This post originally appeared at How to Build a Minimally Viable Website via ShivarWeb
So you want to get your product/service/thoughts in front of an audience, and you need a website. Time to buckle down and create a massive, beautiful site, right?
When you’re launching anything, the most important goal is to get data. Without data, you can’t possibly make something as good as it can be — and that applies to your website, too.
You need data on what it takes to build & run the site of your dreams. You need data on who actually visits your site and what they do. You need data to decide what to do next.
One of the biggest mistakes business owners make when launching a website is starting too big and too well-designed (especially eCommerce sites).
You don’t need pages and pages of content or a fancy design. What you do need is a minimally viable website.
Here’s how to build one…
Define Your Goals
Before you do anything, you need to decide what you want to achieve with your website. What do you want people to do once they’re there? If you’re looking to make sales, what are your revenue goals?
This part of the process may seem counterintuitive — after all, this article is about creating the minimally viable product — but it’s key to building your site on the right foot.
Defining your goals upfront will help you know what to look for in the data you get and whether or not you’re on the right path, so don’t skip this step.
Choose Your Platform & Domain
Most business owners feel like their website has to use fancy tools and platforms to get the job done. Not so. In fact, a simple HTML template can be all you need (you can even host it for free with a Dropbox hack if that’s your thing).
If you’re into WordPress or some other website builder and can churn out a quick website, then go that route. Weebly and Wix both offer free plans on their subdomain.
The point here is to get your content somewhere quickly and simply but to also keep your options open for when you’re ready to make changes (and to track data).
Some companies like InMotion Hosting have a specific quick start setup service for $99 + hosting (which you need anyway). Companies like NameCheap will also bundle it with your domain.
A custom domain can be important – but remember that you can always change it. Your goal right now is data – not perfection. Go get a cheap domain from NameCheap or GoDaddy.
Set Up Analytics + Goals
Speaking of tracking data… the whole point of an MVP (or MVW in this case) is to capture data so you can find what works and what doesn’t. In order to be able to capture this information, you need to set up analytics and goal tracking.
There are a lot of options, but Google Analytics is the go-to solution (it’s also free).
The key is to make sure you have goals set up based on whatever action you want people to take. If you’re an eCommerce store, you need to be sure you have an eCommerce checkout set up. Make sure it’s a goal. Make sure the whole package is working correctly because you have to accurately track conversions (aka sales) – if you are using a minimally viable payment solution like PayPal or Gumroad – this might mean simply setting the thank you page redirect.
If you’re looking for email opt-ins, make that a goal. Set up any action you’re looking at as a conversion in Google Analytics for tracking. And like eCommerce sales, you don’t have to get fancy. This might mean setting your MailChimp thank you page redirect as the sign-up goal.
If you plan on marketing your website (which you should), you should also link Google Analytics to Google Ads and set up a retargeting audience with Google Analytics.
And lastly, you should set up a Facebook Ads account and place a retargeting (audience pixel) cookie on your website. And learn what exactly Google Analytics does.
Set Up Focus Pages
As I’ve already mentioned, you don’t need a 100+ page website on your first launch. When you’re creating a minimally viable website, you should focus on setting up a few landing pages where you can send traffic for conversion.
In some cases, this can actually be done with a single page.
Take this website: Fix the Electoral College. I built this with a single HTML file hosted on a Google Cloud account. I never wanted to build an entire website dedicated to the structure of American politics with all the security updates and information architecture needs — just a single, shareable resource. This single page website got clicks and shares from hundreds of key state legislators in a very targeted Twitter / Facebook campaign. Mission accomplished!
The goal is to create very specific pages (or a page) that visitors can land on and take action. If you can do that in one page — awesome! Do that. If you need more than one, then take that route. Just remember that this should be as simple and clear as possible and focused around whatever conversion you’re looking to measure.
Test, Test, Test
Once you’ve got your website up, it’s time to start testing and optimizing. The goal here is to keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.
Keep in mind that everything you do will conform to the 80/20 Principle. I’ve seen lots of analytics profiles across a wide range of industries. In every single one, every metric conforms to 80/20.
20% of the products make up 80% of sales.
20% of content drives 80% of organic traffic.
20% of ad spend drives 80% of revenue.
When evaluating your website, keep your focus on the 20% that matters, and keep expanding the overall amount of opportunity. If you’ve never read much about the concept, check out the original 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch AND the follow-up 80/20 for Sales & Marketing by Perry Marshall.
Now that you’ve got your minimally viable website, it’s time to take some concrete next steps. Remember, this isn’t about more planning. It’s about action. The whole point of launching your MVP site is to get feedback so that you know what to do next.
Check out InMotion’s Quick Start service or NameCheap’s one-pager that will bundle with a domain purchase.
To get that feedback, you’ll need to get people to your site and taking action. Check out this guide to promoting your website (for free) to get started.
Once you’ve gathered data – you’ll need to set up a more permanent website with more options. You’ll want to explore my essential guide to eCommerce platforms or my WordPress website guide or my guide to website builders.
Social distancing has become the new normal in the wake of COVID-19, and business travel has unsurprisingly been limited in the recent days and months. However, with states slowly beginning to relax restrictions and businesses struggling to make a buck, the desire to return to usual work travel is understandably becoming more common.
Despite the easing of restrictions, COVID-19 itself isn’t easing up anytime soon. As such, it’s normal to pause before booking your business’s next flight out or scheduling a meeting in another state. Putting your employees in harm’s way is never an easy decision.
So should you or your employees travel for work? And if business travel is necessary, how can you venture out safely? These certainly aren’t simple questions to answer, but we’ve taken a crack at providing clarity so you can have a sense of how to handle the current situation.
Read on for more information on business travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work Travel Will Return As Quarantine Restrictions Are Lifted
COVID-19 drastically shut down the US through local government-imposed stay-at-home orders. Besides affecting local businesses operating out brick-and-mortar locations, these stay-at-home orders also curbed business travel. An April survey by the Global Business Travel Association, a trade organization for corporate travel managers, found that 92% of the nearly 1,000 company members queried had halted domestic travel in face of the pandemic. Numerous industry conferences have been canceled as well, while large companies like Google and Square have placed restrictions on employee travel.
This stoppage in business travel certainly helped provide a hit to the travel industry — data-hoarding company Statista forecasted 470 million business trips by US travelers in 2019. With such a big role in the travel economy, a lack of business travel has played a role in the danger that now faces airline companies, with many eyeing October 1 as a potential date for massive layoffs in the air industry. Meanwhile, a recent study by Facebook reveals that 43% of hotels, cafes, and restaurants have closed down since February. The past several months have certainly been a bleak time for both the travel industry and businesses that rely on frequent travel.
It’s not all economic gloom and doom, though, as restrictions are being eased across the US, potentially sparking an uptick in business travel. According to The New York Times, only four states are still shut down as of May 20. 36 are nearly “universally” reopening while 10 are regionally opening. With restrictions lifted on retail stores, restaurants, and forms of outdoor recreation, more and more travelers will be willing to hit the road.
The numbers support this — at least in airports, which have been getting busier throughout May. During the midst of heavy quarantine restrictions in mid-April, TSA saw as few as 87K travelers go through security checkpoints in a day throughout the US. In May, TSA has now had multiple days of at least 250K travelers venturing through checkpoints. While 250K isn’t anywhere close to the 2 million-plus who went through checkpoints daily this time last year, it’s still a substantial boost from the lows in April.
So even though things may still be restricted in some way, people are now able to go out and about more often — and travel numbers are ticking up as a response. It’s reasonable to then assume that business travel will only become more frequent as more of the economy opens up.
What The Law Says About Travel
Because countries and states all have different regulations and guidelines regarding travel during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s hard to make a sweeping statement about the legality of travel at this time.
We do know that travel abroad will remain difficult for the foreseeable future. For instance, many countries across the globe have locked down their borders to foreigners or require two-week quarantines for incoming travelers. Some international travel destinations are looking more promising for the summer, though, with countries such as Belgium, Greece, and Iceland planning to ease restrictions as soon as June and July.
It is a bit easier to travel domestically within the US. However, some states — such as Alaska, Maine, and Texas — have instituted 14-day quarantine requirements for out-of-state travelers. If you plan for business travel to such states, your options may be limited.
Of course, many states are in the process of easing restrictions — making the precise rules a fast-paced and ever-changing beast. As such, we suggest you hunt down the guidelines for the state or states your business intends to travel to before actually booking any flights or hotels.
All told, the CDC recommends that people stay home as much as possible and that all non-essential travel is curtailed — including both domestic and international. While it is unlikely for you to be arrested for traveling, the CDC does have the ability to detain, detain, medically examine, and release those who arrived into the US or traveled between states and are suspected of carrying communicable diseases under 42 Code of Federal Regulations parts 70 and 71.
You may also want to consider the legal ramifications in case an employee gets COVID-19 while on the road traveling. Since these are unprecedented times, it’s unclear if businesses will face any sort of legal woes for requiring employees to travel for work.
However, a New York Times article on professional conferences does note that “some attorneys are concerned” that if a business sends an employee to a conference and that employee contracts the virus, the liability may be saddled on the business. Because of these murky waters, we advise that you consult a legal professional, if possible, before sending employees on trips.
Tips & Precautions For Essential Travel
The CDC has provided guidelines to determine essential travel within the US. If you do consider your business’s travel essential based on the CDC’s guidelines, there are a few ways you can improve the safety of both your employees and the communities they’ll visit. Here are our tips for businesses with essential travel:
1. Avoid Hot Spots
Limit or fully eliminate travel to areas (such as specific counties or cities) that are seeing recent COVID-19 outbreaks. Because these areas — commonly referred to as “hot spots” — are seeing increased numbers, you or your employees may be at greater risk to contract the virus by traveling there.
One example of a hot spot location is Illinois — and specifically Chicago. Illinois saw over 4,000 positive tests — a peak for the state — as recently as May 12, per NPR. Cook County, where the heart of Chicago is located, has been hit particularly hard, with one in 81 of the county’s population testing positive for the virus as of May 20. Another example hot spot includes Worcester, Massachusetts, which recently saw 81 workers at a local Walmart test positive for COVID-19, according to the Boston Globe.
The New York Times has created a coronavirus map that details hot spots throughout the country. You can also view raw COVID-19 numbers broken down by state over on IHME’s healthdata.org.
2. No Travel For Those With Symptoms
Institute a policy that no employee should travel if they have any symptoms of COVID-19. Besides potentially limiting the spread of the virus, doing so could ease stress on your employees — especially if their symptoms worsen.
According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
Short of breath or difficulty breathing
New taste or smell loss
3. Encourage Safe Travel
Because not all carriers of COVID-19 exhibit symptoms, it’s important that travelers wear a cloth face covering while in public. Also note that for the time being, many major airline carriers are requiring fliers to wear face masks on the airplane. With this in mind, if your business requires air travel, a mask may simply be a necessity for you or your employees to even get on a plane.
Additionally, urge that your employee travelers engage in frequent hand washing, don’t touch their eyes and face, and maintain proper social distancing where possible. Hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds while individuals should physically keep six feet apart. If soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol can be used as a substitute.
If it is financially feasible, consider giving masks and hand sanitizer to your employees who travel. Besides building goodwill with your team, doing so can also help encourage that the proper safety protocols are followed by your business’ travelers.
4. Have Employees Self-Quarantine After Trips
When an employee travels in the coming weeks and months, consider requiring that they self-quarantine after returning home. Per the CDC’s guidelines, symptoms take between two and 14 days before appearing. Because of this, we recommend that when possible, you require employees to stay home for two weeks after returning from a trip. You should especially require 14-day quarantines for employees who have traveled to and from coronavirus hot spots.
This rule should be followed for both work and personal travel. In fact, it may be wise for your business to log any time an employee travels, whether for work or personal reasons. Doing so will enable your business to know who should stay in self-quarantine for two weeks.
5. Create A COVID-19 Travel Policy
Having a company policy outlined for travel during the pandemic can ease confusion as employees make plans for the coming months. It should be simple and to the point — make it no longer than one page. It should answer basic questions such as:
“Who can travel?”
“What reasons for travel are essential?”
“How can we minimize risk during travel?”
If you have access to legal counsel or employ human resource specialists, we recommend working with them to come up with a policy that fits your business and your employees.
6. Be Flexible
When you get down to it, your business is made up of people. It’s important to listen to those people and be flexible if they can’t or don’t want to travel during the pandemic.
For instance, if an employee lives with someone who is immunocompromised or otherwise part of an at-risk group, it may be unwise for that employee to be traveling and interacting with many people outside the home. Instead, try to figure out a way that employee could do their tasks from home.
