Is There A Place For Small Business On The Mobile Web?

With internet marketers hailing each of the last 10 years or so as ‘The Year of the Mobile’, it seems as though the reality is now upon us.

With each month that passes, new and more mind boggling figures are released –

  • A third of us are now using smartphones to access the web
  • Access to the web via a mobile device is set to dominate desktop and laptop by 2014
  • Mobile search queries on Google have grown 3000% in the last 3 years.
  • There are now more than 500,000 mobile applications

The majority of big businesses, including the web’s Godfathers, Google, Amazon and eBay, have reacted with developments of mobile optimised websites and smart phone apps to service their existing customers and attract fresh consumers using the new platform. These tailor made solutions for mobile users aim to – and in most cases succeed in – making the experience of searching and shopping from a handset as easy as from their desktops.

But is this new frontier strictly the domain of the web’s power houses, or are there equally enthralling opportunities for the nation’s bread and butter – small business?

If you look at the analytics for just about any website these days, you will likely see a rising number of people trying to access from a mobile. The truth is that mobile search may just have a bigger impact for smaller, more localised businesses, than for their large national or international cousins.

The vast majority of searches made on Google mobile are local in nature, as consumers look for information relevant to their current location when they’re out an about.  Any local business who takes advantage of this new on-the-move consumer by making sure they’re visible on this platform will likely see a boost to their business.

What makes a successful mobile website?

A mobile optimised website answers the needs of those users who are on the move and therefore have little time and more immediate needs.

  1. The site needs to render correctly for whatever size of screen the user is viewing on. Also, navigation on mobile handsets is far easier up and down than left to right, so a single column site is essential.
  2. The most important information must be the easiest to find. Often when people are out and about, they are looking up your site to find out where you are or to contact you directly. Therefore make sure there are direct & clear links to a map, directions, and a ‘click to call’ button to make all of this as easy as possible. Where possible, make use of the handset GPS to ensure directions are tailored to the individual.
  3. Decide which are the five or six most important pages on your website, and include large, clear buttons allowing users to navigate directly to those pages.
  4. Keep text brief, and in short paragraphs – don’t go beyond 100 words on any page.
  5. Images should obviously be light, and relatively small, so as to not slow the load of any page.
  6. Rather than including a search function, pre-select common searches and replace them with a button allowing users to just click to find that information.
  7. A mobile site’s look and feel should not stray too far from the main site. Your company logo should be on the top of the site and similar colours, fonts and branding used to identify that they’re on the right site, just a mobile version.
  8. Give your users the option to switch to the normal version of your site. Some smartphones can properly handle normal websites, so users should be given a choice.

By Abby Hardoon MD & Founder Daily.co.uk

Can A Blog Really Build Your Business?

CEOs and small business owners are blogging more now than ever before.  But is this really the way to seek out and engage with that core of loyal customers who will spend their hard earned money with you no matter what your baying competitors lay before them? Or is it just another way to fruitlessly flitter away your precious time?

Rough estimates currently put the number of worldwide blogs at around the 100 million mark.  We live in an age where everyone can instantly have a potentially global voice.  Undoubtedly, of those 100 million blogs, a vast majority might well be regaling readers with the side splitting antics of their domestic house cat and have no relevance (or no interest) to your customers but, rest assured, whatever expertise you and your business possess, there are going to be people already writing about it.

And with vast competition vying for the short attention span of any reader, those considering starting a business blog should carefully decide whether it will help or hinder their business.

Writing and maintaining a top notch blog is a unique and powerful tool to engage with customers on a personal level.  But it’s not easy. So what are the dos and don’ts of business blogging, the tricks to utilise and the traps to avoid?

For all the answers, just read my personal blog at …

Not really.

How to engage your audience and attract followers

Do Not Sell

When you cease being a business person and don that comfortable jumper of a regular citizen (also known as a consumer) you will no doubt be aware that we are all marketed to incessantly. From pop ups to banners, to flyers, to those mid-evening long distance phone calls, we are constantly having the latest and greatest must-haves thrust before us. The last thing we look for, therefore, in our quality ‘consumer decision making, product/service evaluation time’ is for more of the same.

Make sure your blog a resource for readers interested in your business or the wider industry and not a sales pitch.

Become an industry expert

Use your blog to educate and inform. Be the voice of reason, of calm and authority in your chosen field. If you sell cars, give people the insider knowledge of what they should look out for before buying a new car. If you sell insurance, simplify for your readers the complicated Ts & Cs – help them to understand what’s important and what they can ignore.

Always look to gain their trust and their respect.

Commit to your Blog & follow through

Blogs are a slow burn. They take time to build and inevitably there will be a period at the beginning where you will require persistence in your task, even when you feel you are (and you may well be) writing for just the merest smattering of readers.

With the unfathomable power of sharing links to attractive content through social networks, an articulate and morally sound voice of authority and reason within any industry will find its readers. So commit to it, make sure your blog’s content is of value or is, at the very least, enjoyable to read for your target audience. Spread the word of its existence through your website, your own social media pages and your existing company contacts. And then trust the process.

More followers mean more business?

