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 Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience

How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience

So you’ve got some marketing skills, and you’re wondering how to start a digital marketing agency. 

But there’s just one problem…

How do you start a digital marketing agency with no experience?

There have never been more opportunities to strike off on your own in the digital marketing space than there today. But how do you actually do it? Where do you start, and how do you scale?

The secret to starting a digital marketing agency with no experience is to have an actual strategy, grow organically as you learn, and deliberately build word of mouth with a specific type of client. It’s about taking aim vs. shooting randomly and hoping something lands.

There’s also a major misconception that starting a digital marketing agency has to mean a HUGE process that requires building a massive company and doing “all the things” and taking all the clients.

In reality, a digital marketing agency can be just…you. It’s not about the pricey software or offices or employees. It’s about determining who you help, how you help them, and then actually doing the work.

The business model of an agency is fairly straightforward. Sure, you can tinker around the edges about whether to bill by hour, by week, by task, or by project. But at its core, you are providing specialized knowledge for a fee. An agency of one and an agency of 10,000 work in basically the same way.

With that concept in mind, here’s how to start a digital marketing agency with no experience. 

1. Set Your Business Goals

Before you decide to do anything, you’ve got to do some planning. What do you want the business to actually look like? What’s the end goal? The vision? 

Starting your digital marketing agency without some sort of direction in mind is like trying to get to a new restaurant with no address and no navigation. You end up lost, taking wrong turns, and probably not having much success.

If you’ve observed the industry for any length of time, you’ll notice that agencies with conflicting goals run into trouble often. But the ones that stick to their vision do well.

Some agencies want to maximize prestige. They focus on recognizable clients who are willing to do interesting work. Some agencies want to maximize profits. They focus on boring but high growth, high opportunity clients. Some agencies want to maximize freedom / autonomy. They focus on low maintenance, consistent clients. And some agencies want to maximize business value. They focus on internal operations, cash flow, and strong branding.

There is no correct goal – except to choose a specific goal and stick to it no matter what.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to starting a digital marketing agency. There are big agencies, small agencies, agencies that focus on just one part of digital marketing (like search engine optimization) and full-service agencies who do everything from design and development to paid media, local marketing, and SEO. 

It’s up to you to decide who you want to serve and how you want to serve them. 

What To Consider

  • Do you want to serve local clients, or go outside of your local sphere?
  • Are you focusing on a specific industry? 
  • Do you want to offer a specific digital marketing service, or a variety of services? 
  • Do your clients need to be within a certain budget? 
  • Are there services you don’t want to offer? Niches you don’t want to serve? 

What To Avoid

  • Avoid trying to have something for everyone. You know what they say about a jack of all trades… you’re a master of none. 
  • Avoid direction hoping. Pick a direction and see it through until you have enough data and experience to make a decision on changing directions. 

2. Define Your Target Audience 

The irony of all ironies is that usually, marketers are horrible at marketing themselves, mainly because they don’t go through their own steps. 

If you’ve done any marketing before, then you know one of the first things you do as you develop your marketing strategy is get clear on your target audience. The same applies for starting your digital marketing agency. 

Once you’ve decided on who you want to serve, it’s time to dive a bit deeper. What are they struggling with? How do you help them with that problem? 

Outline the wants, needs, likes, dislikes, habits, and information of someone you think would definitely be an ideal client for your agency. Outline what their marketing needs are, what their goals are, and how you can help achieve those goals through the service(s) you’ve decided to offer. 

Don’t just armchair imagine this. Ask potential customers what they struggle with when it comes to getting the word out about their business. What do they wish they could get some help with? What do they look for in a digital marketing agency? 

Make 2 to 4 very specific personas. Remember that your initial market is not your total market. Even if you start out by targeting a very specific geographic area or a very specific customer doesn’t mean that you can’t expand. It’ll just give you more focus.

What To Consider

  • Get specific. It’s better to start small and scale (i.e. being a digital marketing agency that helps local dentists get more clients through organic search) than try to help everyone and get lost in the noise (i.e. being a general marketer who can do anything for any business). 
  • Remember that your initial market is not your total market. It just gives you focus. 

What To Avoid

  • Avoid businesses that don’t align with your overall business strategy. Sure, it’s great to get work in the beginning, but remember… pick a direction and stick to it. If you don’t offer a service, don’t offer it – even if it means turning down a little bit of money at the beginning. 
  • Personas aren’t just for marketing strategies. Have 2-4 for your own business direction so you know who to say yes to and who to say no to. 

3. Build an Online Presence

Once you have an idea of what type of agency you are, who you serve, and how you serve them, it’s time to think about how you’re going to present this information.

This means building your online presence through your website and social channels.

Setting Up Your Website

You don’t need to have a full-blown website to have a digital marketing agency. But given you’re helping people get seen online, you should have some sort of online presence.

If you are going super-lean, you can use a Facebook page, Yelp profile, or a few focus (aka “landing”) pages (more on that in a minute). But going without a decent looking website will put you behind the curve and place limitations on what you can do with your brand & marketing.

I recommend setting your own website up with a common, well known software like WordPress and hosting it on your own hosting account**. I have a simple guide to doing that from scratch here.

That route will give you a good technical foundation with fast, simple setup and access to other business tools like email and digital storage. It will also allow you to implement a customized off the shelf design – “themes.” Themes allow you to have a website that looks good enough to make a sale without spending months and lots of money on a 100% custom design. Creating a website on something like WordPress also allows you to implement a 100% custom design when that time comes.

**Note – self-hosting WordPress does have a learning curve. For a long-term website with a business that has resources, it’s worthwhile. But – there is absolutely a role for a hosted website builder for many businesses – especially if your business will focus on clients who use a specific platform (like Wix or Squarespace or Shopify). I have a guide to selecting a good website builder here.

Setting Up Focused (aka “Landing”) Pages

As I mentioned above, a few high-quality focused pages on your website can get you a long way. In addition to your Home page, About page, and Privacy page, you need landing pages to address specific needs.

When I say “landing pages” – don’t think of anything too complex or anything that you would need to A/B test. I’m simply referring to pages that visitors can land on from a search engine or an ad and find exactly what they are looking for. I like to call them Focused Pages rather than Landing pages.

Why? Here’s pro tip that few website owners will admit to: nobody cares about or even sees your homepage.

Your homepage is for people who already know you who are. For businesses in a single specific service, you can use it to “rank” for your main industry term.

Landing pages go beyond your homepage.

Landing pages are for new (or returning) visitors to land on and convert. Before you build out all your website pages, you should develop focused landing pages that sell to one or all of these buckets:

Service specific – These pages should promote your services. But, they shouldn’t be generic. You should make them either focused on the problem that your service solves (ie, no website traffic) or focused on the application of your service. For example, it’s one thing to offer “SEO” – it’s another to make websites more crawlable, more relevant, and more visible in search.

Geography / Demography specific – These pages are all about the location service & logistics of obtaining your agency’s services. Even though your work might be global, your clients’ are likely not global. They will pay for someone who understands their local market. Additionally, if you have a keen understanding of a demographic (ie, college students), then you can focus on that as well.

Industry Specific – These pages should promote your expertise within specific industries. Even though marketing principles do not differ much across industries, clients want someone who can understand their perspective. If you know more than someone else about [X] industry, you should promote that. And if you can go deeper within a niche, then do that.

Now – the magic here is combining buckets & going deeper within each bucket. Until you are big & growing, going niche is your friend. Create combinations to make extremely focused pages.

