Types of Digital Marketing: Examples, Uses, and Resources

Types of Digital Marketing

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

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

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

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

Let’s dive in!

Owned Media

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

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

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

SEO 

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

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

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

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

Technical SEO

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

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

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

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

What’s tough about it: 

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

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

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

What to Learn: 

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

On-Page SEO

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

Seeing it in action: 

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

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

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

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

What’s tough about it: 

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

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

What to learn: 

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

Email Marketing

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

Seeing it in action:

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

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

What to learn:

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

Social Media

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

Seeing it in action:

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

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

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

What to learn:

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

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

Earned Media 

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

Off-Page SEO

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

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

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

Seeing it in action: 

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

What’s tough about it: 

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

What to learn: 

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

Public Relations

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

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

Traditional Media Relations

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

Seeing it in action:

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

What to learn:

How to Plan a DIY PR Campaign

Viral Marketing

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

Seeing it in action:

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

What to learn:

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

Paid Media

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

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

Search Ads

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

Seeing it in action: 

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

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

Why it’s tough: 

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

What to learn: 

  • How Google Decides What You Pay
  • Alternative PPC Networks

Display Ads 

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

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

Seeing it in action: 

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

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

Why it’s useful: 

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

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

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

Why it’s tough: 

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

What to learn: 

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

Social Ads

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

Seeing it in action:

Check out this ad from UNTUCKit on Pinterest:

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

Why it’s useful:

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

Why it’s tough:

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

What to learn:

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience

How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience

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

But there’s just one problem…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Set Your Business Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Consider

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

What To Avoid

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

2. Define Your Target Audience 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Consider

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

What To Avoid

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

3. Build an Online Presence

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

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

Setting Up Your Website

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Up Focused (aka “Landing”) Pages

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

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

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

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

Landing pages go beyond your homepage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Consider

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

What To Avoid

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

4. Get Visible (AKA Getting Leads and Clients)

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

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

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

Word of Mouth / Referrals

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

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

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

Direct Outreach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paid Traffic

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

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

You are buying data. Lots of data.

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

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

Organic Search (SEO) Traffic

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Consider

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

What To Avoid

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

5. Define Your Growth Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Consider

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

What To Avoid

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

Conclusion & Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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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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Strikingly Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Strikingly Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

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

See Strikingly’s Current Plans & Pricing

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

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

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

What Is Strikingly Website Builder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros of Using Strikingly Website Builder

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

Straightforward Sign Up Process

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

Strikingly sign up process

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

Template Design / Functionality

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

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

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

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

Free Trial + Free Plan

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

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

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

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

Some Product Integration

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

product integrations in Strikingly

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

Cons

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

Pricing + Plans

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

Strikingly pricing plans

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

Limited Feature Set – Design

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

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

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

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

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strikingly Review Conclusion

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

Check out Strikingly’s plans here.

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

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

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

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Homestead Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Homestead Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

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

See Homestead’s Current Plans & Pricing

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

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

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

What Is Homestead Website Builder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros of Using Homestead Website Builder

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

Template Design / Functionality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free 30-Day Trial

Another benefit Homestead is their 30-day free trial.

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

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

Homestead sign up credit card info

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

Some Product Integration

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

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

Cons

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

Pricing + Plans

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

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

Homestead Pricing

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

Design & Branding

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

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

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

homestead branding

Limited Feature Set – Technical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

homestead seo add on servie

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

Homestead Review Conclusion

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

Check out Homestead’s plans here.

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

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

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

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Cloudways Hosting Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Cloudways Hosting Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

So you’re looking into using Cloudways as your hosting provider, and you’re wondering how they stack up against the competition.

But hold on one second.

I tested out Cloudways for a client project because they have gotten really good press for creating a truly unique product in a pretty staid industry.

As with any unique product, they’ll need a bit of background on the web hosting spectrum.

Let’s talk about the difference between cloud hosting and traditional shared hosting.

