20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020

This post originally appeared at 20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020 via ShivarWeb

Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing

There has never been a time when running a website has been more accessible, convenient, and profitable than now.

But there has also never been a time when running a website has been so confusing, frustrating, and winner-take-all than now.

And that contradiction comes because some of the major computing & networking innovations from the 2010s are finally coming to the everyday Internet.

And as the 2010s close out and the 2020s begin, here are some of my considerations (in no specific order) that I think would be useful for DIYers, freelancers, small online business owners, and anyone planning an online presence.

Nobody Fully Knows What Is Going On

This post is deliberately a listicle because I don’t have a grand unified idea about the future of running a website on the Internet. And I’m skeptical of anyone who does.

Cloud computing, machine learning, APIs, high-quality open-source software, free toolkits, mobile devices, streaming, and the lumbering giant behavior of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft all point to continuing massive disruption of entire industries that no one can predict or prepare for.

The Website + Marketing Tool Model Is Gone

For years, people built a website on a multi-purpose host with a custom domain. And then they used 3rd party tools & distribution channels to promote content, products & services that lived on the website.

But now, the website on a domain is simply one tool in a toolkit. In fact, you can build a model where your website is a backend for your other marketing tools…or you can use a marketing tool to build & run your website.

This shift is clearest with online stores. Between Buyable Pins, Checkout on Instagram, Amazon integration, dropshipping APIs, offline pop-up shops, etc – the website is just another piece in the business puzzle.

Now, websites are still critical because they remain the only piece of that puzzle that you can control & own as an asset. But…I do think they are losing their relative importance. And their importance depends massively on what industry you are in.

Platform Choice > Tool Choice

The demise of the website + marketing tool model will mean that website owners will choose their platform of choice rather than their tools of choice based on what business they have.

Online retail is in this place already. Very few successful retailers have a collection of tools. It’s all about integrations and platform. But increasingly, every business sector will move to this model.

Local small businesses will look at platforms that do their primary function plus whatever integrates well with that platform. For example, a website builder will not compete with other website builders. Instead, the website builder will compete with the CRM platform and the email marketing platform…because all three will have a website builder, CRM, and email marketing tool bundled in a single platform

In other words, a website builder like Wix no longer competes with Squarespace. Instead, Wix competes with MailChimp and HubSpot and Google.

In online retail, Shopify and WooCommerce and BigCommerce don’t really compete with each other. They all compete, as a group, against Amazon, Instagram, Depop, MailChimp, Square, Salesforce, and eBay.

In hosting, hosting companies no longer compete with each other as much as they compete against Google Business Suite, Hubspot, hosted website builders, etc.

Now, there will still be incredible power & opportunity for website owners who have the resources & wherewithal to mix & match services to get the best of all worlds. Those website owners will be able to maintain costs and control where others will cede more power to their platform of choice.

Convenience Killed Cost & Control

The big reason why DIYers are a declining & disrupted market is that when consumers distill down what they truly care about – convenience always wins.

The same reasons driving the growth of takeout, restaurant, delivery, and meal kits at the expense of cooking are also driving the growth of online platforms at the expense of websites + tools.

If you are a DIYer, it will pay to be hyper-aware of what your true wants, needs and goals are – and what tradeoffs you are willing to make. Platforms are great in many ways, but beyond 2020, the most successful DIYers will be able to manage the tradeoffs of platforms.

If you are a freelancer, it will lead to bigger rewards to both specialize in a platform and maintain familiarity with how adjacent choices work. Even if your clients do not know about or understand platform choices, you can still use them to streamline your business and add value without adding extra work.

Spam, Security & Speed Killed What Could Have Been

I am a huge fan of the Open Web. Regardless of the short-term rewards of the platform of the day, it’s still worth investing in a website for the long-term.

But in 2020, even the most die-hard prophets preaching against Google, social media companies, cloud computing, hosted builders, and big corporations will have to admit that the vulnerabilities in the Open Web & running / managing your own website are pushing people to big platforms as much as those big platforms are pulling people.

For example, Google might be pulling people & businesses to hand over their personal email & confidential documents. But hackers, spammers, and human impatience are doing plenty of pushing as well.

For example, I would *love* to run conversations via blog comments instead of using Twitter. But my blog comments are like an absolute honeypot for the worst of the Internet.

Another example, I would love to avoid ecommerce transaction fees and SSL fees but hackers only need one shot. Security is difficult and, honestly, much more effective to do at scale across thousands of websites.

