The Best Free eCommerce Platforms & Shopping Carts

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Salon Survival Guide: Coronavirus Edition

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What The Coronavirus Means For eCommerce & What Your Business Can Do About It

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Tailor Brands Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

This post originally appeared at Tailor Brands Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives via ShivarWeb

Tailor Brands Review

Tailor Brands is a suite of branding & design tools powered by machine learning for non-technical users.

They allow businesses, organizations, and individuals to create an entire “brand identity” with logos, typography, color patterns, and other elements across the web & print.

See Tailor Brands’ Current Plans & Pricing

In other words, Tailor Brands a toolset that makes your project “look good” everywhere from your Facebook page to business cards to website.

There are plenty of Tailor Brands reviews on the Internet – some good, some bad. This Tailor Brands review will look at how the software works, the upsides, downsides, and ideal use cases for the product based on my experience as a digital marketing consultant.

What is Tailor Brands?

Tailor Brands is a suite of tools to help you create & manage your business designs everywhere that your brand appears. They were founded in 2014.

They use software & artificial intelligence to not only create your business’ look and feel but also maintain that look and feel everywhere that you want.

Their main tool is their logo maker. Rather than use templates or quiz questions like traditional automated logo makers, they have you answer whether you like or dislike styles. Their AI does a version of NetFlix’s recommendation algorithm but with design styles.

Once you approve a certain design style, their software creates an entire brand identity and uses rules to apply it to applications ranging from a stand-alone logo to Instagram profiles to website headers to presentation headers.

Background on Tailor Brands

There has always been a plethora of DIY design tools on the Internet. I use Stencil for my Featured Images. I’ve used Canva for social images. I’ve used native tools with Buffer & social networks to customize my logos & images. I had a guy from Fiverr help edit my website CSS to match with my logo colors. I had a professional graphic designer on UpWork create a custom blog image for me. I’ve run contests for clients on 99designs.

In other words, the world of DIY design has been here for a while. You don’t need a Mad Men-esque setup of paying $$$ for graphic designers to create a pitch deck.

But the world of DIY design is also a bit of a frustratingly hot mess. It’s a world that’s good enough to be dangerous.

In other words, it’s accessible enough to let non-designers think they are designing a nice brand…when it’s a jumble of mismatched fonts, misaligned layouts, and conflicting colors.

It’s the difference between “Yeah, that’s nice” and “Damn, that is right on! How’d you do that?”.

Tailor Brands is an interesting product that is trying to use software, AI, and automation to take those details away from humans and just automatically apply it wherever you need it – to create a “brand identity with a stylebook” as it were.

How Tailor Brands Works

Tailor Brands works by moving you through its logo maker, which doubles as a brand identity developer. You are given options…and you can run the software as many times as you want.

Once you’ve approved your design, you’re taken to a studio with mockups & style guidelines. You then have a choice of 3 pricing plans*.

First, the $3.99/mo plan provides access to your logo, social media tools, and graphic design library. You can also connect your domain to a basic landing page builder.

Second, the $11.98/mo plans provide access to EPS vectors (for outdoor and print use) in addition to a full website builder and advanced design tools.

Third, the $25.98/mo plan provides access to social media schedulers and analytics so that you can bring your social media management under a single platform. You can also accept payments and run an online store.

*Note – you can cancel and keep all your design assets. So technically, if you just need a logo – you can get that for less than $50 (the $3.99 is billed for 12 months).

The plans all provide ongoing access to tools to manage your brand designs. You retain full ownership of all brand designs & assets even after you cancel.

Pros of Using Tailor Brands

For a relatively new product, Tailor Brands’ actual product is well-executed. There are few bugs or real complaints that I found with the actual core product.

Their real advantage (and disadvantage) is their unique positioning as a tool suite. Here are some of the main pros of using Tailor Brands not only for logos but as a design management tool suite.

Product Focus on Branding over Assets

As mentioned in the introduction, one big issue with the DIY design tool world is the focus on design assets. It’s easy to create a Facebook post on Canva or bulk generate Google Ads with Display Ad Planner. Those tools are easy and usually free. But they are inherently separate. *You* have to manage your images across different tools.

A huge pro for Tailor Brands is that they have an entire tool suite that focuses on unifying your entire brand everywhere. They focus on keeping that brand identity right on, rather than focusing on giving you the best kerning tool or biggest font library or the most intuitive CSS editor.

If you look at some of their design tools one on one with direct tool competitors, they may or may not be “the best”. But Tailor Brands can keep everything looking good everywhere, which is their main pitch to customers who would benefit from their product.