Alternatives To Consider Before Traveling
Until restrictions are fully lifted, and we can safely travel without any worry of contracting or spreading COVID-19, we recommend that you do your best to avoid business travel. Here are a few ways you can still do business without setting foot on an airplane or hitting the road:
1. Work From Home
As a remote company since inception, we at Merchant Maverick have plenty of experience working from home. Working from home can allow employees to enjoy more flexible hours as well as saving money (and time) on commuting. Some employees may find it easier to concentrate in a non-office setting, too.
If it’s at all possible, make sure that your employees that can work from home are doing so. This can limit any potential spread of the virus in your community — and especially so if some employees will also be needing to travel.
While working from home can seem like a daunting task, research has indicated that working from home may actually boost productivity and worker concentration. This has helped convince numerous businesses to be more open to at-home work during COVID-19’s crisis. In fact, several larger companies — most notably Square and Twitter — have been happy enough with their employee’s work that they’ve already indicated they’ll allow workers to continue working from home even after the pandemic’s impact subsides.
2. Use Video Chat
If you are considering traveling or having employees travel for a work-related meeting, attempt to schedule the meeting using video conference software. While not all meetings can take place over video chat,Â many should work just fine with remote participants.
For instance, Merchant Maverick uses Zoom to hold a weekly coffee hour. We also have other meetings between teams using Google Meet, which is baked into Google’s G Suite. Since video chats let you see who else is talking, you may have better and more rewarding interactions than you might with phone calls.
Besides Zoom and Google Meet, video conferencing options include Skype and GoToMeeting. For more information on choosing video chat software for your business — as well as other options — check out Merchant Maverick’s guide to the best video conferencing services.
3. Sign Up For A Messaging Service
Not all interactions require video chat — that’s where text messaging services come in. These services can allow your business to communicate with one another on the fly more casually than video chatting or phone calls.
At Merchant Maverick, we use Slack daily. This service allows us to collaborate within teams or reach out to others individually. For many of us at Merchant Maverick, using Slack has simply become second-nature — it helps us improve communication over more traditional calls or email.
Slack isn’t the only player on the block. Twist is another solid option, while Microsoft Teams offers a good experience for businesses tied into the Office 365 ecosystem. For more details on which messaging service might work for your business, visit our guide to the best communication apps.
4. Email More
If video chat or dedicated messaging services won’t cut it, good old-fashioned email may be able to do the trick instead.
Email is fairly ubiquitous. According to Statista, over 4 billion users worldwide will have email access by the end of 2020. As such, communicating with email may be an excellent option to replace non-essential work-related travel — many vendors and other businesses outside your company should already be set up to communicate via email.
Keep Yourself & Your Employees Safe During Coronavirus
At the end of the day, you’ll need to decide which trips are worth the risk for your business. What counts as an essential trip will vary from business to business and from industry to industry. No matter what, make sure to take proper precautions that can keep you, your employees, their families, and the community-at-large safe during these troubled times.
For more of Merchant Maverick’s continuing coronavirus coverage, visit our small business resource hub for COVID-19.
The post Essential Work Travel: 6 Tips To Stay Safe While Traveling During Coronavirus (& 4 Alternatives To Travel) appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Lenders knew that there would be a flood of applications on April 3, 2020, for the first rollout of the PPP Loans through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Security) Act. Yet, the influx still stunned the system, slowed the process, and sent worried small business owners scrambling. The process was then muddled by changing targets, rules, and regulations, and miscommunication between banks and the SBA and the Treasury Department.
All of that miscommunication trickled down to lenders and borrowers, leaving worried business owners wondering when they might see their money. The question lingers. With the coronavirus pandemic impacting small businesses nationwide, borrowers need their money to make ends meet during these critical months of isolation. While the White House announced via Twitter that PPP Loans had been disbursed, banks aren’t releasing numbers, the SBA won’t confirm the White House statement, and many approved small businesses are still waiting for funds.
If you are looking for information on how to navigate being a small business owner during a pandemic, Merchant Maverick’s coronavirus hub is a place to find updated content on everything from business insurance to information about PPP Loans. If you need other avenues for funding, read this post and then continue onto Small Business Loan Resources & Guides For Businesses Affected By The Coronavirus.
What’s The Holdup?
Bureaucracy, a flooded system, confusion about the terms, there are myriad reasons why the PPP Loans rollout has been riddled with inefficiencies and frustration. First, the allotted $350 billion for PPP Loans is simply not enough, and many of the larger banks limited who received that initial funding. Many banks simply do not have the capital to loan, and there was no information on when it would become available or how the government loan buyback program would work. The breakneck speed of this stimulus package almost ensured complications and mistakes, and to say it has been frustrating is an understatement when compared to the scope of this pandemic’s economic impact on small businesses.
It seems people working with larger banks are experiencing more of a holdup than people who went to credit unions or local banks. People might also find luck casting a wider net with lenders by using matchmaker sites, such as Lendio or Fundera.
When Can I Expect My PPP Funds?
Small business owners are making plans, and the government and lenders are scrambling to respond. An expression oft-used in education is the notion that you are building the plane while flying it, and that is how it feels right now for those wondering how to navigate the new small-business normal.
From what we can gather from reports from small businesses, a few who worked with local banks received funding this week. However, those stories are not the norm. Most small businesses with approvals are still waiting for funds, and some are concerned with the eight-week timeline. It appears the government is sticking with the mandate that 75% of the PPP funds should go back into payroll during the next eight weeks to qualify for loan forgiveness. However, most businesses seeking help have been shuttered or have significantly reduced hours due to the nation’s shelter-in-place orders, and laid-off employees can benefit from the generous unemployment funds, which leaves some small businesses worried about those loan terms.
There is no date to provide, no concrete answer, only guesses as to when the PPP funds will be widely distributed to approved lenders. Also, since it is becoming evident that the allotted $350 billion will not be enough, there are already discussions about additional legislation and stimulus money arriving soon. At the moment, all we can do is hold on, pay attention, and be ready to move quickly on informed decisions. If you are still waiting after approval, keep checking in with your lender but also know that they are working as fast as they are able on their end. Soon is not a good enough answer, but it is simply the best we have.
Tips To Get Funded Faster
There are a few things you can do on your end to smooth the process and eliminate hiccups, but if you have been approved and are waiting on funds, have solace that you are not alone in waiting and that all institutions are focused on getting you money quickly. If you are still waiting to apply, here are a few things that might help:
Tell Your Story Far & Wide
Some of the best advice out there from small business owners and lenders is to make this personal. It is personal. For a small business owner, life and business are intertwined: Your small business is your life, and your life is your small business. So, since small business owners are the heart and soul of this nation, now is the time to tell your story. Narratives are important to me, and if you read all my articles on this site, you will see my message clearly: Your story is the best marketing material you have. You are your brand, especially in a time when consumers want to help businesses in their community. Make it easy to know who you are, what your business supports, and how people can help. Then use that narrative and that energy to let a lender know what is at the heart of your application.
Have All Your Financial Records In Order
This is not the best time to discover that you have inaccurate books or disorganized records, but fortune will favor not just the bold but also those with excellent bookkeeping skills. You have to get your financial records in order and your taxes completed. Things will move faster if you have answers and numbers ready when asked.
Cast A Wide Net
It’s important to check with your local bank or a bank where you have an existing loan first. Anecdotally, some banks are working with pre-existing loan accounts first, although the message is that some of those banks have reversed their decision. Because this is a moving target, a few experts suggest that the more loan applications you make, the better chance you have of seeing some movement with at least one of them. With the worry about funding running out and some lenders changing priorities, it makes sense to inquire with several lenders. However, this is a strategy to see who can fund you faster, but you must make sure you do not apply for more than one loan. (Ask for institutions to contact you before submitting for approval, so you can make sure you do not accidentally apply for multiple loans, which would be fraud under the PPP Loans provisions.)
If the PPP Loans don’t appear to be a decent fit or the process is hindering business operations, check into other lending options from the CARES Act, such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Stay tuned as we update this and other COVID-pandemic information as quickly as we are able, and feel free to ask questions or leave your own experiences in the comments.
The post When Will My Paycheck Protection Program Loan Be Funded? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
The world has turned upside down. (As a Broadway fan, I have the Hamilton version of that line running through my head on repeat these days.) Small businesses all over the nation find themselves in a rapidly changing climate and making decisions based on state requirements needed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Small businesses in the time of COVID-19 are faced with brutal choices and will need to employ creative solutions as the pandemic changes the landscape of our lives.
If you have a service that meets the needs of your community during the pandemic, getting information out to potential customers is a necessity. People right now want to help small businesses thrive, and they are looking for ways to spend their money conscientiously. What are some ways to navigate the balance of marketing a product during difficult times?
Before we look at marketing, it’s important to look at your business: Right now, more than ever, it’s crucial to understand what is an essential business and what is not. I just watched in real-time the complete viral annihilation of an owner’s decision to keep her consignment mall open because she deemed her store and all the vendors paying rent in her store (and all their employees) as “essential business.” (She, herself, was self-isolating in a different state. And three hours after her initial post, she changed her mind.) People are dying — if anyone susses out that you are here for profit/being greedy/to exploit a tragedy — I guarantee the karma (Facebook’s comment section) is swift.
Merchant Maverick’s COVID-19 hub has many resources to weather the storm, but if in doubt — sit it out.
And if your business has a role here as we move forward, then keep on reading, and we’ll explore the best practices together.
The Best Marketing Channels For Small Businesses
Parts of the nation are on full shelter-in-place orders, and others may soon follow. That means that millions of workers and their children are home, in their family rooms, most definitely on their computers or phones, with near-constant access to the internet. We are lucky to live in a digital world that can adapt to the needs of consumers during this pandemic — and the digital world is where you are going to access your potential customers.
Building a newsletter is an essential part of doing business. Why? Because when you have access to someone’s email, you have direct access to that person. They may not open your newsletter, but when they check their email, they will see your name and your subject hook: It’s the best resource you have. Building a newsletter should be seen as an essential part of doing business.
(How can you tell a writer has been a little too self-isolated? I just deleted an attempt to write this section to the tune of Over the Rainbow. I wish I were kidding.) Social media is where you will find your people. Maybe you already have a thriving community on your social media, or perhaps you are building one. Either way, it’s important to think of ways to use various platforms: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat…maybe in that order, depending on your marketing audience.
Direct communication is the best! If you have access to phone numbers, maybe send a quick text update. A skincare business in Portland I have been to once texted to let me know its physical store was closed but is still selling products and gift certificates online. If you have a website, consider blogging about your own experiences. Now is the time, more than ever, to tell your narrative and build a community around your business’s story. Who are you, and how is this pandemic affecting you and yours?
The Ground Rules For Online Marketing
The entire world is really hoping that we can all flatten the curve of this virus and return to normalcy. However, until then, every person and every business needs to make socially responsible choices. That means your business needs to comply with social distancing and follow your governor’s mandates. As with any marketing campaign, be sincere and run your words by many different sets of eyes to ensure your tone is professional and sensitive to the mood of the nation.
If you are asking people to opt-in to your newsletter for freebies/deals, make sure you follow local privacy laws. Also, a good tip is to require only two fields (say: name and email) — any more will cause hesitation, and you might lose the lead.
Build An Email List
One small business owner mentioned that he sent out a newsletter, not to pitch anything, but simply to ask his subscribers how they were doing: How are you? Are you okay? Do you need anything? Small businesses are the bedrock of the community, so first, reach out to your community and see how people are feeling. With self-isolation in full swing across the nation, many people need your words of comfort and offers of help.
You can also use this time to build your list by offering discounts or freebies to people who sign up for your newsletter. (For a gym or yoga studio: If they sign up for your newsletter, maybe they can receive free daily quarantine exercises?)
Create A Social Media Following
There are opportunities to pay for ad campaigns within social media platforms, but it’s important to use your platforms to communicate with your customers and community directly in addition to running ads. People want to help small businesses in their community, but they need to know who is open and how social distancing needs are being met. Use your social media channels to inform and engage.
Keep Your Customers Updated On Changes
I have a local store I love, and I went to all of its social media pages for a COVID-19 update and didn’t find anything. Tell your story and make it easy for people to support you and to know how — put that information far and wide.
If you can still provide curbside or delivery during the pandemic, your business has pivoted and adapted with the changes, or if you are changing your hours or working with a reduced staff, let people know. Use all necessary means to communicate with your customers and encourage people in your community to share your message far and wide.