“Digital Marketing for the Travel Industry” will not bring in your first clients.

“Facebook Marketing for AirBNB Hosts in Atlanta, Georgia” absolutely will.

The goal here is to sell to people at the very bottom of the marketing funnel – the customers most likely to convert and most likely to succeed. These pages will both rank organically – and you can use them for paid ads.

What To Consider

  • Detailed content content (like a blog) can take your presence a long way. Think about future functionality you may want to have on your site so you can choose a platform that supports it and don’t have to create something from scratch once you’re ready to implement it.
  • Practice what you preach. If you’re a copywriting agency, make sure your copy is up to par. If you’re a design agency, make sure your site looks like you can actually design something.
  • You don’t have to be everywhere (i.e. Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube). Pick your starting channels and expand later if need be.

What To Avoid

  • Avoid perfection. The goal is to have a online presence that shows you’re legit, but being an agency is about billable hours. Don’t spend more time working on your own presence than your clients’.

4. Get Visible (AKA Getting Leads and Clients)

Once you have a place to send people, it’s time to get some leads and clients.

Again, marketers are notoriously bad at marketing themselves. But the days of “build it and they will come” are long gone. You actually have to do something to get clients and start building your portfolio, especially if you’re starting a digital marketing agency with no experience.

Here are a few key steps to follow to get the word out about your digital marketing agency.

Word of Mouth / Referrals

Above all other marketing techniques, agencies thrive on word of mouth and referrals. In fact, many top agencies are past the point of direct response marketing. They grow exclusively on word of mouth. They know how to appeal to certain markets and what kind of performance it takes to get further referrals.

The focus of your landing pages will help word of mouth since you’ll develop a simple, straightforward reputation.

In order to get referrals, you’ve got to get clients to back up your reputation. Which brings me to…

Direct Outreach

Also known as hustlin’. This consists of all the tedious and tough pitching that you know you need to do… but don’t want to do.

Now, it doesn’t mean spamming. It means going directly to your market and doing appropriate outreach.

It means emailing and Facebook messaging people that you know might be interested in your marketing services (or know others who might be). And sending them to your landing pages to learn more about your agency or hopping on a call with them to talk about how you can help them. And again, the focus of your landing pages will help make word of mouth simpler. You’ll stand out when people remember you as “the [X] marketer for [Y] industry in [Z] city.

It means helping within industry forums. I got my first handful of web design clients after helping people on the WordPress.org support forums. I got my first ecommerce client after helping in the Shopify forums. I never pitched anyone directly, but this type of manual, hand-on work counts as direct outreach.

When you’re just starting out with no experience, direct outreach is one of the most effective ways to get clients quickly (which you can then turn into referrals).

Tap into your existing network, look for projects that you can knock out of the park, and continue to get your name out there without having to spend money on ads or wait for your inbound strategy to grow (more on that in a minute).

Check out this case study or this post for even more detail on how to use direct outreach.

Paid Traffic

Yes, it’s true — Google Ads and Facebook can be expensive for a good return on investment, especially for the close to converting keywords that you should try to buy.

But if your serious about building a long-term marketing strategy for your digital marketing agency, then your goal is a bit different when using paid traffic.

You are buying data. Lots of data.

You should be doing a few things with your new traffic.

  • Look at what keywords are driving the best leads. Google Ads & Facebook give you this information. Try using modified broad match for your keywords. Many times customers are using a wider variety of keywords than you’d guess.
  • Run your ads very focused on geography, especially if you’re a local agency. If you have a landing page for a neighborhood, set up a campaign for that area.
  • Look at what landing pages are driving sales & calls.
  • Look at what areas are driving sales.
  • Test ad copy and figure out the right messaging. You can use this data to inform any print or display campaigns..
  • On Facebook, you can get *really* specific with your audiences. Do that. Create an audience of 100 who you *know* would be perfect. Make sure they know about you. Use the campaign to warm up any direct pitch.

Organic Search (SEO) Traffic

Organic traffic (SEO) still might not be the best next channel to pursue after paid traffic. There’s a great big wide world of paid and organic traffic sources, and if you’re working on building a portfolio and just get some experience, this is going to take awhile.

And yet, if you’re playing the long game, setting up your SEO strategy now can have huge payoffs in the end.

Google processes more than 3.5 billion queries per day. And for most queries, most of the clicks go to an organic result. And you’ll know from your Ads campaigns that clicks for competitive keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic results.

So I won’t hide my enthusiasm for SEO. It’s my specialty and is the giant battleship that will keep on going once it’s headed in the right direction.

When you are setting your marketing strategy for your digital marketing agency, you just have to know what it takes to get organic traffic and what it will take on your part to get it done.

Often you’ll just need a handful of really useful posts to prove your expertise. Don’t go after generic topics. Show off your specialty. Do a tutorial on tools that you know your audience is trying to use. Write about an issue that you know everyone is dealing with.

What To Consider

  • Your first goal when you’re starting an agency is to get clients. Billable hours drive everything (and is what will enable you to invest in other marketing efforts).
  • Some of your best leads can be in your own circle. Don’t discount the network you already have.
  • No one will know about your business if you don’t tell anyone about your business. You don’t need fancy business cards, a beautiful website, or even some elaborate marketing funnel. You DO need to tell people what you do.
  • You do have to walk the walk, but you don’t have to rely on your own area to build your business. If you do SEO and you choose not to use SEO to generate leads, that’s fine — but be prepared to speak to that with potential clients.

What To Avoid

  • Avoid being a generalist. Yes you need clients, yes you need revenue — but remember the business strategy you set upfront.
  • Avoid adding additional work without increasing the scope to “win” a client. If clients want additional services and you offer them, great! Let them know how that changes your fees. Earn respect with results, not with price or perceived responsiveness.

5. Define Your Growth Plan

Building a digital marketing agency doesn’t mean you have to become the next big company doing Super Bowl commercials. As I mentioned before, a digital marketing agency can be an agency of one.

You should however, have an idea of how you’d like to grow. Being a one-person company still doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. ShivarWeb is made up of exactly 1 person, Nate Shivar, but several amazing contractors help shoulder specific responsibilities. Employees are great once you have a solid book of recurring contracts, but contractors can help you bridge any gap.

As you start to grow, think about the teams, systems, and deliverables you want to have in place to help support your clients.

For your team, would bringing on a full-time copywriter help you sign two more clients? Could you outsource design work or administrative tasks that take up your time?

For your systems, do you have a written system for new clients? Even if you are solo, you need to have a written system that clients pass through. It should be something that you can set out in a contract. You can (and should) find examples for Master Service Agreements (MSAs) & Statements of Work (SoW’s) to build of of. Make sure you have an internal project management system – even if it just lives in a Google Sheet.

For your deliverables, do you have a way to show value to your clients? Do you have a way to gather feedback from them. If you are an SEO, then written audits, keyword maps, and written outreach & content strategies will help make the “magic” of SEO real for your clients. It goes the same for every type of marketing. What format will you use? Who can you talk to within the industry to get a base understanding?

To be honest, this section is the biggest reason to do some short stint with an already established agency. I worked for Nebo Agency for a little over 2 years, and learned more than I could have learned on my own in 10. But working for an agency is not required. You just need to do a bit more thinking & planning.

Doing some advanced planning here will help you scale faster and easier than waiting to figure it out when the workload becomes too much.