In my experience especially with small and local businesses, it’s a consistent brand identity (paired with a good product / service) that allows them to compete with established big name brands.

If you can just remove the infamous pixelated cover photo, you’ll probably beat your competition. And if you can ensure that your new assistant can quickly handle good looking Instagram posts…all the better.

That outcome is Tailor Brands’ main focus, and it comes off well in the product.

Pricing Structure & Cross-Sells

Every software as a service (SaaS) struggles with business models and pricing. You want your service to be accessible, but also profitable.

This balance is especially hard to strike with design assets where it’s usually a one-and-done proposition.

Tailor Brands runs on a subscription business model. But the subscriptions focus on the design tools rather than the design assets.

Tailor-Brands-Pricing

This structure creates a couple of of useful incentives.

First, it means that there’s no question of ownership of design assets. You own your brand, period.

In fact, it means that you can get a really cheap logo if that’s all you want. You can pay for one month, download your assets, and cancel. You’ve got a high-quality logo in a range of file types for less than $50.

Second, it means that while Tailor Brands has to keep optimizing their logo maker to bring in more customers, they also have to keep developing better design tools to keep customers around. There’s no disincentive to extort customers over their design assets or to drag their feet over product development.

Third, the subscription encourages use from customers rather than a one and done download. The real productivity boost for businesses is having a go-to design tool with everything in one place where you (or a new team member) can quickly create new designs & assets on an ongoing basis. And usually, the more you use a tool, the better you can get.*

*also you’ve got software that will adapt to frequent social media image requirements.

Ideally, there’s a virtuous cycle for everyone involved. Tailor Brands is one of the few companies where I think the cross-sells and upsells are not annoying, and generally useful.**

**also, small quibble, but do note that the prices are billed annually – so you are purchasing a full 12 months of access, even if you only pay monthly.

Turnaround Speed & Feature Versatility

Since Tailor Brands is fully automated, there are no constraints on time, speed, revisions, requests, or redos.

If you want to try graphic design a 2 AM Eastern, you can. If you want to completely redo your design, you can. If you need a mockup right now, you can get it. There’s no delay in turnaround or schedule to meet.

There’s no back and forth or waiting for your designer or virtual assistant. There’s just the software that is working 24/7/365. That’s a huge advantage for Tailor Brands. It works on your timeline.

And if you are trying to actually run a business, working on design any time means that it will get done. If you are running your business full-time, you likely don’t have time during business hours. And if you are working on a side project…you have to work on it outside business hours.

Additionally, since Tailor Brands has a whole suite of design tools, there’s no downloading or cropping or exporting or importing. Everything is just there to use.

Convenience generally beats everything. And when it comes to branding, Tailor Brands makes brand design convenient above all else.

Backend Quality & Usability

Even though Tailor Brands focuses on the branding aspect of design across their suite of tools, the tools themselves are high-quality and rock-solid.

They’ve built some tools in-house, but others they’ve high-quality 3rd party tools and customized them. For example, their website builder is built on top of the Duda website builder, which is one of the best website builders that I’ve used.

Same with their social media tools. It looks like they’ve white-labeled a 3rd party tool. But whatever it is, it’s legit and high-quality. Same with the design editor and others.

Each tool is solid & highly-usable on its own. But when they are all bundled within Tailor Brands’ suite, it makes each tool even more useful than it would be on its own.

Cons / Disadvantages of Using Tailor Brands

Every product has disadvantages, but especially a relatively new product like Tailor Brands.

Here are a few tradeoffs & complaints that I found with Tailor Brands. Some are simply the flip side of an advantage, but some are inherent to their approach.

Branding Process & Revisions

Tailor Brands’ fully automated, AI-powered design process leaves humans out of the process deliberately. That choice cuts costs, increases efficiency, increases choice, and makes the platform what it is.

But the tradeoff with this choice is that…it leaves out humans.

And humans are still critical to produce truly unique or truly outstanding brands. Brands are built on stories, and stories are what makes us human.

Humans can also ask pertinent questions, push-back on scope, implement creative deadlines, and invent completely new concepts.

Tailor Brands’s software can create a brand design and a brand style guide, but it cannot assign meaning or purpose of symbolism or even provide a reason why a certain design works over another – it only knows what “works” based on other user data.

The story / meaning part of branding is either your job or a job for another human. If you assign it to another human, that’s going to cost time & money.

And if you take on the job yourself, it’s something to be aware of and learn about.

