Blog

April 16th, 2014

Aztech_Apr09By: Karen Powell -  Marketing Manager

10 things to look for when selecting an IT provider

The vast majority of businesses these days are highly dependent on their IT systems in order to be able to operate efficiently. Unfortunately IT failure can cause big problems when systems fail. Operations suffer, and in turn the business will suffer. Therefore, IT downtime should never be an option for your business.

Most businesses know that maintaining a working IT system is crucial, but a lot of business either don’t have the time and resource to do it themselves or can’t afford full time IT staff. One of the best alternatives to this, is to work with an IT partner who will ensure that your business runs as effectively as possible.

There are so many IT service companies out there, it can actually be a task in itself trying to find the perfect company to work with. One of the best places to start, is to know what to look for.  Here are our top tips on what to look out for when deciding -

1. Level of Competence Do they have the talent, experience, and training to take care of your needs? To find out, ask them for their industry accreditations or certificates on the IT systems they work with and make sure you probe them on their knowledge of working with these systems. It’s also worth asking them for client testimonials, so you can check out honest feedback of them from their current customers. .

2. Availability There are plenty of competent IT providers out there, but ask yourself these questions.  Would they be able to provide you a service when you need it? Do they have enough staff to fulfil your needs?  And can they immediately respond to your requests when you have a problem? One of the major considerations when deciding on an IT provider is their availability and to ensure their able to operate when it’s convenient to you and not them.

3. Which service package? There are several options available when it comes to support packages and all IT providers will have different options on offer. Decide on which package would work best for your business needs and budgets? Whether it’s a total support package, where you will incur a monthly fee but should offer you peace of mind if anything goes wrong, or a pay as you go option which may work better for you if you don’t think you will be requiring a lot of support. Whatever your needs, the provider should be able to tailor a package which will work for you and your business.

4. How service is delivered Yes, the IT provider will be there when things break, but how will they be helping you? Some require you to phone their help desk; others tell you to email a request for service. When deciding on an IT provider, ask them for their average response times, the process on how you are going to get help and you may also want to know how the process works their side when they receive a request.

5. Remote services. They say prevention is better than the cure. This is also applicable when searching for an IT provider. It’s not always enough that they will provide you with a fast and efficient service when something goes wrong. It’s of ten more important to your business, that the provider is being proactive and monitoring your IT systems to ensure that everything is running smoothly and effectively in the first place.

6. Ensure your systems thrive, not just survive!  A good IT provider does not only solve problems, they should also be able to provide you with feedback on what went wrong and why? They should then work with you to form a strategy going forward, to ensure the problems don’t arise again in the future.

7. Communication skills Think about the main reason why you are looking for an IT provider? And it’s probably that you lack the knowledge and understanding of all things technical! Some technicians can confuse you with technical jargon, which is generally unnecessary. When working with an engineer it’s important to ensure they have a good level of technical knowledge, but also the ability to communicate at a level that you will understand so you don’t become confused.

8. Cost This is very important especially for small businesses that operate on tight budgets. Ask to see a typical invoice for the plan that you are considering, that way you can ensure there are no hidden costs that you haven’t budgeted for, further down the line.

9. Other services IT providers generally don’t only offer support packages, you may find they offer services such as disaster recovery or telephony, which you may be getting from another supplier. If this is the case it may be worth discussing all of the requirements that you have with your potential provider to ensure your systems are streamlined and cost effective.

10. Updates Always make sure that the IT provider is fully aware and up to date with the latest industry news and trends. In turn, they should be able to keep you up to date and ensure you are working with the most current and efficient systems.  This way, your competitors won’t leave you behind!

April 10th, 2014

BusinessValue_Apr07_BWhen it comes to Web design many business owners and managers work with a Web designer or developer. These Web experts often use terms that you may not be familiar with and which in essence sound like another language. This can make it difficult to communicate and to ultimately get your point across to achieve the website you want. To make dialogue easier, it might be helpful to learn some of the common Web design terms.