Whilst business owners might enjoy having a blog that’s popular, it’s of little use if it doesn’t grow the business itself.

A general increase in awareness of your business through a popular blog is a wonderful thing. The hidden gem though is that potential customers are able to get to know your organisation and its leaders personally, as though you were sat with them on a comfortable sofa enjoying a glass of single malt.

Whether intentionally written about or not, a blog will, nine times out of ten, provide real insight into your company’s ethics and character and, when it comes to consumer decision making, the importance of these factors should certainly not be underestimated.  What you are meticulously cultivating is that illusive animal – consumer trust.

We all buy from companies we trust. Maybe we trust that they will give us the very best value or at least won’t steal our money, maybe we trust that they know more about what looks good to wear than we do, but we buy from them, and return to them, because we have, for one reason or another, formed a positive association with what they stand for.

So if the time is right for you, clear your diary, build your blog, clear your throat and … begin.

By Ken Builder, MD WebEden.co.uk

Increase Business Efficiency With Social Intranets

It’s often been said that a business is only as good as its employees, with the best companies often the ones that invest in their staff and have the processes in place to enable them to thrive.

Increasingly, in our information-fuelled world, this employee-centric approach requires efficiently capturing and sharing knowledge to enable better teamwork and decision-making. The technological solution that many businesses have implemented to facilitate this is an intranet and, for many, it is the primary medium for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

But the intranet as we know it is starting to show its age:

- It remains a one-way medium for ‘broadcasting’ information

- It is over-centralised, with too much control coming from the top

- There is a lack of engagement

- The user experience often pales in comparison to rich, interactive web 2.0 and social media sites

- It inhibits access to knowledge instead of facilitating it

As a result, most intranets are under-valued, under-utilised and, frankly, underwhelming.

A new way of working

Imagine instead an intranet that employees really want to engage with and contribute to; a technology that actually helps them do their jobs and enjoy their work lives.

This is the concept of the social intranet, allowing businesses to harnesses the power of social media to:

- Engage users in the mission of the enterprise

- Encourage people to contribute their ideas

- Make it easy to capture, share and discover information

- Supporting fluid, spontaneous and structured collaboration

Importantly, social intranets support all forms of communication and collaboration, whether it’s one-to-one (instant messaging and email), one-to-many (through blogs, video-sharing and podcasting), one-to-all (in forums and discussion threads) and many-to-many (in wikis, communities, forums and groups).

In short, the social intranet provides a service that is integrated with all existing content resources, communication tools and knowledge assets, providing an incredibly powerful, enterprise-wide knowledge platform with a friendly, familiar face.

So why is the social intranet in today’s business environment so important?

1. Because knowledge gives a competitive advantage – in the global, always-on, always-connected world, the way companies capture, share and discover knowledge has a direct impact on efficiency, decision accuracy and time-to-market.

2. Because it’s a medium of cohesion, inclusion and engagement - getting organisations working together, sharing their ideas and giving honest feedback can be tricky. The social intranet has the power to fuel this new engaged workforce and connect employees with others that have the right knowledge.

3. Because Generation Y is hitting the workplace - younger employees are native to Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. If your intranet just sits there, so will your people.

4. Because collective intelligence beats gurus – the collective intelligence of your workforce beats the wisdom of even your most experienced experts, but only if you can tap into it. The social intranet is a natural medium for ‘crowdsourcing’.

5. Because traditional document management isn’t friendly enough - legacy document management systems are hard to use so fewer people use them, less often. And they are not designed for the web world. The social intranet is intuitive and familiar; users can jump in without a single training session, bringing Enterprise 2.0 closer.

6. Because it’s rapid to deploy - creating and deploying traditional knowledge management and collaboration tools can soak up serious time and resources. The social intranet can be as rapid to create and deploy as any other web page – if you’ve got a CMS platform designed for the job.

The future of company collaboration

As social networks continue to gain in popularity, employees are beginning to demand similar networks to become an everyday part of their working lives. This two-way communication and engagement across all levels is something businesses be looking to integrate into the workplace now.

We live in a democratic society where everybody has an opinion they want to share. The benefits of sharing over a controlled network, such as through a social intranet, means employees feel like they’ve contributed while, at the same time, companies can still retain some ownership – monitoring what is going on and stepping in if necessary.

By empowering employees in this way, using social technologies, businesses can make them the driving force of the business itself. An intranet should no longer be a static piece of equipment reliant on leaders and users; it must become a piece of technology that, when used efficiently, can bring out the best in its employees and help them – and the business – evolve and become a success.

By Maria Wasing, VP of Marketing, EPiServer

Tips For Internet Businesses And Entrepreneurs

The UK Internet economy is growing at a rate of 10 per cent per year (source: Boston Consulting Group, Jan). Estimated to be worth £221bn by 2016, it is a lucrative market for entrepreneurs and Internet businesses provided their offering is unique and future-ready.

With the rise of the Internet comes saturation. Those individuals/businesses operating in the Internet market face heavy competition, and to get ahead of the curve need to ensure they are addressing SEO, mobile developments, social media and hosting head-on.