Either way, it’s something to keep in mind when using Tailor Brands. There’s no process of “brand discovery” or mapping your customer’s psychographic persona. There are no revisions based on client feedback.

All that is for better and for worse. Before online design tools, agencies gave away the process and sold the assets. Now, you can get the assets affordably, but you still have to understand a bit about branding.

And that leads to the next tradeoff.

Customer Education & Brand Identity

Even though Tailor Brands does a lot of the branding & design work for the customer, they still leave a lot of creative work up to the customer.

The tradeoff of any service that claims to do “everything” for you is that the customer’s expectations are not set correctly. When it turns out that there is *some* work to be done, it’s easy to bail instead of figuring the work out.

A Tailor Brands customer still needs to be prepared to think through where, when, how they’ll need to use designs. The logo maker sequence is great, but after creating the logo, there’s very little guidance for a new customer.

Tailor-Brands-Dashboard

There’s a ton of options with no real onboarding guidance or customer examples. Their welcome email series is limited to deals & coupons rather than “here are common next steps” or “here are some common use cases”.

I can imagine that customers who don’t have a strong sense of direction would churn quickly after getting a logo idea.

If you do end up using Tailor Brands, do note that you should have an idea of what *you* need to get out of it, rather than just using it for using a new tool’s sake.

Platform Product Lock-in

Tailor Brands is a hosted platform that focuses on convenience. And there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control on the Web.

The more convenient a product is…the less control you have. And the more control you have…the less convenient the product is. Think about RSS vs. Twitter. Think about hosted website builders vs. self-hosted CMS’. Think about an Amazon Seller listing vs. your own ecommerce store.

Tailor Brands makes everything downloadable. And they ensure that you truly own all your intellectual property.

However, like a hosted website builder, your work is inherently tied to their platform in many ways. The longer you commit to their platform, the harder it becomes to leave.

That’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a disadvantage that’s the flip side of their big advantage.

But it’s an important tradeoff to understand. If you use the Tailor Brands’ platform over your own copy of Adobe Illustrator, email or Paint, do ensure that you are downloading and backing up *all* of your brand assets on your own computer for the sake of preserving your own intellectual property.

Company Structure, Age & Competition

Tailor Brands has been around since 2014. They are still considered an “early-stage venture-funded” startup. In other words, they are privately held and using investor money to focus on the product rather than profit or market share.

Like the platform lock-in tradeoff, this disadvantage is more of a consideration. Right now they are still at a stage where pricing & product can change rapidly. They also probably have a small team with limited resources. They also will have copycat competition from publicly held competitors like Wix, Fiverr, Squarespace, Vistaprint, and others.

The upside to being a customer at a young venture-funded company is that you can count on more resources going into a better product. The downside is that there’s still a risk that they could get bought or “pivot” in the future.

Tailor Brand Alternatives & Use Cases

A product / service is only as good as its customer fit. Tailor Brands is not for everyone. But for some, it would be amazing.

Here’s 3 use cases where I think they’d be a really good it.

New Business or Organization w/ No Brand Assets

If you have a new business or organization with no brand assets and no large budget for a human-led design process, Tailor Brands would be a perfect fit.

Now, I would think through which features & tools that you’ll need from them. If you need a more robust website presence and/or email with lots of features, you might want to look at a dedicated website builder, ecommerce platform, or even shared hosting. You could use Tailor Brands strictly for design tools and social media. Either way, a new small business is their bread & butter. You can get try out their logo maker for free here.

Personal but Online Project w/ No Brand Assets

If you have a small personal project that you want to look just right – think resume site, hobby site, non-profit idea, family project, etc – Tailor Brands would be a solid fit. You can get try out their logo maker for free here.

Existing Business or Organization w/ Redesign

If you have an existing business or organization and you want to refresh your look without committing to a design firm or outsourcing to several providers, Tailor Brands would be a good fit. You can use what tools you need. You can also download & use the EPS file to get any signage or custom assets made offline.

Now, Tailor Brands is not for everyone. If you feel comfortable coordinating designs and brand assets across different platforms or if you have the budget to pay a human for graphic design, then something else might be a better fit.

Here are a few direct competitors to Tailor Brands and how they compare.

Tailor Brands vs. 99designs

99designs is a contest-led marketplace for graphic design. You set a budget and run a “contest” among human designers based on your design briefing. I wrote a 99designs review here. But in short, 99designs is sort of the halfway human point between Tailor Brands and an agency. 99designs is much more expensive than Tailor Brands, but you do get human ideas based on a design brief. 99designs also has a huge range of design contest options…but not the design management tools of Tailor Brands. Technically, you could (and should) check out both. See Tailor Brands here and 99designs here.

