ‘like’ the venue’s associated Facebook page or tweet about their current location in order to gain access to the communal Wi-Fi. The service requires no additional steps or lengthy sign-up sessions.

Once the user has connected to the service, the business owner will obtain non-intrusive data from the user, allowing the owner to understand who is visiting and using the service, how long they are in store for, their age, gender and any other relevant information that they offer across their social networks. The user is provided with a detailed log that informs them of the data collection, which they will either agree or disagree to before using the service.

Research suggests that stores providing in-store social Wi-Fi have seen a significant increase in customer engagement since implementing the service. A study carried out by social Wi-Fi company, Purple Wi-Fi covered over 2,500 consumers and discovered that 75% of those involved admit that they are more likely to stay in a location for a longer period of time if it offers free Wi-Fi, and 63% of those asked are more likely to increase their average spend in a venue that offers public Wi-Fi.

What are the benefits of social Wi-Fi?

Sharing personalised offers: With social Wi-Fi, you can directly push notifications out to your in-store customers, allowing them to take advantage of tailored promotions.

Generating a dedicated mailing list: By gaining access to your customer’s email addresses, you can effectively build a strong mailing list for newsletters and campaigns without adding time on to the customer’s experience.

Providing mobile payment facilities: With the rise of e-commerce, you can combine the online and in-store customer experience by allowing mobile payments to be carried out in-store.

Tracking costumer behaviour: Upon gaining access to the service, you will be able to evaluate popular elements and areas within your venue with customer location tracking.

Removing customer inconvenience: The service should provide unobtrusive access to your network, without the need for customers to be inconvenienced by engaging with time consuming sign-up procedures.

Is there anything else I should know?

In order to truly maximise the success of social Wi-Fi, you should make sure you complete a few simple steps during its inception:

  • Ensure your in-store social Wi-Fi access is free for your customers.
  • Make your customers aware of the service – don’t leave it to chance or keep it hidden away.
  • Optimise the network, ensuring it is fast and simple for customers to gain access.
  • Encourage engagement with your customer’s via the different social networks.
  • Create a unified landing page that is displayed upon connection. This allows for a complete experience for the customer, keeping the business at the fore throughout their journey.
  • Make sure the network is safe and secure for the user. Most importantly, the log-in process must be secure.
  • There are various pieces of legislation that you should be aware of before setting up any public Wi-Fi service. It is important that you aware of the different rules and regulations before engaging with the service.  

Alternatively, beacon technology works in a very similar way to social Wi-Fi. However, the service uses low-energy Bluetooth technology to communicate with customers’ phones or tablets, rather than creating an active network connection.

What is beacon technology?

Beacons are small, low-cost devices that use battery-friendly, low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or notifications directly to a user’s smartphone or tablet. The devices are in their infancy at the present moment, but they have been tipped to transform the way in which businesses engage with their customers. At time of writing, the majority of businesses incorporating beacons into their existing setups are those within the retail and sales sector. Stores are using the devices in order to communicate with their customers by providing product information, tailored promotions and to help speed up the checkout process with contactless payments – a feature many are currently deploying.

Apple is currently toying with beacon technology, with the creation of their iBeacon device. The service is expected to create a unique way of pushing location-based information and services to iPhones and other iOS devices in the immediate future. The iBeacon is also expected to play a significant part in Apple's e-commerce and mobile payment efforts in the coming months. Apple has been trialling the service in a number of its retail stores across the globe, with full implementation expected to launch soon.

The service is comparable in many ways to the existing NFC (Near field communication) technology that many global businesses are offering. Both NFC and beacons allow brands to connect with their customers instantly, but both services have different methods of pushing out content to the consumer. NFC users have to tap their device or card onto a dedicated NFC chip in order to receive content. However, beacons push content straight to mobile devices, providing they have the brand’s native application installed on their device.

What are the benefits of beacon technology?

Recognising, rewarding and understanding your customers: Beacons can help you gain a fuller picture of your customers, allowing you to cater to their needs more effectively.

Increasing brand loyalty: The customer will have to download your native application in order to access the beacon’s content. Therefore, the customer is always connected to you.

Tracking the customer journey: The beacon can help you track how many times an individual enters your venue, the areas they choose to visit the most and the promotions or campaigns they engage with. The technology also has the potential to make staff aware when valued customers have entered the building.

Tracking staff efficiency: As the business owner, you can monitor your staff’s progress and engagement with your customers, allowing you to improve or excel at certain elements of your business strategy.

Task delegation: Beacons could also push tasks through to members of staff, alerting them to visit priority areas or assisting with a procedure.

Is there anything else I should know?

As referenced to earlier in this blog post, beacon technology is very much in its infancy. The service has received the backing of some of the world’s biggest organisations; however, it has yet to be pushed out globally. Therefore, choosing to adopt this technology so early in its lifespan could prove costly if you aren’t fully aware of the device’s ecosystem and limitations.

By creating a connected and personalised in-store experience, backed by emerging technologies, business owners can provide their customers with a unified experience, whilst leveraging crucial data that can help their brand reach new heights from an engagement, conversions and experiential perspective. Whilst the introduction of beacon technology poses various challenges for business owners, it offers a potentially beneficial and relevant experience to customers. If one thing is for certain, social-backed Wi-Fi and low-energy Bluetooth technology are almost certainly poised to play a significant role in the amalgamation of the online and offline customer journey.

