Email Blasts: Definition, Examples, & Best Practices

This post originally appeared at Email Blasts: Definition, Examples, & Best Practices via ShivarWeb

Email Blasts

Ah, the art of email marketing. Chances are you’ve landed here because you’re looking into sending email blasts as a part of your marketing strategy, and you’re wondering how to do it.

Email can be an incredibly effective way to connect with your customers and improve your business… when used correctly.

When used incorrectly, it can be a surefire way to land in spam (AKA where emails go to die).

So how do you use email blasts effectively for your business? What best practices should you follow?

But before we get there, let’s cover a few of the basics.

What is an email blast, anyway?

An email blast is an email that’s send to a list of subscribers.

Think of the promotional email you get from your favorite online boutique, or those newsletters you subscribe to from your favorite experts. Those are all “email blasts” that are sent out to subscribers who have “opted in” (AKA signed up) to receive content from these brands.

Why are email blasts important?

Email is an incredibly effective way to build deeper connections with your audience and build your business. When your audience opts in to receive emails from you, they’re giving you permission to reach out to them consistently. That’s huge.

Email blasts are also a great way to learn about your audience. You can see which topics your subscribers prefer, which products sell best (and when), and even which segments of your audience are most active.

That being said, when email blasts are used incorrectly, they can be pretty damaging to your business. Spamming customers with promotional content every day, not taking users’ content preferences into account, or even sending poorly written emails can get people to hit unsubscribe or even the dreaded “spam” button.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, let’s review a few key email best practices, so you can use email broadcasts effectively to connect with your subscribers and grow your business.

Email Blast Best Practices

Focus on Benefits

When you send an email, you know what you’re offering customers. But your readers don’t have a clue. Even if you write a great subject line, that still doesn’t get to the value of what you have to offer.

Too often, email campaigns revolve around features, without ever communicating the benefit these features have to the customer, which is key in the why. Take a look at the email from Zenfolio:

The 50% off discount is amazing, but what’s the benefit to me aside from saving money? Why should I take advantage of this deal? Is it because I’m a photographer who needs a platform to showcase my photos? Do I have a website already, but Zenfolio gives me more capabilities? Will it help me establish my brand more this year?

Now, take a look at this example from General Assembly:

This General Assembly email starts off by letting me know the benefit right away. A Software Engineering Immersive can help me back sure I’m in demand, always. I can use these skills to differentiate myself in a crowded tech industry — how neat!

Remember that your audience gets a ton of emails. If you want yours to stand out among the hundreds that come in daily, then you’ll need to make sure the content is something your audience actually understands the value of what they’re receiving. And it’s your job to articulate that value.

Think Quality over Quantity

Yes, you should be talking to your subscribers consistently. But that doesn’t mean you need to be sending them daily or even weekly emails.

The key to using email blasts effectively is to think quality over quantity. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to email frequency. What works for a massive retailer like Nordstrom may not work for a local dentist’s office.

It’s up to you to define how frequently you should email your customers. Here’s a few questions to get you started:

How often can you realistically send out quality content? Every week? Every other week? Once a month?

What does previous data tell you? Have your open rates been impacted when you changed frequently? Have you seen an increase in unsubscribes when you email more frequently?

If you’re just starting with sending emails, set a schedule and stick to it. See how your content is performing. Are people opening your emails consistently? Are they clicking through to take the next step? Or are they unsubscribing in droves? Use the data to make a decision about increasing or decreasing frequency.

Write Better Subject Lines

Think of your subject line like the first impression on a date. It’s the conversation opener — the thing that’s going to determine if you move forward or keep on looking.

Subject lines determine whether your audience will open your email or not, so learning how to write effective subject lines is key.

For example, take a look at this subject line from The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival…

Not exactly something that stands out in the sea of emails in my inbox.

On the other hand, look at this example from Neville Medhora:

It’s a simple question, but it gets me curious. Which headline is better? I’m opening that email.

Side note — Neville has a pretty nifty subject line generator. Check it out to learn how to write better subject lines.

Segment Your Audience

Not all of your subscribers are going to want the same thing, which is where segmentation comes in handy. Segmenting your audience simply means dividing them into various lists.

For example, say you’re an online retailer that sells homemade pet products. Not all of your shoppers are looking for the same thing. Some may be interested in your dog collars, others your homemade cat treats, and others your bedazzled leashes.

By segmenting your audience, you can create campaigns that speak specifically to each audience’s wants and needs.

But keep in mind that you don’t just have to segment audience by wants/needs. Check out MailChimp’s post about the effects of different list segmentations to see a variety of options.

Personalize Your Email Blasts

Personalization isn’t just about using a dynamic tag to insert someone’s name. It’s about establishing relevancy to your reader throughout the entire email.

You can do this by reminding your reader why they’re receiving your email. As consumers, we get hundreds of emails a day. Your audience is far more likely to engage with your message if you remind them why they’re receiving it in the first place.

For example, take this email from “Be Yourself,” a collection on Medium. This isn’t the first email in the series, but the second.

Check out the second P.P.S.

bryself email

You can also personalize your email by being purposeful about point-of-view. By using second person (i.e. we, you), you put the focus on the the reader and show that you have an established relationship.

*Hint: use more you’s than we’s, like this example from American Express.

Additional Email Blast Inspiration

Looking for extra email blast inspiration? Here are a few more that we love:

Huckberry

This email blast makes great use of multiple calls to action (without it being overwhelming). Shoppers can pick their category directly from the email, and it also gives Huckberry great data to use in future segmentation.

Dubsado

This push for their referral program is creative and catchy. Notice their copywriting style — it’s fun without sacrificing clarity.

Industrious

Industrious does a great job of speaking to the benefits of signing up for their office space instead of just focusing on the features. This snippet was taken from an email blast about saving $500 when you sign with their office space, and added great context into why you’d sign up for Industrious to begin with.

Adobe

This is a great all around email example from Adobe, announcing their new Creative Cloud update. From the straightforward subject line to their short copy and clear call to action, it’s simple, effective, and gets me on board quickly!

Conclusion & Next Steps

Email blasts can be a great way to increase engagement with your clients, build trust, and get more sales. But only if you keep customer experience in mind.

Remember that your audience has given you permission to be in their inbox, and it’s permission they can take away if you don’t provide value, keep frequency in mind, and create an overall enjoyable experience.

Remember to look at your data to make informed decisions about what to change in your email campaigns. Check out open rates for feedback on subject lines, click through rates for feedback on your content and copy, and unsubscribes as a general indicator of whether you’re emailing too much / giving content people don’t want.

Test, improve, and test again. And always keep YOUR email habits in mind. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want done in your own inbox.

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The post How To Detect (And Prevent) Online Credit Card Fraud — And Why You Need A Solid Strategy To Manage Fraud For Your eCommerce Business To Succeed appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store

WooCommerce Pros Cons Alternatives for Online Store

WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress, which is the Internet’s most popular content management software.

Explore WooCommerce’s Feature Set

Explore my WooCommerce Setup Guide

WooCommerce was originally developed by a small theme / web design firm in 2011. It grew rapidly among the WordPress community due to its feature set, but also due to its business model.

Same as now, you could download & use the full WooCommerce plugin for free from the start. WooThemes made money by selling compatible designs, support, and from specific extensions (e.g. to connect to a credit card processor).

1 WooCommerce Install

In 2015, Automattic bought WooCommerce from WooThemes. Automattic is the software company run by Matt Mullenweg, the original author of WordPress software.

Ever since, the development of WooCommerce has been tightly coordinated with the development of both self-hosted WordPress and Automattic’s hosted WordPress.com software.

So that’s enough introduction. The point is that WooCommerce is legit, WooCommerce is growing, and WooCommerce can be a great fit for many storeowners…but not all.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

What is WooCommerce?

To run an ecommerce website, you only need a few additional features. You need a product listing, a shopping cart, a payment processor, and order functionality that will merge & manage all the order information within a database. That’s it.

