social

General Business

First | Prev | Page 1 / 1 | Next | Last

To App or Not to App? That is the Question.

Posted by

I seem to have this conversation often. While meeting with clients and prospects to discuss their websites and general Internet marketing strategies they lean in and say with some degree of certainty, "we also need an app." My response, 9 times out of 10, is "no, you don't." Here's why:

Apps are expensive. Utilized primarily for the marketing and promotion of your products or services, an app will not yield a very good return on your investment. An app must be built for multiple platforms (iOS and Droid at the very least), requires developers who are currently very expensive and in demand, and then will require maintenance for bug fixes and operating system changes.

Apps are clunky. A user not only has to make a conscious effort to find and then install your app, they also have to make a conscious effort to open it. You might be able to lead users to the app store by providing a friendly link on your website but that still requires effort. Most people won't take those steps. I already have too many apps installed by my kids, like Math Puppy, Castle Doombad, and Celebrity Pimple (don't ask). I don't want more apps I don't plan to use frequently. The other issue is that you also probably don't provide enough regular content to hold users interest and keep them coming back for more. If you don't provide the content and it takes extra steps to open the app, it likely ain't gonna work.

With that said, however, there are many occasions where building a custom app could be very beneficial. Here are some examples:

Lots of great, engaging content. If you do provide a great deal of content through your website (i.e. blogs, news, white papers, etc) then you could benefit from an app. You'll need solid readership for this, though. If you don't already have a core group of followers who read and share your content, then build that first and then reevaluate your need for a custom app later. If you do, apps can be a great tool that your core users will have with them at the tap of a finger. You can push alerts for new posts and events, provide more integrated sharing methods (email, SMS/texting, facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc), and take advantage of some of the other built-in capabilities, like photos, videos, and GPS. 

Some examples of content oriented apps include Smashing Magazine, Marketing Profs, and our friends over at the Marketing Tech Blog.

Integration with existing applications. Let's say you're a manufacturing company or a retail operation, your app could allow users to place orders, virtually assemble and preview products, login to their existing accounts, or interact with your company's data in any number of ways. This reason alone is primarily why companies build apps. Integration with existing databases and applications provides a convenient and easy mechanism to conduct business with you and gives you a big advantage over rivals.

Some examples of apps that integrate with existing services: Amazon, LinkedIn, Chase, Google Drive, and realtor.com.

There are many considerations when deciding if you need an app but I can narrow it down to two:

  1. Will it help you sell a lot more widgets or land new accounts? If the answer is no, easy peasy. No more questions. If the answer is yes then the follow-up question is:
     
  2. How much are you willing to invest to make this happen and what is your minimum anticipated return? That's where a feasibility study comes into play and is beyond the scope of this post. But simply ballparking it would suffice.

If you can't justify an app, perhaps you should convert your site to a responsive/mobile website. This will improve the overall user experience for everyone who reaches you on a handheld device or tablet and is a great way to push off the need (or perceived need) for an app.

link
| comments (0)

Startups Have it Easy, Sort of

Posted by

 

These days it's a lot easier to start a software company than it used to be. With the plethora of cloud services available at the click of a mouse companies can focus less on infrastructure logistics and more on their product. In this way, startups have it easy.

Before I continue I have a confession to make - Marketpath is not a startup.

Wow! That felt good! You don't know how long I've been holding on to that secret.

Ok, so maybe you read the about us page and you already knew that. We've been around since 2001.

We've claimed that we're like a startup but, in reality, that is far from the truth. We are established, healthy, and revenue positive. But along with being healthy we have our share of legacy systems with legacy problems. More specifically, we have a lot of old equipment running our infrastructure.

Wayback

In 2001, we purchased our first server. It was a Dell Poweredge 2500. I remember, because I bought it and was excited about the possibilities for that powerful server. General websites and web applications were a piece of cake. So, we added an email server and database to it. Then, over the next several years, we bought another server and then another. Initially, we only managed the servers. But then it changed.

In 2004, we moved to nFrame, a data center in Carmel, IN. Since then, we've had to buy all the firewalls, routers, switches, backup devices, metered PDU's, and all the other fun that comes along with managing a SaaS infrastructure. And that's just the hardware. There was a slew of software for everything from email to backups to databases.

For a small resourceful staff this was one heck of a burden, especially when things went wrong. We had to worry about single points of failure in infrastructure, server hard drives, backplanes, power supplies, fans, memory, SCSI cards, NIC's, and many, many other intricate and complicated devices going kaput. And then there was the software maintenance.