9/4/2014 2:06:08 PM

The demise of Google authorship

In June, we wrote about Google’s surprising decision to remove authorship profile photos and ‘Circles’ counts from its search results. Last week, the company made the decision to retire the authorship scheme indefinitely.

Launched in 2011, the scheme allowed content creators to add the ‘rel=author’ markup to their content’s byline, which, in turn, created a referral link to their Google+ pages. When appearing in SERPs, the content would feature the user’s Google+ profile photo, a clickable handle and their current ‘Circles’ count. Then, in June, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller announced the decision to remove user’s photos and ‘Circles’ counts, leaving the clickable handle as the only identifiable authorship launch feature. These changes were made in order to create a more consistent look across multiple devices and allow for a “streamlined and less-cluttered” design for the results page.

Mueller took to his Google+ page last week to explain the company’s recent decision to permanently remove the scheme. He said: “Unfortunately, we've observed that this (authorship) information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those (search) results. With this in mind, we've made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.” Mueller also explained that Google has carried out numerous tests in order to ascertain the quality and efficiency of content backed by the scheme, with the results suggesting that the removal has not reduced traffic to sites, nor did it significantly improve clicks on adverts.

Moving forward, Google has vowed to support structured markup, such as schema.org and will continue to use it to show rich snippets within SERPs. Search users will also still see Google+ posts from friends and pages when they’re relevant to their dedicated query — both in the main results, and on the right-hand side of the SERP.

Why has Google dropped the scheme completely?

John Mueller has offered numerous official reasons for the scheme’s removal. However, the two most prominent reasons were that the previous design distracted from the content within SERPs, particularly for those viewing on a mobile device, and that authorship offered very few tangible benefits for its few adopters, with the scheme causing confusion for many users.

Their decision to remove authorship in order to benefit mobile users and enhance the user experience for those browsing on a mobile device is perfectly valid and backed by hard data. Earlier this year, the company announced record-breaking earnings, providing a glimpse at the successful transition of their existing services from desktops to mobile and portable devices. Reports suggest that the company will continue to develop its ongoing ‘mobile first’ mentality in the long term, with clear valid reasons to do so.

However, there could also be another, more selfish reason for the removal. In our previous blog, we explored the idea that Google’s decision to firstly remove user’s profile pictures was because they distracted from the paid adverts that are so prominently displayed within its SERPs. Google does very little to hide the fact that almost 98% of their total revenue comes from adverts, so any on-page element that could potentially provide a distraction for the user and lure them away from clicking on Google’s preferred pay-per-click listings would have to be removed in order to retain a strong click-through rate. Simply put, each pixel represents premium real estate for Google and those that pay for its products and services. If a large portion of the mobile SERP is taken up by authorship snippets, those that physically pay Google for promotion will be left out in the cold, with very little return.

Google also cited that the scheme suffered from a surprisingly low adoption rate, with those working in the technology sector providing a significant percentage of signees. Within its first year, the scheme seemed to wield promising results. Research found that 17% of SERPs were showing the appropriate tag. However, this number failed to rise considerably, with many users left unsure of their involvement in the scheme.

Once again, this may be correct, however, Google has garnered an unfortunate reputation online for launching new products and services, but ultimately retiring them before they have reached their full potential. This propensity for failing to fully develop new services has left the online community with an uncomfortable hesitancy for Google’s services that will have almost certainly stretched to their authorship scheme, ensuring the adoption rate remained lower than expected. Moving forward, Google’s lack of commitment could provide an interesting challenge for the company.

Is this the end for authorship?

Recent reports have suggested that authorship markup does still exist, to some degree. As mentioned earlier, users will continue to see posts and updates by friends and those they follow via their Google+ profile within SERPs. Additionally, some users have reported seeing elements of authorship design within SERPS. However, it is unknown if this is just a temporary measure until Google remove all remaining functionality.   

Without doubt, Google will have learnt a great deal from the authorship scheme. It has been three years since Google launched the authorship scheme, allowing them the time to gain knowledge and understanding of the authorship of a page. Despite less emphasis being placed on the prominence of authorship snippets within SERPs, Google will still have access to the data and information gathered on content authors and their relationships with others. As the web opens up to personalisation and social media continues to thrive, Google will still want to assess the user who wrote the content, alongside where the content is hosted, ensuring elements of authorship are still used as a trust factor.

As Google prepares to develop its powerful search-optimising knowledge vault, it would be extremely beneficial to ensure you include every possible ranking signal you can in your content and across your existing platforms. There are a number of quality signals that you could derive from the defunct authorship scheme and many of those could be theoretically useful for SERPs ranking, should Google choose to still factor them into their algorithm. Therefore, in the long term, it would be foolish to remove all elements of authorship code from your site, as the information could still have positive ranking benefits in the future.

The concept behind Google’s authorship scheme was both insightful and interesting. It provided instant authenticity for users searching for dynamic content published by familiar and unfamiliar credible authors. Looking ahead, Google’s upcoming Knowledge Vault could dramatically alter the way in which we search and the results we are given. Therefore, the importance of authenticity and credibility within SERPs may not be a retired concept, just yet.

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.