To protect yourself and your customer base, be sure your online store is pci compliant.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a set of information security measures for organizations that handle cardholder information, aims to reduce credit card fraud by protecting cardholder data. Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance is mandatory for merchants of all sizes, but the requirements can seem complicated and perplexing. So that you’re not completely baffled, here are some easy-to-understand tips for becoming PCI compliant.
Cardholder Data Storage
A major way that PCI compliance reduces fraud is with the control objective put forth to protect cardholder data. In an effort to remain PCI compliant, you can simplify cardholder data security by not actually storing any of it. If you don’t regularly utilize practices such as recurring payments, consider utilizing a card reader, POS or payment processor that does not retain customers’ credit card data.
If you absolutely need to store cardholder data, see if you can do so on your payment processor’s system. Some processors allow you to input and store data on their systems as part of their service.
Don’t forget that, since you accept credit cards in your online store, your web host needs to be PCI compliant. Do not assume that your web host is PCI compliant if the details are not explicitly stated somewhere in their literature or their website; you’ll need to ask either the sales or support department. In regard to e-commerce applications and shopping carts, the PCI council provides a list of validated payment applications in their online document library for reference.
Keep in mind that the way servers are shared between website owners in a shared hosting plan makes it tougher to ensure PCI compliance — the cheaper shared hosting plan solution may not be the best. Consider choosing a hosted payment solution, which will forward your customers to a site that is verifiably PCI compliant when they make a purchase.
Dial-Up vs. IP-Based Terminals
Using IP-based credit card terminals is fast, but it greatly expands the environment in which cardholder data is stored, processed and transmitted. Larger networks of computers come with greater security implications, thus greater security measures must be implemented to remain compliant. To simplify, you could use dial-up terminals, which are slower. Doing so trades speed for a smaller data environment, making compliance easier.
Maybe you’ve already implemented IP-based credit card terminals. If so, consider setting up a separate network with its own Internet connection, dedicated solely to payment processing. A segregated network simplifies the security measures required to remain PCI compliant.
Mobile Card Reader Security
Accepting credit card payments via cell phone or tablet computer via WiFi or cellular data connections is a popular move, one that can pay dividends for many businesses. Many mobile card reader solutions exist, and each has various pros and cons. Current PCI DSS requirements don’t specifically address mobile card readers, but that doesn’t mean you can disregard compliance when you make your choice. Merchants are still required to ensure PCI compliance in these situations.
The PCI council has, on the other hand, published security guidelines for payments accepted on the mobile platform, also available in their online document library. They include provisions against physical and digital theft, malware, hacking and unauthorized use. It’s also important to only use apps from trusted sources, and to avoid any “jailbreaks” that could expose your device or tablet to malicious software. Whenever the device is under business control and the card reader is in use, you must be connected to your PCI-compliant network. This may seem obvious, but overlooking the connection on your device and mistakenly taking a payment while connected to the wrong network could happen.
Don’t let the technical science behind PCI compliance intimidate you. You should make the greatest efforts to remain PCI compliant, because being outside of compliance carries heavy penalties that can be levied on a per-month basis. With the right securities in place for cardholder data storage, web hosting, terminals and mobile card readers, staying within PCI compliance should be much easier.
Have any questions about PCI-compliance? We’d love to answer them in the comments below!
Guest Author Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, providers of secure payment processing. She brings more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to the company and also serves on its Board of Directors.
Increase your traffic with Google Authorship
Without providing stellar content to your target audience, it’s now impossible to rule the web or dominate search engine results. Do you agree? Well, look at the last couple of search algorithmic updates by Google and you’ll know. You might have heard about the Panda and Penguin updates by Google. But one of the most influential changes that happened this year is certainly in Google authorship.
What is Google authorship anyway?
It’s a feature introduced by Google that is supposed to ensure trustworthy content. What authorship does is tie a specific piece of content to its writer or author. By doing so, Google plans to provide users with expert content written by expert authors or industry experts.
The web is overflowing with content of all types and forms. When you conduct a search, you used to not know whether a particular article or blog post you are about to click and read is written by a credible author. With the launch of Google authorship, however, it’s easy to identify the worth of an article or post by checking out the author snippets. The rich snippet is comprised of an author’s bio photo, which is pulled in from their Google+ profiles. Therefore, it allows users to read exactly what they want to, and ignore the rest.
On the other hand, tying content with its authors is also an opportunity to rank higher in SERPs. Google favors ranking high quality content, written by professionals, industry experts and thought leaders. But, another good part of the Google authorship feature is that it also increases the click-through rate. According to a survey, the use of rich snippets increases the click-through rate quickly by as much as 30%.
Google authorship is like a reward for top quality content creators. Already, a good number of content creators have adopted this feature. They know it’s the way to the future as far as ranking at the top of Google search results is concerned. So, what are you waiting for?
Here’s how to set up Google authorship –
- Sign Up for a Google+ Account – Since Google extracts author data from their Google+ profile, you should make sure you or your content creators have their personal accounts on Google+. At the same time, the author name should match with the name that they have on their accounts on Google+.