Because of that, ecommerce platforms are very similar to general website software…with just a bit of added functionality.

And like general website software, your choice of software depends on your personal desire for control / customization vs. convenience.

It’s a bit like real estate. A house provides maximum control. But you have to deal with maintenance, contractors, and random issues. A hotel offers zero control or customization, but they take care of *everything*.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

WooCommerce lives on the more control / customization end of the spectrum. If Etsy & Amazon are hotels, then WooCommerce is a house.

WooCommerce is a software plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress, which is general website software (aka “CMS”).

And WordPress is part of a 3 part bundle that “makes a website” –

  • domain (your address on the Internet)
  • hosting (where your website files live)
  • software (what generates the files & pages that make up your website)

In other words, WooCommerce can help WordPress build a stand-alone store instead of a single-family home.

Now, this leads to the first overarching choice with WooCommerce.

Your choice is that WooCommerce is *part* of that 3 part bundle. It directly competes with other WordPress ecommerce plugins.

But…it also competes with other big bundled ecommerce solutions. And many big competitors deliberately bundle domain, hosting, software & ecommerce into a single, simple monthly price.

That’s great – and there are plenty of upsides & downsides to that bundling. But it’s important to be aware of since exploring the pros & cons of WooCommerce is a bit like comparing apples & oranges with other ecommerce solutions.

But – we’ll do it anyway. I love WooCommerce for what it is, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a few pros & cons of WooCommerce both in comparison to direct & indirect competitors.

Pros of WooCommerce

Most ecommerce platforms have a series of strong advantages, and WooCommerce is no different. Here are a few reasons to use WooCommerce, not only instead of other WordPress plugins, but also instead of other ecommerce solutions.

Long-term Cost & Value

WooCommerce is free to download & free to use. If you have WordPress installed on your hosting account, you can navigate to Plugins –> Add New and add it to your website right now.

Explore my WordPress Ecommerce Setup Guide here.

WooCommerce is also fully functional with no add-ons or extensions.

That means that your annual website costs could be as low as ~$120/yr, depending on what hosting plan you have.

For contrast, the average low-tier ecommerce bundle with a hosted service like Shopify (review), BigCommerce (review) or Wix (review) will run around $360/yr for a single website.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

Since your main annual cost will be for a hosting plan, you can maximize the value of your hosting account with multiple websites.

If you had 4 small WooCommerce powered websites on your hosting account, then your annual per website costs would be $30/yr.

To run 4 small ecommerce websites with Shopify or Wix, your annual per website costs would be at least $1,440/yr.

For example, one of my earliest clients had a personal website, a home decor blog, a cat collar store, and an embroidery store – all on her same hosting account.

All 4 sites used WordPress, and the 2 store used WooCommerce. It helped her defray the costs and keep her 2 stores profitable – since they were side-hobbies anyway.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

WooCommerce comes fully-featured and fully supported with no transaction fees of any kind. There’s no “premium tier” to move to. Your long-term per-feature costs will always be lower with WooCommerce.

Also, almost all of WooCommerce extensions are flat-fee and under $100. You have access to a huge and rapidly expanding library of advanced, complex ecommerce features for flat-fee optional cost.

WooCommerce Extensions

And, lastly, since WooCommerce works within WordPress, you get a double cost benefit for any free or premium plugins that you already want to use with your website.

For example, the most popular Redirection plugin for WordPress is free. And it’s free for WooCommerce too, since WooCommerce is integrated with your website.

If you are already paying for speed, security, and anti-spam for your existing WordPress website (with something like JetPack), then you can simply extend that subscription to cover your store as well.

And, you can piece together any 3rd party software based on cost, need, compatibility, etc.

If we stick with the housing analogy with WooCommerce, you can sub-lease rooms to help with the rent, your home office can benefit from your general security bill, and you can add-on *exactly* as your budget allows.

Now…all these massive cost benefits for WooCommerce comes with a few massive caveats, which I’ll cover in the cons. But on face value, WooCommerce is an incredible short-term and long-term value for any storeowner.

Integration with WordPress

WordPress software powers more than 1/3rd of the entire Internet. And it’s popular for a reason – it works well, it’s incredibly versatile as software, and it has a huge community (both for-profit and non-profit) supporting it.

And WooCommerce benefits from all three reasons as well, since it’s been a part of the broader WordPress community for years now.

This seamless integration with WordPress is important because WooCommerce can pull features in from an entire universe of plugins, themes, tutorials, and values that simply does not exist anywhere else.

For example, Yoast SEO has long been a hugely popular plugin with lots of international translations, advanced SEO feature support, and good usability.

There is no hosted platform with anything like it (or like any of Yoast’s excellent competitors). But since WooCommerce is integrated with WordPress…Yoast is integrated with WooCommerce as well.

The same goes with popular themes. Themes will support the same PHP structure as WooCommerce. In fact, developers will often go ahead and add bonus features to WordPress themes to make it extra appealing to WooCommerce users.

Plus, WordPress has long upheld the values of the Open Web with full RSS support, nice permalinks, W3 valid code, cross-browser compatibility, and full control over your code, content & data.

Themes for WooCommerce

f you want to leave WooCommerce, it’s easy and well-supported. Your data is only accessible to you – and anyone you grant permission to (not the other way around).

Lastly, if you have an existing WordPress powered website and want to add ecommerce, WooCommerce makes it as seamless as any other plugin so that you don’t have to style & support a store on a completely different platform.

Support from Automattic

Automattic is a company founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is also the author of WordPress software.

WordPress software is free, open-source and community supported. But Automattic is the for-profit company that makes & sells tools for WordPress software.

They run WordPress.com, a bundled hosted service for WordPress software in addition to JetPack, a speed / security / utility kit for WordPress websites, and WooCommerce.

Now, there’s a whole universe of for-profit companies offering WordPress plugins, themes, support, etc. They all do great work, and I recommend many of them.

But for longevity, consistency, and building more 3rd party integrations, I think it’s in WooCommerce’s advantage to be owned by Automattic.

There are plenty of WordPress software companies, and plenty of good ecommerce plugins. In fact, some have features and setups that I like a bit better than WooCommerce (mainly for digital goods only).

But the bottom-line when comparing WooCommerce not only to other plugins, but also to Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, etc – is that you need a large company that will be around and have an financial interest in keeping the software cutting-edge.

Additionally, since Automattic is still private and venture-funded – they are still in “growth” mode, which only means more investment in features & customer service.

WooCommerce’s ownership is a huge advantage for choosing WooCommerce over other ecommerce plugins, and put it at parity with other ecommerce solutions offered by large, stable companies.

Versatility & Compatibility

A few fun facts about WooCommerce –

  • You can use it to sell memberships
  • You can use it to sell recurring licenses
  • You can use it to sell digital goods
  • You can use it to sell apppointments
  • You can use it to sell affiliate, drop-ship, or even Amazon products
  • You can “hack” it and combine to sell really anything you can imagine

The actual plugin is incredibly versatile and compatible with a huge range of uses. Like WordPress, your imagination is likely more limited than the tool is.

WooCommerce Extensions

The plugin automatically creates & manages a range of page types including products, product categories, orders, confirmations, etc

It’s compatible not only with most single-use WordPress plugins but also with large site-type plugins like the BuddyPress social network plugin and bbPress forum plugin.

In other words, you can create a niche social network with forum and online store all with the same WordPress install.

3rd Party Integrations

WooCommerce has a large & growing Apps & Extensions store. It’s a library of premium extensions that allow you to harness powerful 3rd party software for things like payments, shipping, cross-product listings, inventory management, marketing, bookkeeping, and more.

If you are an offline merchant who loves a 3rd party processor (like Square), then you can use an extension to add it to WooCommerce.