Me and other staff have spent many long nights standing above the air conditioning panel right in front of our rack. Luckily, in all these years, our longest outage for any website was limited to about 4 hours. And that's because when the you-know-what hits the fan, we got very creative.

Why Startups Have it Easy

Startups don't have to worry about infrastructure - at least in the same sense that Marketpath and every other software company that's been around for more than five years has had to. Infrastructure is a huge resource suck. Proper planning, implementation, and maintenance should be full time jobs. When everything seemed to be humming along nicely, some small issue was festering behind the scenes getting ready to rear its ugly face.

Startups can focus on building software and leave the infrastructure to the experts. Now there's Amazon Web ServicesMicrosoft AzureRackspaceBluelock, and many more infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) companies. These companies handle all the gory details and monitoring of core hardware devices. They provide virtual servers and other services that can be plugged into easily. 

Now, instead of having to high-tail it over to the local data center, customers simply jump on their iPad, launch the web portal and restart a server or provision more. Only the exact infrastructure necessary is deployed. In the past, we had to buy more hardware than we actually needed so we could scale up to meet demand. There were intricate formulas (that I never used) to calculate capacity needed now vs. capacity needed down the road.

Startups have this provisioning capability at their fingertips and can dedicate their time to building their business and building great software.

Don't get me wrong. Established companies have this too and often implement new projects in virtual environments. It's the legacy software that is the slow moving snail of adoption.

Virtual Marketpath

At Marketpath, we began our virtualization quest last summer. We implemented our internal project management and support system which was a simple database and web application. Not too bad.

Since, we've been 

 

 

link
| comments (0)

3 Solutions to the Same Project

Posted by

We met with a prospective client last week to discuss their upcoming website redesign & development project.  This prospect is your typical small business where the owners make all of the decisions without much input from the rest of the staff.  There isn’t a dedicated marketing department, nor is there a “techie” on staff.  If you’re a small business owner, this situation may sound familiar…and you can vouch that it’s not easy.

Any vendor selection process is an exercise in analytical skills.  The two owners that we met with aren’t website guys.  This whole process is new to them, and while they know they need a new site, they don’t exactly know how to go about getting the best bang for their buck. 

After talking with them about the project, we discovered that we were one of three companies proposing a solution.  After a bit more digging, it became apparent that the three solutions being offered were drastically different in nature, and in price.  The decision on which firm to use is going to be a difficult one, as I’m sure we have all outlined our value proposition, highlighted strong points, and helped educate the two owners.  Here are the three solutions that are common in this situation:

                                            Different Approach to the Same Problem

​Different Paths to the Same End Goal

A Company like Marketpath

Marketpath designs and develops websites with our website content management system on the backend.  We focus on enhancing the online brand, building an easy-to-navigate website, building an easy-to-update website, and creating the best “hub” possible for your marketing efforts.  There are a lot of companies like us, some with their own CMS’s and some that use open-source platforms like WordPress, but you can rest assured that these firms are the experts in useable website design and development.  There will usually be an upfront cost and an ongoing monthly fee for hosting/support.

An SEO Company

This option is similar to the firms listed above, except their sole focus is on gaining an ongoing SEO client.  A new website that is “finely tuned and internally optimized” is the first step in their service offering, as a lot of the smaller SEO firms will claim that they need to code the website to be successful in the long run.  After the website is built, there will be an ongoing, monthly “SEO Maintenance” fee of a few thousand dollars a month.  If you like this solution, make sure you know the red flags to look for when hiring an SEO company

A Full-Service Marketing Agency

This third option is the other player at the table.  These full-service firms are typically very large in nature and can bring a lot of value to the conversation.  They care more about overall branding efforts than rankings - they try to tie online and offline campaigns together.  They are out to build you the best message possible.  While they can build you a great looking website, often times these firms aren’t experts in the web.  If you’re not planning on using them for more services, it could be overkill to choose this option.

Our Advice

During the meeting, I tried to explain to the prospect that, a lot of times, these three types of firms can work together.  If you’re looking for a local presence (as these guys are), on-page SEO may be enough to gain the rankings you’re looking for.  If you build a highly-optimized website (as we do), and don't achieve the high rankings, then you can bring on an SEO firm to help boost the efforts after you establish a baseline.  Automatically assuming you need to spend thousands a month on SEO is one heck of an assumption.  Also, hiring the mother ship of marketing to build you a website if you’re not planning on tying it all together with a major marketing campaign could result in a sub-par website.  Full-service marketing firms aren't cheap, and they are looking for clients that take advantage of the entire offering.