- Get Your Account in Order – Only creating a personal account on Google+ is not enough. The profile should also be filled out well. Most importantly, you should pick a top quality picture as the profile image, the one that Google pulls for showing in rich snippets. If you don’t use a profile image, Google can easily detect it and your rich snippets won’t be shown in search. The better the quality of your profile image, the better click-through rate you can expect as your rich snippets appear in search results.
- Verify Your Google Authorship – The next step is to go to the Google Plus authorship page. As you enter your email, Google will send you a verification link which once clicked will connect your Google+ account to the website.
- Link Blog Posts to Google+ Profile – Also, you need to include an author byline on each post on your website. The author byline further should be connected to the respective author page on the website. The author page should have the author’s bio, a list of the posts they have written and a link to their personal account on Google+ (or Google Plus).
- Verify with rel=author Markup – In case you are unable to add an author byline due to some specific reasons, you can also achieve it manually. All you need to do is create a link from your web page to your Google+ profile page. Reciprocal linking (link from your profile to website) is also required.
Now, if you need a little more encouragement or information on the matter, you can always check out Google’s page on authorship.
Has Google authorship helped your search ranking? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!
Is your online store safe from the dangers of Cyber Monday?
By Cyber Monday, holiday shopping is already in full swing. The one day that die hard online shoppers look forward to all year is also a day e-tailers both relish and dread. On the one hand, capturing the flood of online shoppers is exciting, but are you sure your site is safe and prepared to handle the influx of traffic? Here are some cyber-security questions to ask your hosting provider in preparation for the big day.
- Is your site and its underlying applications and systems fully patched and ready for Cyber Monday? Ask your hosting provider to share details and assurances, such as penetration testing results or Web application firewall protection. With so much activity happening in such a short period of time, simple vulnerabilities could lead to catastrophic problems, such as site comprise or data leakage, and loss of sales.
- Is your website prepared to handle a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack? There are two types of DDoS attacks to be aware of: intentional, which means your site is the target of a professional hacker seeking financial or political gain, or unintentional, which means your marketing department outdid itself and your site is overwhelmed. For either event, is your hosting provider capable of mitigating an attack? If yes, is this already part of your contract? Be aware of the plan, the amount of bandwidth available, processing power and all associated fees upfront to avoid scrambling to manage an attack at the last minute. A quick response can be the difference between losing one sale and losing thousands of sales. Also, don’t forget about your domain name system (DNS) service. There are companies that can help protect you against DDoS and DNS issues, even if your primary provider can’t. Get this in line before Cyber Monday and for yearly security!
- Is your e-commerce platform on secured or shared resources? If something bad happens to another hosted site inside the provider’s infrastructure, is there the potential that it affects you as well? Additionally, if your e-commerce site is hosted along with your corporate website, a vulnerability in one may provide a backdoor to the other. Read your contract and know the answer to this question beforehand. As an added precaution, avoid storing sensitive information on the site. Not only is this a violation of Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards for account data protection, but this also makes you more of a target.
- What type of action plans and support are at your disposal leading up to and during the big day? If you are not sure, look at your contracts carefully and ask questions. Are there special service-level agreements (SLAs) in place for Cyber Monday? Who to call, who is responsible, the expected time to resolution in the event of an issue, and the disaster recovery plan should be well-documented in advance.
Knowing your e-commerce site is protected on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, is priceless. A good hosting provider will keep you well-equipped and well-informed about the protections it offers. Ask a security pro to help you understand the nuances of what your provider offers if you need clarification. You may need to pay that extra money, but knowing the risk ahead of time will ease the pain.
Have any Cyber Monday tips or stories to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
Guest author Vann Abernethy is the senior product manager for NSFOCUS, where he is responsible for product planning and program execution for multiple security offerings. He brings more than 15 years of experience working as both a product developer and information technology/information services director at start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Throughout his career, Abernethy has developed and deployed security, network and infrastructure management products and solutions for various companies, ranging from small-to-medium sized businesses to government organizations to some of the largest, industry-leading enterprises worldwide.
College Classes for eCommerce
So you’ve got an awesome website that has everything you could have dreamed of – except for visitors. Going back to school can help you learn new and updated skills that could lead to a serious bump in traffic. Yes, there are college classes for eCommerce help. You don’t need an advanced degree, but if you pick them well, a few courses could change your online life.
You’re never too old or too young to learn more so you can work smarter.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing, sometimes called modern marketing or digital marketing, is a lot more than tweeting about an update to your website and hoping someone clicks. It’s a multi-faceted skill that entails breaking down social media platforms into niche categories through searches and filters to find new customers, keeping existing customers informed and connected, integrating your website and social media accounts, and much more.
The good news is, you can learn it in school. Even a single course in social media marketing is almost certain to improve your traffic. The customer service hotline is a dying entity, as is the newsletter. You’re more likely to both reach and hear from your potential customers on Facebook or Twitter than almost anywhere else.
This is what makes Social Media Marketing one of the top college classes for ecommerce!