If you love your 3rd party shipping or inventory software, it will probably integrate with WooCommerce.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

This pro has a caveat – I’m assuming that you have worked with WordPress before. If not, this will actually appear in the cons section.

But, if you have, WooCommerce’s onboarding is amazing. They’ve upgraded the process to the point where my WordPress Ecommerce Setup guide isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be.

Woocommerce Wizard

When you add the WooCommerce plugin, you are instantly moved into a setup sequence that will help you list your first product, set up your page types, and get all your basic settings ready to roll.

You really can be set up to sell in minutes. And unlike some plugins that create a dedicated section for use, WooCommerce automatically folds pages, media and options within the existing WordPress install so that everything appears where you think it should be (e.g., media settings, categories, etc).

Control & Customizations

Since WooCommerce is a PHP-based plugins that integrates with your WordPress install, you have direct access to the code via browser and FTP.

You can add, remove, edit scripts and bits of code to your heart’s content. If you want to edit your checkout flow or your error codes or your analytics script or your CSS – then you just do it.

WooCommerce Permalinks

You are not limited by a platform’s plan or code access or script limitations. If you want to hire a designer or developer or marketer, you can hire from a huge pool rather than a narrow field.

There are even custom extension developers who will create whatever extension for WooCommerce that you want.

Do you run a store than needs to accept Dogecoin? Or a very specific shipping option? You’ll need to use WooCommerce – because no major ecommerce platform will be building that anytime soon.

Cons of WooCommerce

Every ecommerce platform has natural disadvantages since there is an inherent tradeoff between control & convenience. You’ll likely find a lot of WooCommerce complaints and issues around the Internet.

Here’s a few of the key disadvantages you’ll find with WooCommerce – and using WordPress as an online store in general.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

WooCommerce & WordPress both try to make ease of use & onboarding (i.e., moving a new user to an active user) simple, straightforward and intuitive.

There are plenty of guides around the Internet, along with prompts, Q&As, support, and more.

But the bottom line is that there is still a basic tradeoff between control and convenience.

For a beginner, WooCommerce has a learning curve that is even steeper than WordPress’ learning curve. When you install WooCommerce, you not only have to learn the basic jargon of an ecommerce store (listings, checkout flow, payment tokens), but you also have to learn the basic jargon of WordPress (permalinks, posts, pages, plugins, etc) and the basic jargon of any self-hosted website (difference between HTML & CSS, page load speed, etc).

WooCommerce Menu Settings

For a beginner with zero experience with WordPress or running a website, WooCommerce will require a steep learning curve. Now, it might be worth it if you have the time & patience to learn everything.

But compared to drag & drop basic online store builders like Weebly or Wix or even comprehensive ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce’s onboarding & setup is a huge downside.

Technical Maintenance

Sticking with the house / apartment analogy, you know how you can just call the landlord when something goes wrong?

Yeah, you can’t do that with WooCommerce. There is some semblance of support via your hosting company and Automattic (if you are a premium JetPack subscriber) and the WooCommerce community. But there’s no single place to just call and get something fixed.

In fact, like a landlord, there’s no one who will come by and just check on the HVAC filter, the roofing, and basic structure.

Running WooCommerce is really like owning a house. There are plenty of people who will help you maintain it. In fact, many are quite reasonable and even quicker than a landlord.

But…when it comes down to it, *you* and *you* alone are in charge of keeping your website maintained, available, and operating.

Plugins will notify you of security updates, but you will need to install them and manage any new conflicts. Your hosting company will give you support, but you need to know what questions to even ask. You’ll need to know how to troubleshoot.

This downside comes directly from the benefit of maximum control. With maximum control & freedom comes maximum responsibility.

Again, you can get customer support for WooCommerce. In fact, some hosting companies offer “WooCommerce Hosting” with management included.

But compared to online store builders like Wix & Weebly or ecommerce platforms like Shopify & BigCommerce, WooCommerce is lacking in simple technical maintenance.*

Shopify Backend

*The one caveat here is the WordPress.com option – they are a hosted version of WordPress run by Automattic. Since they bundle hosting, software, support & more – you can get many of the benefits of WooCommerce without this downside. They’ll take care of all the maintenance…at an extra price.

Speed & Security

With the continued growth of mobile and the profitability of hacking, website speed & security are more important than ever.

Like the situation with technical maintenance, WooCommerce leaves you basically in charge of speed & security – even though there are plenty of native & 3rd party options to help you.

WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently secure when installed with a good hosting company, maintained, and used with basic security best practices.

Additionally, WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently fast when installed with a good hosting company, maintained and used with basic speed best practices.

But your weakest link is the toughest part with both speed & security.

For hosted platforms like Weebly, Wix, Shopify or BigCommerce (and the WordPress.com option) – this is an area where they truly shine. Your website lives on their infrastructure with their team of professionals watching constantly for issues and keeping software cutting edge.

In fact, several have bounty programs where they pay hackers to deliberately seek vulnerabilities in their systems. They will also have direct partnerships with payment processors for real-time fraud alerts.

Overall, speed & security should not be an issue for WooCommerce storeowners – including beginners. But, like with owning a house, you are still the one responsible for any issues.

It remains a key downside of WooCommerce, especially if you store starts growing rapidly from hundreds of visitors to hundreds of thousands of users – which brings us to the next downside.

Growth & Scaling

Since WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, it has to work within WordPress’ basic functionality.

And WordPress’ basic functionality is not built specifically for ecommerce, it’s built for versatility.

This issue means that the way WooCommerce works starts to break down when you get above a certain threshold of “queries” – ie, requests of the database.

And unlike browsing content, or really any other type of functionality, ecommerce can generate *a lot* of queries, very quickly, and in a short space of time.

Imagine WooCommerce is a single dude standing between a group of customers and a library. Imagine they all need to request books and return books before paying you, getting change, and then leaving. Now, if they go one at a time, it’s fine. In fact, you can probably push the guy to handling several returns and new books at once.

But imagine they all show up at once, say, on Thanksgiving, and start shouting out lots of book orders. And they start giving books to put back…and they all want to pay all at once.

Well, the dude is going to get really confused, tired, and crash. Not because he’s not good but because it’s a not-ideal system.

That’s WooCommerce’s core problem – handing *lots* of add to cart and checkout events all at once.

Ecommerce platforms that are built from scratch for ecommerce like Shopify and BigCommerce do not have this issue. They use a completely different set of technologies to avoid WooCommerce’s inherent issues.

Now, before a bunch of WordPress folks’ start sending me emails, WooCommerce can absolutely scale to hundreds of thousands of orders. WooCommerce says that the issues is a myth and has examples to prove it.

All true. But it take a lot of work & expertise to make that type of scaling happen. Here’s an interview with a top WordPress expert on making WooCommerce scale…and even he discusses it like a huge project, not something built-into the product.

If you have a small, growing store, this is a non-issue. You can solve problems as they come.

But if you are starting what will be a large ecommerce site very quickly, it’s a critical disadvantage to be aware of – especially when looking at other Enterprise ecommerce options.

Potential Long-term Costs

WooCommerce’s price (free!) and potential long-term value are amazing for beginners and anyone on a budget.

However, you may have noted the potential need for 3rd party help, WooCommerce can become quite expensive.

One of my earliest clients back paid me $1200 to fix several emergency issues that she simply could not figure out before her sales deadline.

She had chosen WooCommerce specifically to control costs (rather than integrate with an existing content site). But it will take several years of no issues to recoup those costs compared to a Shopify plan.

Shopify Pricing

Since WooCommerce is not bundled with hosting and other software, it’s also easy to let regular costs get out of control. Once you start paying for automated backups, security scanning, managed hosting, CDN, premium plugin extensions, and more – your monthly costs may be much higher than anticipated (again, just like homeownership vs. renting).

Now, all these costs are *potential* costs. And if you have the time and patience, many storeowners would rather than potential costs that they choose rather than an high guaranteed cost. But it’s a potential downside to be aware of.