Use Hashtags & Branding
A hashtag is a way to group your message in with broader messages to attract new followers. As you can imagine, right now, pandemic hashtags are trending along with #stayhome, #stayhomesavelives, and #socialdistancing. Creative hashtags such as #savesmallbusinesses can gain momentum across platforms and will help categorize your information. You can create a hashtag specifically for your business to boost name recognition and your business’s story. Our local used bookstore (and Portland icon), Powell’s, had to shut its doors and lay off the majority of its staff, prompting a #savepowells hashtag to surge and ignite a successful online buying campaign to help keep it afloat.
If you are using your social media consistently to communicate, think about your company’s branding — can someone look at a post and identify your company? What is the overall tone of your company’s message? Keep your social media messages consistent and on-brand. Branding also means you understand your audience and their needs: If you are in a community that is struggling and feeling scared right now, you might want to avoid a tone that feels trite or dismissive of the current news.
5 Marketing Tactics You Can Use To Keep In Touch, Inspire, Motivate & Otherwise Encourage Customers
We are not living in the same world that we were a few months ago. Consumers and attitudes have shifted, thriving businesses have shuttered for the time being, and people have major anxieties. They are scared about the virus, worried about the health of loved ones, scared about their jobs, scared about the overall health of our economy, maybe food insecure or feeling alone, and/or possibly balancing remote work/home school for the first time. Right. So when consumers are dealing with a national emergency, priorities shift. Consider that as you move forward with a marketing campaign.
Marketing is two-fold. Yes, you want to sell the product/service you can offer, but you also want to market your story/your company’s ethos. Here are some marketing tactics that might work well as you look forward.
Promote A Good Cause
Larger corporations have made donations of coffee and sandwiches to health workers, and many smaller businesses are reaching out with offers to donate a percentage of proceeds to nonprofits helping assist communities most impacted by COVID-19. Can you provide free food for kids or the elderly? People want to spend money and know it’s helping small businesses and the people impacted by this emergency: What does your community need, and how can you help?
Run A Contest Or Challenge
Can you drum up some business by offering a contest or challenge to your customers? A game store in Kansas is offering up a $50 gift card to the store to anyone who shows their “19 painted miniatures in 19 days challenge.” A bakery in a suburb of Portland is offering “frost your own cookie kits,” selling them curbside and then highlighting the beautiful cookie art with a hashtag; daily winners via votes get a gift certificate to the store. Take an opportunity to engage your community with an activity or challenge (Bake with Me challenge or Tap with Me challenge; a toy shop near us that sells Legos is running a 30-Day Build-It challenge). All of these things build brand awareness and provide your potential customers with something to engage with.
Use Promo Codes For Online Orders
Are you moving your business online? Or have you already been equipped for online ordering but need to get the word out? Provide a financial incentive to order from you! I ordered some books from a bookstore owner directly over the phone, and she shipped the books free (and they arrived the next day!), and online delivery services are running promotions for free delivery. Entice new customers with a first-time buyer code or offer deep discounts for large orders.
Sponsor A Giveaway
At this point, I’m sure you’ve seen it, too: the toilet paper giveaways. Order a pizza? Get some TP. Drive-thru to our coffee shop? TP while it lasts! If you don’t have 2020’s luxury item on hand to pass out with your product, that’s okay; there are many other things besides toilet paper you can give. This might be an opportunity to team up with a collaborator (another small business in your community) and give away gift certificates to a different business in the neighborhood. If you are a clothing boutique, can you have some fun with quarantine-outfits and sponsor a giveaway of clothes that are perfect to wear at home? This is about what you can offer and how you can help while building your brand and responding to the virus ethically.
Feature Your Customer/Community Stories
This is what speaks straight to my heart: stories. We are all a giant community of humans, and it is local families and local businesses that keep things afloat. Tell your own story but also reach out and see if you can feature other stories, too. Build a community from this isolation, and encourage people to reach out and connect with you and others. Also, feature people who may be asked to work as essential employees — put a name and story to the faces of the people in your business: Let the community know who they are supporting. They are not supporting a business; they are supporting the people behind the business.
The Bottom Line For Online Marketing During A Pandemic
How you face this pandemic can say a lot about your business and your brand. Don’t take the messages you send lightly, and run them through a filter of sensitivity and practicality. But if you have a service you can offer safely to others, yes, communicate that in any way you can to get the word out about how you can help people in your community. Email your list, send a newsletterÂ or a text; be sure to communicate honestly and often, and let people know how they can help you. Have you seen any brilliant or cringe-worthy marketing campaigns related to the pandemic? Share with us in the comments! And stay safe out there.
The post 5 Clever Marketing Tactics For Small Businesses During The Coronavirus Pandemic appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Twitch began its life as a humble service for broadcasting and viewing video games online. Now the Amazon-owned live-streaming platform pumps out endless hours of content created by millions of broadcasters each month. With so many eyeballs locked on Twitch content every waking hour, it’s unsurprising that this digital entertainment behemoth makes money for more than just a few folks.
Some high-profile Twitch streamers have managed to build incomes high above the national median. For many more, Twitch has become an excellent source of supplemental income. For the dedicated enough, Twitch promises the opportunity of a potential part-time career down the line.
It’s also worth noting that while Twitch is primarily focused on live-streaming video games, you don’t just have to play video games to stream on Twitch. Some broadcasters have become famous for their IRL (“in real life”) streams while artists have built dedicated communities of people watching them create. Still other streamers are known for simply chatting with their viewers.
Ready to learn more about how Twitch streamers make money? Keep on scrolling for all the deets!
How Streamers Make Money On Twitch
Streamers make money on Twitch through several avenues. The primary (and easiest) way of making money through Twitch is to take advantage of the service’s built-in features. These features, which allow viewers to sign up for paid subscriptions and hand out donations, are only available for streamers who have been invited to Twitch’s affiliate and partner programs.
Streamers can also profit off their following outside of Twitch proper. Example moneymakers here include utilizing third-party donation platforms, selling merchandise, and signing sponsorships.
If you choose to dip into Twitch as a professional pursuit, don’t expect streaming to be an instant cash machine. Simple economics means that you’ll earn more money the more followers you have. Because it takes time and effort to grow your following, it is unlikely you’ll be raking in the Benjamins right away.
A caveat to this above rule of thumb is if you already have a large following on some other platform. For instance, if you have a large YouTube subscriber base to draw from or have a number of Twitter followers that want to watch you make art, you may be able to qualify for one of Twitch’s programs faster than other new streamers. This will allow you to start receiving Twitch subs and donations — the core to a streamer’s revenue — sooner than you might have otherwise.
Twitch Monetization Programs: Affiliates VS Partners
Twitch offers two programs that help content creators earn money through streaming: one for affiliates and one for partners.
The affiliate program is something that most people can qualify for. It has very clear qualification guidelines. Once you meet those guidelines, Twitch will automatically invite you to join the affiliate program. After joining the program, a streamer can take advantage of the subscription and donation tools baked into Twitch.
The partner program, meanwhile, is a bit more complex. It is only for the most popular streamers (around 1% of Twitch’s active broadcasters are in this program). Additionally, Twitch doesn’t have clear guidelines for what it takes to become a partner. As such, new streamers will want to focus on becoming an affiliate first.
How The Twitch Affiliate Program Works
The easiest way to make money directly through Twitch is by becoming part of the affiliate program. Affiliates can receive subscriptions and bits from views — both ways will help you generate revenue. Besides the monetary value of becoming an affiliate, other perks include additional emote slots, channel points and polls, and priority transcoding.
How Much Do Affiliates Make Per Sub?
The exact amount you can earn from each subscription will depend on the tier number. Essentially recurring monthly donations, tiers 1, 2, or 3 run viewers $4.99, $9.99, or $24.99, respectively, a month.
Streamers can also earn revenue from viewers who subscribe through the free subscription that comes with every Twitch Prime account. This is basically the same as the $4.99 tier 1 sub. However, viewers must manually resubscribe each month — there’s no auto-subscribe function with a Twitch Prime sub.
Generally speaking, you’ll receive a 50% cut of each subscription. In some cases, Twitch partners may receive more than a 50% cut. However, Twitch only shares larger pieces of the pie with very popular streamers, so this isn’t something that most newcomers will experience.
Beyond subscriptions, Twitch affiliates can also receive “bits” as one-time donations by viewers. Bits are basically Twitch’s currency — for every bit a streamer receives, they’ll receive $0.01 in return. When a viewer donates bits, they do so by “cheering” for the streamer, which generates a “cheermote” — essentially just a GIF that pops up in the stream’s chat log, notifying the streamer and other viewers of the donation.
How To Get Affiliated On Twitch
To become an affiliate, Twitch requires that you meet these specific guidelines of at least:
500 total minutes broadcast in the last 30 days
Seven unique broadcast days in the last 30 days
An average of three concurrent viewers over the last 30 days
After you’ve met these requirements, your channel will be automatically invited into the affiliate program. Once invited, you’ll be prompted to fill out basic information, accept the program’s agreement, and finally provide Amazon/Twitch with your tax and payment info.
How The Twitch Partner Program Works
Once a streamer has gotten really popular, they may be invited by Twitch to join the partner program. Those who join the partner program will receive access to more emote slots, custom cheermotes, better video tools, and a dedicated Twitch support team.
This exclusive club isn’t for everyone, however. According to Twitch, only 27,000 of their 2 million active streamers are partnered. This program is certainly reserved for the cream of the crop!
How Much Do Partners Make Per Sub?
Just like affiliates, partners earn the money from their subs at the same 50-50 split. And, as mentioned above, some of the most popular partners may be able to earn a higher percentage from their subscriptions. Partners also qualify for the same $4.99, $9.99, $24.99, and Twitch Prime subs that are available to affiliates.
Bits cheered on from viewers are another popular earning method for partners. As previously mentioned, for every bit a streamer earns, they’ll collect $0.01 from Twitch.
Besides subs and bits, Twitch partners can also make additional revenue by running ads on their stream. On average, Twitch doles out $2 per 1,000 viewers. Because this is such a paltry sum, ads shouldn’t be a primary source of income — even for those who average hundreds of viewers each stream.
How To Become A Twitch Partner
Becoming a Twitch partner isn’t a clear cut as becoming an affiliate. This is because Twitch doesn’t market any sort of specific requirement to receive an invite into the partner program. However, Twitch does offer some general guidelines to help prospective partners along. According to Twitch, you can help you chances to become a partner by:
Maintaining a healthy ratio of organic viewers over hosted or raided viewers
Bringing a large viewership or following from other services and/or platforms
Twitch also has a “Path to Partner” achievement, which can also help your partnership chances once unlocked. However, note that unlocking this achievement won’tÂ guarantee you an invite into the partner program. The Path to Partner achievement can be unlocked by doing the following:
Stream for 25 hours
Stream on 12 different days
Average 75 viewers per stream
Other Ways To Make Money From Your Twitch Following
Should you still be working your way to affiliate status or maybe you are wanting to tap into other revenue sources, there are a few ways to earn money outside of Twitch’s built-in monetization features. Let’s consider some of the options below!
If you aren’t a Twitch affiliate yet, you can still set up third-party donations. While third-party donations won’t give you access to bits or cheermotes, you’ll still be able to receive revenue from your viewers. PayPal has a popular donation platform that is used throughout numerous communities online.
Another way to receive donations could be through a membership platform like Patreon. These platforms enable users to set up monthly donations to content creators they like for perks like exclusive Discord access, bonus content, physical merchandise, and more.
For more ideas about accepting online donations, check out Merchant Maverick’s article on the topic.
While you will need an audience to actually buy your merchandise, selling such products as t-shirts, sweatshirts, or mugs with branding associated with your streaming personality could be an excellent way to diversify your revenue. There are an array of services that can help you with branded merchandise — Teespring, Redbubble, and Zazzle, to name a few.
Besides producing products branded with your logo, you can also brand products with the channel emotes your chat likes and uses often. Another alternative would be to reach out to artists (either on a site like Fiverr or within your own community) to create fresh designs that resonate with your audience.
Brands like using influencers to promote their products. Once a streamer has enough of a following, a brand may reach out to them to promote a video game or other product in the form of sponsorship. The exact details of these sponsorships will vary from brand to brand as well as the agreements made with individual streamers.
Like with many facets of life, brand sponsorship places a heavy importance on who you know and who knows you. To grow your web of connections, reach out to industry decision-makers via social media or at expos and conventions.
Note that like with the other revenue streams discussed in this article, you’ll need to have a sizable following for brand promotion to be successfully profitable. Of course, if you find a brand that aligns with your following’s particular niche, you may be able to strike a deal even if you aren’t pulling in thousands of views each stream.
Even if you can’t get directly sponsored by a brand, you might still be able to make money by promoting products via an affiliate program (note that this type of affiliate program is separate from Twitch’s affiliate program we talked about above). These affiliate or referral programs will generate you a small share of the profits each time someone clicks on your link and buys a product.