Most of my clients gain a lot from controlling their own hosting rather than using a hosted website solution. But I have to set expectations to prep clients for the amount of time & money it takes to keep the site secure & speedy beyond using a solid hosting company. Web visitors will absolutely ditch a website in a heartbeat over a millisecond. That’s why so many publishers with massive brands are blindly handing control over to Google’s AMP initiative. Even the biggest brands in the world can’t compete with human impatience.

Traffic Sources Are Consolidated & Fragmented

Facebook’s properties & Google’s properties will continue to become bigger. But they’ll also become more winner-take-all. But also, a much longer tail of random completely unpredictable traffic sources will continue to fragment.

Even more traffic will be “dark” or untrackable. Planning a marketing strategy will increasingly rely solely on your target audience rather than your target traffic source.

Organic Traffic Is A Bonus

Treat any organic traffic from Google, Facebook, Pinterest, etc like a bonus. You can’t project or plan long-term around organic traffic. Agencies, freelancers, etc will have to adjust pricing and clients will have to adjust expectations.

Digital marketers spent years making fun of John Wanamaker old-fashioned quote that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Online attribution was supposed to solve that problem. But now, no matter how creepy your tracking and attribution is…consumer & traffic behavior is so unpredictable that you won’t be able to truly plan long-term…unless you pay.

Marketers Growth Demands Killed What Could Have Been

More and more platforms & websites will be “walled gardens”* due to pressure to grow…and grow…and grow some more. The Web could have been a world of accessible, free-flowing information where many businesses and types of businesses made a living. But platforms have to be more closed to make more money off users. And as valuable traffic has declined, website owners have become more desperate and more annoying to drive up ad rates.

*Even previously open platforms like Reddit, Pinterest and Twitter are closing in.

For example – see basically every recipe website ever. As Google and Pinterest strive to keep more users on their sites, serving their ads…recipe content websites have become more desperate to monetize what little traffic they do have…leading to horrendous car salesman-like levels of unusability.

Users Killed What Could Have Been

Users want convenience above all. For all the pulling that Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, etc are doing…users are also pushing attention there…because it’s convenient.

For example, I have no idea what to say to website owners about voice search. And anyone who does have a “strategy” for voice search – I call B*S* on. Users want it. I want it. It’s amazing, but you can’t build a publishing business or profitable content marketing strategy around it.

1,000 True Fans Is Still True

That said, the future will always have a small, tough, but sustainable spot for Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.

On balance, there has never been a better time to run a website or online presence than right now. If you have a good product, service, or concepts, there are likely 1000 True Fans that can & will support your work. Sure, there were “Golden Ages” of organic Facebook traffic, organic Google traffic, etc…but those eras had serious issues and limitations as well.

There Is No Magic Bullet

There is no sure-fire way to build a successful website. I’ve been working in digital marketing for years now. I know that in SEO, there used to always be a sure-fire tactic that was working. Now, there are tactics that work marginally better than others. There are things that you can focus more or less on…but the magic secrets are gone.

Same goes with Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, etc. The only real magic bullet now is hard creative work, constant research, careful planning, constant learning…and a whole lot of luck.

Opportunity Costs Are Very Real

When you choose to do Action A instead of Action B, there is the cost of doing Action A plus the cost of *not* doing Action B.

In a world of limited marketing resources, choosing to create social media posts means that you are also missing out on *not* creating blog posts.

Back in the world where everything online was growing, you could afford to miss one big opportunity for another…because most every opportunity was growing.

Now, mobile devices are ubiquitous. Desktop traffic is actually declining. And many social networks have reached maturity. Choosing one over another or bouncing around chasing “shiny objects” has real costs above whatever you are paying for your main investment.

Even with aspects of running your website, many website features are standardized and predictable. There are opportunity costs to choosing what part of your site to improve or leave alone.

Lookalikes Killed Privacy

I wrote a guide to tracking marketing data on your website. I actively use any & all data to help clients & aid my own research. But on this website & my personal website, I’ve deliberately removed all tracking tags except for Google’s. Why?

Well, sure, there’s the token virtue and hand-washing hypocrisy part of it.

But also, I found that my own retargeting & tracking did not matter in comparison to the massive opportunity presented by lookalike audiences and the data gathered by the big platforms.

Because here’s the thing about “big data” that people miss. It’s that individuals do not matter. All that matters is the sample size.

Every single person has a lookalike about some part of themselves. No matter how special or unique you think you are; no matter how carefully you avoid trackers or cookies or online ads, you can be personally marketed without any kind of tracking to due to lookalike audiences.