Tailor Brands vs. Fiverr

Fiverr is a huge marketplace for humans working on “gigs”. You think of a task that you need to be done, find a person to hire, and quickly get it done for you within Fiverr’s platform. Fiverr is also a halfway human point between Tailor Brands and an agency. The price ranges depending on skills and reputation. While you can great design assets from Fiverr, you are also in charge of managing all your design assets. You also have to expect to pay for several logos / designs before coming away with a good one. Tailor Brands would be a simpler, more affordable, and versatile fit.

Tailor Brands vs. Wix Logo Maker

Wix is the big brand name in the website builder world. I wrote a Wix review here. Technically Wix competes directly with Tailor Brands, even if they have a different focus. Tailor Brands focuses on how your brand designs are presented *everywhere*. Wix has similar tools, but really focuses their tool on website applications. In other words, Tailor Brands is a design tool with a website builder and Wix is a website builder with a design tool. Check out Tailor Brands here and check out Wix’s logo maker here.

Tailor Brands vs. DIY Tools

Between Canva, Stencil, and every other random logo generator on the Internet, Tailor Brands has plenty of competition for DIYers. If you have the time and wherewithal, you could get everything that Tailor Brands offers for free. The issue would be that all your designs would be dispersed among a bunch of tools…and you would be relying on your own design taste rather than a professionally built tool. In the end, I think that Tailor Brands is worth the money for the convenience and the designs. But for a quick sketch up of something you have in your head, Stencil is the simplest.

Next Steps & Conclusion

Tailor Brands is a unique and useful addition to the design world. In fact, for many businesses, it could do a full end around the traditional “upload your logo to a website builder” model.

By bundling design management tools, including a social media editor and quality website builder with an automated logo & brand designer, Tailor Brands has figured out something new & different.

If you are a non-designer trying to build a consistent brand identity across the Web & offline, Tailor Brands is worth a try.

See Tailor Brand’s Current Plans & Pricing

You might also be interested in my review of 99designs, my post on layouts, and my post on color palettes, and my post on hiring a web designer.

Good luck with your project!

Tailor Brands Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

Tailor Brands is a suite of branding & design tools powered by machine learning for non-technical users. They allow businesses, organizations, and indi

Price: 3.99

Price Currency: USD

Application Category: Logo Design

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Mailchimp Website Builder: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

This post originally appeared at Mailchimp Website Builder: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives via ShivarWeb

MailChimp Website Builder

MailChimp has been one of the fastest growing email marketing providers for years now. They’ve built an huge base of customers ranging from tiny personal accounts to some of the most prestigious enterprise brands in the world.

In 2019, they added a ton of functionality, including postcards & remarketing as they grow their positioning into a marketing platform. And as part of their growth, they’ve introduced a free website builder.

See MailChimp’s Current Plans & Pricing

I’ve been using Mailchimp for years, and was super curious when they announced the beta version of their website builder (FYI, beta just means it’s their first, trial run version. They’re looking for feedback from users to improve the product).

So I gave Mailchimp’s beta builder a try for a full Mailchimp 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 Mailchimp Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Mailchimp’s website builder 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 Mailchimp 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 Mailchimp, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Mailchimp 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 ease of use and their platform providing everything you need to market online — from their opt-in pages to their email software to their website builder.

Pros of Using Mailchimp Website Builder

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

Straightforward Sign Up Process

If you already have a Mailchimp account, using their free website builder is just a matter of navigating to it in the main menu and getting started. If you don’t have a Mailchimp account, it’s still incredibly easy to sign up. All you have to do is create an account with your business information + pick your payment plan to get started.

mailchimp sign up process

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without an extensive sign up process.

Ease of Use

Another pro of Mailchimp’s website builder is that it’s incredible easy to use. When you first get started with the platform, Mailchimp actually creates a homepage for you to use as a starting point.

Mailchimp Homepage

Once you get into the platform, you can “drag” and “drop” additional elements onto the page, remove elements from the premade page, add new pages to your site with the click of a button.

The whole setup is like painting by numbers. You just add in your content, add additional elements if you want them / need them, add your branding colors and fonts, and click publish.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having an easy and quick way to get your site up and making sure it still looks decent.

It makes Mailchimp a great option for entrepreneurs / DIY-ers who want a website that gets the job done, looks clean, and doesn’t require hiring a professional to put it all together (and don’t want to worry about “messing it up”).