Newsletters never go viral. Neither do pieces of direct mail or emails or Facebook posts. When it comes to getting across a message, making an impact and having your message shared organically, there is simply nothing like video.
If you don’t have a video presence on your website, you’re fighting for traffic with one hand behind your back. Video is extremely powerful, but making good video takes skill, technique, and equipment. An A/V class will not only give you the knowledge you need, but will acquaint you with other people interested in the craft who may have some equipment or be interested in working a project with you.
No video is better than bad video. Learn how to do it right and you’ll see why Audio/Video classes are college classes for ecommerce!
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a process by which website owners and designers use keywords, metadata, links, and structure to achieve higher rankings in search engines. Study after study shows that when people enter a string of words into Google, the overwhelming majority click the first link that appears. Significantly fewer click the second, and almost no one clicks anything after that.
Search engines work hard to put the sites they consider to be authoritative and credible near the top. Taking a class in the complicated but learnable process of SEO can get your site to the top, which makes SEO classes amongst the best college classes for ecommerce!
Sociology is the study of how humans behave in groups. A rudimentary understanding of what drives people can give you irreplaceable insight into what drives them to your website. Behind every keyboard is a human being reacting to both thought and base instinct on the road to your website. Take the time to learn about the brain behind the traffic numbers. If you run a website, you are inherently in the people business.
Drawing more traffic to your website takes skill that can be learned through education.
Education can move your website from good to great. Not only will it give you skills you can apply to the real world, but education in general expands your mind and improves your quality of life. Take a few college classes for ecommerce and see the difference they make in your thought processes and profits!
What do you think are the best college classes for ecommerce? We’d love to hear your opinions in the comment section below.
Guest blogger Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about adult education and the best business degree careers.
Alter Your Budget So You Can Hire an SEO Expert
The fourth quarter is when most businesses take real stock of their situations. CEOs and entrepreneurs look at what they accomplished in quarters one through three and what they need to do in quarter four to end the year “on top.” It’s also when they figure out what has been working and what changes need to be made. One of the most common things you will hear is “We really need to step up our web presence.” An SEO expert can help with that.
The best way to elevate web presence is to step up your SEO. The best way to do this, particularly if you’ve never really dived into the web optimization waters, is to hire an SEO expert to get you up to speed. Unfortunately, SEO experts are rarely cheap hires. Hiring one typically requires some budget tweaking.
Here are some of the things you can do with your annual budget to help you find the money to get an expert at your table.
Expertise doesn’t come cheap!
1. Find an Expert
Unlike other types of contractors, the rates for an SEO expert vary wildly depending upon how intensive you want their work to be. Spend this fourth quarter meeting with a potential SEO expert so you can get a feel for what it would be like to work with each of those people as well as how much they would charge you to improve your SEO and step up your web presence game.
When you find the person you want to hire, you can get a quote and set up a contract. This will give you the amount of money you will want to clear in your budget.
2. Retainers vs. Itemized Fees
Consider hiring someone on retainer. This might seem more expensive at the get go, but it evens out over time – particularly since getting your expert to work on your business site won’t require a series of emails, contracts, and other details to be seen to before the work can start.
It also frees up your budget a bit in that some experts will break up retainer fees by month or by quarter. This requires you to come up with less money in a single go, which makes finding that money in your budget a little bit easier.
3. Check Out Your Annual Spending
It’s something you do every year anyway – look at what you spent over the course of the year and whether or not there are any savings to be had or trimming that needs to be done. As you figure out where to cut and trim in the various departments of your business, consider, instead of simply trying to reduce spending overall, reallocating your “trimmings” to your SEO expert budget.
If only it were this easy!
Where can you trim your budget? Here are some common areas:
4. Office Supplies
How much money did you spend over the last year on basic office supplies? Did you actually use everything you purchased, or do you have a huge stockpile that would last ten years because you worried about running out of something?
Consider reducing the money you spend on supplies by at least 20%. If you aren’t already enrolled in membership programs at places like Staples and Office Depot, enroll now so you’ll have lots of coupons and discounts you can use to your advantage.
5. Printing and Copying
Consider going as close to paperless as you can. Because you’re trying to find money in your budget, you probably don’t want to spend the money required to switch from a paper-based to a paperless office place. Still, there are things you can do to reduce your printing and copying costs.
Ask people to share files instead of making copies. Keep documents on a cloud-based server so your employees can access them digitally in the field instead of having to print out forms, etc., to take with them to client meetings. Just these two things can probably save you at least 20 to 30% in printing/copying costs over the course of the next year.
6. Superfluous Employees
It’s wonderful to create jobs and keep people employed, especially in this economy. But do you really need to employ a professional landscaping staff to keep up the six plants you have in your office building? Surely you can water them yourself – or switch from live to silk and just dust them once in a while!
7. Consider Telecommuting
Allowing employees to telecommute is quickly growing in popularity. There are lots of benefits to allowing employees to telecommute even a couple of days each week. Your employees will be happier and, often, more productive. For you, it is a money saver because most employees will agree to a reduced salary in exchange for the ability to telecommute part or full time.