What To Consider

  • There are certain tasks only you can do. What are those? Keep your focus there.
  • A bigger team doesn’t necessarily mean a better agency. Some of the best marketers I know run with a very lean crew.
  • Think back to your business vision. Do you have services you want to provide but YOU can’t do? Are there people you can hire that can cover a few different areas (i.e. a writer with graphic design experience)

What To Avoid

  • Avoid getting caught in the weeds. You can’t make any money if you’re sitting in your inbox for five hours a day.
  • Avoid thinking of outsourcing as an expense. Crunch your numbers and think value and reinvestment.
  • Avoid going the “cheap” route when hiring help. You get what you pay for.
  • Charge what you are worth. If you are making your clients money, then charge what you are worth…and make them even more money!

Conclusion & Next Steps

Starting a digital marketing agency with no experience doesn’t have to be a daunting process full of questions, unknowns, and hurdles.

It does require that you clearly understand what you want out of your agency, who you’re going to help, and how you’re going to help them.

If you are trying to start a digital marketing agency, follow the process and you’ll be all set!

The post How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Strikingly Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Strikingly Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Strikingly is an all-inclusive website builder that’s tailored to helping entrepreneurs get up and running online quickly and easily. They’re platform requires zero code or design skills, meaning even those with no website experience can create a good-looking site in minutes.

See Strikingly’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Strikingly a try for a full Strikingly Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Strikingly Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Strikingly lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Strikingly is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Strikingly, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Strikingly competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, and WordPress.com  (and Shopify for online stores).

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease of use. Strikingly offers several website templates you can customize with no coding or design experience required (more on that in a bit).

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Strikingly Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Strikingly website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of the biggest pros of using Strikingly is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s basically just two steps — enter your information, pick your theme, and you’re in!

Strikingly sign up process

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without the hassle of creating a detailed account, selecting a niche, etc.

Template Design / Functionality

Strikingly also offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer). There are a wide variety of options to choose from, and Strikingly has them broken down by niche, so you can find a template that includes the functionality your business may need.

Now, Strikingly isn’t technically drag-and-drop (where you choose from premade sections and “drop” those onto your page), but it is fairy intuitive to use. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options. It makes Strikingly a great option for entrepreneurs/ DIY-ers who want a website that looks professionally designed without having to hire someone to build something custom or spend much time tweaking the design themselves.

Free Trial + Free Plan

Another benefit Strikingly is their 14-day free trial and free plan.

Strikingly allows you to trial any plan (even their highest-tiered option!) for 14 days before committing. This is great for DIYers who want to give a plan a test drive before committing.

They also offer a free plan, which includes a fair amount of features when compared to competitors, such as unlimited sites and limited ecommerce functionality.

There are some cons with the free plan, such as limited storage, limited pages, having to use a subdomain (ex: yourname.strikingly.com), and extremely limited integrations — but if you’re looking for a simple site for a short-term project, this could be a solid option.

Some Product Integration

While limited, Strikingly does offer some product integration, such as ecommerce functionality and apps in their app store (which give you the ability to add maps, forms, and other functionality to your site).

product integrations in Strikingly

You can also add on custom email for an additional $25/year. One thing to note — these additional integrations / functionality are all part of paid plans. This isn’t necessarily a con, but it is something to pay attention to… especially because you can find a lot of this functionality for less with other website builders (particularly if you went the self-hosted WordPress route).

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Strikingly as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Strikingly is fairly easy and convenient for DIYers and small businesses, they do leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pricing. All of their plans come with some sort of limitation, whether it be domains, the number of “pro” sites you can publish, or even storage.

Strikingly pricing plans

You also can’t access the VIP plan on the monthly payment option. Again, this isn’t inherently a con… unless you need the VIP features and want to pay monthly. Then you’re out of luck. The price also changes based on how long you commit to, which is a pro if you’re looking for a long-term solution, and a con if you’re looking for a short-term solution.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS)

And you can really see this trade-off with the Strikingly website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward and fast, and puts your focus on getting your content into a premade template. You can add pages and sections based on your specific needs, but for the most part, it’s got everything you need.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with the builder. You can’t add anything within the premade sections, you can’t create your own sections, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited.

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Strikingly website builder website. You can embed HTML/CSS/Javascript with a pro plan, but you can’t manipulate the actual template you’re provided with.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now, as I mentioned above, Strikingly does give some integrations, like DNS / hosting services and email for an additional payment. They also allow you to insert code into the header of your website for things like analytics tracking (but only on Pro plans).

However, there are a ton of technical features that Strikingly doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Strikingly’s SEO features. I can edit the site title, description, and add a category and social share image. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have. There’s no options for Schema, Open Graph settings, etc. – much less highly advanced options.

Even the additional add-on products / integrations are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics or putting code into the header of your website, which again, is only available for Pro plans.

Ultimately, Strikingly leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Strikingly Review Conclusion

Strikingly makes getting your website up and running simple and fast, which makes it a great choice for DIYers who want a quick and easy way to build a nice website without the hassle of getting into the code or having something custom made.

Check out Strikingly’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Strikingly pricing leaves something to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans and take into account the technical limitations, even with the higher priced options. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.

Not sure Strikingly fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Strikingly Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Homestead Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Homestead Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Homestead is an all-inclusive website builder that’s tailored to helping businesses build their websites quickly, so they can have an online presence. Their platform includes “ready-to-use” templates that DIYers can customize to meet their needs, or simply “plug in” their content and hit publish.

See Homestead’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Homestead a try for a full Homestead Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Homestead Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Homestead lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Homestead is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Homestead, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Homestead competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, and WordPress.com  (and Shopify for online stores).

Compared to their direct competition, they focus more on getting businesses up and running not just with an easy-to-create website, but also through traffic driving strategies and consultations.

In fact – Homestead was one of the original website builders with a positively ancient history going back to the early 2000s. They, along with Blogger, helped make websites accessible to everyone regardless of HTML knowledge. Their product has evolved over time, but they are still ticking.

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Homestead Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Homestead website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Template Design / Functionality

Homestead offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer), which makes the website builder a solid option for a variety of niches.

In fact, I was pleasantly surprised with just how many templates Homestead offers and how well designed they are. When I was first doing research, I checked out their sample templates. These looked… outdated… to say the least.

Once you actually get inside the platform, the template selections are great.

Speaking of being inside the platform, let’s talk about functionality. The Homestead Website Builder is incredibly easy to use. When you first log into the platform, they offer a quick tutorial of how to use the features.

The whole set up is incredibly intuitive. You can add new sections (pre-made or blank), drag and drop different elements like photos, buttons, text, etc, and customize the existing template to match your branding.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having accessible design options.

It makes Homestead a great option for entrepreneurs/ DIY-ers who want a website that looks professionally designed without having to hire someone to build something custom or spend hours trying to figure out how to tweak the design themselves.

Free 30-Day Trial

Another benefit Homestead is their 30-day free trial.

Homestead allows you to trial any plan (even their highest-tiered option!) for 30 days before committing. This is great for DIYers who want to give a plan a test drive before committing.

It is important to note, however, that your subscription will automatically renew, which means if you don’t cancel within 30 days, your card will automatically be charged.

Homestead sign up credit card info

This isn’t necessarily a “con”, but it something to be aware of if you’re just testing out the builder.

Some Product Integration

While limited, Homestead does offer some product integration, such as ecommerce functionality and domains / email.

One thing to note — these additional integrations / functionality are either part of paid plans or require additional fees. This isn’t necessarily a con, but it is something to pay attention to… especially because you can find a lot of this functionality for less with other website builders.

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Homestead as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

Perhaps the biggest con with Homestead’s website builder is their pricing and plan structure.