Future of Ecommerce

Ecommerce is changing rapidly. And the speed of change is happening faster everyday.

Apps like Poshmark, Depop, Pinterest, and Instagram are moving more ecommerce to happen seamlessly within apps via “headless” ecommerce backends.

In other words, some ecommerce platforms are simply inventory & order tracking systems where the actual shopping, cart, and payments happens within a 3rd party app.

In some ways, WooCommerce’s open structure should be an advantage. And yet, cutting edge ecommerce relies increasingly on APIs and direct integrations, which are not WooCommerce’s specialty.

Shopify is able to leverage its size, infrastructure, and tech team to create cutting edge integrations. Same with MailChimp, Square, and a whole universe of similar marketing tools.

And all that does not even start to discuss Amazon.

All that to say, WooCommerce does have a current disadvantage with ecommerce as it is currently evolving.

However, it could have a huge advantage as content becomes more important. And it will forever have an advantage as somewhere that you truly own & control. It’s this bet that Automattic has their money on.

It’s a potential downside to consider. There’s no right answer, it all depends on your goals, expertise, and view of the future. There’s a reason why so many website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress.com, and GoDaddy GoCentral are adding basic ecommerce functionality.

All of which leads us to a few direct comparisons.

WooCommerce Alternatives

There is a whole universe of ecommerce solutions on the Internet. Compared to 2003, this is a really good problem to have. But as an online storeowner, navigating choices is still an issue. Here’s a quick rundown of the main alternatives to WooCommerce, along with links to further posts.

WooCommerce vs. Other WordPress Ecommerce Plugins

There are lots of ecommerce plugins, but most are pretty terrible. WooCommerce’s main direct competitors are –

  • Easy Digital Downloads – a focus on simple digital goods.
  • WP Easy Cart – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
  • WP Ecommerce – a non-Automattic comprehensive option. Meant for developers due to limited support options & simple extensions.
  • NinjaShop – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.

WooCommerce can also run on WordPress.com as part of a hosted bundle. This option removes a lot of WooCommerce’s negatives, but also increases WooCommerce’s costs & removes some of the self-hosted freedoms.

WooCommerce vs. Shopify

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and Shopify here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with Shopify.

WooCommerce vs. BigCommerce

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and BigCommerce here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with BigCommerce.

WooCommerce vs. Wix

Wix is much more user-friendly compared to WooCommerce. However, Wix also constrains your options more than even WordPress.com and hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify. If you have a small store and want drag & drop convenience, then use Wix.

WooCommerce vs. Magento

Magento used to be a much tougher competitor to WooCommerce until Magento’s sale. Now, self-hosted Magento is going away. If you run an enterprise site, then scalability will likely make your choice for you. You’ll want Magento (or other Enterprise options). If you have a small ecommerce shop, then WooCommerce will be a better option.

WooCommerce vs. OpenCart

OpenCart is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then OpenCart is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use OpenCart, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce vs. Ecwid

Ecwid is less an ecommerce solution and more of an “anywhere shopping cart”. You can quickly add it to an existing website (ie, a plain WordPress website) and provide an ecommerce experience of a sort. However, it does not integrate with your backend. You also will have trouble competing for inbound marketing. It’s a good option to quickly add ecommerce functionality to your website without going through the WooCommerce setup process.

WooCommerce vs. Prestashop

PrestaShop is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then PrestaShop is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use PrestaShop, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce Review Conclusion

WooCommerce is the best ecommerce solution for 3 types of storeowners –

  • Storeowners with technical resources who want to heavily customize their store or use unique functionality.
  • Website owners who have a content-driven website and want to add-on a complementary, but seamless store.
  • Storeowners who are highly cost-conscious and feel comfortable investing time rather than money into running their own website.

If you fit those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out the main WooCommerce website and using my guide to setting up your WooCommerce-driven ecommerce store.

If you don’t fit in those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out a hosted solution. Explore my ecommerce platform quiz here. Or if you are building a small store (a dozen products), explore my online store builder quiz here.

Lastly, be sure to explore my guide to marketing your ecommerce store. So many stores fail, *not* because of platform…but because of a bad marketing plan. Spend as much time planning your marketing as you spend researching your store software.

The post WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Types of Digital Marketing: Examples, Uses, and Resources

Types of Digital Marketing

Saying you’re going to start doing “digital marketing” for your business is like saying you’re going to the “Western Hemisphere” when someone asks where you’re going for vacation. Digital marketing is made up of a bunch of marketing concepts, each with their own strategies and purposes.

And if you’re wondering what types of digital marketing you should be using in your business, a bunch of grab-bag tips and techniques won’t help you until you first understand how digital marketing breaks down and exactly how each marketing concept works.

I’ve put together a guide on the different types of digital marketing with examples, uses, and resources so you can evaluate which digital marketing strategies support your goals.

I’ve broken digital marketing into three media types (owned, earned, and paid) to categorize the different marketing concepts.

Let’s dive in!

Owned Media

Owned media is any media or attention that you own and control.

Your website(s), blog, and social media channels are all examples of owned media.

Marketers use it in contrast to Earned or Paid Media where other people control the attention you receive. Successful owned media means that your audience pays attention to you directly rather than via other websites or ads.

SEO 

SEO stands for search engine optimization — it’s all about getting your website to appear when people search for it / you / related content topics. The world of SEO is wide and takes time. So while I won’t tell you it’s the best channel for immediate satisfaction, there are still some amazing results to be had.

For most, a successful SEO campaign would be a huge win due to the sheer volume of traffic that Google organic search can drive. Google processes over 3.5 billion queries per day and most of the clicks go to an organic result.

You’ll learn pretty quickly that in paid advertising, clicks for competitive keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic search results.

SEO breaks down into three categories: technical, off-page, and on-page. Technical and on-page SEO are owned media, and off-page SEO is earned media (more on that in a bit!).

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is all about ensuring that Google/Bing bots can crawl and index your website effectively. It’s about making sure you’re not generating tons of duplicate content. This is really about making sure the technical components of your site are up to snuff (no broken links, no multiple versions of your about page, etc). 

Seeing it in action: 
Some of the biggest gains in organic traffic can come from good technical SEO. Bad technical SEO creates problems like this –

A huge technical issue with re-launched sites is link redirects. I’ve helped several clients triple their organic traffic simply by redirecting old URLs to new URLs.

If you’ve ever had difficulty searching large retailers on Google for products…it’s because they are terrible at technical SEO (I’m looking at you Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic…also Nordstrom’s).

Why it’s useful: 

I mean… you want Google to be able to evaluate your site, right?! Technical SEO is here to make sure users can find the actual information they’re looking for, and that Google can see all of the great content you’re creating (more on that in a minute). 

What’s tough about it: 

If you’re using WordPress, a good website builder, or a good hosted ecommerce platform you have the big barriers taken care of.

If you are already using a different platform, a technical audit might be the SEO item worth paying for, especially if you don’t have any technical SEO experience or you are working on a large enterprise scale.

Mentioning a “stand-alone technical audit with recommendations” to an SEO expert can be valuable if you’re on a custom-built site. Just don’t let them sell you on “ranking #1 tomorrow!”

What to Learn: 

If you are running WordPress, install WordPress SEO by Yoast and run through my guide for using it effectively.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO  is all about “targeting” the right keywords and ensuring that your website is laid out in a coherent way that is understandable by search engines and users browsing your website. It’s about creating targeted content that helps answer your audience’s questions (either through a blog, a newscenter, or targeted landing pages!).

Seeing it in action: 

REI is a master at on-page SEO. Check out what happens when I search “stand up paddle boarding”. 

REI has created tons of content around various outdoor sports, and they rank in the top of the search results consistently. So while I may not be ready to buy a stand up paddle board, REI is on my radar from the very beginning because of the educational content they’re giving me. 