It’s important, as a small business owner, that you ask questions and understand why there are three different approaches to the same problem.  Understand the product and service offerings and select the best option for your company.

Have you experienced this same problem?  What was your solution?  Sound off in the comments below. 

link
| comments (0)

5 Signs You've Hired the Wrong SEO Firm

Posted by

When the time comes to hire an SEO agency to help boost your online presence and rankings, chances are you’re going to have a lot of questions.  This is okay.  I’ve been in and around the industry for close to six years and I am no expert.  Whether you’re a novice, someone who knows enough to be dangerous, or a seasoned veteran looking for some help, these 5 signs will help you eliminate a lot of so called “experts”. 

Guaranteed 1st Page Rankings

No Guarantee PleaseNo SEO company can or should offer a guarantee for first page rankings for your keywords.  I don’t care what else they say, or what else they show you, this is impossible.  Guarantees are the biggest red flag for any company and should end the conversation immediately.

Bottom Line - none of these companies work for or “have a special relationship with Google.”  It just doesn’t work that way.  Sure they may have a great track record, but guarantees are impossible to make in this industry.    

Won't Share Past Results

Piggybacking a bit off the first point, any SEO company that refuses to share their results with previous or current clients should be shown the door as well.  Any reputable SEO firm isn’t afraid to showcase their successes, their process, and even their failures.  Nobody is perfect in this industry, so be sure to ask them for examples or each. 

Bottom Line – Just because a company isn’t perfect doesn’t mean they won’t work for you.  Understanding the successes, process, and any failures they’ve had will go a long way in building a trusting relationship.

Unable/Unwilling to Give Explanations of Service/Process

No SEO Has ThisIf you hear the words “Through our proprietary process, your site will see an increase in rankings”, make sure you ask exactly what it is they are going to do.  If they are vague, too technical, or just very brief, ask for clarification.  If you’re still unclear, it could be time to look elsewhere. 

Bottom Line – In today’s SEO world, the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t is out on the web.  No firm should have an ace up their sleeve, or a proprietary process that nobody else uses (if they do, chances are it’s not a white hat tactic).

No Discussion of Overall Business Goals

Today’s SEO firms should act more as overall Internet Marketing consultants more than just “We swear we’ll improve your rankings” consultants.  The days of improving rankings by implementing nothing but a technical SEO strategy are gone.  Today, it’s more beneficial to build a brand, generate content, and share it across the web.

Bottom Line – Make sure the conversation leads to overall goals for the marketing plan and the business itself.  Improving rankings on a SERP should be part of an overall plan to grow, not the only strategy.

Links to Your Site Start Showing up in Questionable Places

No Spammy Links, PleaseAdding to the last point, a red flag that your SEO firm is engaged in some naughty practices would be that links to your site start showing up in questionable places.  Make sure you have Google Alerts and Google Webmaster Tools set up.  The Alerts will help flag any event on the web that involves a keyword (your business name), and the Webmaster tools will allow you to see which domains are linking to you.  If you see a suspicious domain, don’t hesitate to speak with your SEO firm and ask what they are doing.

Bottom LineGoogle is getting better and better at detecting these poor SEO practices.  Unfortunately, SEO firms still practice them religiously, so they need to be monitored and called out when possible. 

Contracting with an SEO firm is never an easy decision, but hopefully these five red flags will help you eliminate some of the less effective companies.  Keep in mind that communication is key.  There should always be an open dialog between client and agency in the SEO relationship.

link
| comments (0)

Creating Compelling Content

Posted by

Here at Marketpath, we help companies redesign and launch brand new websites with an easy-to-use content management system on the backend.  One challenge that we often run into, however, is gathering compelling content from our clients.  This is a widespread problem, not limited to just Marketpath’s client base, but to anyone that is redeveloping their online presence.  The dreaded “okay, now what do we say?” question always seems to arise.

Boring Content
Does your content make me want to do this?