All of their plans come with storage caps, which means you’re limited to the photos, documents, files, etc. you store on your website. Their plans also limit bandwidth across all tiers.

Homestead Pricing

There are also some significant fees for add-ons and advanced features on top of the paid plans. When you compare Homestead to other all-inclusive website builders, they’re definitely on the pricier side for similar features and less storage.

Design & Branding

Trust is a huge factor when choosing a website builder (or any other website product). You want to know that whoever you’re doing business with (and giving your credit card to) is a legitimate company who is going to stand by their offer.

Trust comes in many forms — word of mouth, reviews, years of existence, etc. — but it also comes via design and branding. If a business doesn’t look particularly trustworthy or credible based on their website design, it leaves you wondering… ESPECIALLY when you’re using them to build your website design.

While we didn’t have any issues with Homestead in terms of getting started with their website builder, their website design and branding does leave something to be desired. They haven’t quite kept up with the times, and it actually made me doubt that their template designs would be worth using.

homestead branding

Limited Feature Set – Technical

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet.

Now, as I mentioned above, Homestead does give some integrations, like DNS / hosting services and email for an additional payment.

They also allow you to insert code into the header of your website for things like analytics tracking, and even offer some ecommerce functionality.

However, there are a ton of technical features that Homestead doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Homestead’s Advanced settings. I can edit the site meta tags and header tags, and hide the site from search engines. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in. There’s no options for Schema, Open Graph settings, etc. – much less highly advanced options.

Even the additional add-on products / integrations are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and or adding social share functionality. Even their traffic generating / SEO service add-on sounds… less than ideal.

homestead seo add on servie

Ultimately, Homestead leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Homestead Review Conclusion

Homestead has well-designed templates that allow for quite a bit of customization when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. They make getting a good-looking website up and running fairly easy.

Check out Homestead’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Homestead’s pricing leaves a lot to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans and take into account the technical limitations AND the extra fees for add-ons, even with the higher priced options. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability for less cost, you’re better off elsewhere.

Not sure Homestead fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Homestead Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How Much a Website Costs Per Year Explained

Website Costs Per Year

So, how much does a website cost per year?

Wait for it…. it depends. 🙂

But yes – “it depends” is not helpful at all.

The Short Answer to Website Costs Per Year

Annual website cost = domain + hosting + software + labor + annualized upfront costs

  • Domain costs range from $9 to $15 per year for a .com or .org
  • Hosting costs range from $60 to $240 per year for shared web hosting
  • Software costs range from free to $100 per year for backups & security to much higher
  • Labor costs range from free to thousands of dollars
  • Annualized upfront costs are how you want to budget upfront costs like design & themes

I highly recommend “annualizing” your upfront costs because that is a big consideration in how you want to approach actually building a website.

If you use a “hosted website builder” like Wix, Weebly or WordPress.com, then you’ll be paying all these costs in a single bundled subscription price. Your annual costs are elevated, but predictable.

If you build your website a la carte with self-hosted WordPress (even if it’s with a “builder“), then you can control a lot of your costs and get access to a lot of features that a hosted website builder might take away (e.g., actually having a custom domain or SEO features).

The Long Answer to Website Costs Per Year

But here’s the thing, your annual website costs really do depend on your choices & goals. I’ll break down how much a website should cost, and what variables you can play with to make sure your costs fit what you want to get out of it.

Consider a few websites that I have personally been involved with.

Website #1 cost $0 upfront and now costs $8 per year to maintain. It is a single page and written in HTML/CSS that I wrote. It lives on a Google Cloud account with a $300 promo credit with my low-traffic website generating all of pennies worth of traffic every year. It runs on a custom domain name that is $8/yr to renew. That’s it.

Website #2 cost $20 upfront and now costs $0 per year to maintain. It is a personal photo blog that lives on WordPress.com. I bought a nice premium theme at the beginning for $20. Now I keep it on a free *wordpress.com subdomain with limited ads & links to WordPress.com in lieu of annual fees. That’s it.

Website #3 cost $120 upfront and now costs more than $1500 per year to operate. It started with a free WordPress theme and a year of shared hosting plus a custom domain. Now, it requires a VPS server with secondary backup & security software in addition to premium software plugins and a small budget for a few hours of developer / designer time.

Website #4 cost $300,000 upfront and now costs $30,000 per year to operate. It started with custom branding & design in addition to extensive custom development and deployment to dedicated hosting (now moved to cloud hosting). It also requires monthly staging for software updates, in addition to technical maintenance, and a extensive suite of 3rd party plugins for email, A/B testing, etc.

So there’s a lot of factors involved in website costs. But that’s not a reason to throw up your hands and just say that “it costs what it costs” – or worse, get started on a project and have to quit after a year because it’s more expensive than you wanted the project to be.

Let’s look at the factors individually, how they work, and how they add up.

And while we look at each factor, I’m going to use an analogy that has worked well for readers in my other post about ecommerce. I’m going to compare building a website to building a house since most people are somewhat familiar with what goes into living in a place.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

To start, begin imagining a hosted website builder like a townhome in a gated development. You have more control & say over your house than a Facebook page (a hotel room in the analogy), but a lot of things are taken care of with a Homeowner’s Association or Condo fee. A self-hosted website will be a detached single-family home in a neighborhood. There’s no recurring HOA or condo fee, but you are responsible for everything.

Domain Costs

Unless you want your website as a subdomain on someone else’s domain, then a custom domain name is the one critical cost variable for your website.

In our real estate analogy, a domain name is like your street address. You technically don’t need it…unless you want people to be able to find your house / website.

Thankfully, an annual domain does not cost that much. Even if you maintain a WHOIS privacy add-on, a .com domain should not cost more than $12 per year from somewhere like NameCheap which specializes in cheap long-term renewals.

In fact, many hosting companies will usually bundle a free domain for a year with the purchase of a hosting package. And other domain companies like GoDaddy will do very deep discounting (though will be more expensive at renewal). Some hosted website builders will bundle a domain name as well.

Either way, you really only need one, unless you have strong reasons to buy extras.

I’d budget $12 per year for this annual cost.

Hosting Costs

Hosting is where your actual website files live. Whether you are bundling with a website builder or self-hosting on your own hosting account, it’s a cost that you can’t really get away from.

In our real estate analogy, your hosting account is like your land / property. You not only need it, but it can dramatically affect how much of a headache / cost your website is.

Think about land in the real world, sure, there is plenty of super-cheap or even free land…but it usually has some tradeoffs. The land might be distant from highways or it might not have the best neighbors or it might not come with water or electricity.

Hosting is the same way. You can get super-cheap hosting for your website. But you will generally get what you pay for. In fact, paying for a good host can make a lot of your other costs much, much cheaper.

Many hosting companies include domain names, drag & drop tools, high-touch customer-support, and security / backups that take pressure off your domain, software, and labor costs.

For example, the host that runs this site (InMotion Hosting) has WordPress plans that are a bit more expensive than typical web hosting plans. But they come with a subscription to JetPack (speed, security & backups) in addition to high-touch support and a drag & drop design tool.

InMotion Support

 

And plenty of other hosts offer similar setups (like SiteGround, Bluehost, and others). But, of course, the extras can only go so far since hosting costs will likely be your single largest annual cost. Thankfully, it’s also a cost that will generally only rise as your number of visitors rises (and so, presumably, your ability to pay for it).