Usually your website files live on a part of a server that you rent from a hosting company (hence “shared” hosting). A cloud is an entire network of data centers that host website files in a distributed & decentralized fashion. Your files are deployed “everywhere” in a way of speaking. You just rent the resources on the network needed to host & deliver your files.

Imagine real-world housing for a second. Traditional hosting is like buying a house, townhouse or condominium. You buy it and you can do whatever you want. It’s cheap and predictable. But if your entire extended family shows up one day – you might have some issues hosting everyone. Cloud hosting is like having access to any house anywhere in the world whenever and wherever – you just have to pay per night for whatever house you use. It’s more expensive day to day, but when your entire extended family shows up one day – it’s a pretty simple, quick fix. You just get the 12 bedroom house for the night and no one is the wiser.

The actual cloud is built by the biggest tech companies in the world. There are not that many. Amazon is the biggest. They are closely followed by Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM along with a few smaller ones like Digital Ocean.

With cloud hosting, you have more access to guaranteed resources than on shared hosting.

On shared hosting, you have a set amount of resources on a specific server that also has a set amount of resources. For example, you might have 1GB of Memory dedicated to you on a server that has 10GB of memory in total.

But suppose there are 10 customers on that shared server, each with 1GB of memory. 9 of those customers start using a full 1GB of their allocation – sometimes a little bit over. Well, now, you can’t actually use your 1GB of memory without bringing the server done. In that case, you might get throttled or one customer’s site might get taken down. Now, a good shared hosting will have network engineers who have built out ways of balancing, but it’s the core tradeoff with the setup.

On cloud hosting, you pay per use of resources on a distributed network of servers that has basically infinite resources. Your data doesn’t live on a single server. Instead, it’s copied on a whole network all around the world. If a single server gets overloaded, another server starts returning the the data.

This is the reason why NetFlix runs on Amazon’s cloud and why Twitter runs on Google’s Cloud. Those are extreme but illustrative examples. They see huge spikes at random times during the day that only a cloud can handle.

This makes cloud hosting a great option for websites that have spiky traffic (like viral news sites or a site that goes through regular launches) and doesn’t want to commit to a set amount of resources that may or may not be guaranteed.

But cloud hosting is traditionally expensive and very technical to set up, which can make it not make sense for a lot of DIYers and small businesses. The time & money to get it configured *just* right is out of reach for most businesses.

And that’s where Cloudways comes in.

What is Cloudways?

Cloudways is what’s known as a “managed cloud hosting company” headquartered in Malta. They offer hosting via the big cloud companies, but they manage the process by providing custom setup software, support, and some price smoothing to make cloud hosting more accessible to small businesses and DIYers.

See Cloudways Current Plans & Pricing.

Cloudways competes directly with other hosting companies with managed cloud-based products, like HostGator Cloud, WP Engine, and SiteGround Cloud.

However, they also compete indirectly with the cloud companies themselves like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Digital Ocean, and Linode since anyone can buy directly from them.

But Cloudways also compete with traditional shared hosting companies like Bluehost, SiteGround, Hostwinds, Hostinger, Dreamhost, InMotion, etc. because of their pricing model & price point.

Confused yet? Yeah – me too, and I’m the one trying to write this review and explain it to my clients.

In some ways, this point is a pro for Cloudways. They are trying to do something truly unique in the hosting industry. Anything truly novel is hard to figure out. That doesn’t come along often, and it’s worth pointing that out.

Essentially Cloudways provides the guaranteed resources of cloud hosting with the guaranteed pricing of shared hosting. For a lot of businesses, this deal does not make sense — but if you know you’ll have really high highs and really low lows in your website traffic and don’t want to commit to (or deal with the technicalities of) direct cloud hosting with Google, Amazon, etc., it’s a fairly interesting set-up.

So with that said, let’s look at the Pros and Cons of Cloudways hosting.

Pros of Cloudways

There are a lot of Cloudways reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine but I take a different approach. As I’ve said in other hosting reviews, there is no such thing as a “best” web host. The “best” is the right fit for your project based on your goals, budget, experience & expertise. Here are the pros (advantages) for considering Cloudways.