Unless you’re paying an outside PR firm or freelance copywriter to write your website copy, it’s going to be left to you and your internal staff.  Once you come to this realization, and a few weeks pass by while you’re waiting for someone to step up and write something awesome,  you’re going to become desperate.  I’d be willing to bet that you’re going to start looking at your old website copy, talking yourself into the “well, it’s not that bad” mindset.  You’ll look at old marketing documents, old sales materials, and start sending it to your website development firm.  If this sounds familiar, I am here to urge you to stop.  Old content on a new site isn’t going to help any more than old content on an old site.  So, what to do?  Here are a few steps to help:

Change your tone of voice

People buy from people.  Stop using buzzwords that you’ve become so accustomed to because they don’t sound natural.  Write like you’re talking to someone you’ve known for years and see what you end up with.  Obviously this depends on the industry (although I always err towards the side of being casual), but humor doesn’t necessarily need to be off limits for your website copy either.  Again, show who you really are, let your personality come through, because after all, people are more likely to do business with people they enjoy working with.

Stop talking about you

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but talking about you too much on your own website isn’t going to help.  Sure, your company’s history might have a place somewhere on the site, but the whole website shouldn’t be about your mission statement.  Realizing that visitors to your site have a problem that needs solved is the first step to this piece.  Be specific to the problems that you can alleviate.  This will help the visitor feel a bit more engaged, as they see their problems being addressed on your website.

Use a variety of content types

Some people love reading, others don’t.  Some love videos, others work in offices where their computers might not have sound.  Some love images, but not everyone is a picture person.  Realizing this and incorporating a wide variety of content types on your site can help appeal to the masses.  Static pages, blogs, videos, and image galleries all appeal to different parts of the brain.

What are your tips for creating content that is a little more engaging?  Do you have any secrets worth sharing?  Comment below!
 

link
| comments (0)

Getting Started with Content Creation in 3 Easy Steps

Posted by

For small-to-medium sized B2B companies without dedicated marketing departments, content creation can be a daunting task. You’ve been hearing that content is king for years when it comes to search engine optimization, but you just can’t quite put together a process for creating engaging content.  You may feel like your product or service is self-explanatory enough and doesn’t need to be discussed.  You may feel that your product or service isn’t sexy enough to have a blog post written about it.  Whatever the reason (or excuse), content creation  just isn’t being done…which is hurting your bottom line.  Here are a few easy-to-follow steps that we use at Marketpath to help add to our blog:   

Thinking Man
Look Familiar to your Current Process?

Step 1:  Commit to a content creation schedule

Without a schedule, the blog becomes a backseat passenger again to everything else that your day-to-day requires.  Start small – 1 blog post a week for the first 6 weeks and stick to it.  Block out time on your calendar for it.  Commit to it.  Once you have proven to yourself that you’re capable of putting together a blog post, it will become easier…I promise.

Step 2:  Utilize questions from sales meetings as blog post topics

Here is a little secret – if your prospective client has asked you a question in a sales meeting, there is a good chance that he/she has also Googled that same question.  What if you had written a blog that addressed that concern or topic and that customer finds your site?  You’re one step closer to a sale.  There is no secret that people a searching for answers to their questions long before they are ever picking up the phone to find a solution provider – they may not even know your company exists to solve their problem.  Sales questions always make great blog topics.

Step 3:  Write your ideas down as they happen

What a novel idea, right?  But how many times have you had a great idea (for anything, not just a blog post), but don’t record it somehow…pen, paper, voice recording on your iPhone, email, etc?  Once blogging becomes a part of your weekly schedule (because you’re sticking to Step 1, right?), blog topics will begin to pop in your head at random times during the day.  You can never predict when this will happen…Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, has a great perspective on the idea that you can’t force yourself to come up with ideas…it just doesn’t work that way…So when it happens, write it down.

Now, these three steps won’t necessarily make you the next best-selling author, or a top 50 blogger, but they will help you get started into the world of content creation.  Keep in mind that each post should be engaging, and provide value to the reader.  If you’re struggling with this sort of thing, it might be time to reach out to a professional new media agency for some help.

 

link
| comments (1)

Being Everything to Everybody

Posted by

As a Software-as-a-Service website content management system (CMS) provider, we have to be cautious of trying to be everything to everyone.  The fact is that no CMS is the perfect fit for every website.  We have our niche, WordPress has its niche, and there can even be a place for Microsoft’s SharePoint (if you have the budget and technical staff, of course). 