Why it’s useful: 

The goal of on-page SEO is to get specific content to appear on Google when someone is searching for it. It should bring in new people AND support sales (and it shouldn’t be keyword-stuffed content that won’t help customers on your website make a decision). 

When done correctly, you can create authoritative content that addresses problems, questions, etc of your market, and when coupled with off-page SEO (more on that in a minute!), you can drive organic (AKA free) traffic to your site and capture your audience in the “research phase”. 

It’s a way to build trust and authority with your ideal clients. 

What’s tough about it: 

It’s a long game for sure. And, if you’re just getting started, you’re already behind the curve. That’s not to say don’t do it (you should absolutely be creating content that addresses the problems your audience has). But you have to be consistent, research the right keywords that you can compete for, and build some trust with Google in order to get your content to appear in the top level of search results. 

*Bonus – listen to Nate debate the merits of focusing on on-page SEO over off-page SEO.

What to learn: 

  • How to use keywords on your website 
  • How to do keyword research
  • Using title tags and meta descriptions
  • Using Google Search Console
  • Finding Content Ideas for SEO

Email Marketing

Email marketing has been around for ages. It involves having a list of “subscribers” (people who have opted in to say they want to receive emails from you) and sending them periodic emails with content, promotions, news, etc.

Seeing it in action:

Those promotional emails you get from your favorite retailers? Reminders that your car is due for service? Heck, even promotions from your credit card companies!

Yep… they’re all a part of email marketing. Here’s an email marketing example one of our team members received from Madewell:

Why it’s useful:

You can create highly targeted content with email marketing based on buying behaviors, automation rules, and even site behaviors. Email provides a highly customized experience and helps businesses create a more intimate relationship with their audience.

Why it’s tough:

How many emails do you get a day? Probably hundreds! In fact, if you have a Gmail account, you likely have an entire section of your inbox dedicated to promotional email. It’s a noisy space that can be difficult to breakthrough in, and in order to do it correctly, it requires consistency, strategy, and basic copywriting skills.

What to learn:

  • How to Write an Email Newsletter
  • Email Copywriting basics
  • Avoiding spam trigger words

Social Media

While social media platforms technically own the content on them, you do own your channels to a certain extent. You have complete control over what you post, which makes your profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, etc. part of your owned media.

Seeing it in action:

Brands use social media in several different ways. For example, some use it to drive sales, like this men’s apparel brand:

While others, like me, use certain platforms to share content (like on Pinterest).

Why it’s useful:

Social media is, well… social! Building your brand’s presence on certain channels is a great way to connect to your audience on a deeper level and get to know them better. Plus, with the advanced analytics social platforms provide, you get such a detailed picture of who your ideal clients are.

Why it’s tough:

Social media experts make social out to be rocket science. It’s really not. Unless you started a business you know nothing about, you should know where your audience hangs out.

Where people tend to go wrong is when they try to be 100% present on every single social network. Effective social media is about having direct interactions where you build relationships and learn more about your audience.

What to learn:

First, I’d definitely recommend any resources from Buffer. I’ve also written a good bit on social media analytics & content marketing.

But second, I’d recommend focusing & learning a single platform. Don’t expand until you really understand your “wheelhouse”. Every platform has a manual and best practices. Study and practice more than anything else.

Earned Media 

Earned media is press, coverage or mentions on other websites that you do not pay for since the story/content is useful enough to the outlet to stand on its own. In other words – you “earn” the placement in the news instead of paying for an advertisement beside the news. Earned media is a big deal not only because you don’t pay for it but also because readers trust it more than overt advertisements.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is basically just SEO-speak for getting links or “link building”, with the caveat that links are not all considered equal.

Sketchy $5 links are going to harm your site. Quality links placed on a related or well-known website are the primary factor for getting better visibility in Google search results, hence why on-page SEO and off-page SEO work well together.

Create high-quality, educational content, get people to link back to it because it’s actually helpful, build your site authority, show up higher in the search results. 

Seeing it in action: 

The only real way to see off-page SEO in action is with a backlink profile tool like Ahrefs. Check out my post on Ahrefs for how to explore and understand backlink profiles.

Why it’s useful: 

Again, off-page SEO works hand-in-hand with on-page SEO. When you have quality sites linking to your quality content, it raises the overall quality of your site. Google takes that into consideration. If you’re a more trustworthy, authoritative site, you rank higher in the SERPS. If you rank higher in the SERPS, your high-quality content appears above competitors, and you get more of the right people onto your site. 

What’s tough about it: 

Again, it’s a long game… and it requires consistent outreach. When you’re just starting out, you can’t just write a piece of content and hope for links to come. You’ve got to get them, and you’ve got to get them for quality sites. This means pitching your content, doing outreach, etc. It also means having high-quality content for people to link to. 

What to learn: 

  • Broken Link Building 
  • Redirecting Old URLS
  • How to Use Ahrefs

Public Relations

Unlike paid placements, public relations is where you earn publicity for your brand, either through features, news stories, press coverage, social shoutouts, and more. It’s all about working with the media to get the word about your business out there.

I’ve broken public relations down into two categories: traditional media relations and viral marketing.

Traditional Media Relations

This is probably what most people think of when they think of PR. It’s pitching your content to media outlets + trying to get coverage. Keep in mind this isn’t about pitching your business. Focus on being a reliable source & providing good stories / content (In fact, media relations works hand-in-hand with your on-page SEO strategy. Create good content, pitch it to outlets that may find it useful).

Seeing it in action:

Anytime you see a news story about a company or organization…it was probably via a press release or press outreach. PR is everywhere. Here’s an example from a campaign I did for this website.

Why it’s useful:

Having reputable outlets link back to your website or even run your content not only grows your website traffic — it builds brand authority. When you’re trying to stand out in a crowded space (i.e. the Internet), having coverage from reputable sources helps build trust with your audience quicker.

Why it’s tough:

Pitching to the media isn’t a walk in the park. Most outlets get tons of pitches every single day — which means yours needs to stand out and provide actual value. It can be a time-consuming process.

What to learn:

How to Plan a DIY PR Campaign

Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is when a piece of your content goes “viral” — AKA it gets a massive amount of shares and attention in a short period of time. Viral marketing is tough to do, but when it is done, it can create massive traction for your brand.

Seeing it in action:

There are plenty of big corporate campaigns that spark outrage, curiosity or some other big emotion. The original “small business” viral marketing effort was Blendtec’s “Will It Blend” series of videos.

Why it’s useful:

When your content goes viral, you can see a huge spike in traffic over a short period of time. You get more eyes on your site, get in front of larger audiences, and get in front of new audiences you likely haven’t seen before. If it’s high-quality content, you’ll also likely get links back to the viral piece, which can build your site’s authority with Google.

Why it’s tough:

You can try your best to guess what goes into creating viral content, but you’re also at the mercy of the Internet. There’s not an exact science to viral marketing, which makes it hard to pull off.

What to learn:

A big part of viral marketing is tapping into trending topics or trending emotions. The rest is not really a secret. It’s just combining those and hitting the right moment.

Paid Media

Paid media is any media or attention that you pay for. Paid media is a great way to promote your website and get the ball rolling on your business. Usually any type of media business will offer businesses attention for a price. The trick is choosing the right media and getting a positive return from it. 

I’ve broken paid media into three categories: search ads, display ads, and social media ads.

Search Ads

Search Ads show up when someone searches for a query. For example, if you search “shoes” – you’ll get ads for shoes. Google was the first mover here and made their billions with search ads. But now many networks from Pinterest to Twitter to Amazon and more all use search ads within their networks.

Seeing it in action: 

Search ads are anywhere — just try searching for something on Google! I searched “dentist in Atlanta” and got this… 

Again, these ads show up whenever you’re searching for a specific query on search platforms (i.e. Google).