For a good shared hosting plan, I’d budget $120 per year.*

*Note that many self-hosting plans allow multiple websites on a single account. If you have several websites, then self-hosting makes your per website costs even less. And again, for a hosted website builder, this cost is bundled, but is per website no matter what.

Software Costs

Software is what you’ll use to actually build & operate your website. Now, technically, you don’t need software to build a website.

In our real estate analogy, your software is what makes your actual house. It’s the framing, plumbing, electricity, roofing, drywall – the actual pieces that make the house.

You can hand-code HTML / CSS files and upload to your hosting account for no costs. I’ve done that before. It can be useful. But…almost all website owners (and visitors) want the interactivity, ease of use, versatility, and management functions of modern website software (just like you could cut down trees to make a log cabin…or you could have a house).

Website Hosting HTML Files

There are also a lot of 3rd party software that you might want in addition to your actual website. Think about the costs for email marketing software or design costs / themes or specific plugins (like ecommerce). Sometimes these costs are even greater if you go the hosted website builder route, since sometimes they won’t have native features. You’ll have to add them via a premium app.

For software, you could do $0 per year…but I’d recommend adding in at least $100 per year for backup & marketing software.

Labor Costs

Every website requires time, thought & expertise to actually build & operate. This factor is where you’ll encounter a massive range of costs that is totally up to you.

In our real estate analogy, labor is literally who builds & maintains your property. Do you want to hire an architect or build off pre-made blueprints? Do you want to hire as things come up or have someone in charge of everything? Do you want to outsource cutting the grass or just electrical issues?

If you are self-hosting your website, your software will take care of most of the “bones” of the website, but you’ll still be in charge of choosing an off-the-shelf design / theme. You’ll need to run software updates. You will have access to support via your hosting company, but some things will be out of their scope & expertise.

If you go the hosted route, you’ll have labor pre-paid for that will take care of all the maintenance…but a lot of the design choices will still be up to you. Think of it like an interior designer – most everyone does it DIY…but you can also tell who has spent the money to hire everything out.

I’ve written a guide to hiring a web designer and a marketing consultant, but I also have a guide to building a minimally viable website. There’s a lot of way to budget – all depending on your goals & expertise. I personally do most everything DIY, and spend very little on labor to maintain my website.

But last year I also paid $100 for someone to remove a hack from a client site. I paid $50 for a few image designs. I’ve also paid $500 for a custom plugin. The costs can widely vary, but it’s important to think through your ideal budget and the “what if X happens” budget”.

Annualized Costs

Annualized costs are upfront costs that you smooth out over the course of a project to get a sense of true annual cost.

In our real estate analogy, there are going to be a lot of things that you purchase upfront for a house…that you use but don’t pay for year after year even though they will need to be replaced at some point. Think about your appliances, your roof, your HVAC, etc.

With a website, your annualized costs will mainly be things like a prepaid hosting bill (most hosting companies give big discounts for multi-year commitments), a premium web design or theme, a premium plugin purchase, setup costs, course subscription, etc.

Whatever you have budgeted to spend upfront, I’d recommend smoothing that out and combining it with your annual costs so that you have a good sense of the true cost of your website project.

Sticking with a commitment is usually a mix of good habits and good expectations. I’ve seen too many good website projects start and fizzle because expectations were set too low or too high.

Adding your total website costs will help you back into what your commitment will actually require.

Adding up Total Website Costs per Year

Now, let’s talk about adding it all up. The formula is pretty straightforward. Take all your costs and add them up.

For a small blog project that is self-hosted on WordPress, you’d likely end up with –

  • Domains = $10
  • Hosting = $100
  • Software = $100
  • Labor = $0
  • Annualized = $10 (for 5 years)
  • Total Annual Costs = $220 per year

For a small ecommerce store on Shopify, you’d likely end up with –

  • Domains = $15
  • Hosting = $0
  • Software = $400
  • Labor = $200
  • Annualized = $35 (for 5 years)
  • Total Annual Costs = $650 per year

But here’s the thing. Your costs won’t just vary based on your plans, but also based on what happens.

In large organizations (like the US Army), they refer to “scenario planning”. It’s where you map out several scenarios, determine what costs go with each scenario, and assign probabilities.

It sounds complex, but it doesn’t have to be. It just means that you need to come up with a range of costs depending on what actually happens.

For the small blog project, there’s a scenario where you find out that theme editing is quite easy and you don’t need a premium theme upfront. There’s also one where your site gets hacked and you need to pay Sucuri to clean it for $100.

For the small ecommerce store, there’s a scenario where you really need custom shipping rates and have to upgrade from Basic Shopify, thus increasing your software costs. In another scenario, you get the ropes of installing apps & editing designs, so you don’t need to hire anyone to setup the store.

Add up your range of website costs – you’ll be able to figure out what the project is worth. And what you want to get out of it.

Next Steps

So the true answer to “how much does a website cost per year?” really is… “it depends.”

But there is a way to breakdown your costs with your goals and your resources.

Thinking through your own costs can set the right expectations and set you up for success.

Learn how to find the best web host here and how to find the best website builder here and the best ecommerce hosting here.

Explore my other explainers here. If you found this post useful – do please share 🙂

The post How Much a Website Costs Per Year Explained appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How Much Money Do You Need To Start A Business?

The post How Much Money Do You Need To Start A Business? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Subdomains Explained

Subdomains Explained

A subdomain is a domain that is attached to a root (or main domain) that can direct browser requests to specific files on a specific server.

You are currently looking at files on shivarweb.com – but more specifically, you are looking at files on the www.shivarweb.com subdomain, since I also use subdomains like app.shivarweb.com and other for experiments.

As an analogy, if a domain is like a physical address, but on the Internet, then a subdomain is like a Suite or Apartment number. Like a Suite number, they only make sense as part of the larger address, but they allow visitors to access a more more specific (and usually different) location.

That’s the short version, but there’s more to subdomains than just the definition and an analogy. I’ll cover questions like –

  • What Is a Subdomain?
  • What Is a Subdomain Used For?
  • Subdomain vs Domain
  • Subdomain vs Subdirectory
  • Subdomain Examples
  • How To Create a Subdomain

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

What Is a Subdomain

Like I wrote in Domain Names Explained, the Internet is nothing but a bunch of connected devices with IP Addresses (usually a series of numbers like 192.168.0.1). IP Addresses are not only hard to remember, but they change frequently.

A domain name is a great way to provide a memorable way to locate your information on the Internet. It’s easier to say that your website is at shivarweb.com than at 70.39.148.106

But what if you have several different Internet applications that you want to all live on your domain name? That’s where subdomains come in.

Subdomains always come before the root domain and before the top level domain (TLD). For this website, www.shivarweb.com

  • www is the subdomain
  • shivarweb is the root domain
  • com is the top level domain

A subdomain is a part of the root domain, but remains different. You can “point” different subdomains via the Domain Name System (DNS) to completely different server locations.

cPanel documentation says that it is “a subsection of your website that can exist as a new website without a new domain name.”

You can have an infinite number of subdomains and even sub-subdomains. A website can also have no subdomain. If you just see https://website.com (note that lack of anything between https:// and website) – then you are on a site with no subdomain.

That’s how companies can have their website at www.shivarweb.com and their customer portal at login.shivarweb.com and their blog at blog.shivarweb.com – these resources are all at shivarweb.com…but all in different server locations.

What Is a Subdomain Used For

A subdomain is used for providing different resources all within a single domain name, but usually the resources will need to be on a different server.

Since a domain can have an infinite number of subdomains, subdomains are often used to limit confusion, maintain a primary online brand, and cut costs (since a new domain name costs money).