Note: It’s probably not a good idea, though, to cut a cleaning crew’s budget. Cleanliness is important to your professional reputation!
Reconfiguring a budget to find funds for something is never fun or easy. It is, however, often necessary. Work with your accountant and sales teams to figure out ways to both cut spending and improve profits so hiring that all-important SEO expert is possible.
Have you had good luck with an SEO expert? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Guest author Erin Steiner is a freelance writer from Portland who covers topics including (but not limited to) budgeting tools.
You walk into a store and are greeted by a customer service representative with a smile on their face, holding a tablet POS device.
“How can I help you?” they ask. And this time they really mean it.
Retail sales in particular are being positively impacted by use of tablet devices for onsite payment processing, also known as Tablet POS, which stands for Tablet Point of Sale.
There are good reasons for the transition to Tablet POS for retail and other merchants. Businesses can integrate Tablet POS with their existing accounting systems to process sales and returns, do inventory and price checks and even accept returns on merchandise. It’s all possible using “tablets” as mobile devices. That mobility is reshaping how many businesses interact with customers from the moment they walk in the door, often saving valuable time for customer and salesperson alike by eliminating the need for checkout lines.
The Benefits are Real
Imagine you want to check availability of your shoe size for a style on display at the store. Rather than sending the salesperson on a goose chase back into the bowels of the store, they can check availability of a shoe in that size and style on the spot with a Tablet POS device. If the customer tries it on and is happy, they can make the purchase then and there. That’s Tablet POS efficiency in action.
Even small merchants are using secure payment processing because customer data is immediately processed and typically encrypted through software that is compliant with PCI (Payment Card Industry) security standards. That is one of the first measures any merchant should use in assessing Tablet POS.
Tablet POS is an effective way to increase customer satisfaction with a better sales experience for merchants of all sizes, from those with just one location, all the way up to national chains.
Guest author Karen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm, and also serves on its Board of Directors. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.
According to recent data, nearly one-third of Internet users now own a tablet. By next year, it’s expected to be nearly half. The people who own them tend to purchase more items and tend to be more loyal customers. If you sell online, making sure your eCommerce site is tablet compatible is an absolute must.
Follow this guide to getting your format right for the gadget that is taking over online purchasing.
People who make purchases using tablets tend to buy more things more often.
Responsive Web Design
Responsive web design is a way to design websites that allows them to function properly whether they’re opened on a computer or a mobile device such as a tablet. Although some minor features may be sacrificed, it removes the need to have multiple sites and ensures that no matter which device your site is accessed from, it will appear in the correct dimensions, formatted perfectly for the exact device on which it’s being viewed.
When you hire someone to design your eCommerce site, insist on RWD, and if you have a site that isn’t using RWD, consider an upgrade.
All About the Images
Images that regular website use aren’t always right for tablets. New technology such as Apple’s retina display makes tablet screens far more brilliant than their less mobile cousins. Your photos must be of the highest quality, but also load fast. This means they should generally be built using CSS. Limit the number of HTTP calls the site must make to load a page to speed up load times.
The viewing surface of smartphones and tablets have less real estate than a computer screen. There is no getting around this fact. When it comes to designing for tablets, you must remove some content to account for the smaller screen. This doesn’t mean you have to omit it – it means you have to get creative with tools such as drop-down screens.
Use a single-column layout. All of your eCommerce site’s pertinent information should be stacked on top of each other in a vertical formation. If the user has to scroll from side to side and then zoom in to actually see the content he or she wants, your site, by definition, is not optimized correctly.
The world has gone mobile – nearly a third of Internet users have a tablet.
The world has gone mobile. The amount of web traffic – including making online purchases – gobbled up by the burgeoning smartphone and tablet industries grows more each month and the mobile trend is forecast to continue in the near and distant future.
Optimizing your eCommerce site is doable and absolutely necessary. If a tablet user wants to buy but is annoyed by your layout, you’re missing the point of selling online.
Guest author Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about eCommerce, digital technology, and mobile payments.
For e-tailers, finding the right technology to increase business productivity and sales can make all the difference between fast, successful growth and fast, overwhelming growth. Cloud-based tools empower internet retailers to manage remote workers, organize customer information and promote collaboration between team members from anywhere in the world – even if they don’t have large staffs to deploy or maintain technology solutions. That was the case for wholesale e-retailer Tisano, which sells brewed cacao teas. The company’s business was growing at such a rapid rate that team members struggled to stay organized and keep up with the volume of incoming orders. The customer relationship management (CRM) tool that made the most sense for the business was a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering. For companies of similar size and with a variety of needs, SaaS options avoid the expense and technical burdens of on-premise technology and give employees more time to concentrate on tasks that grow sales and expand the business.