Why it’s useful: 

The key benefit of search ads is that the searcher has intent — i.e. they’re actively looking for what you have to offer (like a dentist in Atlanta). The marketing jargon here is that you are “harvesting” demand rather than generating demand.

Why it’s tough: 

You’re paying to play, and volume and bid prices can affect your performance significantly, especially if you have budget limitations. If you’re bidding on a competitive keyword, it’s going to cost you. You’ve also got to compete with others who are bidding on high search volume, competitive keywords. 

What to learn: 

  • How Google Decides What You Pay
  • Alternative PPC Networks

Display Ads 

Display ads (AKA Banner ads) have been around since the dawn of the Internet. They’re everywhere both the Internet + within platforms (think about the banners that pop-up when you’re using an app on your smartphone).

Display ads differ from Search Ads in two main ways. First, they use images / banners. Second, they focus on interest rather than intent.

Seeing it in action: 

Display ads are EVERYWHERE. Just log into Facebook and look on the left side of your newsfeed.

With the data Facebook provides to its advertisers, they can show me ads based on what they think my interests are.

Why it’s useful: 

Displays Ads are different from Search ads because you’re targeting interest rather than intent. In our example above, I’m getting targeted with ads for software that helps small businesses, because Facebook knows I’m a small business… so they’re betting I’m interested in software that can help me manage my business.

And while Google handles most Display Ads around the Web, the big opportunity for Display Ads is on “walled gardens” like Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Zillow, etc who all know everything about users on their network.

There are also a range of targeting options, match types, and formats depending on network and goal.

Why it’s tough: 

If you don’t know a ton about your audience (or don’t have access to that data), you’re taking a shot in the dark. Targeting interests can be way broader than targeting intent, which means your chances of getting highly qualified leads are less than what they are with search.

What to learn: 

Like social media, it pays to learn a single network. Read their manual, learn how to read analytics, and run lots of test campaigns before “scaling up” your spending.

Social Ads

Social ads are exactly what they sound like… ads on social media platforms! Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, etc… they all have advertising capabilities that allow advertisers to run paid promotions on their platforms.

Seeing it in action:

Check out this ad from UNTUCKit on Pinterest:

One of our staff members uses Pinterest primarily for fashion, so her Pinterest feed includes ads based on her interest in fashion!

Why it’s useful:

Social networks have a ton of data on their users, which gives advertisers a huge opportunity to create very targeted ads based on their users interest. There’s also massive opportunities to retarget users who visit your site and bring them back to your platform.

Why it’s tough:

You’re not just learning one ad platform… you’re learning several. Each social media advertising network operates differently, has different policies, and is constantly changing. It can be easy to spread yourself, and your budget, too thin. The trick is to focus where your users are most active and you have the most data so you can get the most bang for your buck.

What to learn:

  • Advertising on Reddit
  • Advertising on LinkedIn
  • Advertising on Snapchat
  • Advertising on Pinterest
  • Advertising on Quora

Next Steps

As you can see, digital marketing is made of up so many different avenues and methods. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you have to master them all, but you really don’t.

If you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend a dime, I recommend checking out my guide on How to Promote Your Website Online for Free next.

If you’re ready to spend a little and want a step-by-step process to advertising online now that you know the different digital marketing methods, check out this guide here.

The post Types of Digital Marketing: Examples, Uses, and Resources appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How To Design a Website Layout w/ Best Practices & Examples

Website Layout

So you’re designing a website layout, either for yourself or for a client, and you’re looking for some best practices and examples to follow. 

Maybe you’ve even spent some time digging through templates for inspiration, because hey… it can’t hurt, right? 

Wrong!

Website templates are great… but they can be drastically affected by stock photos, brand assets, colors, fonts, etc.

Before you start browsing templates, you first need to understand what your site needs to do, what content you’ll have, and how you need to lay it all out for an optimal user experience.

So how do you do that? Great question! Here’s my step-by-step process to designing a website layout with best practices:

Step One: Set Your Goals 

A website is more than just a collection of pages. Really, it’s a roadmap for your audience. It helps them find what they’re looking for when they’re looking for it.

Which means before you start looking at templates and designs, you have to first understand what your audience needs from your site to begin with. 

What’s the goal of your site? Is it educational? Is it selling products? Is it a resume site to help you get hired? 

Before you can start navigating somewhere, you have to know the end destination. The same applies to your website. Before you even start planning the website layout, define the overall goal of the site. 

What to Consider:

  • Your website today doesn’t have to be your website tomorrow. Set your goals for what you want to accomplish right now.
  • Your overall website will have a goal, and each page will have a goal. Separating the two can help you get clear on the overall flow.
  • Your site is all about the user. What are THEY trying to accomplish?

What to Avoid:

  • Biting off more than you can chew. If you’re trying to do too much at first, you’re either going to end up with a messy site or no site at all.
  • Getting caught up in the nitty gritty. We’re not talking functionality, yet.

What to Learn:

  • How to create a minimally viable website

Examples to Copy:

Sean Halpin

Sean Halpin Portfolio

Sandy Springs Artsapalooza

Sandy Springs Artsapalooza

Step Two: Map Out Your Main Content 

Once you have the main goal of the website, you can start to think about what content you need. 

What types of information is your audience searching for? How should that information be grouped?  

This will become the overall architecture of your site (and the navigation). Remember, your site is all about your audience’s journey.

The end goal is to get them to the information they need in the fewest steps possible. It doesn’t matter how beautifully designed your website is if no one can find what they’re looking for! 

The key here is clarity. The navigation should be intuitive — your people shouldn’t have to dig for information. 

Define your site’s primary navigation and content groupings before moving into design, so you can choose or design a template that supports an intuitive architecture.

What to Consider:

  • Think about how a user who lands directly on a given page would feel (without having navigated from your homepage).
  • Think about someone how has accessibility needs, or is simply in a hurry would feel.
  • Again, less is more. If you don’t need multiple pages to say it, don’t use multiple pages to say it!

What to Avoid:

  • Burying important pages in a deep hierarchy. Prioritize key information
  • Death by content. Your website doesn’t have to be the final destination.

What to Learn:

  • How to use keywords on your website
  • Smashing Magazine resource on content planning

Examples to Copy:

Au Lit Fine Linens

au lit fine linens

Lesley M.M. Blume

lesley blume

Step Three: Get your page layout down 

I know, I know… it sounds counterintuitive to think about a layout before you start searching for a template. But again, this is all about organizing your information. 

If you have an idea of the type of layout you need for each page, you’ll narrow down template options a lot sooner (and will be less distracted by frills that you probably don’t need anyway). 

Again, the goal is to get people the information they need in the quickest way possible. Think about your own browsing behavior. You’re likely not reading each and every word on the site, right? 

What to Consider:

  • Use size to distinguish between important info / details that may not be as crucial — the most important information should be the biggest on the page
  • Use headers and subheads to help scanners find key sections + information
  • Bold important phrases and key information
  • Use bullets / icons to break up text-heavy sections (see what I did here?) 

What to Avoid:

  • Don’t sacrifice clarity for creativity
  • Don’t bury key information “below the fold” (AKA don’t make people dig and scroll endlessly for it).

What to Learn:

If you want a page-by-page breakdown, check out our guides on…

  • Homepage best practices
  • About Us page best practices
  • FAQ page best practices
  • Contact Us page best practices
  • Product page best practices

Examples to Copy:

Trello

Grovemade

Step Four: Lock in functionality

After you have a general layout in mind for your pages, it’s time to think about functionality on each page. 

When we’re dealing with website design, remember that sometimes less is more, especially if you’re just trying to get your site up and running.

Having a minimally viable website can be more effective than having some juggernaut with bells and whistles that confuses people or costs you a fortune to get up and running. 

Think through the minimum functionality each page needs.

For example, your services page probably doesn’t need social media icons / social sharing. However, you may want to include links to your social channels on your Contact Page, or bring in your Instagram feed on your About page if it’s applicable to your overall site goals. 