Here are 20 of the most used Web design terms that could help you communicate effectively with designers and developers about what you want from your website:

  • Alignment - The position of the various elements on your page. Alignment can be focused on the borders of the page, or positioning of elements based on other elements - e.g., aligning all images to the left side of the page, and making sure the text is aligned to the right of each image.
  • Banner - A form of advertising that is usually at the top of a page and goes from one side to the other. On many sites, the banner also contains links that can be clicked through to reach other pages.
  • Below the fold - The point on the page where viewers will begin to scroll after the page has loaded. Generally you put the most important information above the fold (what the visitor sees first) and supplement information below it.
  • Color wheel - A circle of colors that allows designers to easily pick out primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, as well as complimentary and contrasting colors - e.g., on most wheels red is opposite green because they complement one another.
  • CSS - Cascading Style Sheets allows designers to dictate the look and feel of a page. These are usually codes that dictate the font, color, and layout of a Web page.
  • DPI - Dots Per Inch is the resolution of an image or monitor. The higher the DPI, the higher the resolution or quality of the image.
  • Entry and Exit pages - This indicates where a viewer enters your page from an external source, and where a viewer will usually exit your site from. The vast majority of entry pages are the homepage, so these should be designed to capture and maintain interest. Exit pages can be the homepage, or perhaps a signup form.
  • GIF - Pronounced Jif, is an image format that is best suited for small images with few colors. These can also be animated.
  • Header - This is the absolute top of any page.
  • HTML - Hyper Text Markup Language, is the main language used to write webpages. For example, the bullet points in this article would be written as < ol><li>HTML - Hyper Text ...</li></ol>. Browsers read this code and translate the directions given.
  • JPEG - An image format best suited to pictures and images with a large number of colors. The vast majority of images on the Internet and websites are uploaded in the JPEG format.
  • Lorem Ipsum - Placeholder text is used by developers when creating mockups of pages or layout so they can see how the text will look when the page is finished. This can be any form of text and is usually nonsensical, like 'Lorem Ipsum Dolor'.
  • Orphan - A word or short sentence that appears by itself, below the text on a page. Generally these should be avoided, and can be easily 'adopted' by adjusting spacing between letters and words, or editing content.
  • Parent/Child elements - With HTML and other Web languages there is a relationship between elements (parts of code). Parents dictate elements that will be inherited by other codes (children) that are within the main parent group. For example, if you assign a headline a certain style this style becomes the parent. Any other elements like a bolded word within the headline will be a child. The child will take the same style as the headline and have the added bold format as well.
  • Pixel - The smallest element of any image and your monitor. It is essentially one dot of color. The resolution of images and monitors (how clear the image is) is often displayed in pixels. The higher the number of pixels, the higher the resolution and quality.
  • PNG - An image format that is most commonly used for images that have large amounts of uniform color or transparent backgrounds.
  • Script - A small bit of code that enables browsers to do more than just displaying text. If you've ever watched a video while on a website or downloaded something directly from a page, you have interacted with a script.
  • Watermark - A mark of ownership which is usually applied to the background of images or content. This is used to highlight ownership and deter theft of visual content. If you plan to post images on your site that you create, you might want to consider adding a watermark as protection.
  • White space - Space that surrounds text, images or other parts of the page. It is generally believed that the more white space there is, the easier it is to read content and draw attention to important aspects of a page.
  • Wireframe - A visual representation of a website's layout with directions for visuals, location of content, and style for each page. This is usually constructed before the site is built and is more or less a road map for developers.
Of course, these are just a few of the terms designers and developers use on a regular basis. If you want to understand how to get the best out of your website and technology then we're here to help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 2nd, 2014

BusinessValue_Mar31_BHaving a website is one of the most important marketing and branding tools a business can utilize. This is largely because visitors will often judge whether they want to do business with you almost solely based off of your website. Therefore, your website needs to be designed properly and look professional. In order to achieve this you need to know about the common mistakes small businesses make when it comes to website designs.

The business value of a business website is that it creates a solid online presence and boosts your brand image and market reach. Even if your business is not Internet based, a website can be used to create a certain impression and ultimately contribute to your bottom line. The key is to make sure you create the best impression. Here are six of the most common mistakes businesses make with website design:

Mistake 1: Building for the sake of building

Websites are important and some businesses believe that they should have a website, so they go ahead and simply build one. You should first take steps to define your target market - who is it that you want and expect to visit your website.

Once you have a defined target market you can then take time to build your site for your market. For example, if the majority of your target market uses mobile devices to browse the Web you should take steps to design your site so that it is viewable on mobile devices.