What the cloud has to offer
Employees can access cloud-based applications and software to collaborate in real-time and streamline business processes. Because cloud solutions aren’t housed on premise, businesses don’t need to worry about maintaining equipment or bringing in outside IT specialists to handle technical issues. Cloud services are simple to implement, and most make it easy for employees to transfer data. Also, because most SaaS solutions offer freemium plans, there’s no upfront investment needed, allowing businesses to try out multiple tools to find the one that best fits their needs.
There are many cloud-based tools out there that can help online retailers improve productivity and sales or solve other business challenges. The key is sifting through these solutions to find one or a combination of a few different solutions to maximize employee efforts and allow businesses to run as efficiently as possible. Tisano, for example, researched and tested multiple cloud solutions before ultimately deciding on the SaaS-based CRM tool its employees now use. SaaS tools are only as effective as the employees using them, so it’s important that each employee is committed to updating the system in real time. Finding the right solution that best fits employees and businesses will maximize productivity and, by extension, sales. To prevent wasting resources and frustrating employees, use a tool that requires minimal training and reduces data input requirements.
Getting maximum results
Businesses should evaluate and determine which tools will be most effective to help increase sales. One of the most obvious tools tends to be a CRM solution. When business is growing, it can be a challenge to keep track of prospect information and other important contact details. The sales team needs to ensure that important details don’t fall through the cracks, which is especially important when multiple people are jumping in on different projects. Tisano’s team used its SaaS-based CRM and stored client data to close numerous high-level deals with customers such as Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Virgin America and Whole Foods Market, all without investing in on-premise technology or IT staff.
Integrating applications into your existing SaaS tool can further optimize productivity. Companies should think about how to leverage multiple solutions together to better achieve sales goals. For example, if a business uses social media, email marketing or note-recording tools in tandem, it is easier to maximize employee productivity and increase sales.
Online retailers that implement SaaS tools can sell more products and minimize time spent on administrative tasks. Since moving most of its operations to the cloud, Tisano has saved thousands of dollars and streamlined business operations. And because employees have access to all customer information – including history details, social media profiles and more – in one central location, they can focus more attention and efforts on ensuring customers remain satisfied and loyal. Other e-tailers can see similar gains when they embrace the wealth of solutions available as cloud-based services.
Guest author Anthony Smith is the CEO of Insightly, a San Francisco-based SaaS CRM application. He built the first version of Insightly in six months from his home in Perth, Australia, after identifying a market need for a CRM solution focused on small business. He has previous experience designing and building CRM software for enterprise use. Prior to Insightly, Anthony worked as a consultant for IBM and as a software engineer for global mining consultancy Snowden.
According to Statistic Brain, the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds. The average attention span of a human is eight seconds. This is why your business needs Instagram.
Why Instagram Works
Instagram is tailored to fit the image-conscious audiences of today. People are bombarded with information coming at them from every direction. Instagram appeals because its interface is intuitive and it enables users to quickly distribute their photo message across all social media outlets with one simple click.
Why the Power of Instagram Is Awesome
As Atlantic Wire reports, Instagram has 90 million monthly users. Each of those users represents your potential customers.
In addition, when your online business links up with Instagram, you are acquiring the exponential power of their subscribers. Every Instagram user you reach has already proven themselves to be a social media user. By virtue of this fact, your business is practically guaranteed to be tweeted, liked, or shared.
Businesses sometimes see instant results after implementing an Instagram strategy.
Ways Your Business Can Use Instagram to Impart Your Company Image
One way your business can benefit from utilizing Instagram is by arming key employees with an Instagram account in the business department name. For instance, your marketing department manager could post an enticing new product image monthly, creating an appetite for an item before it’s even hit your online store shelves. Your HR department head could post candid moments from the annual picnic or awards ceremony (with the employees’ permission, of course). This type of post is a powerful way to communicate your business culture. If your company spends money on charitable contributions (it does, right?), your CFO could post a moving snapshot of the charity in action.
A second way to harness the power of Instagram is to host an Instagram event. Challenge your subscribers to a photo contest. Choose a theme in line with your corporate identity. For example, a clothing company might offer a prize to the best Instagram image of homemade children’s costumes for school plays and Halloween. A food company could have a best recipe contest based solely on the image of the final dish. Let your subscribers vote and choose the winner.
A bad reputation spells crisis for your online business.
What to Do to Mitigate Reputation Damage
The awesome power of Instagram does have a few drawbacks. Because your business images are flung instantly to the far reaches of the Internet, your reputation can be negatively impacted in one blinding explosion of controversy. What happens if your stellar senior head of HR accidentally pushes out a picture of a married employee getting cozy with a young intern? The fallout can be rough, even though technically it’s nothing to do with your business.
It helps to know how to remove personal information from the online world. It is possible, and it’s often necessary. The reason you don’t hear about it is because it works.
Instagram is a fun and powerful toy. But if you’re going to play in Internet space, you have to dust yourself off every now and again.
Guest author Kate Supino is a professional freelancer who advises online business on how to remove personal information in cases of negative publicity.