Exploiting a niche

Applicable to any successful business, the offering needs to be unique. The Internet is a competitive arena and setting your business apart from competitors is a logical starting point. At the end of the day, if your product or service isn’t any good or any different, you are already on a back foot. Take advantage of the fact the Internet allows people to be specific in what they look for, so catering to a niche market can be a worthwhile investment. Back in 2003 when I set up WhiteLabelDating.com with my business partner, to differentiate it from Match.com and eHarmony we adopted a white label approach, meaning we could offer our software and services out to companies. It proved to be very successful; in a saturated market it can pay off to take an alternative approach.

Hosting

Reliable hosting is essential to any Internet business. A scalable option is always best, as it caters for peak times, as well as less busy periods, without costing you an arm and a leg. It can be damaging to any business if its website experiences downtime. Not only can you miss out on potential revenue, but users could be put off in the future. Don’t let a simple challenge hinder your business.

Mobile

58% of Britons are now accessing content via apps or mobile Internet (source: comScore, Jan 2012). That is nearly two-thirds of potential Internet traffic you are missing out on if your business is not mobile-ready. If mobile isn’t already a key part of your strategy, change it. Companies with any significant Internet presence are certain to miss out and get left behind if they ignore the inevitable.

It doesn’t have to be difficult either. A mobile site can be constructed using an existing website, and then modified if needed. By just having a mobile presence you can begin to see a real ROI. We are currently rolling out our mobile offering allowing partners to cash in on a 26% increase in mobile traffic.

SEO

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is crucial in getting that all-important traffic to your website. Google is the hub of the Internet and is the go-to place for many end-users looking for information, an answer, product or service without necessarily having a business or brand in mind. Getting higher up the Google ranking, with the aim of appearing on the first page, is one of the most important revenue drivers for many businesses. For start-ups and challenger companies especially, properly marketing a company through SEO is virtually the only way to be found on the Internet.

Thinking where to start? Ensuring keywords relevant to the core of your business are included and keep track of your campaigns through Google Analytics; you can then help get your website up the Google rankings and in-front of the right eyes.

Social Media

Endorsement is gold dust to any business. Whether by PC, tablet or smartphone, people now share content and opinions about brands/companies online in the public domain for all to see. Social networks are where this occurs, and businesses can build brand loyalty and monitor opinion if they use them effectively. Engaging with people is becoming increasingly common and opens up dynamic opportunities for businesses with limited marketing budgets but who are willing to invest the time. Whether you opt for Facebook or Twitter, Google+ or a dating site, social networks can add a third dimension to a business.

It is clear the Internet economy is evolving and diversifying at a rapid pace. From shopping to publishing, dating to broadcasting, the scope for entrepreneurial minds is vast. Get ahead of the curve with technologies/techniques such as mobile and SEO and your Internet business will be well on its way.

By Ross Williams, CEO and co-founder of WhiteLabelDating.com

Use Online Communities To Improve Your Business

First Direct bank is the latest company to propose the use of an online forum to crowdsource its future digital marketing developments. Online communities are a powerful way of obtaining data you can actually use to improve your business. Mark Ursell, chief executive of online research specialists Tpoll, reveals how…

1. Use your own customer database, instead of paying market researchers to go out and find the people whose details you already have on file. It’s the best place to start.

2. Ensure you know who the people are providing you with feedback. If you don’t know that they are a customer with a vested interest in seeing the service or product you provide develop and improve, how can you be sure their feedback is steering your business in the right direction?

3. Get buy-in from across the business from the outset. Getting stakeholders to invest in the concept of online communities and establishing an understanding of what they can do will make everything run more smoothly later on.

4. Invest time up front to understand how you will engage community members. Engagement is key to the long-term health of your community. You more than anyone know your customers and what makes them tick. You will therefore have a good feel for what tools and enticements will work for them — if you can’t imagine your customers enjoying the community, you may need to re-think your engagement strategy.

5. Put a policy in place outlining exactly how you will communicate with community members and stick to it. The tone of communication for the community and how that fits with your industry or brand is all-important — you would, for instance, need to speak to a community of company CEOs in a very different way to a youth panel made up of 18 to 25-year-olds.

6. Decide on the community’s status with the Market Research Society. Working within the MRS guidelines gives you protection and increased freedom to recruit customers who have signed up for research. But it also means you can’t give your vouchers, products or services as incentives.

7. Think about how you can integrate other data sources with your community. Are there social media, call centre or transactional data that can be appended to community feedback to provide a really rich single source of insight?

8. Don’t underestimate the resources you will need to commit from your team to keep the community engaged and the insight robust. If you find you are under-resourced, agencies can provide everything from stand-alone software solutions to full-service management of the community.

9. Don’t expect the job to be completely finished right after launch. You should continue to help you publicise the successes of the community around the business to keep everyone’s interest high and activity flowing.

10. Don’t stop evolving the community and its features. The way we communicate with customers and respondents is constantly changing and the community needs to keep up with that. Find out what is new and what else is being done on their other panels and across your industry.

By Mark Ursell, chief executive of online research specialists Tpoll