For instance, if you use specific accessories, hardware, or software during your streams, you could provide links to those products through the Amazon Associates program. Your viewers can then click your link and purchase your tools of the trade — giving you a bit of extra cash too.
Amazon Associates may look especially appealing for streamers: Twitch affiliates earn higher commission rates through Amazon Blacksmith — Twitch’s built-in Amazon Associates tool — than standard referral accounts. This means that once you reach Twitch’s affiliate status, Amazon Associates could be a more viable revenue stream compared to other referral programs.
Some specific brands also offer their own referral programs. For example, the gaming hardware company Razer has an affiliate program that dishes out up to 10% of each sale to affiliates — a much higher rate than you might see with Amazon Associates.
Ultimately, becoming a Twitch millionaire isn’t something that happens overnight. While there are plenty of avenues to earn money through Twitch, it takes work and dedication to grow a following (with a little bit of luck sprinkled in too!). The money just won’t come unless you have plenty of eyes watching whenever you stream. Plus — for most of us anyway — it takes time and effort to improve performing in front of camera and interacting with chat — all while playing a game.
Instead of focusing on the money first, Twitch should be an outlet for fun and social interaction. Besides, aren’t those what video games are all about?
The post How To Make Money Streaming On Twitch: Your Guide To Affiliates, Partners, & Other Sources Of Revenue appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
If you’ve been searching for a payment gateway, you’ve probably come across these two names: Stripe and Authorize.Net. Or heck, maybe you were just searching for a way to take credit card payments online, and these appeared near the top of your search results.
Both companies offer a powerful suite of payment services along with robust support for developers who want to integrate their services into their websites. Both companies provide excellent support for foreign eCommerce transactions.
While Stripe and Authorize.Net aren’t exactly the same type of company — Authorize.Net is not a “full-stack” payment service — it is possible to get most of the same services through either company.
Stripe VS Authorize.Net: Quick Comparison
Evaluating Stripe vs. Authorize.Net comes down to the sheer volume of features vs. flexibility.
Both Stripe and Authorize.Net provide payment gateway access, but Stripe does so as merely one part of a gigantic payment services package. Authorize.Net gives you the option of pairing its gateway service with any merchant account, potentially making it a better choice for businesses with established, stable merchant accounts. On the other hand, Stripe — which has no monthly fee — will probably be the more efficient option for newer businesses.
I struggled with this one for a bit despite, at a glance, it being pretty obvious that Stripe is just a far more massive service than Authorize.Net. That begs the question of whether it’s a fair comparison. Stripe is designed to be a one-stop-shop for your payment processing needs. Authorize.Net focuses on a much smaller part of the payment processing environment. If it offered everything that Stripe does, it wouldn’t be Authorize.Net anymore. In fact, Stripe can be overkill for a lot of businesses, and if all you’re looking for is a payment gateway, it just doesn’t make sense to choose Stripe over Authorize.Net.
Authorize.Net has some niches where it excels, particularly where security is concerned, but let’s give credit where credit is due: Stripe can just plain do a lot more than Authorize.Net. From its more comprehensive support for global eCommerce to its more flexible development environment to its plethora of add-on features, it lives up to its “full-stack” claims.
Stripe is a powerful brand for international eCommerce. Stripe is available to businesses in 34 countries. The company’s reach, however, is significantly greater; you can accept payments from all over the world thanks to Stripe’s support of over 135 currencies and numerous regional payment methods.
Stripe Supported Payment Methods
Stripe breaks its support for payment methods into two categories: universal, for payment types accepted throughout the world, and local, for payment methods that are only supported in specific regions, with particular attention given to the US, European, and Chinese markets.
Stripe accepts the following universal payment types:
Amex Express Checkout
Masterpass by Mastercard
Stripe supports these payment methods in their markets:
SEPA Direct Debit
Stripe Core Features
Listing all of Stripe’s features would make this article unreadable. It’s an enormous ecosystem, with numerous optional features. Here’s a quick rundown of the main features:
Payments:Â Stripe Checkout is a prebuilt form that you can just drop into your site. But if you need something more customizable, Stripe Elements will let you design a form that suits your needs. You can build payments into your website or your mobile app.
Connect: Stripe’s Marketplace tools are some of the most robust out there, allowing you to build and manage your platform, including automated payouts to your merchants. Connect also facilitates connecting Stripe to other services (such as building native payments into eCommerce software).
Billing:Â “Billing” now encompasses all of Stripe’s subscription, invoice, and recurring billing tools. Stripe’s subscription tools have always been powerful, but with the addition of invoice capabilities and the option for metered billing, it’s safe to say that you really can’t beat what Stripe has to offer.
Additional Stripe Features
Sigma: Stripe offers an assortment of standard reporting tools in its dashboard. However, if you want advanced reports, then you’ll need Sigma. For an additional monthly fee (based on volume, see the Pricing section below for more details), you can generate custom reports based on SQL queries.
Radar:Â Stripe’s fraud monitoring tools include machine learning to identify and flag suspicious transactions. Merchants can review and override transactions they know to be legitimate or set up custom rules for fraud transactions, all with far less fuss than you’ll see with Braintree. If you’re very comfortable with fraud management, this is definitely an advantage.
Multi-Currency Displays & Conversions:Â Stripe has spent a LOT of time billing itself as the platform of choice for global businesses. It should come as no surprise then that Stripe allows merchants to display pricing in local currencies and automatically handles the currency conversion. You can connect multiple bank accounts to save money on conversion costs, too.
Account Auto-Updater:Â Keep recurring transactions from failing when customers get new cards. Stripe will automatically update card data in your vault to ensure continuity of subscriptions.
Atlas:Â Atlas allows international businesses to incorporate in the US, set up a US bank account, and get tax and legal guidance. Stripe says it has had more than a thousand startups apply in more than 120 countries, and it has added more than 100 partners to the network since the launch.
Payouts:Â ThisÂ is an automation toolset designed to help you send mass payouts to sellers, freelancers, or service providers. It’s also designed to help simplify compliance requirements with third parties and global markets.
Relay:Â Relay’s features allow merchants to link their eCommerce catalogs with your app or directly upload product information. Relay creates in-app buy buttons and forwards all the sales information to the merchants to fulfill the order.
Integrations: Stripe has more than 300 integrations with all kinds of other software and services that a business might need. The sheer number of supported integrations could be a significant advantage for some merchants. You can browse the integrations by category on Stripe’s “Works With” page.
Stripe Developer Tools
Stripe’s built a reputation on being extremely developer-friendly, and, to be fair, it’s largely earned it. Stripe’s SDK is easy to work with for novices and extremely customizable for experts. Stripe’s documentation is also second-to-none, with detailed tutorials, clone-able boilerplates, and support for mobile platforms.
Stripe supports the following server-side languages:
Authorize.Net’s business support isn’t quite as widespread as Stripe’s; it’s only available to merchants in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia. Its currency support is also more limited. Authorize.Net supports different currencies, depending on the region in which your business is located.
US & Canada: USD, CAD
The UK & Europe: CHF, DKK, EUR, GBP, NOK, PLN, SEK, USD
Australia: AUD, NZD, USD
Authorize.Net Supported Payment Methods
Authorize.Net supports the following payments methods:
Authorize.Net Core Features
Authorize.Net’s feature set is considerably smaller than Stripe’s, but at their core, they do many of the same things.
Payment Gateway:Â If you’re working with Authorize.Net, you’re there for the payment gateway. Or even more likely, the payment services company you signed up for is using Authorize.Net as its gateway. It is, however, possible (though not necessarily advisable) to work from the other end and sign up directly with Authorize.Net, in which case the company can help set you up with a merchant account through one of its partners. Just be aware that, unlike Stripe, the merchant account isn’t in-house.
Virtual Point Of Sale, Mobile Point Of Sale & Simple Checkout: Authorize.Net offers ways to accept cards both on the web and through mobile devices. The virtual terminal also allows you to key in card information manually. Authorize.Net is integrated into a dizzying number of third-party shopping carts through Simple Checkout, which allows you to generate HTML snippets for “Buy Now” and “Donate” buttons to add to your website easily.
Billing:Â Authorize.Net allows you to process recurring subscription payments and permits you to not only customize pricing but also offer free trials and installment packages.
Authorize.Net Additional Features
Advanced Fraud Detection Suite (AFDS):Â Included for free with your account, AFDS consists of a set of thirteen filters that you can customize to your own needs to help flag and block potentially fraudulent transactions. This feature helps to prevent inventory loss due to fraud and lowers your liability for chargebacks. While Stripe’s security features are nothing to sneeze at, Authorize.Net’s have a reputation for being some of the best in the business.
eCheck.Net:Â This is an optional feature. You can addÂ echeck processingÂ to your existing merchant account or sign up for the eCheck Only Pricing Plan. Pricing is 0.75% per echeck, a much lower rate than you’ll pay for credit or debit card transactions.
Customer Information ManagerÂ (CIM):Â The CIM, one of Authorize.Net’s most powerful standard features, allows you to securely store customer information, such as billing address, shipping address, and payment method information. Because this includes your customers’ sensitive credit card information, the data is securely encrypted. As we’ve noted, however, this security comes at the expense of data portability (see Negative Reviews & Complaints).
Sync For QuickBooks: While a QuickBooks integration is fairly standard these days, it’s still nice to have and will keep your accountant happy, especially if that accountant is you.
Authorize.Net Developer Tools
Authorize.Net also has a healthy developer subculture with excellent online resources and the option to create a sandbox account in which to test out your code. It doesn’t support quite as many languages as Stripe, but where the two overlap, you’ll probably see variable preferences from developer to developer.
Authorize.Net supports the following languages:
Both Stripe and Authorize.Net offer similarly priced services, although making a direct comparison isn’t easy. For purposes of this comparison, I’m only looking at the costs of features the two companies have in common. If you want a complete look at Stripe’s pricing, check out our guide.
If you take Authorize.Net up on its merchant account partnership offer, you’re looking at identical flat-rate transaction costs for both Stripe and Authorize.Net. Beyond that, you have to dive into the secondary fees. If you process a lot of subscriptions, you may incur a processing fee with Stripe. On the other hand, Stripe’s chargeback fees are $10 less. International transactions are more expensive with Authorize.Net unless you need to do a currency conversion, in which case Stripe is more expensive.
And then there’s the gorilla in the room: You can buy Authorize.Net as a humble gateway service without any of the other bells and whistles. With Stripe, if you want to use the gateway, you’re also getting the payment processing bundled up with it.
What ultimately breaks the tie in Stripe’s favor is its lack of a monthly fee. Stripe’s fees are almost entirely usage-based, making it easier to get a sense of where you’re getting value and where you’re not. By comparison, if you’re interested in Authorize.Net, it’s often cheaper to get it bundled with another service than directly from the company.
Authorize.Net Fees & Transaction Costs
Authorize.Net breaks its services into three plans:
All-In-One (includes a merchant account with one of Authorize.Net’s partners)
Monthly Gateway Fee: $25
Per Transaction: 2.9% + $0.30
Payment Gateway Only
Monthly Gateway Fee: $25
Per Transaction: $0.10, daily batch fee $0.10
Enterprise Solutions (for companies processing over $500K/year)
Contact Authorize.Net for pricing info
International transactions cost an additional 1.5%. Chargebacks cost $25 per occurrence. Note that, should you choose the All-In-One package, you may be subject to additional fees associated with the merchant account provider you are paired with.
Stripe Payments Fees & Transaction Costs
Since Stripe has a lot of add-on features that Authorize.Net does not, we’re going to ignore those for purposes of this comparison and just compare pricing for those features that they both offer.
Card Transactions:Â 2.9% + $0.30
Subscription Fee:Â 0.4% after the first $1 million
Stripe charges $15 per chargeback incident. International transactions cost an additional 1%, with another 1% added on if currency conversion is required.
Ease Of Use
Both companies are reliant on a mix of do-it-yourself developer culture and third-party services that integrate Stripe or Authorize.Net into their product.
Starting with the first case, as we touched on above, both companies offer extensive documentation for developers who want to add payment functionality into their websites and apps through the services’ APIs. Stripe’s documentation, support, and interfaces feel just a little more extensive and modern than Authorize.Net’s, but your mileage may vary.
Some users report that Authorize.Net is a little bit faster on average when it comes to payment processing time (one to seven business days vs. two to seven business days).
On the third-party side, your ease of use will depend entirely on the method of integration you’re using, for example, a shopping cart such as WooCommerce. With most of these services, activating your payment gateway is pretty simple, just tweaking some toggles and entering security keys; the challenge with most of these is mastering the eCommerce environment more than the payment integration.