Simplified Pricing

One of the biggest advantages of using Cloudways as your cloud hosting provider is their simplified pricing packages. Traditionally, cloud hosting pricing is pretty complex. Because you pay for what you use, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what you’re going to end up owing. Just look at Google Cloud’s pricing calculator:

Google Cloud Pricing Calculator

Cloudways has simple, monthly pay-as-you-go plans. There’s no calculating, no guessing — just straightforward monthly rates that you can choose based on your needs.

Cloudways monthly pricing

They also have a chat bot that will recommend a specific plan for you based on the number of websites you have, your traffic volume, and the purpose of your site (i.e. blog, digital agency, etc.).

Cloudways Pricing Suggestions

All in all, the pricing structure is straightforward and pretty hassle-free, which is a huge competitive advantage when comparing Cloudways to other cloud hosting providers.

Cloud Host Variety

Another interesting advantage of Cloudways is the ability to choose your Cloud Host. Cloudways offers hosting with several big cloud hosts, from DigitalOcean to Amazon to Google.

Cloudways Hosting Variety

Again, this makes Cloudways the middle man of sorts. You’re not actually hosting on their platform — they serve as the intermediary between you and the cloud hosting platforms.

Having the choice of cloud hosts in a more simplified pricing structure is definitely a pro… but again, it really only makes sense if you know you’ll have highs and lows in your website traffic and don’t want to commit to (or deal with the technicalities of) direct cloud hosting with Google, Amazon, etc.

Performance

In addition to hosting your website files, a good hosting server will also deliver those files as quickly as possible every time a visitor goes to your domain name address.

There are a lot of variables that go into how fast your website is. You can have the fastest server in the world and still have an incredibly slow website due to issues on your end. But either way, you want to have a hosting server that is fast so that you can work on your side of the equation.

One of the best measurements for approximating performance is TTFB or Time to First Byte. Again, I know that network engineers throw a lot of asterisks here and if you know *exactly* what type of website you are running – you can absolutely ask for detailed allocated specs. My goal with my hosting reviews is to provide a narrative of tradeoffs so that you can make the call for your website.

But here’s how DigitalOcean performed via Cloudways with my website when I first set it up on a clean WordPress install –

speed test for website on Cloudways

.0127s for TTFB is pretty speedy, especially when you compare it to the performance of budget shared hosts like Web Hosting Hub, Hostinger, iPage, or even GoDaddy. Actually, it’s really fast no matter who you compare it to.

Again, there are tradeoffs here. The more your use on Cloudways, the more you’re going to pay. But if you’re looking for a hosting platform that can handle spikes of traffic without throttling your performance, Cloudways gives you some great options.

Cons of Cloudways

Like any web host, Cloudways has disadvantages. There are plenty of Cloudways complaints to be found online. Plenty are valid, and some are simply anecdotal. Here are the cons that I found while using Cloudways for hosting.

Complex Set Up

Perhaps the biggest con of Cloudways is how complex it can be to get up and running.

As much as Cloudways positions themselves as the ones who take care of the complexities of cloud hosting, making it easy for business owners to get set up and focus on their actual business… the set up of hosting with Cloudways is far more complex than traditional hosting.

For starters, aside from a video on how to migrate your WordPress website and some articles, there isn’t much in the way of onboarding (AKA guiding you through getting set up on their platform). We did get a few emails from customer support, but if you wanted to dive in and get started yourself, it’s a bit like navigating a maze.

cloudways migration instructions

We also had some trouble getting our account up and running. The sign up process isn’t as simple as entering your information and diving in. Cloudways has to confirm your details, and it took a few different conversations with support to get access to our account.

Lastly, after the three day trial (more on that in a minute), we had to remigrate our account. Now – this could have been user error, but it was so complicated – even for someone who has written a ton of reviews of hosting companies. I couldn’t even tell if it had worked the first time.

Limited Trial Period

Despite their simplified pricing structure, Cloudways does have one main con in the pricing area… and that’s their limited trial period.