Images courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Link building is not the same as it used to be. Though your website’s SEO still very much depends on backlinks, there are several changes that have happened to link building post-Penguin. With every update, you need to keep up with the new expectations and know how to avoid dangerous blog links. First released on April 24, 2012, Google’s Penguin is a recent algorithm update that analyzes the quality of links pointing back to websites and penalizes those that indulge in any kind of link scheme or practices that they consider questionable or dangerous blog links.
Save yourself from dangerous blog links!
If you want to improve the SEO of your website or regain lost traffic due to a Penguin penalty, you should quickly understand the types of links that are harmful or dangerous and those that carry quality, even if you feel they are legitimate.
Given below are different types of dangerous blog links that you should always avoid while building links for your blog.
Swapped or Reciprocal Links
A few years ago, reciprocal linking was one of the most effective link building tactics to improve SEO. After Google released its Penguin update, however, reciprocal linking is no more acceptable. Instead, they’re now considered dangerous blog links. It’s only because most of the webmasters started to take advantage of the technique and manipulate this link building technique by swapping links in a large number. If you are planning or already building links through swapping links in bulk, you should avoid it right away. You may even get penalized if you’re doing it with the best intentions.
One of the most dangerous blog links that you should always avoid building is paid links. Whether you buy links or sell links, it’s a bad practice and should be avoided at all cost. Very recently, several UK news websites were penalized by Google only because they were selling links to pass PageRank. Paid links are always considered dangerous blog links.
You may be surprised to know that even directory links are on Google’s radar. But you shouldn’t worry as not every directory link is spammy. What you should actually avoid is mass-submitting to junk online directories. Google has already de-indexed those directors that nobody uses.
Even if you build links through directories, you should pick only the high quality ones and avoid automated or bulk submission, which make it look like you’re trying to index dangerous blog links.
Blog Network Links
Building links for your blog via link networks is also very dangerous. A few years ago, there were many systems that used to build links for websites or blogs through their own blog networks. After Google de-indexed many of these blog networks, this practice was tagged as black-hat. If you remember, Build My Rank (a popular blog network) tumbled down for the same reason. Blog network links are dangerous blog links.
Every blog belongs to a niche or industry. While building links for your blog, you should always keep your niche in mind. Many webmasters, in order to improve their SEO, would start acquiring backlinks from just any website regardless of the niche or industry they belong. This is unethical and dangerous. If you want your website safe from Penguin search penalty, you should never get links that are irrelevant or unrelated to your own niche.
Article Directory Links
Popular article directories like Ezine Articles, Article Base and Go Articles have lost their weight to a great extent. As people began to manipulate these article directories to build tons of links quickly, content farms were created. It’s due to this reason that Google degraded the search rankings of many popular article directory websites.
If you are using duplicate, spun or low quality articles and submitting them to article directories to build lots of links for your blog quickly, you should stop it without any delay or a penalty is just round the corner.
Whether it’s a website or blog, you should build links in a way that doesn’t violate the latest Google quality guidelines. Most importantly, you should make the process of link building look natural to search engines. If you manipulate link building, use spammy tactics or build links in an unnatural way, one search algorithmic update is enough to mark your website or blog for having dangerous blog links and send it’s rank down the gutter.
Good customer service can be as simple as offering a live chat option to your online store front.
One of the biggest drawbacks an online or e-commerce business has is that customers are unable to examine a product in person. That’s why the quality of your eCommerce customer service can either make or break your business. Regardless of the background of your customers, you need to provide them good support and treat them with respect so they become your repeat customers. With efficient customer service, you can quickly build a solid online reputation for your brand, retain more customers and boost profits.
Usually, online shoppers complain that they are unable to reach a real person via phone while contacting a company. Even when they send an email, they have to wait for several days for a reply. But good customer service goes a lot further than addressing these complaints.
Expectations of Customers
No matter what niche or industry your e-commerce business belongs to, you’ll have customers belonging to many different backgrounds, with different demographics and behavioral attributes.
For an e-commerce store owner, customer service is not something that needs to be provided only after a purchase. There are many customers who’ll need efficient support even when it comes to making a purchase decision or buying a product from an online or e-commerce store.
Depending on their behavioral traits, many customers will decide to go to another online store if they are unable to reach you via telephone or receive an email that lacks the required support or is unhelpful. Therefore, you should always prepare yourself to provide a quality customer service at just any stage a customer for your business may need it.
Right from the point a customer or an online shopper arrives at your online store, the process of customer service has begun. Whether it’s about educating the shopper about the features of a product, creating an ordering system that’s highly customer friendly, the payment system or the shipping and delivery of the product, it’s all part of customer service.
Don’t Just Sell a Product, Sell an Experience
As the owner of an e-commerce business, you shouldn’t just sell a product to buyers or customers. If you plan to achieve customer retention success, you should actually start to sell an experience.
That’s what customer service is all about.
In fact, a great customer experience is the first pillar of your business growth. Without taking good care of your customers, addressing their concerns and solving their problems in real time, you can never expect to take your business to the next level or beat out the competition.
Rather than making futile efforts to compete on price, you should start to compete on the quality of customer service.