Customer Service & Support
Both Authorize.Net and Stripe offer numerous ways to resolve problems should they arise.
Phone Support: This avenue of support is available 24/7, minus major holidays.
Support Center: The online resources include a knowledgebase, articles, white papers, and video tutorials.
Ticketing System:Â You can open a support case online through the integrated ticketing system.
Social Media: You can reach out to Authorize.Net on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You can also check out video tutorials and customer testimonials on YouTube.
Phone Support: This avenue of support is available 24/7.
Live Chat: This is also available 24/7 to customers.
Knowledgebase & Documentation: Stripe’s documentation is the gold standard. Developers will have no trouble here, whether they’re searching for a term or clicking through the sidebar. The knowledgebase is a little more sparse but serviceable.
Email: Stripe offers 24/7 email support but doesn’t give an exact time frame on how quickly someone will get back to you.
Freenode IRC Chat: Stripe’s developers seem to spend their time in the #stripe channel if you need technical assistance. Unsurprisingly, most developers seem to like this aspect of support.
While Stripe offers more methods of contact, Authorize.Net seems to have a better reputation for quick, responsive, and useful customer service. Stripe’s made efforts to improve — including offering phone support — but it still has some ground to make up.
User Reviews, Complaints & Criticisms
Both Stripe and Authorize.Net have avoided any scandals grave enough to drop their BBB ratings below an A+, though both do register a fairly typical spread of complaints. They tend to garner similar scores on various review aggregators, with a few outliers here and there rating one substantially higher than the other.
Stripe High Points
Pricing:Â While it’s not the cheapest possible option, it does offer a lot of functionality for the price.
Global Utility:Â Stripe is a truly international platform, giving businesses the ability to conduct eCommerce all over the world and in different currencies.
Freedom & Control:Â Stripe’s API allows for great flexibility for developers and makes it a good fit for various integrations.
Stripe Low Points
Account Holds & Terminations:Â Like all third-party processors, Stripe ends up doing a lot of its due diligence after the fact, which means it’s easy to run afoul of its opaque quality control processes. Most user complaints about Stripe fall into this category.
Lack Of Fraud Protection: While Stripe’s security features are strong, most of the advanced ones cost extra, leaving some users more exposed to chargebacks than they’d like.
Unresponsive Customer Service:Â While Stripe’s customer service is much improved, many customers were frustrated by Stripe’s inability to resolve or contextualize sudden account holds and terminations.
Authorize.Net High Points
Recurring Billing Support: Many users were pleased with how easy this feature was to activate and use.
Flexibility:Â Between Authorize.Net’s robust API and the ability to pair the service with any merchant account, users were generally happy with the amount of freedom it offered them.
Customer Service:Â Many positive user reviews involve good experiences with Authorize.Net’s customer service.
Authorize.Net Low Points
Billing Issues:Â Most of the complaints you’ll see about Authorize.Net revolve around that pesky monthly fee. The timing of the monthly payments seems to cause confusion for a number of customers, resulting in disputes over what interval of time they were paying for.
Non-Refundable Fees: Related to the previous issue, customers found it difficult to recover fees for which they believed they were wrongly charged. Be aware that if you sign up for an account online, you will be charged the gateway fee.
Data Portability:Â Authorize.Net has a reputation for being a difficult platform to migrate from, although some of this appears to be due to issues that have been at least partially addressed.
If you’re running your credit card through any eCommerce site, there’s a very good chance it’s passing through a Stripe or Authorize.Net gateway. The number of integrations for both services is staggering, and both can be easily plugged into most eCommerce environments with just a few lines of code. In general, you should have very little trouble getting either to play nice with the program of your choice.
Since we are splitting hairs, however, it’s worth mentioning that Stripe is just a bigger fish in the pond, possessing a higher market share and more widespread adoption. That translates to more integrations, should you need to work with something more niche and obscure. But again, both are extremely well-supported.
Which Is Best For My Payment Gateway Needs?
We’ve arrived at the moment of truth. If you’ve been following along until now, you probably already have a sense of the recommendations I’m about to make. If you’re impatient and skipped to the end, and who can blame you, here are my recommendations.
Choose Stripe Payments If…
You Need Payment Services In Addition To A Gateway:Â Stripe works best as a comprehensive, all-in-one platform offering both a payment gateway and third-party payment processing. It delivers the gateway functionality at the same per-transaction cost as Authorize.Net and without the monthly fee.
You’re Doing Business Globally:Â Authorize.Net’s support for foreign transactions is good, but it’s not anywhere near as extensive as Stripe’s. Stripe supports local payment methods in addition to the popular international brands and can handle over 135 currencies.
Choose Authorize.Net If…
You Already Have A Merchant Account You Like:Â If you’ve been taking card payments for a while and are pleased with your merchant account provider, you won’t be able to take it with you if you migrate to Stripe. On the other hand, you can simply add Authorize.Net onto your existing services.
You’re In A “High-Risk” Industry:Â Because it’s a third-party processor, Stripe isn’t keen on taking chances with industries that are flagged as high-risk. As a payment gateway, Authorize.Net has far fewer restrictions regarding the types of businesses it’s willing to partner with (just make sure your merchant account provider is also cool with your industry).
Neither Option A Good Fit For You? Try These Alternatives To Stripe & Authorize.Net
Stripe and Authorize.Net are both excellent gateway options, but they’re not the only ones. If Stripe has too much bloat and Authorize.Net feels too much like a clumsy add-on, consider one of the following options.
If you’re looking for a Stripe alternative with brand name recognition, PayPal’s a no-brainer. PayPal covers most of the same bases as Stripe. It’s a third-party processor/gateway combo that plays nice (even better, arguably) with international markets. Like Stripe, it’s a sprawling platform with tons of optional buy-ins. Just be aware that it doesn’t support recurring billing.
Square is another popular “full-stack” payment services provider. Compared to Stripe and PayPal, Square is a bit more focused on brick-and-mortar transactions, offering a wide variety of productivity-related functionality as well as POS hardware. Square supports eCommerce, but don’t expect the international support that Stripe offers.
It may not be a household name, but Payline Data is one of our favorite merchant account providers here at Merchant Maverick. It offers stable merchant accounts with interchange-plus pricing, not to mention its own proprietary payment gateway free of additional charge.
Comparing Authorize.Net & Stripe Payments: The Final Verdict
The battle between Stripe and Authorize.Net comes down to a big hearty buffet vs. a tasty side dish that can be served with almost any meal. Newer businesses that don’t want to add unnecessary complexity will probably prefer Stripe’s comprehensive payment services. Veteran businesses with stable merchant accounts that want to add gateway functionality may appreciate the flexibility Authorize.Net offers them.
If you’re scratching your head over a lot of the terms used throughout this post, don’t feel bad; payment processing is a very confusing industry. If you want to learn more about it, start with our complete guide to getting a merchant account. You may also want to read more about what a gateway is and how it fits into accepting payments online.
The post Stripe VS Authorize.Net: Which Is Better? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
This post originally appeared at How to Use LinkedIn for SEO & Content Marketing via ShivarWeb
LinkedIn has been one of the continually growing social networks on the Internet for years. But like Pinterest and Reddit, it has such a deep internal culture focused on recruiting & jobs that it gets written off by small & large content marketers alike.
But like YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, and others, LinkedIn is not *just* a social network. Here are a few points that make it appealing for SEOs and content marketers –
Users are all B2B – so influence on LinkedIn has an influence multiplier. Get a brand CMO to like your content, instant leverage.
LinkedIn’s business model makes success much more transparent. There’s less algorithm guessing and less spam.
LinkedIn has lots of different features & uses. Beyond the feed, there are groups, search, a learning platform, networks, direct outreach, etc.
You can build a true “moat” that no other business can replicate. The cliche that your network is your net worth is especially true on LinkedIn. It pays to organically build success.
Your LinkedIn audience is much “stickier” than other audiences. Everyone is building their LinkedIn network for future use – not for an instant payoff. Any audience that you build will stick with you for longer.
LinkedIn itself is not going anywhere. Sure, Google and Facebook have tried & failed to build professional / job hunting functionality. But since LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft and is profitable on its own….any investment you make will be around for a while.
It has a lot of potential to benefit your marketing efforts – here are the lessons I’ve learned helping clients use LinkedIn for SEO and content marketing efforts.
Referral Traffic & Brand Awareness
The first and most obvious content marketing strategy for LinkedIn is to, well, post your content on LinkedIn.
Side note – like most social networks, LinkedIn’s links are all “nofollow”. Any links you get from LinkedIn will not directly help you with Google/Bing search engine optimization.
Posting content on LinkedIn requires a bit more strategy and effort to get the full benefit. To drive referral traffic, you’ll need to get your post in front of people. But there is a bit of a tradeoff between maximizing reach and maximizing traffic.
The Basics of LinkedIn
LinkedIn allows a few ways to share content on their platform. There’s the “normal sharing” of links, but there’s also LinkedIn Pulse, which is their editor for composing & sharing content native to LinkedIn.
The tradeoff is that using Pulse (native content) reduces the traffic to your site, but can travel faster & farther in the LinkedIn “ecosystem.” Posting links from your site makes traffic easier, but won’t travel very far or fast without engagement.
Before promoting your content, think through your goals and make adjustments depending on what you want to do and your resources.
Optimizing for Social Distribution
If you want maximum distribution, then post original content with Pulse. It will show up on most feeds and generate more engagement…but not necessarily with traffic to your site. It does require more work and more thought. Again, that all depends on your priorities and goals.
Adjustment – however, you *can* send traffic to your sites within the comment section on the post. Claim the top comment and use it to post a link or email sign up. You’ll get maximum distribution and still have an opportunity to grab traffic.
Alternative – you can also use comments to maximize reach with a normal link share. The tactic here is to use the title and comment section to generate additional engagement that will put the link into more feeds than it would normally appear in.
Optimizing for Referral Traffic
If you want maximum clicks to your site or email sign-ups, then post actual links to your website. The post will likely get shown to your followers, even if it doesn’t move as far as Pulse content.
Adjustment – you can try to engineer engagement with comments & controversial titles. It’s a bit hit or miss, but it’s a small tactic that can increase engagement.
Additionally, LinkedIn will reward any feed that has consistent, long-term, quality posts in high quantity. In other words, post a lot, post well, and post consistently, whichever strategy you choose.
On-Page SEO & Content Ideas
Beyond actual traffic and brand impressions, the real value of LinkedIn is in data. Since LinkedIn has its own “walled garden”, there are lots of ideas, concepts, and content tactics that are locked up. If you can find them and bring them to the Open Web – you’ll benefit from Google Search and other platforms.
Here are my favorite research angles for LinkedIn.
Find Top Performing Content
Find content with lots of LinkedIn shares (which harder than it used to be), and re-create it in a better way. Bonus points if the content is native to LinkedIn. More bonus points if it only did well on LinkedIn and failed in some way elsewhere.
You can track this content manually, but it’s much easier to use a tool like Ahrefs or BuzzSumo to pull metrics in bulk.
The key is to identify and understand exactly why a piece of content performed so well and how you can make it even better or build on its success.
Find Useful & Underestimated Content
You can also look for content that, while not top performing, did have some traction. With content, traction is everything. When most content goes unnoticed, any content with some success means that it did something right.
You can find useful content & underestimated content to rebuild it into something top performing. Look for content that is not formatted well, incomplete, or has lots of feedback / unanswered questions.
Find Old & Forgotten Content
There is very little that is genuinely new on the Internet now. Most trends and strategies have played out. So start thinking like a fashion designer.
Filter LinkedIn content by date and see if there is something that did well, but simply needs an update. There are plenty of business & career ideas that are useful…but simply need new cultural references.
For example, freelancing is not new, but UpWork and WeWork are. Building a new audience with video is not new, but TikTok and Snapchat are.
Look for the old & forgotten and bring them up to date.
Find Experts & Sources
Experts and authoritative sources can make your content compelling and unique. But experts are kind of hard to find, corral, and learn from.
But LinkedIn provides a unique approach. You find experts in your orbit who are more likely to respond. Or, you can use LinkedIn search to find less famous experts who can respond & help with your content.
In a world where current gold-medalist get all the attention, you need to find last year’s bronze medalist. LinkedIn is perfect for that approach.
Research Industry Jargon
Jargon is a problem in content. To write solid, useful content – you need to use just enough of it to assure readers & experts of legitimacy & accuracy. But also not so much that your content is gibberish and unapproachable.
Since LinkedIn is a professional social network, you can use it to find trade & industry groups discussing actual industry jargon. Not only does this tactic make for fast education, but it also makes for amazing keyword research.