For example, a small company might have an employee dashboard that they run with a 3rd party software app but they also might have a main site that they run with WordPress on their own server. They also might have a merchandise store that they run with Shopify.

All three resources need to live under the company’s domain name, but they all live in different places. They would have to setup – employee.natecompany.com and www.natecompany.com and store.natecompany.com.

Subdomain vs Domain

So what is the difference between a subdomain and a domain name? The short version is that a subdomain needs a domain name to work, but a domain name does not need a subdomain to exist.

A domain name is a core part of you and your brand on the Internet. A subdomain is more of a technical workaround. In fact, you don’t even really need the default “www” subdomain (even though it does make some technical items easier, which is why it sticks around).

As far as using a subdomain vs a domain, it’s often simply a preference. Some companies prefer to have their separate projects on separate domain names entirely. Some companies like to have a nice system of subdomains.

Subdomains can create some technical issues (ie, cross-subdomain tracking, security certificates, etc), but they also solve and simplify other issues.

It’s usually preference.

Subdomain vs Subdirectory

A subdomain is a different domain under the root domain. It appears before the root domain in the URL (ie, subdomain.domain.com.) A subdirectory is a place on a server where certain files live. It appears after the top level domain in the URL (domain.com/subdirectory/).

In an analogy, imagine your website as filing cabinets (remember those?). A subdomain would be different cabinets while a subdirectory would be a folder inside of a cabinet.

Now, there is an ongoing & complex debate on whether it’s better to use a subdirectory or a subdomain for distinct sections / campaigns / microsites.

For example, if you have a Spanish and an English language website, is it better to use es.yoursite.com & en.yoursite.com or yoursite.com/es/ & yoursite.com/en/?

Or, if you have a blog that uses WordPress (and the rest of your site uses Drupal), is it better to use blog.yoursite.com or yoursite.com/blog/?

The short, unhelpful version is that it depends on what software you are using, what your plans are, what your marketing strategy is, and what your technical skills are.

Now, based on my experience as a marketer with a focus on organic traffic & analytics, I say that unless you have a specific, firm reason to use a subdomain, then you should always default to using a subdirectory.

Why? Because Occam’s Razor – a problem-solving principle that states, “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity” or, the simplest solution is most likely the right one.

Subdomains are seem easier to implement upfront without planning. But, they introduce a lot of complexity both upfront and forever into the future. For languages, ecommerce, SEO, analytics, development, security, etc – maintaining a single website location is almost always better.

The only caveat where subdomains usually wins is online software that you want to associate with your domain…but not with your website. Customer portals, some forums, and any internal uses work better with subdomains, since subdomains inherently separate those functions from the rest of your website.

Subdomain Examples

You probably navigate among subdomains constantly and do not realize it. But here’s a few diverse examples of websites who execute subdomains well.

Wikipedia – Languages

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a heavy user of subdomains. They have subdomains for every language, and sub-subdomains for mobile versions.

Curbed – Brand Identity

Curbed

Curbed is VoxMedia’s real estate & interior design website. Due to the nature of real estate news, they have each focus city on a subdomain with its own independent publishing software. While it is debatable from a purley SEO standpoint, it is a perfect setup to capture local interest & traffic while building a national publishing brand.

NPR – Ecommerce

NPR

NPR is a radio network, first and foremost. Their main domain NPR.org has to be 100% focused on their member stations, news & content. But, they also have merchandise that they would like to sell on their domain to serious fans. A custom Drupal setup runs their content site, but they use Shopify for their shop. This setup is a perfect example for subdomain use.

Kopywriting Kourse – Customer Portal

Kopywriting Kourse

Kopywriting Kourse covers, well, copywriting. They have an extensive free section on their blog that uses WordPress, but they also have a members’ area that runs off customized 3rd party forum software. They want members to stay on the “Kopywriting Kourse” branded site, though the members’ area lives on a subdomain.

*Disclosure – Kopywriting Kourse is a client of mine. I actually helped them setup cross-domain analytics for their subdomains. Again, it was a bit complex, but worthwhile for their specific needs. We certainly considered hosting a forum or social network on a subdirectory, but ruled it out due to their business goals, technical needs, and the spam / security risks of not using 3rd party forum software.

How To Create a Subdomain

So let’s say that a subdomain is right for you. How do you actually make that happen?

To create a subdomain, you need to go wherever your DNS records live (not your domain registration). If you have a hosting company that is separate from your domain registrar, then you’ll likely go to your hosting company.

If it’s at your hosting company, then you’ll navigate to your cPanel and/or account dashboard. There will likely be a shortcut called “subdomains” where you can select your domain and add your subdomain. You’ll need to name it, and then tell it where the software lives on your server. Here’s a screenshot from InMotion Hosting’s subdomain area.

Create Subdomain

Now, that path is simple if both websites will live on the same server. If your websites live elsewhere, then you’ll likely need to edit the DNS records directly. To do this, find where you can edit the “Zone Records”. Once again, here’s a screenshot from my account at InMotion Hosting.

Adding Subdomain

You’ll notice that there will be several records that already exist. You’ll need to add a “Record” based on the software instructions from your software provider. Usually, this will involve setting an A record and a CNAME record. It usually depends on your software’s exact setup.

Next Steps

Subdomains are a useful, but often misunderstood part of the Web. They can be a cost-effective and versatile way to make the most of your domain name, but they can also be a clunky and complex solution to common website setup issues.

Either way, be sure to understand the tradeoffs and what tradeoffs your subdomain setup involves.

The post Subdomains Explained appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Google Sites Review: Pros & Negatives of Using Google’s Website Builder

Google Sites Review Pros & Negatives of Using Googles Website Builder

Google Sites is Google’s free website builder software that it offers as part of the G Suite of Drive, Email, Hangouts, etc.

Sites has never been highly publicized like its other products. I’ve always thought of Sites as part of the bucket of products like Drawing, Blogger, and Correlate that sort of come as part of other, well-known product lines but are otherwise forgotten about…yet still awesome in their own way.

If you have a Google Account, go check out Google Sites here.

I’ve written about Google’s Domains product and Blogger – but have never looked at Google Sites specifically.

My experience with Google Sites began back when I first started my web design business years and years ago. I never used Google Sites for my own projects until I came across it when a client of mine was using it and needed a few tasks done.

But since then, better competition has popped up from Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, WordPress.com, Website Creator, and other website builders. And Google has upgraded the product I originally used. They’ve streamlined it to make it supposedly the “effortless way to create beautiful sites.”

See Google Sites here…

Skip to the Conclusion & Next Steps

So for a personal project of mine, I decided to try it out again and see who the product would really be a good fit for – and not just compare it to other hosted website builders.

I also wanted to compare Google Sites to other website solutions like hosting your own website or using a hosted eCommerce platform.

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

New Google Sites vs. Classic Google Sites vs. Google My Business Website

Google is notorious for rolling out overlapping & competing with their own products – only to kill or update them after a couple years.

And Google Sites is no different. When discussing Google’s website builder product, there are really up to 4 products in play.

1. Blogger

Ok – Blogger is an old-school but still surprisingly good blogging platform. You can create a website with it. You can do designs, templates, and everything else. It’s free. But – you are stuck with the reverse-chronological display of posts. I won’t really be covering this here. I wrote a Blogger review here.

2. Google My Business Website

This is Google’s website product for small, local businesses. You can’t use it unless you have a Google My Business account. The product is less of a “website builder” than a super-detailed local business listing. I won’t really be covering this here. You can read a good FAQ of this product here.