A well-designed website isn’t about how advanced the functionality is. It’s about how quickly and easily can you give people the key information they need to accomplish their goals on a certain page.

What to Consider:

  • Think about the functions that would actually enhance your users’ experience.
  • What functionality is a must-have right now, and what’s a nice-to-have down the line?
  • Functionality isn’t built in a template — it’s supported by your software (AKA your website builder).

What to Avoid:

  • Functionality for the sake of functionality. You don’t want to overload your site or confuse your users.
  • Biting off more than you can chew. Having the ability to upload your latest YouTube episode is great, until you have to keep up with it.

What to Learn:

  • Which website builder will fit your functionality needs
  • WordPress plugins

Examples to Copy:

Dave Horak

Cumberland Community Church

Cumberland Community Church Spanish Version

Step Five: Pick Your Template 

So you’ve done the planning, you’ve sketched out your site, and you even know how the site needs to function. It’s time to finally, FINALLY start looking for a template (or creating your own)!

What to Consider:

  • Templates are really just HTML and CSS… which means they can be recreated almost anywhere. If you see a Wix template you love but want to use WordPress, you can easily recreate it.
  • Keep your layout needs in mind that you defined earlier, and remember that most templates are fairly customizable.
  • Look beyond the homepage. Look at how the subpages and unique pages are presented.

What to Avoid:

  • Again, functionality is NOT something that comes with a template.
  • Don’t judge a template based on the photography and logo designs. Often, a template will only look a certain way due to the mock-up creative assets.

What to Learn:

  • How to create your web design color palette
  • How to write effective website copy

Examples to Copy:

Inherit Clothing

Beautiful Destinations

Beautiful Destinations

Next Steps

You’re all set! Just follow the step-by-step process outline above to design a website layout that’s clear, easy to navigate, and gets your users the right information at the right time!

The post How To Design a Website Layout w/ Best Practices & Examples appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The Complete Guide To Finding An Internet Merchant Account

The post The Complete Guide To Finding An Internet Merchant Account appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is Cardholder Data And Why Does It Matter?

The post What Is Cardholder Data And Why Does It Matter? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Can Business Credit Cards Affect Your Personal Credit Score?

The post Can Business Credit Cards Affect Your Personal Credit Score? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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6 Square POS Features To Run Your Small Business Like a Pro

When a merchant signs up for a new Square account to start processing payments, many times the focus isn’t on the other features; it’s on getting paid — and rightfully so. But after signing into your account for the first time, it may become evident to you that there is a lot more to Square than just payment processing.

For those of you who are new to Square or if you are shopping around and checking out your options to make a final decision — you’re in the right place. We are going to take a look at what is available in the free Square POS app. We’ve discussed both Square (read our review) and Square POS (read our review) in depth, so check out their respective reviews for a more comprehensive look. Don’t forget, when you sign up with Square Payments, you get access to the POS app, the online selling tools, invoicing, and a whole lot more. 

But before we dig into all that, let’s quickly review Square’s payment processing costs for the price savvy among us. Square has very upfront pricing, but keep in mind that your processing costs change with the Square hardware you use. With the free Square POS and your own smartphone or tablet, you’ll pay a flat rate of 2.75% per swipe, dip, or tap. Check out How Much Does Square Charge? for a thorough explanation of any other fees you might incur with Square, including software. 

While it’s true that Square’s fee for payment processing may seem a bit higher on the face of things, keep a few things in mind: Square doesn’t charge any additional monthly account fees, and you can expect the same flat rate for all of the cards you process, even American Express. You can also close your account any time with no cancellation fees whatsoever. However, one of the more notable reasons we like Square here at Merchant Maverick is that merchants get end-to-end, PCI compliant payment security included with every account, without paying a dime for it.

While Square may not be as packed with features as a traditional POS, there are still a wide range of features waiting if you take advantage of them. In addition to features within the app itself, Square’s back-end management tools (centralized in the web Dashboard) are powerful. 

We have much to cover, so let’s discover the most noteworthy POS features you can start using to manage customer engagement, employees, inventory, and take charge of your business like the pro you are!

Customer Directory

Square Customer Profile

If you have an existing customer list, you can migrate that over via CSV right into the directory and get started. Every time you complete a sale, your customer directory grows to include your customer’s name, purchase history, location, and credit card (save this only with their permission). If your customer enters their email for an e-receipt, that gets added to the directory, too!

The customer directory builds automatically with each sale, but you can also manually add customer information from the Square POS or the Square dashboard. (See Why We Like Square’s Online Dashboard and Analytics App for a primer on the dashboard.) In the Customer Directory, you can add an email, birthday, make notes about their order history, or add their company, for instance.

Customer Directory

As your customers continue to shop with you, Square builds reports on customer behavior patterns, too. You can find out things like visiting frequency and when they purchased something from you last. You can view some reports from the in-app reporting in the Square Point of Sale, but to access all of the reporting features, you’ll need to get to the Square dashboard.

A lesser-known Square feature is the private feedback you can gather after a sale. Giving your customers this opportunity to share their opinions with you directly (and right from their receipt) helps keep the lines of communication open. When your customer leaves feedback, you can respond to them directly and offer to comp their item if you wish. In this way, you can hopefully also avoid negative public reviews — and keep your customers happier while you’re at it.

Inventory Management

Keeping up with inventory changes and accurately ordering the stock you need is probably one of the most critical business matters there is. Not only does good inventory management build loyalty and trust with your customers, but you can also avoid some unneeded expenses surrounding both excess and deficient stock. The great news is that basic inventory management comes along with your free Square POS software.

Have a large amount of inventory? You can easily import any existing stock with a CSV spreadsheet. You can also add items manually through your dashboard or Square POS. Either way, you can quickly update product names, prices, and quantities as needed. Setting up low stock alerts is easy — set alerts to send when inventory gets to the amount you decide. In the screenshot below, you can see that this shop has 20 prints in stock and the alert will be sent when there are three left.

Creating an Item in Square

Have different sizes or other variables of the same item? Square supports setting up different price points and variants, too. Square does not support partial quantities — but don’t lose heart! If you sell in partial quantities, you can work around this issue by setting up a Variation, as seen in the screenshot below.

Square Item Variant

Whether you’re a micro shop or you move hundreds of items a day, you can set Square up for what makes sense for your business. However, if your business has several hundreds of items, you’re likely going to find the inventory navigation a bit unwieldy. That’s because you have to scroll to find the item manually; you can’t just type the name in a search bar. Square does offer a more robust solution with Square for Retail (See our review), starting at $60/month/register/location.

To keep up with inventory and track customer spending, you can also assign your products to specific categories. Keep in mind that all of the initial work you do to distinguish your inventory through categories, variations, and accurate item descriptions pays you back with richer insights when it comes time to check out your reports. Square creates free basic reports such as Sales Summary, Sales Trends, and Category Sales, to name a few.

Square Sales Reporting

It’s worth it to mention that if you are in a time crunch or you don’t have an item already in your inventory, you can still ring it up easily in quick sale mode — simply punch in the amount, and you’re ready to take payment!

Loyalty

Square Customer Loyalty Program

The proof is in the pudding — loyalty programs lead to more customer spending. This fact is proven time and again in retail spending statistics, but Square also reports that customers spend over 30% more after joining their loyalty program. That’s a nice chunk of change, but making the loyalty program work for your business is the key to profitability.

The Square Loyalty Program is not free — it starts at $45 and the prices scale with the number of loyalty visits. That means that you won’t be paying for what you don’t use, but we still suggest checking your reports to track success. However, you really are in charge of the program and its success in your business. That’s because everything is highly customizable. From a classic digital punch card to earning points each visit, you control what — and how — your customers earn rewards with you.

According to Square, merchants get the best responses with their loyalty program by offering a meaningful reward, making the reward happen sooner rather than later (about 30 days from enrollment), and limiting the rules when it comes to earning rewards.