You should also determine what you want visitors to do on your site. Some companies want them to click through to another site, while others want them to sign up. By defining how you want your visitors to interact you can then develop your content and design around this.

Mistake 2: Designing a website that is too busy

It can be tempting to put all of your information on one page or even have a ton of images and videos. The truth is, this can be distracting largely because once someone lands on your page, they won't know how to get around, find the information they want, or even to know what they should do next.

Busy or flashy websites with lots of animations or large amounts of text also usually don't scale all that well. So, when someone looks at your site on a mobile device they will likely find it too hard to navigate and leave, which is counter to what you are trying to achieve.

Instead, aim for a website that is simple and clean. Important information should be quick to find and read and it should be clear who you are, what you have to say, and what you want the visitor to do.

Mistake 3: Lacking call to actions

Most business related websites have a goal as to what they want visitors to do. Maybe it's download an app, call the company, or even sign make a purchase online. It is essential that you lead visitors toward what you want them to do in the most clear and concise way. The best way to do this is through a call to action. These are usually buttons at the bottom of sections or pages that motivate the user to click and follow the instructions on what to do next, be that sign up to something or get in touch.

The best calls to action stand out from the content, drawing the reader's eye and hopefully inspiring them to click. They should also be clearly written, simple, and direct. e.g., 'Call us today!' or 'Download now!'

Mistake 4: Misguided content

It may seem worthwhile to write in-depth content about your products or services but this isn't always the case. People skim read the basics on the Web and it's different than other mediums.

What you should do is condense down your content so that it only states the most important information. Tell the reader what your product or service does and provide a few of the most important benefits. What you are looking to do is develop enough interest so that visitors to your site will click on the call to action and connect with you.

If you have the time and profits, creating a more visual site where you showcase the products or show how you can help in a short video may lead to higher engagement and possibly higher customer conversions. Take a look at the popular software and service sites like Dropbox, Microsoft, and Google. The content is highly visible and simple, yet provides just enough information so the user knows what the service is and what they are expected to do.

Mistake 5: Static content

It can be tempting to invest the time to write a great website, get the content online then just leave it sitting there. The Internet changes and what might have been regarded as great website design and content a couple of years ago may not be seen in the same light today.

It is advisable to periodically update your site's design and content to reflect current trends; making it more modern. Another related aspect of your content is that you need to ensure that your content is up-to-date. If you are hosting a contest and put the information on your site, you should make sure to take it off of your site, or update it when the date passes. It looks a little unprofessional to have content that is still talking about 2012 or even 2013.

Mistake 6: Doing it yourself

The vast majority of small business owners and managers don't have in-depth Web design skills, yet are determined to build their company's website themselves. This can lead to unexpected problems or a website that doesn't meet your needs. We strongly recommend that you work with a qualified designer who can help ensure that your website is designed and built to high standards.

If you are looking to boost your website's design contact us today. We can help!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 5th, 2014

BusinessValue_Mar03_BMany business owners are looking for different ways in which they can connect with their customers while also building a company brand or adding value to their products or services. While a business website and a presence on social media sites can be a big help, blogging can sometimes be a better way to connect with your customers and potential customers.

If you're looking to get people more involved and connected with your company, spread your brand image and message, and perhaps establish your company as an industry leader, then blogging might just be the answer.

There is little doubt that companies that blog effectively do see an increase in overall value. That being said, it can be a challenge to develop and maintain a successful blog.

Here are 7 tips for businesses looking to start a blog or develop an existing one into a more successful platform:

1. Define your topics and your audience

As with almost every business process, there needs to be a solid foundation on which to build your blog, such as the topics you write about and your audience.

Take a minute to establish who your target audience is, such as your average customer. Pick some basic characteristics that cover the majority of this group. Focusing on who you are writing articles for can make writing not only easier but more relevant and effective.

Many of the most successful business blogs choose blog topics based on their services or products and news. The key is to select topics based on what you think your audience will find useful or interesting. You might not want to spread your blogs over too many topic areas as these can be hard work to cover on a regular basis. About 4-8 is a good amount to aim for.