3. Classic Google Sites

This is the product that I started with years and years ago. It still lives at sites.google.com – and it’s decidedly old school.

You can find links to it throughout Google Sites.

Classic Sites

The ironic bit about Classic Google Sites is that it actually has more technical options than Google Sites…even if it is less user-friendly.

Old School Google SItesMost of the pros/negatives of Classic Sites are the same as Google Sites. But I would not consider it for a long-term project since Google will likely kill it any day now if their history is anything to go by.

4. Google Web Designer

This product is not related at all – despite its name.

Google Web Designer

Google Web Designer is a desktop app to create designs for the Web (aka banner ads).

5. New Google Sites (free)

Ok – this is what we’re going to talk about. This is Google’s main website builder software. It is available for anyone with a Google Account. It not only lives on Google Drive – but it is marketed with Sheets, Docs, Drawings and more.

New Google Sites

6. New Google Sites (G Suite)

Ok – this software is the same as the free Google Sites, except that it is built for business subscribers to the G Suite (the old Google Apps for Business). It is exactly the same as the free Google Sites, but has different account permissions and generally receives product updates – like custom domain mapping – sooner than the free version.

Let’s look at the pros & negatives.

Pros of Google Sites

Google Sites has a lot going for it. I know an eCommerce store owner who started and ran her store for 2 years before she began to look for a new solution (though it took a lot of hacking around with PayPal scripts). Here are the major pros.

Price

Google Sites is free with unlimited use, traffic, and websites. This is possibly the most compelling part of Google Sites.

It’s part of Google’s relentless push to keep you signed into your Google account for as much as possible. If you are signed into your personal Google account, you can go to sites.google.com right now and get started. There are no risks, no upsells, no expiration dates or limits. It’s just free due to Google’s crazy innovative business model.

And if you are a paying G Suite for Business user, Sites is bundled with your subscription along with all the backups, administrative controls, and guarantees that come with your account.

There’s no risks and no catch and no “trying” – you can go get started now.*

*of course – there is your time and learning curve investment – which we’ll discuss in the negatives section.

Google Integration

Sites is fully integrated with Google’s products. With the new Google Sites, it even has all the same Material Design conventions of Google’s other products.

Your site is saved directly in your Google Drive. You can access it anywhere with any device. You can download it along with your other data from Google Takeout.

Hosting in Your Google Drive

There are no additional passwords or account setup – it’s seamless and fully integrated.

Simplicity & Security

Google Sites is simple and straightforward to use.

Google Sites Google Features

The learning curve is measured in minutes. There’s no real “onboarding” or education because everything that is available with the product is “right there.”

You can build a multi-page beautiful, functional website quickly and simply.

Google Sites Drag & Drop

Additionally, Google handles your security issues…since it is one and the same as your email account.

Speed & Sharing

Like security, Google handles your speed considerations. The resulting HTML / CSS product is lean on fast servers and available worldwide.

Since it is fully integrated with your Google Account – it is simple to share & preview. You can create & collaborate on a website as easily as you can on a Google Doc.

Negatives of Google Sites

Now – there are plenty of negatives with Google Sites. Like I’ve said with all website builders – there is no overall “best” – there’s only the best for you considering your budget, time, resources, and goals.

After reading the pros of Google Sites – you are probably wondering how Google Sites isn’t the go-to solution for every website.

Well, Google Sites has plenty of negatives. But the summary is that Google Sites is very feature-limited and not really meant for long-term website projects (hence the simplicity).

I like to use real estate as an analogy. If running your own website on your own hosting account is like owning a building on your own property and using a website builder like Weebly is like running a business in a leased storefront, then Google Sites is like leasing a table at a farmer’s market or festival.

It’s great for short-term, quick projects. And you do have plenty of options to “make it yours” – but it’s not really meant for a long-term business website. Let’s look at some of the specifics.

Limited Design Features

Google Sites’ design features are sorely limited.

Your template limits exactly what you can and cannot edit. And – you have very few templates to choose from in the first place.

You cannot add or edit CSS and add any kind of interactivity.

The design features on offer are simple and straightforward – but they are all Google Drive related design tools. There’s some embedding but no editing the embed details.

Although the templates look good, you can’t edit the layouts or any of the core parameters.

For example, with your navigation menu, you get to choose from the top right or the sidebar…and that’s it. There’s no 3rd option or even re-arranging.

Google Sites Template Options

The templates look good on all devices but impose strict limits on everything to make this feature happen.

If you want to build any sort of brand identity or build a custom design with tempates – then you’ll be sorely limited with Google Sites.

Limited Marketing Features

Google Sites’ marketing features are sorely limited as well. As a professional marketer, this negative is particularly glaring.

You get Google Analytics access so that you can have critical data like Sessions and Pageviews and such…but that’s about it.

Google Sites Analytics Options

There’s no adding a Facebook Pixel, Share Buttons or Redirects. If you’re into SEO, there’s no editing your Title tag or meta description.

Now – if you get all your traffic from offline methods, direct web referrals, or word of mouth then these tools may not matter.

However, since marketing data is only as useful as the amount of historical data you have – if you ever have plans to grow or use other marketing channels, then Google Sites will not be a good option.

Custom Domain Setup

All Google Sites use https://sites.google.com/[yoursitename] as the default domain name. Unlike Classic Google Sites, there is no option to add a custom domain name.

Google Sites Domain Name Options

I don’t know why. The feature might be coming since Google rolled out custom domains to the new Google Sites for G Suite subscribers.

Either way – this is a major downside for Google Sites as a business or even a personal website. While not strictly necessary for a successful website, a domain name is fundamental for any long-term project.

It’s this missing feature that really highlights the fact that Google Sites is really only for temporary projects or internal uses – similar to a Google Doc or Presentation.

Future-Proofing

Google is notorious for killing off products – including really popular ones. And while Google Sites does seem to be a core part of Google’s productivity suite…that could change at any time (as is the case with the Classic Google Sites).

And while you can export your data as part of Google’s Takeout program, there’s no way to directly export or access your account via FTP within Google Sites.

If you are running a business or even a personal site on Google Sites, you should be aware that it could go away at some point in the future and you should have a plan for that.

Google Sites Comparison

Google Sites is a good product that serves a purpose – but how does it compare directly with other products in the website builder world?

Google Sites vs. Squarespace

I reviewed Squarespace here. If you have a small, temporary project, then Google Sites will be the fit. Squarespace is pricey and has its own learning curve. But – if you have a long-term business or personal project and you value well-done templates that display high-quality photography, then Squarespace will be a better fit.

Google Sites vs. Wix

I reviewed Wix here. Wix has a free plan where you use a [yoursitename].wix.com domain name – so in some ways it’s similar to Google Sites. But with Wix, you have premium plans and access to custom domains. They also offer more features on their free plan. Wix has similar issues to other website builders, but unless you are building a very small free project, then I’d go with Wix. Unlike Google Sites, Wix at least allows you to design more and grow out of the free plan. See Wix’s plans & pricing here.

Google Sites vs. GoDaddy’s Website Builder

I reviewed GoDaddy’s Website Builder (aka “GoCentral) here. It is very feature limited compared to Google Sites…but it’s also super easy to use with a few more marketing tools. Critically, it allows you to seamlessly integrate a custom domain. However, it’s also a paid product. If you have some budget and want a custom domain, but do not want/need many features – then I’d use GoDaddy’s Website Builder. For a free price point – you’ll get a similar product with Google Sites.