When you ask your customer to join your loyalty program, they enter with their phone number, which you can then promote via text messages. The other cool thing about the loyalty program is that the add-on software gives you even more data about your customer’s purchase history and buying behavior. All of this information makes it easier to personalize customer service or even plan your next promotion.

Employee Management

Small Business Owner Using Square Customer Service

The optional employee management software can make a significant impact on your business if you have multiple locations or many employees. From customizing permissions to timekeeping, performance tracking, and advanced reports, there is a lot of potential here.

With your basic Square account, you can let employees take payments as Mobile Staff and allow or disallow issuing refunds. Beyond these two functions, you are limited unless you opt for Employee Management at $5 / month per employee, however.

For example, employee-specific reporting only comes with advanced Employee Management. In the screenshot below, you can see what types of insights are available under the Employee Sales reports that come along with Employee Management.

Square Employee Management


In addition to gaining better insights regarding your employee’s performance, you also have much more control over employee permissions. Choose who has access to cash drawer reports, assign individual access codes, and choose other custom permission settings both at your Point of Sale and in your Dashboard.

Cash Drawer Management

From the Square Point of Sale app, you can enable cash drawer management to promote greater accountability across the board. Take note that you can only manage your cash drawer from an iPad or Android tablet — you can’t track and manage with your smartphone. Basic information about your cash drawer session includes:

  • Cash amount
  • Cash sales
  • Cash refunds
  • Cash paid in and out
  • Expected cash amount in drawer

Cash Drawer Management lets you know exactly how much cash you start with and what to expect in the drawer at the end of the session. You can set up cash drawer reports to be auto-emailed at the end of the business day. Because the reporting is specific to the device connected to your cash drawer, you’ll have to run a separate report for each device. You can view your drawer history at any time from your Square app, too. All you need to do is select the date and the drawer session to see details.

If you have Employee Management software, you can also control employee access to your in-app cash drawer reports. Grant your manager access while restricting other employees from accessing cash reports you may not want to make privy to everyone.

Offline Mode

For days when even the Internet can’t seem to work correctly, being able to accept payments offline prevents losing customers and sales. Offline Mode is also a game changer for the many businesses who aren’t bound to four walls. Whether you have set up shop in a more remote location or you are a mobile business traveling across the country, you can use your offline mode to swipe your card and securely accept payments. There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Offline Mode, however:

  1. Offline Mode only works with a magstripe swipe card, and you must swipe it.
  2. You have to connect to the Internet within 72 hours of the sale, or it expires.
  3. Offline transactions automatically process when you get connected with the Internet again.
  4. If payment doesn’t go through after connection, you are responsible for the cost of goods or services.

The good news is that there’s no additional charge for Offline Mode, just the standard rate of 2.75% per swipe. And there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from the issues listed above. When you take a sale in Offline Mode, be sure to check for the signature on the back of the card and have your customer sign so you can compare signatures. Checking your customer’s ID is also recommended, of course. You’ll also want to double check the card’s expiration date. If you remember these simple best practices, you can still accept offline payments with a reasonable amount of assurance that your sale is good to go.

Is Square Right For You?  

Square offers a wide range of features to support a growing small business. If you are adding employees and locations, Square is ready with advanced software that grows with you, including Employee Management and the highly customizable Loyalty Program. (Not to mention the less glamorous but just as important features like cash drawer permissions, inventory management, and offline support.)

Want to find out even more about Square? Check out our Square POS review for more insights on the Square Point of Sale or visit our full Square Review for more helpful insights. If you’re ready to try Square out and see for yourself, head over and set up your free Square account to start processing your first payments!

The post 6 Square POS Features To Run Your Small Business Like a Pro appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Find Out If You Are Prequalified For A Credit Card

So you’ve decided your business needs a new credit card. Unfortunately, you’ve heard that the credit card application process can negatively impact your credit score, and since credit history can impact your business’s ability to make financial moves in the future, you don’t want to apply for a card unless you’re sure you’ll be approved.

Luckily, many issuers offer checks to see if you’re prequalified for their credit card offers. This will give you a chance to see if you should go through with applying for a card. Once you’re prequalified, you’ll have the confidence needed to go through the full-on application process.

For everything you need to know about prequalification, keep reading. We’ve got you covered!

What Does “Prequalified” Mean?

Prequalified means that you’ve been selected as potentially “qualified” by a credit card issuer for a particular card offer. Usually, the issuer has done a soft pull on your credit score and found that you’ve met the certain criteria necessary to qualify for the credit card. This soft pull should not affect your credit score.

In some cases, you may also be deemed prequalified because an issuer bought your information via a marketing list from a credit bureau. In this case, the issuer may check if you are on their list to see if you are prequalified.

If you are prequalified for a credit card, you have an 80% to 90% chance of actually qualifying for the card should you go through the application process. It’s worth adding that you don’t need to be prequalified in order to apply for a card—you can still be approved without prequalification. This process just gives you extra confidence before actually applying.

Note that by actually applying for a card, the issuer will likely perform a hard pull on your credit history. This will show up on your credit history. In most cases, a hard pull won’t be a problem long-term because having a credit card should only help your credit into the future (as long as you follow the best practices for a credit card). However, you’ll want to avoid applying for too many cards in quick succession as frequent hard pulls in a short span may lower your credit score.

How To Get Prequalified For A Credit Card

There are several ways to get prequalified for a credit card. Here are the most common:

  • Online: By far, the best option is to go to an issuer’s site and check for prequalification via their own checking tools. In most cases, this will take only a few minutes. Plus, you’ll be able to see if you qualify for a card offered by an issuer you already like. In addition, some of our favorite credit scoring-checking websites also have prequalification tools readily available for you to use.
  • By mail: Issuers frequently send out credit card offers to people who have met their prequalification criteria already. As such, if you’re looking for your next card, simply opening up your mail might be a quick and easy option. Of course, this method doesn’t offer much flexibility when it comes to what you’re preapproved for.
  • In-Person: Many physical bank branches offer prequalification checks. Note that you may already need to be a member of the bank beforehand, however. Additionally, you might be able to go to a retail store and find out during check-out if you’re prequalified for that store’s co-branded credit card.

Most major credit card issuers let anyone check online for prequalification:

  • American Express
  • Bank of America
  • Capital One
  • Chase
  • Citibank
  • Credit One
  • Discover
  • U.S. Bank

Other issuers—like Synchrony Bank, Wells Fargo, or USAA—either don’t have an online prequalification service or only let current members check online.

FAQs About Prequalified Credit Card Offers

Will getting prequalified hurt my credit score?

In almost all cases, no. This is because issuers do a soft pull on your credit history, which does not impact credit scores. Note that actually applying for a card (which causes a hard pull) will affect your credit history.

Can I get prequalified if I have bad credit?

Yes. Different issuers have different requirements when it comes to prequalifying someone for a credit card. So just because you weren’t prequalified for a particular card doesn’t mean you won’t be prequalified for another one.

Curious which credit cards are aimed towards people with bad credit? Merchant Maverick has your back.

Is there a difference between being pre-approved and prequalified?

Yes, although the difference is very slight. If you’ve been prequalified for an offer, it means that your credit score likely falls within the recommended range for a particular card. If you’ve been pre-approved, however, the issuer has targeted you more specifically for an offer.

Do I have to get prequalified before applying for a credit card?

No, becoming prequalified just gives you extra confidence before actually applying. You can still be approved for a credit card without being prequalified.

Final Thoughts

Prequalification processes can help give you peace of mind before applying for a credit card. They can potentially shield your credit score from an unnecessary hard pull and save you hassle, letting you focus on what matters—your business.

Did a check but didn’t get prequalified? Find out how to improve your credit score. Did get prequalified but want to know if that card is the right choice? Read up on our favorite business credit cards.

The post How To Find Out If You Are Prequalified For A Credit Card appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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