Completely Free

Another benefit Mailchimp’s website builder is that it’s completely free.

There’s no upsells, no limited access based on your payment plan, no restrictions. You can use the website builder with your free Mailchimp plan if you have under 2000 subscribers and don’t need additional email functionality, or you can use it with your paid plan for no additional charge.

While there are some limitations with the platform (more on that in a minute), it’s a great option for test projects or those who need a simple, functional website and don’t want to spend money on a platform.

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. And for Mailchimp, there’s two big cons that stand out: limited design and functionality features.

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 Mailchimp 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 a few elements 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 aside from the few drag and drop elements available to you, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited (AKA essentially just font and color).

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 Mailchimp website builder website.

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.

In their beta from, Mailchimp has extremely limited integrations (social sharing, social following, file downloads, etc.), but there are a ton of technical features that Mailchimp currently doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

There also aren’t add-ons or additional integrations to use with the platform, which makes it even more difficult to do anything besides the very basics on your site.

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

Mailchimp Review Conclusion

Mailchimp 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 website without the hassle of getting into the code or having something custom made.

Get started with Mailchimp here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control. Mailchimp leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to design customization and functionality. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.

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

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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!

“”

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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6+ Best Dental Website Examples for Inspiration

Dentist Website Examples

So you’re creating a dental website, and you’re looking for dental 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 a dental website examples should be done in the same way.

Do you want the website to have appointment scheduling functionality? Do you want a patient portal? This functionality needs to be consider before you start choosing a website builder + hosting platform.

Find The Right Website Builder for Your Dental Website

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 Dental Website Examples

We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, when you’re looking to build a dental 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.

Ponce Dental Group

Ponce Dental Group

Software: Adobe

Hosting: Adobe

This dental website by Ponce Dental Group has all of the bells and whistles. You can book an appointment, manage your appointments, and learn about payment plans and insurance all from the homepage. And yet even with all of this information, the layout is still clean and information is easy to find.

If you’re looking for a website layout that allows you to have multiple calls to action without overwhelming visitors or making the site difficult to navigate, this dental website example is a great one to use for inspiration.

Bay Area Dental Surgery

bay area dental surgery

Software: Weebly (Weebly Review)

Hosting: Weebly (Weebly Review)

On the other side of the spectrum is this dental website by Bay Area Dental Surgery Center. We liked the simplicity of this website, with the clear header and subhead that tells you exactly what this dentist does and who they help, and the cartoon graphic that adds an element of creativity and branding to the site.

This example just goes to show that a simple, straightforward layout can still be incredibly effective for your dental website. You don’t necessarily need something with tons of advanced functionality or even advanced branding!

If you’re looking for a good dental website example that includes a simple template that you can just plug your content into and get going, this is a great one to reference.

Grace & Leedy

Software: Squarespace (Squarespace Review)

Hosting: Squarespace (Squarespace Review)

This dental website example stands out for a few key reasons. First, notice how clear the navigation is on the homepage. As soon as you land on the website, your focus is drawn to the options of where to go next. It’s straightforward and makes choosing a next step simple.

We also liked the download functionality on the Form page.

The clear instructions and bright call-to-action buttons make it easy for visitors to see exactly what they need to do, and including the forms on the website not only enhances new patients’ experience online… but in person, too! No more filling out endless forms in the waiting room!

This site is another great example of a simple template that makes the most out of the design and functionality to give visitors a great user experience.

Dr. James Catt DMD

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Codero + Linode

This dentist website example stood out to us for a few key reasons — the first of which being the color palette! Notice how the buttons, logo, and even header image all have the same color scheme. It makes the design look sophisticated, even though the layout is fairly straightforward.

Next, we also liked how Dr. James used focus landing pages to expand on each of his services:

This is a great way to make more detailed services pages that also provide valuable information for potential clients who may be doing research on dental procedures before deciding to move forward with them.

St. Lawrence Dental

St. Lawrence Dental

Software: Wix (Wix Review)

Hosting: Wix (Wix Review)

Have you ever gone to a website to try to find logistical information (like operating hours and contact information) and had to dig for it? How frustrating is that?

This dental website does a great job of keeping key logistical information in clear view. Notice how the operating hours, telephone number, and “request an appointment” button are all grouped together in the top right corner of the homepage. This gives visitors all of the information they need when booking an appointment, without them having to dig around the site to see when the clinic is open, how to call, or where to request an appointment.