Google Sites vs. Weebly

I reviewed Weebly here. Weebly is a solid hosted website builder. They have a free plan with a [yoursitename].weebly.com domain name – but they also have upgrade options and custom domain name options and interesting beginner-level ecommerce options. Unless you have a specific reason to use Google Sites, I’d use Weebly for their drag & drop and upgradeable setup.

Google Sites vs. WordPress.com

I wrote about WordPress.com vs. WordPress here. WordPress.com has a free plan that is limited to [yoursitename].wordpress.com domain name. The setup is focused on blogging – but they have website features & plenty of upgrade options – including a custom domain option. Unless you have a specific reason to use Google Sites, I’d use WordPress.com for their design features and upgradeable setup.

Google Sites vs. Self-hosted WordPress

I wrote about setting up a WordPress website here. This option requires some budget (about $5/mo) and has some learning curve, but it’s also the best long-term option for businesses investing in their online presence. If you have simple, short-term project with a definite end then I’d just use Google Sites. If you know that you have a long-term project, then you’ll want to invest in the learning curve and go ahead and set up your own site on your own hosting.

Conclusion & Next Steps

So – is Google Sites good for small business? Yes…ish. As a defined short-term solution or project-based solution, it’s great. Go set up your site here.

But…if you have a short-term project that might expand, then I’d look at other options. Take my best website builder quiz here.

If you have a project that is long-term and worth investing in, then I’d go ahead and get your self-hosted website setup w/ instructions here.

The post Google Sites Review: Pros & Negatives of Using Google’s Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work?

We all know and love our Short Messaging Service (SMS) — better known simply as the text message. But did you know that you can start taking SMS payments for your business? And that it is relatively easy to get started?

In the United States, we are just now warming up to the idea of sending and receiving payments by text, but businesses throughout the world have already adopted SMS payments for everything from mass transit tickets to lattes.

While Americans are less likely to pay by text for everyday purchases, text payments are still an undeniably growing trend. You may already be familiar with payments by text when it comes to charitable donations, but home service providers (e.g., AT&T) are starting to offer SMS payments for their customers as well.

Text payments offer potential growth for many other types of businesses, too. Pizza shops, salons, or any business that has ‘regulars’ could benefit from text payments. SMS payment services are probably not for everyone, however, so let’s take a look at how text-to-pay works and if it’s right for your business.

How Do SMS Payments Work?

SMS Ordering

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of how SMS payments work, it’s pretty simple, really. While there may be some variations with each company that offers text messaging payment services, generally you can expect the following elements when it comes time to pay:

  1. A business sends a text to their customer’s phone number or the customer texts a shortcode number to the business to initiate the sale.
  2. After communicating what product or service the customer wishes to purchase, the business sends the customer a link to a secure, mobile-friendly payment form.
  3. The customer enters their payment information and can typically approve saving the card on file for recurring payments or a future purchase.
  4. The customer may get a unique code to complete the purchase.

The customer may also get another verification text from the payment processing company to confirm their intent to buy. As stated above, the exact process may vary by company, but you can expect a similar procedure to complete the sale.

Mobile Carriers Vs. Payment Processors for Text Payments

Many people associate text message payments with charity donations (often the amount is added to their phone bill). What is lesser known is that phone carriers generally only allow organizations to accept donated amounts in $5 or $10 increments. By setting up these limits, phone carriers reduce their own risk from non-paying customers. While the phone carrier setup can work great for flash-giving campaigns and allow an organization to avoid paying some payment processing fees, it isn’t a viable solution for businesses.

Enter companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar. These companies, and those like them, support SMS payments by integrating their messaging services with secure, PCI-compliant payment processing.

What Do You Need to Accept SMS Payments?

To get started accepting SMS payments, you’ll need to choose the company with the services that fit your needs best. There are some differences between the ways companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar price their services. Let’s briefly take a look at each of these three examples.

Relay (formerly Rhombus):

Relay charges $50/month for 250 “tickets” which refers to completed conversations. With that, you also get 1000 free SMS texts. All plans include automated responses, unlimited contacts, customer segmentation, and other engagement tools. Don’t forget about the actual credit card processing fees, however! Relay integrates with Stripe, and you pay 2.9% + $0.30 per successful transaction. You can accept every major card at the same rate with Stripe processing. (If you aren’t familiar with Stripe, check out our Stripe Payments Review.)

SMS Payments Relay

Pagato:

Pagato integrates with Stripe, Braintree (read our review), and Quickbooks Payments (read our review). In addition to the payment processing fees of your merchant account, you’ll pay 1% per transaction with a minimum of $0.20 per transaction. With Pagato, you can accept payments through SMS and social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, too. You won’t have additional setup, monthly, or hidden fees.

SMS Payments Pagato

Sonar:

Sonar offers packages starting at $24.67/month and $0.025 per SMS message. You can send automated messages, track customer data, set up campaigns and even A/B test them as well. Sonar integrates with Stripe, and your payment processing fees are 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

SMS Sonar

These are examples of some lesser-known companies, but the more prominent players like Square and PayPal allow you to send a text with a link to pay individual customers, too. The Square Cash App and PayPal don’t have the muscle to do much beyond sending a link to pay, however. You can’t A/B test marketing campaigns for an offer that you send out with Square or PayPal, for instance.

Keep in mind that most of the SMS messaging platforms mentioned above offer a free trial period and a demo to learn more about the exact features. So don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions to get the information you need. It’s also a good idea to meet with your team and discuss the benefits of each platform, and of course, determine if your sales team has the bandwidth to have multiple open text conversations with customers. Text can be a powerful way to connect to your customers, but it is definitely not suited for every business model.

Which Types of Businesses Benefit Most From SMS Payments?

mobile-card-payment-app-service

Without a doubt, there is value in using SMS messaging to build a marketing campaign and nurture those ongoing relationships with your customers. When you consider that the global average open rate on a text is more than 90%, it makes sense to start building your phone list and reaching out that way.

As far as what businesses benefit from adding SMS payments to the mix, consider this:

If your business model provides delivery, your revenue depends on recurring payments, or you target a “repeat” customer base, SMS payments can make a lot of business sense. However, you need to have the staff and time to support the nurturing of customers via text. Text conversations can be a bit longer than a phone call if there is a specific issue, so training your team on escalation procedures can help you both save time and money with SMS texts.

All this connection can be great, but not all customers are going to love texting or getting “salesy” texts from you. While SMS texting and payments can help your sales team if you use it the right way, some may find automated sales messages impersonal. Keep in mind who your customers are and what supports their journey with you when you set up your SMS services.

Another significant benefit to SMS payments is the secure and compliant payment processing services that you can integrate with, such as Stripe. Because you don’t transmit the credit card data or store it on your servers, you can significantly reduce your liability when it comes to fraud risks. Not to mention that your customer has a fast and easy way to pay you, and all of it happens from their phone!

Are SMS Payments Right For You?

Being able to take payments by text offers potential — as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Features vary by company, so do compare service packages before making a decision. One company may find a lot of value in the extra capabilities to target and segment lists, while another may be more focused on cutting down telephone orders. What services you choose mainly depends on your business model. Because text messaging offers a clear path to your customers’ hands, it may be worth finding the right balance to connect, engage, and encourage your customers to pay by text, too.

If you are discovering what else is out there in payment processing, be sure to check out our resources here at Merchant Maverick. Our Merchant Account Comparison Chart is a great starting point for payment providers! 

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