For example, even if your reader refers to “outdoor faucets” – the fact that you can refer to, explain, and research “sillcocks” means that you can be more accurate, more relatable, and find a broader topic to address. And you’d never know about sillcocks without a LinkedIn plumber’s group.
Research Industry Problems & Trends
If you want to cover a trend before everyone else knows that it’s a trend…you’re going to have to find better sources.
LinkedIn industry groups & industry feeds are an incredible source of insider knowledge. Most people in an industry will talk about problems and trends before it percolates to the wider world.
Use LinkedIn to get insight into these problems & trends.
Build Unique Datasets
LinkedIn is the only place on the Internet with massive datasets around businesses, professionals, and careers.
Those are also the most inherently exciting datasets for content (since they involve money). Whether you are looking at job titles, cities for startups, or simply industry quirks, LinkedIn is where you can go to build these unique datasets.
Note – don’t go breaking any of LinkedIn’s terms…but also note that scraping plain HTML and their ads API offers some quick ways to pull data.
Mine for Cross-Performing Content
The last angle to research is similar to top performing content. But it is to look at content that seems to do well on LinkedIn plus another platform.
If you are in B2B and see that something does well on LinkedIn and Facebook, then it will likely do well on Reddit or organic search with better formatting and/or targeting.
Off-Page SEO & Content Promotion
Content ideas & research are only one side to effective SEO & content marketing. The flip side is getting links & eyeballs on that content.
LinkedIn offers something that no other social network provides – an active channel and a near comprehensive database for contacting people at work.
If there’s any single reason to use LinkedIn with your off-page / promotion efforts, that’s the reason. Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram lean too personal. Twitter is hit or miss. Reddit is interest-based and anonymous. Email is crowded and overwhelmed with spam. But LinkedIn…is different.
Here’s how you can put it to use.
Do Direct Outreach & Promotion
This tactic is a bit obvious, but I list it because direct outreach & promotion is seriously underestimated.
Just last week, I hired a freelancer off a cold pitch because it came through LinkedIn’s InMail feature with a perfect custom pitch. I checked it out because the InMail represented slightly extra effort and expense compared to the thousands of pitches I get via email.
Whether you are pitching for links, gigs, content promotions, etc – LinkedIn’s ability to help you do direct outreach & promotion is the #1 reason to use it.
Use Excerpts & Cross-Posting
You can use content excerpts and discussions to cross-post to LinkedIn as original content – and vice versa.
LinkedIn represents an audience that is likely nowhere else. Even if you can’t create original content, go a little bit extra to create a custom share excerpt for LinkedIn.
Research for Smarter Outreach
Even if you don’t use LinkedIn for your outreach, you should use it to inform your traditional outreach.*
*Note – yes, this is a polite, professional way of creepily stalking people.
In a link building world where less than ~20% of emails sent get opened and less than ~5% turn into links, emailing the right person the right message is more important than ever.
If you can use LinkedIn to do even cursory research to email the right person at a company, you can come out far ahead.
For example, one key variable in link building is talking to the person who can actually implement the link on the website. For some websites, that person is the Webmaster or content manager. They are often not listed on the contact form. You can use LinkedIn to find that person within the company.
Even if you aren’t pitching links, LinkedIn can be useful. My B2B sales rep neighbor used LinkedIn to dig down and find the specific procurement manager than he needed to talk to – instead of using the standard contact form. The extra work paired with LinkedIn led to a huge contract.
Find Underestimated Prospects
Similar to using LinkedIn for finding experts, you can also use LinkedIn to find underestimated prospects. Underestimated prospects are anyone who wields more influence or reach than you would expect.
Think about the content managers and webmasters mentioned earlier who hold the actual keys to adding a link to an article. Or think about a moderator of an influential or active LinkedIn Group.
Those are the kind of people that you can both find & reach on LinkedIn.
Find New Audiences for Promotion
So much of the consumer Internet blurs together that it’s hard to define specific audiences…which means it’s hard to define new audiences.
B2B has less of that issue. Generally, everyone working in an industry stays within their industry. That makes it easier for content marketers to find discrete industries (like architecture) and understand how it overlaps or relates to other industries (like structural engineering).
You can also see how influential people have moved up and across different industries to see how people & thought in one industry can influence another.
Create New Outreach Angles
Since LinkedIn is a different type of user with different intent than a typical social network (professional advancement vs. entertainment), you can test completely different angles for sharing & promotion. Sometimes those are easier to push (ie, not having to obscure a financial motivation) and sometimes they are truly different and worth rolling out elsewhere.
Do Paid Promotion
LinkedIn, like every other social network, will allow you to take a shortcut to the front of the line.
It’s called paying for promotion.
It’s fantastic…but also costs money. I wrote an entire post on LinkedIn Advertising here.
LinkedIn is an interesting platform for SEOs and content marketers because it has a different audience, a different intent, and different business model from other social networks.
Additionally, it has a lot of the research & promotional advantages of the typical social network. If you are planning content ideas, execution, or promotion, LinkedIn is an excellent place to look for research.
This post originally appeared at Tailor Brands Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives via ShivarWeb
Tailor Brands is a suite of branding & design tools powered by machine learning for non-technical users.
They allow businesses, organizations, and individuals to create an entire “brand identity” with logos, typography, color patterns, and other elements across the web & print.
See Tailor Brands’ Current Plans & Pricing
In other words, Tailor Brands a toolset that makes your project “look good” everywhere from your Facebook page to business cards to website.
There are plenty of Tailor Brands reviews on the Internet – some good, some bad. This Tailor Brands review will look at how the software works, the upsides, downsides, and ideal use cases for the product based on my experience as a digital marketing consultant.
What is Tailor Brands?
Tailor Brands is a suite of tools to help you create & manage your business designs everywhere that your brand appears. They were founded in 2014.
They use software & artificial intelligence to not only create your business’ look and feel but also maintain that look and feel everywhere that you want.
Their main tool is their logo maker. Rather than use templates or quiz questions like traditional automated logo makers, they have you answer whether you like or dislike styles. Their AI does a version of NetFlix’s recommendation algorithm but with design styles.
Once you approve a certain design style, their software creates an entire brand identity and uses rules to apply it to applications ranging from a stand-alone logo to Instagram profiles to website headers to presentation headers.
Background on Tailor Brands
There has always been a plethora of DIY design tools on the Internet. I use Stencil for my Featured Images. I’ve used Canva for social images. I’ve used native tools with Buffer & social networks to customize my logos & images. I had a guy from Fiverr help edit my website CSS to match with my logo colors. I had a professional graphic designer on UpWork create a custom blog image for me. I’ve run contests for clients on 99designs.
In other words, the world of DIY design has been here for a while. You don’t need a Mad Men-esque setup of paying $$$ for graphic designers to create a pitch deck.
But the world of DIY design is also a bit of a frustratingly hot mess. It’s a world that’s good enough to be dangerous.
In other words, it’s accessible enough to let non-designers think they are designing a nice brand…when it’s a jumble of mismatched fonts, misaligned layouts, and conflicting colors.
It’s the difference between “Yeah, that’s nice” and “Damn, that is right on! How’d you do that?”.
Tailor Brands is an interesting product that is trying to use software, AI, and automation to take those details away from humans and just automatically apply it wherever you need it – to create a “brand identity with a stylebook” as it were.
How Tailor Brands Works
Tailor Brands works by moving you through its logo maker, which doubles as a brand identity developer. You are given options…and you can run the software as many times as you want.
Once you’ve approved your design, you’re taken to a studio with mockups & style guidelines. You then have a choice of 3 pricing plans*.
First, the $3.99/mo plan provides access to your logo, social media tools, and graphic design library. You can also connect your domain to a basic landing page builder.
Second, the $11.98/mo plans provide access to EPS vectors (for outdoor and print use) in addition to a full website builder and advanced design tools.
Third, the $25.98/mo plan provides access to social media schedulers and analytics so that you can bring your social media management under a single platform. You can also accept payments and run an online store.
*Note – you can cancel and keep all your design assets. So technically, if you just need a logo – you can get that for less than $50 (the $3.99 is billed for 12 months).
The plans all provide ongoing access to tools to manage your brand designs. You retain full ownership of all brand designs & assets even after you cancel.
Pros of Using Tailor Brands
For a relatively new product, Tailor Brands’ actual product is well-executed. There are few bugs or real complaints that I found with the actual core product.
Their real advantage (and disadvantage) is their unique positioning as a tool suite. Here are some of the main pros of using Tailor Brands not only for logos but as a design management tool suite.
Product Focus on Branding over Assets
As mentioned in the introduction, one big issue with the DIY design tool world is the focus on design assets. It’s easy to create a Facebook post on Canva or bulk generate Google Ads with Display Ad Planner. Those tools are easy and usually free. But they are inherently separate. *You* have to manage your images across different tools.
A huge pro for Tailor Brands is that they have an entire tool suite that focuses on unifying your entire brand everywhere. They focus on keeping that brand identity right on, rather than focusing on giving you the best kerning tool or biggest font library or the most intuitive CSS editor.
If you look at some of their design tools one on one with direct tool competitors, they may or may not be “the best”. But Tailor Brands can keep everything looking good everywhere, which is their main pitch to customers who would benefit from their product.
In my experience especially with small and local businesses, it’s a consistent brand identity (paired with a good product / service) that allows them to compete with established big name brands.
If you can just remove the infamous pixelated cover photo, you’ll probably beat your competition. And if you can ensure that your new assistant can quickly handle good looking Instagram posts…all the better.
That outcome is Tailor Brands’ main focus, and it comes off well in the product.
Pricing Structure & Cross-Sells
Every software as a service (SaaS) struggles with business models and pricing. You want your service to be accessible, but also profitable.
This balance is especially hard to strike with design assets where it’s usually a one-and-done proposition.
Tailor Brands runs on a subscription business model. But the subscriptions focus on the design tools rather than the design assets.
This structure creates a couple of of useful incentives.
First, it means that there’s no question of ownership of design assets. You own your brand, period.
In fact, it means that you can get a really cheap logo if that’s all you want. You can pay for one month, download your assets, and cancel. You’ve got a high-quality logo in a range of file types for less than $50.
Second, it means that while Tailor Brands has to keep optimizing their logo maker to bring in more customers, they also have to keep developing better design tools to keep customers around. There’s no disincentive to extort customers over their design assets or to drag their feet over product development.
Third, the subscription encourages use from customers rather than a one and done download. The real productivity boost for businesses is having a go-to design tool with everything in one place where you (or a new team member) can quickly create new designs & assets on an ongoing basis. And usually, the more you use a tool, the better you can get.*
*also you’ve got software that will adapt to frequent social media image requirements.
Ideally, there’s a virtuous cycle for everyone involved. Tailor Brands is one of the few companies where I think the cross-sells and upsells are not annoying, and generally useful.**
**also, small quibble, but do note that the prices are billed annually – so you are purchasing a full 12 months of access, even if you only pay monthly.
Turnaround Speed & Feature Versatility
Since Tailor Brands is fully automated, there are no constraints on time, speed, revisions, requests, or redos.
If you want to try graphic design a 2 AM Eastern, you can. If you want to completely redo your design, you can. If you need a mockup right now, you can get it. There’s no delay in turnaround or schedule to meet.
There’s no back and forth or waiting for your designer or virtual assistant. There’s just the software that is working 24/7/365. That’s a huge advantage for Tailor Brands. It works on your timeline.
And if you are trying to actually run a business, working on design any time means that it will get done. If you are running your business full-time, you likely don’t have time during business hours. And if you are working on a side project…you have to work on it outside business hours.
Additionally, since Tailor Brands has a whole suite of design tools, there’s no downloading or cropping or exporting or importing. Everything is just there to use.
Convenience generally beats everything. And when it comes to branding, Tailor Brands makes brand design convenient above all else.
Backend Quality & Usability
Even though Tailor Brands focuses on the branding aspect of design across their suite of tools, the tools themselves are high-quality and rock-solid.
They’ve built some tools in-house, but others they’ve high-quality 3rd party tools and customized them. For example, their website builder is built on top of the Duda website builder, which is one of the best website builders that I’ve used.
Same with their social media tools. It looks like they’ve white-labeled a 3rd party tool. But whatever it is, it’s legit and high-quality. Same with the design editor and others.
Each tool is solid & highly-usable on its own. But when they are all bundled within Tailor Brands’ suite, it makes each tool even more useful than it would be on its own.
Cons / Disadvantages of Using Tailor Brands
Every product has disadvantages, but especially a relatively new product like Tailor Brands.