Usually hosting platforms will come with some sort of guarantee or trial period, so you can test them out before you commit. Cloudways offers three days — and if you’re having difficulty figuring out the migration and set up, those three days go pretty fast.

Again, if you’re committed to cloud hosting, this probably doesn’t matter to you. But if you’re testing it out, it’s a short period.

Custom Backend

At most hosting companies, you have an account area where you access to billing, account information, bonuses (ie, Google Ads credits), etc – it will also have links to your actual server backend/dashboard.

Most hosting companies use cPanel as the server backend/dashboard. cPanel is where you go to do anything with your hosting server – install any applications (ie, WordPress), set up email addresses, get your FTP information to upload files, etc. It’s simple, straightforward, and since most hosting companies use it, it’s sort of an industry standard that you can get help with anywhere online.

Cloudways does not use that setup. They use a proprietary backend for both your account administration and your server administration. It’s seamless for what they do…but it’s not really something you can Google or DIY troubleshoot.

Cloudways Database

On one hand, it is simplified and allows Cloudways to provide a truly customized experience. On the other hand, the set up is confusing and feels limiting. It’s difficult to sort through where things are, and everything feels overly technical (which really doesn’t help me “focus” on what I do best, AKA run my business).

It adds to the complexity of the platform, rather than making it more streamlined and simple.

Conclusion & Next Steps

Overall, I found Cloudways to be a unique solution for those who need the benefits of cloud hosting without the complete complexity of it. While Cloudways still isn’t as straightforward as traditional hosting companies, it does streamline the process of getting set up with a cloud host.

See Cloudways Current Plans & Pricing.

If you’re looking for the benefits of cloud hosting, but don’t want to deal with the overly technical set up, fluctuating payments, etc., go ahead and sign up for Cloudways here.

However, if you just need a solid hosting company that’s straight forward, easy to use, and can handle steady website traffic, you’re better of with a traditional hosting platform like InMotion Hosting. I’ve used them for years – and they fit most small business sites’ need for a balance between price, performance & support.

If you are more confused than ever – then take my Web Hosting Quiz here or use my website setup guide here!

The post Cloudways Hosting Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Adobe Spark Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Adobe Spark Website Builder Review

Adobe is a huge name in the software industry — and their website builder app, Adobe Spark Page, is no exception. Adobe Spark is a single-page website builder that makes building one-page websites (think resumes, portfolios, blog posts, presentations, etc.) easy to do with zero design experience.

Check out Adobe Spark’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Adobe Spark Page a try for a small project after receiving a few reader questions. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Adobe Spark review, let’s consider a bit of background on building a website in general.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing the best website builder for your project, such as what you want it to look like, what you need your site to be able to do, and how much time you want to spend creating the site. 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 Adobe Spark Page?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Adobe Spark Page lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started with your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

Using Adobe Spark 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 with all software, but especially with website builders.

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

As far as competition, Adobe Spark competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, and WordPress.com, but has one major distinction: Adobe Spark Page focuses on creating professional-looking, single-page websites.

Instead of giving you a multi-page template, Adobe Spark Page has a few web page templates you can choose from (among other templates, since Adobe Spark Page is part of Adobe Spark, which includes the ability to make design images, web pages, AND videos).

Adobe Spark Templates

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 Adobe Spark Page Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Adobe Spark Page — not just in comparison to other website builders, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Signup Process

One of Adobe Spark Page’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is simple — you just create an account (or log in with your existing Adobe ID if you have one), and then choose what type of project you’d like to create (a photo, video, or webpage) and which template to use. You can also create your own design from scratch if none of the templates stand out to you.

Adobe Spark Page DIY

Simplicity

Adobe Spark Page is also seriously simple to use.  The builder is intuitive, straightforward, and requires absolutely no website experience to use it.

Adobe Spark Editing

While the website builder is not drag and drop, you can choose from a menu of page elements when you want to add additional sections / functionality below the header.

Adobe spark adding elements to the page

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to have an easy-to-build, nice looking one page website ready in a matter of minutes!