Here’s an analogy. Think about the world of DNA testing & genealogy. There are real fears & real consequences to having your DNA in a database. But protecting your own DNA is near-pointless. If a company (or government) knows the DNA from a couple cousins or aunts or uncles or grandparents or a sibling…then they know yours as well.

Lookalikes are the same. Even if Nate Shivar avoids all retargeting trackers, there are still enough people out there similar to me that will allow marketers to reach me if they want.

So – what does this mean? It means that whether you have a large audience data set or not, you can still think creatively about how to profile & reach your audience.*

*that is – until privacy can get solved in a meaningful way. Be sure to tell your political leaders that this needs to be solved at the national / international level. Individual choice & freedom in this issue is a moot point.

Alternative Channels Matter

In investing, modern portfolio theory says that diversification pays for itself because it maximizes expected return even if it fails to maximize actual returns.

In other words, you may know that Investment A is your best bet. But you should still make Investment B as well, because you can’t be sure that Investment A will be amazing.

Same with traffic sources and alternative channels and even website tools.

You may be pretty sure that your priority is the right one. But in a world of uncertainty, alternatives are good to have.

Now – going back to Opportunity Costs Are Real – you have to be honest with the tradeoffs. If you spend time on YouTube in addition to Google Search, you might lose some in Google. But you also won’t lose it all if you have some investment in YouTube.

Web Hosting Is a Utility

Amazon made the technology of hosting files a commodity service. Web hosting companies no longer compete on technology. In fact, they don’t want to compete on technology…because Amazon / Microsoft / Google win on that. Web hosting companies make money on what they provide in addition to basic hosting.

That can include support, onboarding, graphical server management tools, bundled 3rd party services, etc. But the main point is that if hosting is a utility – then anybody can offer it as a feature…not just web hosting companies.

There will be even more plugin makers, software makers, theme designers, tool makers, etc that will simply bundle & resell hosting as a feature.

Website Builders Are a Feature

I remember when I used my first drag & drop builder in the early 2000s with Homestead. It was a “WYSIWYG” builder. And it was terrible. Actually, every WYSIWYG builder was terrible…until just a few years ago.

Now…developer and marketer snobs will turn their nose up at drag & drop…but the software is actually pretty good….and it’s only getting better.

If drag & drop were microwavable pizzas in the 2000s, they became Domino’s in the 2010s…and now they are more like Mellow Mushroom pizza. Nothing like your local sit-down Italian haunt…but consistent and really solid.

All this means is that the core website building software can be a feature bundled with everything else rather than a stand-alone business. That’s why Google, MailChimp, Shopify, HostGator, InMotion, GoDaddy, and a dozen other non-website builder companies are bundling free website builders that otherwise compete directly with Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc.

SEO Is a Tactic

For years, the “contract” between publishers and Google was that Google gets to copy & analyze copyrighted content in exchange for free organic traffic.

If publishers made their content easier for Google to copy & analyze (i.e., “search engine optimization“), then Google would reward them with even more free organic traffic.

It created a virtuous cycle that worked for everyone. Sure, Google had to deal with publishers who took advantage of loopholes. And publishers had to waste some time dealing changing guidelines and features (remember Author markup?).

But on whole, the deal worked for everyone.

In fact, you could build an entire marketing strategy around the deal. That’s how entire businesses got built. Help Google and they’ll help you.

But, that deal has broken down. As Google focuses more on users and advertisers – publishers will get left out more and more. And as SEO as a strategy goes away, it will really only remain as a tactic in a broader strategy of organic traffic from all the places.

IRL Original Content Is Underestimated

The Internet makes copying & sharing more convenient than ever. In fact, it’s so convenient that we often forget that there are other sources of information in the real world.

But even more so, we forget that information in the real world is the source for information on the Internet.

In fact, this instinct is true not just among social media users but also among serious website owners and professional journalists.

Because of this instinct for convenient & copyable information – there is a growing premium on original information gathered from the real world.

Anyone can get a screengrab from Google Earth. But not many people will take a picture of a location. And which is more useful & unique?

Anyone can get a screengrab from social media…but not many people will go an compose a proper photo in context. And which is more useful & unique?

Anyone can make a drawing or an illustration…but not many people will make an IRL video or photo sequence. And which is more useful & unique?

On my websites & my clients’ websites – I am continually amazed at how often original, IRL images get copied, cited & linked-to. It’s amazing.

It’s no magic bullet, but it’s the most magical of all bullets that SEO’s & website owners have.

IRL Data Is Underestimated

On a related note, data copying and analyzing is easy. IRL data gathered from real people is harder and harder to gather and share.