Here are a few tradeoffs & complaints that I found with Tailor Brands. Some are simply the flip side of an advantage, but some are inherent to their approach.
Branding Process & Revisions
Tailor Brands’ fully automated, AI-powered design process leaves humans out of the process deliberately. That choice cuts costs, increases efficiency, increases choice, and makes the platform what it is.
But the tradeoff with this choice is that…it leaves out humans.
And humans are still critical to produce truly unique or truly outstanding brands. Brands are built on stories, and stories are what makes us human.
Humans can also ask pertinent questions, push-back on scope, implement creative deadlines, and invent completely new concepts.
Tailor Brands’s software can create a brand design and a brand style guide, but it cannot assign meaning or purpose of symbolism or even provide a reason why a certain design works over another – it only knows what “works” based on other user data.
The story / meaning part of branding is either your job or a job for another human. If you assign it to another human, that’s going to cost time & money.
And if you take on the job yourself, it’s something to be aware of and learn about.
Either way, it’s something to keep in mind when using Tailor Brands. There’s no process of “brand discovery” or mapping your customer’s psychographic persona. There are no revisions based on client feedback.
All that is for better and for worse. Before online design tools, agencies gave away the process and sold the assets. Now, you can get the assets affordably, but you still have to understand a bit about branding.
And that leads to the next tradeoff.
Customer Education & Brand Identity
Even though Tailor Brands does a lot of the branding & design work for the customer, they still leave a lot of creative work up to the customer.
The tradeoff of any service that claims to do “everything” for you is that the customer’s expectations are not set correctly. When it turns out that there is *some* work to be done, it’s easy to bail instead of figuring the work out.
A Tailor Brands customer still needs to be prepared to think through where, when, how they’ll need to use designs. The logo maker sequence is great, but after creating the logo, there’s very little guidance for a new customer.
There’s a ton of options with no real onboarding guidance or customer examples. Their welcome email series is limited to deals & coupons rather than “here are common next steps” or “here are some common use cases”.
I can imagine that customers who don’t have a strong sense of direction would churn quickly after getting a logo idea.
If you do end up using Tailor Brands, do note that you should have an idea of what *you* need to get out of it, rather than just using it for using a new tool’s sake.
Platform Product Lock-in
Tailor Brands is a hosted platform that focuses on convenience. And there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control on the Web.
The more convenient a product is…the less control you have. And the more control you have…the less convenient the product is. Think about RSS vs. Twitter. Think about hosted website builders vs. self-hosted CMS’. Think about an Amazon Seller listing vs. your own ecommerce store.
Tailor Brands makes everything downloadable. And they ensure that you truly own all your intellectual property.
However, like a hosted website builder, your work is inherently tied to their platform in many ways. The longer you commit to their platform, the harder it becomes to leave.
That’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a disadvantage that’s the flip side of their big advantage.
But it’s an important tradeoff to understand. If you use the Tailor Brands’ platform over your own copy of Adobe Illustrator, email or Paint, do ensure that you are downloading and backing up *all* of your brand assets on your own computer for the sake of preserving your own intellectual property.
Company Structure, Age & Competition
Tailor Brands has been around since 2014. They are still considered an “early-stage venture-funded” startup. In other words, they are privately held and using investor money to focus on the product rather than profit or market share.
Like the platform lock-in tradeoff, this disadvantage is more of a consideration. Right now they are still at a stage where pricing & product can change rapidly. They also probably have a small team with limited resources. They also will have copycat competition from publicly held competitors like Wix, Fiverr, Squarespace, Vistaprint, and others.
The upside to being a customer at a young venture-funded company is that you can count on more resources going into a better product. The downside is that there’s still a risk that they could get bought or “pivot” in the future.
Tailor Brand Alternatives & Use Cases
A product / service is only as good as its customer fit. Tailor Brands is not for everyone. But for some, it would be amazing.
Here’s 3 use cases where I think they’d be a really good it.
New Business or Organization w/ No Brand Assets
If you have a new business or organization with no brand assets and no large budget for a human-led design process, Tailor Brands would be a perfect fit.
Now, I would think through which features & tools that you’ll need from them. If you need a more robust website presence and/or email with lots of features, you might want to look at a dedicated website builder, ecommerce platform, or even shared hosting. You could use Tailor Brands strictly for design tools and social media. Either way, a new small business is their bread & butter. You can get try out their logo maker for free here.
Personal but Online Project w/ No Brand Assets
If you have a small personal project that you want to look just right – think resume site, hobby site, non-profit idea, family project, etc – Tailor Brands would be a solid fit. You can get try out their logo maker for free here.
Existing Business or Organization w/ Redesign
If you have an existing business or organization and you want to refresh your look without committing to a design firm or outsourcing to several providers, Tailor Brands would be a good fit. You can use what tools you need. You can also download & use the EPS file to get any signage or custom assets made offline.
Now, Tailor Brands is not for everyone. If you feel comfortable coordinating designs and brand assets across different platforms or if you have the budget to pay a human for graphic design, then something else might be a better fit.
Here are a few direct competitors to Tailor Brands and how they compare.
Tailor Brands vs. 99designs
99designs is a contest-led marketplace for graphic design. You set a budget and run a “contest” among human designers based on your design briefing. I wrote a 99designs review here. But in short, 99designs is sort of the halfway human point between Tailor Brands and an agency. 99designs is much more expensive than Tailor Brands, but you do get human ideas based on a design brief. 99designs also has a huge range of design contest options…but not the design management tools of Tailor Brands. Technically, you could (and should) check out both. See Tailor Brands here and 99designs here.
Tailor Brands vs. Fiverr
Fiverr is a huge marketplace for humans working on “gigs”. You think of a task that you need to be done, find a person to hire, and quickly get it done for you within Fiverr’s platform. Fiverr is also a halfway human point between Tailor Brands and an agency. The price ranges depending on skills and reputation. While you can great design assets from Fiverr, you are also in charge of managing all your design assets. You also have to expect to pay for several logos / designs before coming away with a good one. Tailor Brands would be a simpler, more affordable, and versatile fit.
Tailor Brands vs. Wix Logo Maker
Wix is the big brand name in the website builder world. I wrote a Wix review here. Technically Wix competes directly with Tailor Brands, even if they have a different focus. Tailor Brands focuses on how your brand designs are presented *everywhere*. Wix has similar tools, but really focuses their tool on website applications. In other words, Tailor Brands is a design tool with a website builder and Wix is a website builder with a design tool. Check out Tailor Brands here and check out Wix’s logo maker here.
Tailor Brands vs. DIY Tools
Between Canva, Stencil, and every other random logo generator on the Internet, Tailor Brands has plenty of competition for DIYers. If you have the time and wherewithal, you could get everything that Tailor Brands offers for free. The issue would be that all your designs would be dispersed among a bunch of tools…and you would be relying on your own design taste rather than a professionally built tool. In the end, I think that Tailor Brands is worth the money for the convenience and the designs. But for a quick sketch up of something you have in your head, Stencil is the simplest.
Next Steps & Conclusion
Tailor Brands is a unique and useful addition to the design world. In fact, for many businesses, it could do a full end around the traditional “upload your logo to a website builder” model.
By bundling design management tools, including a social media editor and quality website builder with an automated logo & brand designer, Tailor Brands has figured out something new & different.
If you are a non-designer trying to build a consistent brand identity across the Web & offline, Tailor Brands is worth a try.
See Tailor Brand’s Current Plans & Pricing
You might also be interested in my review of 99designs, my post on layouts, and my post on color palettes, and my post on hiring a web designer.
Good luck with your project!
Tailor Brands Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives
Tailor Brands is a suite of branding & design tools powered by machine learning for non-technical users. They allow businesses, organizations, and indi
This post originally appeared at Mailchimp Website Builder: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives via ShivarWeb
MailChimp has been one of the fastest growing email marketing providers for years now. They’ve built an huge base of customers ranging from tiny personal accounts to some of the most prestigious enterprise brands in the world.
In 2019, they added a ton of functionality, including postcards & remarketing as they grow their positioning into a marketing platform. And as part of their growth, they’ve introduced a free website builder.
See MailChimp’s Current Plans & Pricing
I’ve been using Mailchimp for years, and was super curious when they announced the beta version of their website builder (FYI, beta just means it’s their first, trial run version. They’re looking for feedback from users to improve the product).
So I gave Mailchimp’s beta builder a try for a full Mailchimp Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.
There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.
In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.
What Is Mailchimp Website Builder?
On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Mailchimp’s website builder lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.
Using Mailchimp is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.
Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Mailchimp, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.
As far as competition, Mailchimp competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, and WordPress.com (and Shopify for online stores).
Compared to their direct competition, they focus on ease of use and their platform providing everything you need to market online — from their opt-in pages to their email software to their website builder.
Pros of Using Mailchimp Website Builder
Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Mailchimp’s website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.
Straightforward Sign Up Process
If you already have a Mailchimp account, using their free website builder is just a matter of navigating to it in the main menu and getting started. If you don’t have a Mailchimp account, it’s still incredibly easy to sign up. All you have to do is create an account with your business information + pick your payment plan to get started.
This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without an extensive sign up process.
Ease of Use
Another pro of Mailchimp’s website builder is that it’s incredible easy to use. When you first get started with the platform, Mailchimp actually creates a homepage for you to use as a starting point.
Once you get into the platform, you can “drag” and “drop” additional elements onto the page, remove elements from the premade page, add new pages to your site with the click of a button.
The whole setup is like painting by numbers. You just add in your content, add additional elements if you want them / need them, add your branding colors and fonts, and click publish.
There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having an easy and quick way to get your site up and making sure it still looks decent.
It makes Mailchimp a great option for entrepreneurs / DIY-ers who want a website that gets the job done, looks clean, and doesn’t require hiring a professional to put it all together (and don’t want to worry about “messing it up”).
Another benefit Mailchimp’s website builder is that it’s completely free.
There’s no upsells, no limited access based on your payment plan, no restrictions. You can use the website builder with your free Mailchimp plan if you have under 2000 subscribers and don’t need additional email functionality, or you can use it with your paid plan for no additional charge.
While there are some limitations with the platform (more on that in a minute), it’s a great option for test projects or those who need a simple, functional website and don’t want to spend money on a platform.
Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. And for Mailchimp, there’s two big cons that stand out: limited design and functionality features.
Limited Feature Set – Design
With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS).
And you can really see this trade-off with the Mailchimp website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward and fast, and puts your focus on getting your content into a premade template. You can add pages and a few elements based on your specific needs, but for the most part, it’s got everything you need.
However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with the builder.
You can’t add anything aside from the few drag and drop elements available to you, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited (AKA essentially just font and color).
If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Mailchimp website builder website.
Limited Feature Set – Technical
The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.
Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.
These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet.
In their beta from, Mailchimp has extremely limited integrations (social sharing, social following, file downloads, etc.), but there are a ton of technical features that Mailchimp currently doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.
There also aren’t add-ons or additional integrations to use with the platform, which makes it even more difficult to do anything besides the very basics on your site.
Ultimately, Mailchimp leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better use and market your website.
Mailchimp Review Conclusion
Mailchimp makes getting your website up and running simple and fast, which makes it a great choice for DIYers who want a quick and easy way to build a website without the hassle of getting into the code or having something custom made.
Get started with Mailchimp here.
However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control. Mailchimp leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to design customization and functionality. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.
Not sure Mailchimp fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.
This post originally appeared at 20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020 via ShivarWeb
There has never been a time when running a website has been more accessible, convenient, and profitable than now.
But there has also never been a time when running a website has been so confusing, frustrating, and winner-take-all than now.
And that contradiction comes because some of the major computing & networking innovations from the 2010s are finally coming to the everyday Internet.
And as the 2010s close out and the 2020s begin, here are some of my considerations (in no specific order) that I think would be useful for DIYers, freelancers, small online business owners, and anyone planning an online presence.
Nobody Fully Knows What Is Going On
This post is deliberately a listicle because I don’t have a grand unified idea about the future of running a website on the Internet. And I’m skeptical of anyone who does.
Cloud computing, machine learning, APIs, high-quality open-source software, free toolkits, mobile devices, streaming, and the lumbering giant behavior of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft all point to continuing massive disruption of entire industries that no one can predict or prepare for.
The Website + Marketing Tool Model Is Gone
For years, people built a website on a multi-purpose host with a custom domain. And then they used 3rd party tools & distribution channels to promote content, products & services that lived on the website.
But now, the website on a domain is simply one tool in a toolkit. In fact, you can build a model where your website is a backend for your other marketing tools…or you can use a marketing tool to build & run your website.