Atlanta Dental Spa

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Google Cloud / Google

This website for Atlanta Dental Spa is another strong dental website example that hits all of the marks. The layout is clean and sophisticated, and although the site has a lot of content (including before / afters), it’s organized in a way that’s easy to navigate.

We particularly liked the Messenger functionality Atlanta Dental Spa includes, which allows you to chat with them on Facebook Messenger directly from their website.

Atlanta Dental Spa Messenger

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

The post 6+ Best Dental Website Examples for Inspiration 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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Zoho Sites Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Zoho Website Builder

Zoho is a software company that has a suite of products designed to help business owners get their businesses up and running online. Their website builder, Zoho Sites, is an all-inclusive website builder, which means it includes everything you need to create your site (from the builder itself to the hosting).

See Zoho’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Zoho’s website builder a try for a full Zoho Sites 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 Zoho Sites?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Zoho Sites 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 Zoho 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 Zoho, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Zoho Sites competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, Strikingly, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on ease of use and integration with their plethora of Zoho products. Zoho offers several website templates you can customize with no coding or design experience required, and also gives you the opportunity to integrate with their marketing and optimization tools.

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 Zoho Sites Website Builder

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

Easy Sign Up Process, Onboarding, + Free Trial

One of the biggest pros of using Zoho Sites is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s a few basic steps of entering your information, picking a theme, and then you’re in.

Zoho also makes it incredibly easy once you’re inside the platform. Their onboarding process (AKA the information they give you to get you up and running and actually using the software) is very straightforward.

They walk you through a step-by-step tutorial of how to customize your website as soon as you choose a theme.

The entire process makes it easy to get your website up and customized in a matter of minutes, even if you have no online experience.

Zoho also offers a 15-day free trial when you sign up, and they don’t require a credit card to use it. Most software providers offer a “test run” of their products, but it comes with caveats. You either have to choose a plan upfront and enter your card info to be automatically charged when the trail is over, or have limitations on your features, or both. 

Zoho allows you to truly test out their platform for 15 days before you make a decision — no strings attached.*

*Note – so technically, you’d have to sign up for some of their product integrations if you want to implement them in the free plan. I still consider it no strings attached, because you get all of the basic functionality / inclusions in the free trial.

Template Design / Functionality

When I’m looking at all inclusive website builders, I want to be sure I look at both the templates’ design and functionality to get an accurate picture of what the builder can do.

Zoho also offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer). They have a lot of variable designs that you can use as the foundation of your website.

Once you choose a template, you can customize it to your brand. Zoho is what’s known as a “drag and drop” editor, where you can “drag” premade sections and “drop” them on your page. It makes customizing your site simple, straightforward, and fast.

With Zoho, can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), as well as the individual sections, and you can add new elements to a section layout. However, you can’t create a new section from scratch using the drag and drop editor.

You can, however, customize your template using the CSS and HTML editor, which is a big benefit if you have coding experience but want to use a template as a starting point.

All in all, Zoho’s Website Builder has a great balance of convenience and control in terms of template design, which is a big plus for an all-inclusive website builder.

Some Product Integration

Another thing that makes Zoho’s Website Builder unique is their product integrations. Zoho has their own CRM, Marketing, and Analytics products, and these integrations are easily accessible in the site builder.

Zoho-Integration-CRM

One thing to note — these additional integrations / functionality are all part of paid plans (more on that in a bit).

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 Zoho Sites as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Zoho is fairly easy and convenient for DIYers and business owners, 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 pages, storage, or even the number of forms you can have on a site.

zoho pricing and limits

It’s also worth noting that Zoho doesn’t offer a free plan. There’s a free trial, which lasts for 15 days, but if you want to continue on with their service, you have to choose from one of the paid plans.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a “con”, but if you’re looking for a website builder for a short-term project, you can probably find a builder with similar features who offers a standard free plan (ie, Wix or Weebly).

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, Zoho does include some product integration that’s built-in (like their CRM) or can be added on (like their MarketingHub). But when it comes to outside integrations, Zoho is fairly limited.

For example, let’s take a look at their apps:

There isn’t much to built-in from an integration perspective outside of what Zoho offers in their product suite, and even then, there’s not a ton of clarity around what these features actually are or do.

Now, you could add your own integrations through code snippets. However, if you want something that you can easily “plug in” to your site and have it just work without you messing with code, then Zoho leaves a lot to be desired.

Zoho Review Conclusion

Zoho makes getting your website up and running simple and fast, and they also offer substantial customization options for more experienced website builders through their HTML and CSS editing.

See Zoho’s current pricing 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. Zoho’s 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 Zoho fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

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

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