Adobe Product Integration

Another benefit of Adobe Spark Page website builder is the ability to use other Adobe products within the page builder. For example, take a look at this list of options I have when trying to add an image to the page:

Adobe Spark Integrations

Adobe Spark Page gives me the option to pull photos from Adobe Stock, Creative Cloud, or Lightroom (all Adobe products). This is a solid advantage for Adobe users who want all of their apps to connect. There are also options to connect to your Dropbox, Google Photos, or Google Drive — so the benefits extend beyond just Adobe users.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Here are the cons I found with using Adobe Spark Page.

Limited to One Page

This one is the most glaring disadvantage. Adobe Spark Page is true to its name — it’s a page builder, which means your website is limited to a single page.

For short-term projects where you only need a single page, this probably doesn’t matter to you. But if you’re trying to build a website that can grow and scale (or do anything beyond the basic functionality Adobe Spark Page provides), you’re stuck.

You can add sections, but the customization is limited (more on that in a minute). Again, if you need a website builder that enables you to put some text and imagery or video on a page quickly and with little customization, this con doesn’t hurt much. But for those who need a long-term, more robust website, Adobe Spark Page likely won’t cut it.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control.

This trade-off is very apparent with Adobe Spark’s website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing. It makes creating a single webpage super fast and easy, especially with how intuitive the builder is.

But here’s the thing — if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of the design they provide, you are very limited with Adobe Spark.

For starters, you’re not really given a template to work with. Adobe Spark Page shows you different types of websites you can build, but each website category leads to the same starter template (which is also what you have when you choose the “build from scratch option”).

Adobe Spark Base Template

From there, you can select certain “themes”, which are really just font/color combinations that change the header and section styles.

Adobe Spark Page Theme Changes

But you cannot change the layout. You cannot drag and drop. And you certainly cannot edit the HTML and CSS, much less add any other design element.

The best way to describe it is a ‘paint-by-numbers’ set up — a really basic paint-by-numbers. It’s great to have the ease of use, but if you want to do anything extra or outside of bounds, then you’re out of luck.

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 Adobe Spark Page.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations. Technical limitations are features and functionality 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.

Adobe Spark Page’s technical limitations are also pretty crippling. There are no plugins or apps that you can use to market your page (aside from sharing the link on social media). You cannot integrate additional functionality aside from what’s provided (photos, videos, and grids). You can’t even customize your page URL.

Adobe Spark URL

Think of it like the difference between cooking in your own kitchen and building your own burrito at a fast food restaurant.

With Adobe Spark Page, you can certainly choose the ingredients that go into your burrito, but your choice is really an illusion because you’re limited to the ingredients that are offered by the restaurant (and in this case, you’re eating at a basics-only burrito bar). Like the design, that can be a good thing if you need something simple, and will always need something simple. But if you ever need to upgrade or do something unique or custom, it can be very limiting.

Theme Examples that Aren’t Usable Pages

Another con of Adobe Spark Page is the lack of examples you can build off of in their template library. As I mentioned before, Adobe Spark Page doesn’t really give you different templates. The templates are the same for every website type. However, when you click “see more” under the website type, you are given various designed examples to pull from:

Adobe Spark Examples

Adobe Spark Options

Only problem is, they’re not actually Pages. They’re posts, which is an entirely different asset (AKA not a website page).

Adobe Spark Page Post

It’s a bit confusing, and again points to the limitations of the design.

Additionally, from what we can tell from the pricing, the additional features you get apply to this area of Adobe Spark (Posts) and not the website builder.

Adobe Pricing

When we upgraded to the monthly plan, there was no change in the templates available for website design purposes.

Adobe Spark Page Review Conclusion

Adobe Spark Page makes getting a single page website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization. They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Adobe Spark Page’s plans here.

However, there are major trade-offs to consider with Adobe Spark Page — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Adobe Spark Page falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders that have more customization, more functionality, allow you to add additional pages, and include DNS services so you can have a custom domain. If you’re looking to create anything beyond a simple, single page website, Adobe Spark Page is probably not the best option for you.

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

 

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

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