This shift is clearest with online stores. Between Buyable Pins, Checkout on Instagram, Amazon integration, dropshipping APIs, offline pop-up shops, etc – the website is just another piece in the business puzzle.
Now, websites are still critical because they remain the only piece of that puzzle that you can control & own as an asset. But…I do think they are losing their relative importance. And their importance depends massively on what industry you are in.
Platform Choice > Tool Choice
The demise of the website + marketing tool model will mean that website owners will choose their platform of choice rather than their tools of choice based on what business they have.
Online retail is in this place already. Very few successful retailers have a collection of tools. It’s all about integrations and platform. But increasingly, every business sector will move to this model.
Local small businesses will look at platforms that do their primary function plus whatever integrates well with that platform. For example, a website builder will not compete with other website builders. Instead, the website builder will compete with the CRM platform and the email marketing platform…because all three will have a website builder, CRM, and email marketing tool bundled in a single platform
In other words, a website builder like Wix no longer competes with Squarespace. Instead, Wix competes with MailChimp and HubSpot and Google.
In online retail, Shopify and WooCommerce and BigCommerce don’t really compete with each other. They all compete, as a group, against Amazon, Instagram, Depop, MailChimp, Square, Salesforce, and eBay.
In hosting, hosting companies no longer compete with each other as much as they compete against Google Business Suite, Hubspot, hosted website builders, etc.
Now, there will still be incredible power & opportunity for website owners who have the resources & wherewithal to mix & match services to get the best of all worlds. Those website owners will be able to maintain costs and control where others will cede more power to their platform of choice.
Convenience Killed Cost & Control
The big reason why DIYers are a declining & disrupted market is that when consumers distill down what they truly care about – convenience always wins.
The same reasons driving the growth of takeout, restaurant, delivery, and meal kits at the expense of cooking are also driving the growth of online platforms at the expense of websites + tools.
If you are a DIYer, it will pay to be hyper-aware of what your true wants, needs and goals are – and what tradeoffs you are willing to make. Platforms are great in many ways, but beyond 2020, the most successful DIYers will be able to manage the tradeoffs of platforms.
If you are a freelancer, it will lead to bigger rewards to both specialize in a platform and maintain familiarity with how adjacent choices work. Even if your clients do not know about or understand platform choices, you can still use them to streamline your business and add value without adding extra work.
Spam, Security & Speed Killed What Could Have Been
I am a huge fan of the Open Web. Regardless of the short-term rewards of the platform of the day, it’s still worth investing in a website for the long-term.
But in 2020, even the most die-hard prophets preaching against Google, social media companies, cloud computing, hosted builders, and big corporations will have to admit that the vulnerabilities in the Open Web & running / managing your own website are pushing people to big platforms as much as those big platforms are pulling people.
For example, Google might be pulling people & businesses to hand over their personal email & confidential documents. But hackers, spammers, and human impatience are doing plenty of pushing as well.
For example, I would *love* to run conversations via blog comments instead of using Twitter. But my blog comments are like an absolute honeypot for the worst of the Internet.
Another example, I would love to avoid ecommerce transaction fees and SSL fees but hackers only need one shot. Security is difficult and, honestly, much more effective to do at scale across thousands of websites.
Most of my clients gain a lot from controlling their own hosting rather than using a hosted website solution. But I have to set expectations to prep clients for the amount of time & money it takes to keep the site secure & speedy beyond using a solid hosting company. Web visitors will absolutely ditch a website in a heartbeat over a millisecond. That’s why so many publishers with massive brands are blindly handing control over to Google’s AMP initiative. Even the biggest brands in the world can’t compete with human impatience.
Traffic Sources Are Consolidated & Fragmented
Facebook’s properties & Google’s properties will continue to become bigger. But they’ll also become more winner-take-all. But also, a much longer tail of random completely unpredictable traffic sources will continue to fragment.
Even more traffic will be “dark” or untrackable. Planning a marketing strategy will increasingly rely solely on your target audience rather than your target traffic source.
Organic Traffic Is A Bonus
Treat any organic traffic from Google, Facebook, Pinterest, etc like a bonus. You can’t project or plan long-term around organic traffic. Agencies, freelancers, etc will have to adjust pricing and clients will have to adjust expectations.
Digital marketers spent years making fun of John Wanamaker old-fashioned quote that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
Online attribution was supposed to solve that problem. But now, no matter how creepy your tracking and attribution is…consumer & traffic behavior is so unpredictable that you won’t be able to truly plan long-term…unless you pay.
Marketers Growth Demands Killed What Could Have Been
More and more platforms & websites will be “walled gardens”* due to pressure to grow…and grow…and grow some more. The Web could have been a world of accessible, free-flowing information where many businesses and types of businesses made a living. But platforms have to be more closed to make more money off users. And as valuable traffic has declined, website owners have become more desperate and more annoying to drive up ad rates.
*Even previously open platforms like Reddit, Pinterest and Twitter are closing in.
For example – see basically every recipe website ever. As Google and Pinterest strive to keep more users on their sites, serving their ads…recipe content websites have become more desperate to monetize what little traffic they do have…leading to horrendous car salesman-like levels of unusability.
Users Killed What Could Have Been
Users want convenience above all. For all the pulling that Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, etc are doing…users are also pushing attention there…because it’s convenient.
For example, I have no idea what to say to website owners about voice search. And anyone who does have a “strategy” for voice search – I call B*S* on. Users want it. I want it. It’s amazing, but you can’t build a publishing business or profitable content marketing strategy around it.
1,000 True Fans Is Still True
That said, the future will always have a small, tough, but sustainable spot for Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.
On balance, there has never been a better time to run a website or online presence than right now. If you have a good product, service, or concepts, there are likely 1000 True Fans that can & will support your work. Sure, there were “Golden Ages” of organic Facebook traffic, organic Google traffic, etc…but those eras had serious issues and limitations as well.
There Is No Magic Bullet
There is no sure-fire way to build a successful website. I’ve been working in digital marketing for years now. I know that in SEO, there used to always be a sure-fire tactic that was working. Now, there are tactics that work marginally better than others. There are things that you can focus more or less on…but the magic secrets are gone.
Same goes with Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, etc. The only real magic bullet now is hard creative work, constant research, careful planning, constant learning…and a whole lot of luck.
Opportunity Costs Are Very Real
When you choose to do Action A instead of Action B, there is the cost of doing Action A plus the cost of *not* doing Action B.
In a world of limited marketing resources, choosing to create social media posts means that you are also missing out on *not* creating blog posts.
Back in the world where everything online was growing, you could afford to miss one big opportunity for another…because most every opportunity was growing.
Now, mobile devices are ubiquitous. Desktop traffic is actually declining. And many social networks have reached maturity. Choosing one over another or bouncing around chasing “shiny objects” has real costs above whatever you are paying for your main investment.
Even with aspects of running your website, many website features are standardized and predictable. There are opportunity costs to choosing what part of your site to improve or leave alone.
Lookalikes Killed Privacy
I wrote a guide to tracking marketing data on your website. I actively use any & all data to help clients & aid my own research. But on this website & my personal website, I’ve deliberately removed all tracking tags except for Google’s. Why?
Well, sure, there’s the token virtue and hand-washing hypocrisy part of it.
But also, I found that my own retargeting & tracking did not matter in comparison to the massive opportunity presented by lookalike audiences and the data gathered by the big platforms.
Because here’s the thing about “big data” that people miss. It’s that individuals do not matter. All that matters is the sample size.
Every single person has a lookalike about some part of themselves. No matter how special or unique you think you are; no matter how carefully you avoid trackers or cookies or online ads, you can be personally marketed without any kind of tracking to due to lookalike audiences.
Here’s an analogy. Think about the world of DNA testing & genealogy. There are real fears & real consequences to having your DNA in a database. But protecting your own DNA is near-pointless. If a company (or government) knows the DNA from a couple cousins or aunts or uncles or grandparents or a sibling…then they know yours as well.
Lookalikes are the same. Even if Nate Shivar avoids all retargeting trackers, there are still enough people out there similar to me that will allow marketers to reach me if they want.
So – what does this mean? It means that whether you have a large audience data set or not, you can still think creatively about how to profile & reach your audience.*
*that is – until privacy can get solved in a meaningful way. Be sure to tell your political leaders that this needs to be solved at the national / international level. Individual choice & freedom in this issue is a moot point.
Alternative Channels Matter
In investing, modern portfolio theory says that diversification pays for itself because it maximizes expected return even if it fails to maximize actual returns.
In other words, you may know that Investment A is your best bet. But you should still make Investment B as well, because you can’t be sure that Investment A will be amazing.
Same with traffic sources and alternative channels and even website tools.
You may be pretty sure that your priority is the right one. But in a world of uncertainty, alternatives are good to have.
Now – going back to Opportunity Costs Are Real – you have to be honest with the tradeoffs. If you spend time on YouTube in addition to Google Search, you might lose some in Google. But you also won’t lose it all if you have some investment in YouTube.
Web Hosting Is a Utility
Amazon made the technology of hosting files a commodity service. Web hosting companies no longer compete on technology. In fact, they don’t want to compete on technology…because Amazon / Microsoft / Google win on that. Web hosting companies make money on what they provide in addition to basic hosting.
That can include support, onboarding, graphical server management tools, bundled 3rd party services, etc. But the main point is that if hosting is a utility – then anybody can offer it as a feature…not just web hosting companies.
There will be even more plugin makers, software makers, theme designers, tool makers, etc that will simply bundle & resell hosting as a feature.
Website Builders Are a Feature
I remember when I used my first drag & drop builder in the early 2000s with Homestead. It was a “WYSIWYG” builder. And it was terrible. Actually, every WYSIWYG builder was terrible…until just a few years ago.
Now…developer and marketer snobs will turn their nose up at drag & drop…but the software is actually pretty good….and it’s only getting better.
If drag & drop were microwavable pizzas in the 2000s, they became Domino’s in the 2010s…and now they are more like Mellow Mushroom pizza. Nothing like your local sit-down Italian haunt…but consistent and really solid.
All this means is that the core website building software can be a feature bundled with everything else rather than a stand-alone business. That’s why Google, MailChimp, Shopify, HostGator, InMotion, GoDaddy, and a dozen other non-website builder companies are bundling free website builders that otherwise compete directly with Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc.
SEO Is a Tactic
For years, the “contract” between publishers and Google was that Google gets to copy & analyze copyrighted content in exchange for free organic traffic.
If publishers made their content easier for Google to copy & analyze (i.e., “search engine optimization“), then Google would reward them with even more free organic traffic.
It created a virtuous cycle that worked for everyone. Sure, Google had to deal with publishers who took advantage of loopholes. And publishers had to waste some time dealing changing guidelines and features (remember Author markup?).
But on whole, the deal worked for everyone.
In fact, you could build an entire marketing strategy around the deal. That’s how entire businesses got built. Help Google and they’ll help you.
But, that deal has broken down. As Google focuses more on users and advertisers – publishers will get left out more and more. And as SEO as a strategy goes away, it will really only remain as a tactic in a broader strategy of organic traffic from all the places.
IRL Original Content Is Underestimated
The Internet makes copying & sharing more convenient than ever. In fact, it’s so convenient that we often forget that there are other sources of information in the real world.
But even more so, we forget that information in the real world is the source for information on the Internet.
In fact, this instinct is true not just among social media users but also among serious website owners and professional journalists.
Because of this instinct for convenient & copyable information – there is a growing premium on original information gathered from the real world.
Anyone can get a screengrab from Google Earth. But not many people will take a picture of a location. And which is more useful & unique?
Anyone can get a screengrab from social media…but not many people will go an compose a proper photo in context. And which is more useful & unique?
Anyone can make a drawing or an illustration…but not many people will make an IRL video or photo sequence. And which is more useful & unique?
On my websites & my clients’ websites – I am continually amazed at how often original, IRL images get copied, cited & linked-to. It’s amazing.
It’s no magic bullet, but it’s the most magical of all bullets that SEO’s & website owners have.
IRL Data Is Underestimated
On a related note, data copying and analyzing is easy. IRL data gathered from real people is harder and harder to gather and share.
That’s what makes the US Census so invaluable. But that’s also what makes companies’ internal data so valuable and why some companies use it for incredible link building & PR efforts.
Above & Beyond Pays Off Even More
Regardless of hosting platform, marketing toolset, marketing strategy or collection of tactics – going above and beyond the competition will provide winner-take-all dividends.
The Internet & globalization continually push towards sharper and sharper winner-take-all markets for money & attention. And they also increase the long-tail of choice. And technology is continually disrupting itself. Until those core forces are fully understood, you have to play the game.
Focus on using products that you understand and match your goals. Focus on marketing strategies based on audiences that you understand and match your financial goals.