We have realized that there is a point at which sites grow out of the WordPress niche and graduate into our niche.  We have been pretty successful migrating these sites into our content management system, training users on how to use our CMS, and then supporting them along the way at no extra cost.  This seems to be a perfect fit for small-to-medium sized businesses across the country that need a little more than WordPress can offer.  We are more than happy to play in this space, and our customers seem happy to have found us

More Features...MORE!And while we are continually adding features to Marketpath CMS, either because of new trends on the Internet, new technologies, or customer requests, we realize that, at some point, our customers may grow out of our system – and this is a good thing.  It means that our software probably played a small part in their successful growth, and we’re happy to have been a part of it.

This lesson can most likely be applied to more than just our business.  Have you ever had the problem of trying to add too many features/services/products to meet the demands of a potentially large account instead of sticking to what has made you successful?  Remember, jack of all trades, master of none - right?             

 

link
| comments (0)

Netflix: How Customers are the New Shareholders

Posted by

If you haven't followed the Netflix debacle, here's a quick overview:

  1. In July, Netflix announced it was raising prices on accounts that have both streaming and DVD rentals from $9.99 to $15.98. This actually reflected separate pricing for each service ($7.99 each). Customers were outraged.
     
  2. Netflix almost instantly lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers and was expected to lose a million total - mostly from the DVD-only side. By mid-September, the Netflix stock price was down 20%.
     
  3. Immediately following the stock sell-off and mass cancelation spree, CEO Reed Hastings sent a letter to all subscribers  explaining the reasoning behind the split. The company would be split into two entities, one for streaming (Netflix) and one for DVD's (Qwikster). That quelled some anger but others persisted.
     
  4. Today, amidst the continuing outcries, CEO Hastings announced that there would be no split and the Qwikster initiative would be killed off.

Now how's that for customer complaints turning the tides? Even ten years ago if a company made a major change like this you would have to assemble a small army of protestors and march on their headquarters to get a company to reverse course. Not anymore.

With Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, customer forums, and other social channels you can instantly create an army of a million or more who share your viewpoint. Protesting consumer brands can be incredibly viral. And Netflix' price increase and service changes are no exception.

Here are a few lessons to take away from Netflix' errors:

  1. Test, test, and test again. If you are a public company with a market cap of 5.8 billion dollars, test the Qwikster concept on a small segment of your subscribers. Keep it private and see how many from that group cancel their account as a result. It's insane to think that you would split your company with little input from your customer community. Granted, you're raising prices and that won't go over well anytime. But you never mentioned the split at the time so there was no correlation to the 60% price increase.
     
  2. Don't raise prices 60%. I used Netflix before they offered the streaming service and hung it up after I realized that I could only rent two movies every 8-9 days. That's three days in the mail, 2-3 days at my house, and another 3 days back to Netflix in the mail. Do the math and you can only get 4-6 movies a month. 

    About this time, Blockbuster offered their unlimited DVD rental plan for around $15 per month (2 or 3 DVD's out at a time). I could actually rent movies, watch them, and pick up new movies on my way home. I cut out six days between each change-up. Then they raised prices on this service to $24.99 per month. I dropped out. $15 of entertainment per month was worth it. A 60% increase to $25 was not. Perhaps Netflix should have read their business history books before they made the same change.
     
  3. Honest Communication. â€‹Netflix has been stuck in a reactive course of action since July. This would have been much simpler if they were more open and honest about their price increase and stagger the plan. Perhaps something like this:

    "Dear Netflix friend, we are working hard to provide you high quality entertainment at a competitive rate. While our costs have risen over the last several years we've kept your fees unchanged. I sincerely wish that we could continue these rates but for us to continue providing great service and great entertainment, we must raise prices to cover our increased costs. We won't do it all at once. Instead we'll make those increases over the next six months to a year and here's what they will look like....."


    See the truthful, planned nature in the response? It's proactive and addresses the issues honestly and straightforward. There will still be repercussions but you will have an informed customer base behind you. Those that love the service might even stick up for you.

With the new power of social media channels, and the potential of major influencers to raise a fuss more quickly than ever, I don't see why any company with an informed customer base would make major changes to their services without testing the waters first. The mass fury of Netflix customers could have been avoided  if they had an approach that was less of a "screw them, they'll deal with it" approach and more of a "hey, we need to make some changes and would like to hear your feedback first" approach. This is all goes back to the 2nd website marketing pillar, engagement. Talk with your customers through the most active channels and don't puke your plans all over them without expecting a backlash.

Customers are the new shareholders. Through social channels they can make your world an awful place to live if you don't provide a good return on their investment.

link
| comments (0)
First | Prev | Page 1 / 1 | Next | Last