That’s what makes the US Census so invaluable. But that’s also what makes companies’ internal data so valuable and why some companies use it for incredible link building & PR efforts.

Above & Beyond Pays Off Even More

Regardless of hosting platform, marketing toolset, marketing strategy or collection of tactics – going above and beyond the competition will provide winner-take-all dividends.

Onward!

The Internet & globalization continually push towards sharper and sharper winner-take-all markets for money & attention. And they also increase the long-tail of choice. And technology is continually disrupting itself. Until those core forces are fully understood, you have to play the game.

Focus on using products that you understand and match your goals. Focus on marketing strategies based on audiences that you understand and match your financial goals.

Onward!

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Types of Digital Marketing: Examples, Uses, and Resources

Types of Digital Marketing

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

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

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

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

Let’s dive in!

Owned Media

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

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

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

SEO 

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

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

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

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

Technical SEO

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

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

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

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

What’s tough about it: 

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

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

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

What to Learn: 

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

On-Page SEO

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

Seeing it in action: 

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

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

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

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

What’s tough about it: 

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

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

What to learn: 

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

Email Marketing

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

Seeing it in action:

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

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

What to learn:

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

Social Media

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

Seeing it in action:

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

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

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

What to learn:

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

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

Earned Media 

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

Off-Page SEO

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

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

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

Seeing it in action: 

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

What’s tough about it: 

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

What to learn: 

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

Public Relations

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

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

Traditional Media Relations

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

Seeing it in action:

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

What to learn:

How to Plan a DIY PR Campaign

Viral Marketing

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

Seeing it in action:

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

What to learn:

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

Paid Media

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

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

Search Ads

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

Seeing it in action: 

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

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

Why it’s tough: 

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

What to learn: 

  • How Google Decides What You Pay
  • Alternative PPC Networks

Display Ads 

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

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

Seeing it in action: 

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

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

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

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

Why it’s tough: 

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

What to learn: 

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

Social Ads

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

Seeing it in action:

Check out this ad from UNTUCKit on Pinterest:

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

What to learn:

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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

Website Layout

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

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

Wrong!

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

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

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

Step One: Set Your Goals 

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

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

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

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

What to Consider:

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

What to Avoid:

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

What to Learn:

  • How to create a minimally viable website

Examples to Copy:

Sean Halpin

Sean Halpin Portfolio

Sandy Springs Artsapalooza

Sandy Springs Artsapalooza

Step Two: Map Out Your Main Content 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Consider:

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

What to Avoid:

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

What to Learn:

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

Examples to Copy:

Au Lit Fine Linens

au lit fine linens

Lesley M.M. Blume

lesley blume

Step Three: Get your page layout down 

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

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

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

What to Consider:

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

What to Avoid:

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

What to Learn:

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

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

Examples to Copy:

Trello

Grovemade

Step Four: Lock in functionality

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

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

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

Think through the minimum functionality each page needs.

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

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

What to Consider:

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

What to Avoid:

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

What to Learn:

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

Examples to Copy:

Dave Horak

Cumberland Community Church

Cumberland Community Church Spanish Version

Step Five: Pick Your Template 

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

What to Consider:

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

What to Avoid:

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

What to Learn:

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

Examples to Copy:

Inherit Clothing

Beautiful Destinations

Beautiful Destinations

Next Steps

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

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

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The Best Business Credit Cards For Startups And Entrepreneurs

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The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Small Business Saturday (Why and How Your Small Business Should Be Involved)

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Does Your Restaurant Need An Online Ordering System?

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7+ Best Author Website Examples to Use for Inspiration

7+ Best Author Websites to Use for Inspiration

So you’re creating an author website, and you’re looking for author website design examples for inspiration and guidance. You’re also wondering which website platform is best to use for your website.

But before we dive into examples of what professional personal websites look like in the wild on a variety of website builders and hosting platforms, there is one thing to keep in mind when you’re evaluating a website: it’s not just about how the websites look. The functionality matters too.

Think of it like buying a car. You have a make / model in mind, and you’re probably looking to see them drive by on the road to see how they actually look. However, you also care about how they operate. Does it accelerate well? Does it have the hauling capabilities you need? How is the gas mileage?

Looking at an author website examples should be done in the same way. Do you want the website to have ecommerce functionality so visitors can buy books? Do you want people to be able to book you for speaking engagements? This functionality needs to be consider before you start choosing a website builder + hosting platform.