You need to answer a simple question – Why should an online shopper buy from your online store rather than your competition’s? You’ll be able to answer this question only when you focus your attention on providing a customer service experience that’s unforgettable.
Customer Service Tips
An efficient customer service leads to creating loyal customers for your business. It’s time to think beyond selling a product or service. It’s time to work up a genuine desire to help your customers, solve their issues in real-time and keep them happy for the long term.
A few tips you can use –
- Have a good knowledge of your product or service
- Train your employees, staff, customer service reps
- Express your gratitude for every transaction
- Be courteous and respectful to customers
- Listen to their issues, concerns attentively
- Be responsive
- Ask customers for their feedback
- Offer services such as live chat, an email contact or flexible phone hours
Good customer service is the backbone of an online business. It’s your most powerful tool to beat out the competition.
What do you look for in good customer service? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Guest author Obaidul Haque is a professional SEO, freelance writer, guest blogger and online marketer. Owner of HelloBloggerz.com, he works with a wide range of clients from all across the globe and helps them expand the online reach of their businesses. Music is like oxygen to him.
As a small business, you want to be found among the billions of pages on Google and other search engines. It’s critically important that you take the proper steps to enhance your page rank and website’s search engine optimize (SEO) rather than taking shortcuts or applying unethical methods. The primary reason to take the proper approach is that search engines are very strict and will penalize a site that doesn’t.
Here, we’ll share some of the top methods you don’t want to apply in your quest for SEO greatness. Protect your page rank by avoiding the following sins.
The search engine police will indeed punish you for bad SEO practices.
Okay, Sin #1. Don’t buy links back to your site from others. Why? Because Google wants to see links to your site from quality sources of content that are also related to your content. Linking to your site from irrelevant sites looking to make a dime on link-building will provide short-lived SEO, but long-term pain and poor page rank.
Search engines also have algorithms that indicate when a site is building links too quickly. You will ultimately be punished for this activity with decreased ranking, so take your time and build quality links to your website.
Duplicate content pages.
Don’t create the same page over and over again on your website. Search engines can’t be fooled by this, and you will be penalized. Create high-quality content that utilizes your keywords elegantly. Continue to improve upon your content with high-quality blog posts and get your audience to share those. That’s where the high-quality link-building starts to come into play.
Don’t stuff keywords into your pages.
Old as time is the strategy of putting your keywords at the bottom of a page in the same color as your page’s background, or using the keywords way too many times in the page’s context so it reads unnaturally. Here’s an example of keyword stuffing utilizing the keyword gluten-free:
“Gluten-free foods are delicious. Try our gluten-free products so you can remain gluten-free all of your life and feel better because you are gluten-free. Gluten-free products are the best products because gluten-free products taste great and are gluten-free.”
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it’s not going to earn you any favors with search engines.
Google and other search engines are watching and waiting for these sins to be committed. Steer clear to protect your page rank!
This is the process of delivering content to a user based on their IP address – if the site detects that the visitor is a search engine spider, different content will be delivered than that which would be delivered to the average visitor. Typically people will use cloaking with pages that have duplicate or sketchy content so as to go undetected by search engines.
In short, keep your SEO methods ethical and be patient. SEO wasn’t built in a day, and you will very likely hurt your existing page rank if you try to take shortcuts. Stay away from strategies like buying links to your site, keyword stuffing, duplicating content, and cloaking. You will wind up wasting your time because search engines gave caught on to these tricks to say the least!
Guest author Cara Aley is a freelance writer who covers a variety of topics ranging from daily reputation management to health and wellness.
Find your target audience and focus your marketing dollar in their direction.
What’s your idea of running an online business? There are many who think running an eCommerce store is simply posting and selling products. Sadly though, it’s a lot more complicated in today’s world of eCommerce. No matter what niche you belong to, there’s tough competition for attracting customers so you need to find your target audience and develop a strategy around them. Why? Because nowadays, every single niche has hundreds of thousands of online stores, each one of them vying for customers’ attention. With these odds, being able to find your target audience is more important than ever before.
Developing an effective marketing and sales strategy is important for success and starts with learning how to find your target audience. You should not jump into marketing and sales strategies unless you know who your best customers will be, where they belong and what their key demographics are? Don’t waste marketing dollars by trying to sell to everyone. Find your target audience and make every dollar count!
A target audience is just a specific group of people who are most likely to be interested in the products you have to offer. The demographics of a target audience will change with each product line you push. For example, a collage aged audience might be interested in current retail trends while new parents will be interested in baby products. As an SMB, small to medium sized business owner, you can’t sell to everyone and attempting to will break your bank. To sell more in less time, you’ll always need to find your target audience, those people who are ready to buy what you are selling.
Now, the big question remains… how to find your target audience. Well, you should start with these important questions –
- What is my product?
- What problems does my product solve?
- Who could have the problems that my product solves?
- To whom will my product appeal the most?
- How will customers use my product?