We collected the following website examples not just to show you how they look on different platforms, but how they can function, so you can be sure you create a website that fits both the look and functionality you need!

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

Best Author Website Examples

We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, when you’re looking to build an author website, remember that you’re not just thinking about making the site look good. You want to think about what your site actually needs to do, and find a platform that supports all of your needs.

Marie Force

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Continental Broadband

Homepage has everything you need right upfront. The slideshow of images allows you to preorder the new release for popular series, see upcoming events where Marie is speaking, and access her series on Kindle Unlimited. You can also sign up for newsletter updates, read about upcoming releases, or buy her other books all from the homepage.

Marie Force homepage details

We particularly liked how Marie uses the “Reading Order” button at the top of the homepage to direct to her Books page, which shows all of her books and series and allows readers to dive deeper into each one.

Despite having a lot of books and series to display, the layout is organized, which makes it easy for visitors to find exactly what they’re looking for.

If you’re wondering how to display your work and key information for visitors in a way that’s clear and organized, this author website example is a great place to start for inspiration.

Jody Hedlund

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Unified Layer

What stands out about this author website is how clear the navigation is. As soon as you get to Jody Hedlund’s homepage, your next steps are clearly laid out below her header image.

We also liked how Judy included buttons to all of her social media channels directly below her name. It’s a great way to send people to your other profiles without breaking the overall design of the page.

Another thing that stood out to us on this author website is how Judy implemented professional headshots and book cover images on her media page that journalists and bloggers can download without having to request them from her team.

If you’re looking for a good example of clear navigation and how to include additional assets for the press, this is a strong example to use for inspiration!

Mike Palombi

Software: Squarespace

Hosting: Squarespace

This author website example stands out for a few reasons. First, we really liked how Mike included his logo in the top menu bar on the site. It stands out in a way that’s creative, but unobtrusive. It doesn’t detract from the navigation, but it does add that extra “branding flair” to the site to make it look professional.

When you scroll down the homepage, you can read more about the book in detail, or watch videos on the book and interviews Mike has done.

mark palombi videos author example website

This is a great way to incorporate different media types on your website to support and supplement your books and build credibility with your visitors.

Angela Meek

Angela Meek Author website example

Software: Weebly

Hosting: Weebly

Sometimes, people get so focused on a website’s design that they lose sight of the overall goal — and that’s to give your visitors applicable information about whatever your website is focused on.

Angela’s website is a great example of a simple, straightforward author website that doesn’t have a ton of design frills, but still manages to look clean, organized, and give visitors all of the information they need on her, her books, and how to get in touch with her.

If you’re looking for a way to get your content up in a simple layout, this is a great example to use for inspiration.

Lesley M. M. Blume

lesley m.m. blume author website example

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Media Temple

If you’re looking to create a more creative angle with your author website, we love this example from Lesley M. M. Blume.

Notice how Lesley intentionally uses design elements that capture the theme of her book. As soon as you get to the homepage, you get a sense of what Leslie writes about. It’s a great way to bring readers into the world of your work, and adds an element of creativity to your author website.

Tim Tigner

Tim Tigner Author Website

Software: Custom-built website

Hosting: Rackspace

This website for Tim Tigner is another strong author website example that hits all of the marks. The homepage header image captures the theme of his books, and the subtitle under his name is a great example of using strong copy to “hook” your readers in!

We particularly liked the Book Club Info page, which includes Tim’s downloadable discussion questions for book clubs who are reading his books:

Tim Tigner Book Club

If you’re looking for an overall example to use for inspiration for your author website, check this one out!

Scott A. Winkler

Scott A. Winkler author website

Software: Wix

Hosting: Wix

If you’re looking for a more straightforward approach to your author website, this example by Scott A. Winkler is a great place to start.

This author website relies more on text than the other examples we pulled, but it’s an easy way to give readers an overview into who the author is and link out to his works and where you can buy them.

Remember, your website doesn’t have to be a design masterpiece. It just needs to give your readers the information they need and help them connect further with you and your work!

Next Steps

Now that you have some inspiration in terms of the design, colors, and functionality you may want in your author website, where do you go from here?

Well, it really depends on where you are in your author website building journey!

If you’re ready to decide on a website builder, check out my guide to choosing a website builder here.

If you’re looking to go DIY with a specific template to match your design and functionality needs, check out my Build a Personal Website: Templates, Design, and Setup Guide.

Lastly, if you’re wondering how to market your author website, check out my guide to creating a local marketing strategy.

The post 7+ Best Author Website Examples to Use for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The ‘How-To’ For One Page Business Plans

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