These questions are just the starting point. As you ask yourself more questions like these and get deeper and deeper, you’ll be able to identify the type of people (or businesses) who your product will suit the best. As soon as you have the picture of the ideal customer for your e-commerce business, you’ll need to extend your research further to know the finer details like their age, gender, occupation, educational qualification, marital status, interests etc.
There are several benefits of identifying your target audience and your whole business will operate around them. When you know the target audience for your e-commerce business, it will becomes easier to make important business decisions. Whether it’s about designing your online store or improving your online marketing strategies, you will be able to achieve success with all of these issues only when you know who you are selling your products to.
Finding your target audience helps you a great deal when it comes to making decisions about the ancillary service of your business. When you are aware of who to sell, you can easily decide out where to sell, when to sell and how to sell. At the same time, it will become easier for you to attend the right kind of functions as well as enter into the right kind of partnerships. Unless and until you find your target audience, you’ll make mistakes with all these key decisions which in turn will make a negative impact on your business and profits.
It’s best to stay one step ahead and know who you’re selling to and what they like… before you start selling! If you are having low profits or spending too much in marketing, you need to quickly break out of the mold, identify your idea customer base, and try to find out as many details about them as possible. The more you know about them, the better strategies you’ll be able to create.
Did you find your target audience before or after you launched your online store? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
A longtime ZippyCart favorite, the Americommerce Hosted Shopping Cart Solution is making headlines again with some big changes and updates. They’ve always been one of the few top ranked eCommerce solutions to offer multiple store fronts but now, with a slew of new features and updates, they’re offering up an eCommerce shopping cart that’s more attractive than even before. I wanted the inside scoop so I got a hold of Americommerce‘s Business Development & Marketing Manager, Justin McCullough, for an interview and here is what was found out!
Q: ZippyCart has been a longtime fan of the Americommerce Hosted Shopping Cart Solution and lately, we’ve noticed you guys have a new logo and look with your website. What new updates and features have you rolled out this year?
A: It’s been an amazing year actually. For us to just be a small team of 30 people, we’ve covered a lot of ground in the last nine months from launching our new logo, rebranding everything from end to end include a newly designed website and tons of new features. We landed on the Inc. 5,000 list for the second year in a row and early in the year we completed our PCI DSS Level 1 with Trustwave and we’re now officially recognized as a PCI Certified ecommerce platform. Amazing progress!
As for features, back in February we launched our embedded ecommerce tools, a full blogging system, and a customer rewards and points system. Then in April we launched our new logo and rebranded everything from business cards to a newly designed website. We’ve also rolled out new integrations for partners like Lexity, Nextopia, Riskified, Justuno, Referral Candy, and e Fulfillment Services.
Q: And just in general, what are the strengths and features that attract most online business owners to the Americommerce Hosted Shopping Cart Solution?
A: Honestly, it’s the fact that we invest in a deeper feature set, more settings, and total control over what you can do with your store from advanced design needs to integration and even custom development for specific features.
As an industry, everyone talks about getting online easily, quickly, and getting your store up over the weekend. We tend to go the opposite direction and talk about pro-grade tools for sophisticated online retailers who want more control over their store, being able to run more than one store from the same admin and lots of powerful tools – not light features.
I’d say the fact that you can run multiple stores, a Facebook store, and add ecommerce to any existing site or social network is a good reason people come to us.
Q3: Can you share what you guys have going on behind the scenes right now? Give ZippyCart readers a sneak peek idea of what’s coming up soon from the Americommerce Hosted Shopping Cart Solution!
A: You bet! Two things!
On September 3rd, we’ll do an early release of our new responsive admin which is full of new features like drag and drop dashboard widgets, menu builder, file manager and a user interface that’s totally responsive for tablet and desktop users. Our early test users have been saying this new admin is a game changer, so that’s been really encouraging.
As for a look behind the scenes, we’re rolling out a plan to have totally responsive themes available in our theme gallery. This means new themes for AmeriCommerce users and those themes will look great on an iPad or tablet right from the start.
And, I’m not sure if we can get into all the details, but AmeriCommerce is acquiring another company and that will wrap up soon.
Q4: With an eye on next year, what do the team at Americommerce Hosted Shopping Cart Solution feel will be the top trends in eCommerce for 2014?
A: Mobile will continue to trend up. So will more small hyper-focused apps and integration software that does one thing extremely well and uses API’s to integrate with others.
Q5: Any words of wisdom for newbie eMerchants, who are just entering the world of eCommerce?
A: Pick the right platform for growth. Ecommerce as an industry is hard, so be ready to get competitive and savvy about how the web works and how shoppers shop online. From the very beginning be thinking about how you will be running your new store to generate traffic, buyers, repeat buyers
We find a lot of people are looking for fast and easy, but often regret it when they start to really manage their store and they can’t do things that drive their conversions, sales, traffic, and promotions.
And lastly, do something you like and build a store you can love!
If you’re interested in learning more about Americommerce Hosted Shopping Cart Solution, feel free to leave your questions and thoughts in the comment selection below or feel free to contact them directly! If you already use Americommerce Hosted Shopping Cart Solution, please tell us about your experience with them!
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