2. Be consistent

With defined topics and a target audience in mind, you are well on your way to establishing a solid foundation for your blog. The next element is to devise a calendar of how often you write blogs and cover certain topics. If, for example, you picked four topics this could equate to one article a month for each topic.

What you are striving for is consistency. You should be writing and posting a new article at least once a week, or more. If you establish a calendar based around your topics you will find it easier to write content on a regular basis and soon it will become a natural part of your weekly tasks.

3. Be relevant

Even with defined topics, it can be a struggle to come up with new ideas for blogs. It can be tempting to write about a new product or feature, but you have to be careful that it doesn't read too much like boring marketing material.

Instead, focus on what your audience would like to read. Often the most successful articles are those that answer common questions asked by clients, or talk about how a product or service can help a client. Other articles could be related to your products rather than directly about them. For example, if you own a coffee shop then writing about food that goes well with coffee might be an interesting blog idea.

Personal opinions can provide an interesting perspective and many readers find these types of business blogs refreshing. However, you do need to be careful of ostracizing those who might not agree with you or putting people off with negative blogs.

4. Don't forget the CTA

Remember, your business blog needs to have a purpose: You want to not only develop interest in the company, but to drive business. At the end of most if not all of your articles you can include a call to action (CTA) that suggests to the reader to contact you, come in for a visit or email.

5. Keep articles easy to read

It can be tempting to write a 4,000 word article with a ton of great information. Google and many search engines do look positively at long-form content and this might work well for your search rankings. The only problem is that when many of us read articles online we skim them, looking for salient points and skipping up to 90% of the article.

To that end, keep articles on the shorter side - around 500-1,000 words. Use shorter sentences and headings like H3 and bold to separate content and make it more scannable. Writing a longer article? Split it into two, three or even four parts. This helps drive interest to return to check out the new parts when they are posted.

6. Promote and share your content

Share your blog content on your social media profiles. This increases the reach of your blog, but also drives traffic to your website. You can put an easy to see link to your blog on your homepage and even in email headers.

Many writers also find success in contributing, or writing a blog for other websites. This helps not only spread your ideas, content, and company name, but can also help find content for your blog as other writers contribute to yours. Try contacting friends and colleagues to see if they would like you to write a post for their blog.

7. Remember you don't have to be the only contributor

Finally, you don't have to be the only person writing your blog. Ask your employees if they have any article ideas they would like to write about. The more writers contributing, the more content there is. This also takes the pressure off of you having to develop, write, and post everything, as well as offering a different voice for variety.

If you are looking to launch a blog, contact us to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 5th, 2014

BusinessValue_Feb03_BModern marketing has become an almost wholly digital affair, with companies relying on their website and social media profiles as a main marketing platform. This is all created in response to the fact that many customers expect companies to be online. While there are many ways to increase your online presence and business value, one of the best for many businesses is through a blog.

Define business blogging

When we talk about blogging, most people ask two questions: "What is blogging?" and "Is business blogging any different from personal blogging?"

A blog, a portmanteau of Web log, is usually a page on a website where authors post written articles. The content, usually called a post, can be incredibly varied, from along the lines of a journal style to breaking news or even thoughts and opinions to open up debate.

Business blogging is the act of creating content that is related to your business. The topics are usually narrowed down to relate to the products or services you provide. For example, you are reading this post on our blog, which largely focuses on technology in business. The vast majority of business blogs are not profit oriented (the company isn't out to make money directly from their blog articles) and is usually a part of their marketing plan.

Why do businesses blog?

There are 3 main reasons many businesses blog:

1. A blog can increase traffic to your website

One common complaint many business owners have about their website traffic, or the number of people who visit their site, is that it is lower than expected. There can be many reasons behind this, the most common being that the content on the website is static. Think about when it the last time you updated your whole site was.

Even if your site effectively explains what your business does, search engines generally look kindly on websites that are active. It is incredibly hard to keep re-writing your website, so one of the best ways to fix this is by blogging. When you create a new blog post, a new page on your website is usually indexed - added to the site structure, kind of like the index at the back of textbooks. This activity tells search engines that your website is active. Active websites will usually show higher in search results.

Blog articles are also great to share on social media services. By sharing content with your existing customers there is an increased chance of your name and profile being seen by people who aren't your customer yet but could be in the future.

If you have more people seeing your content in different places - search results, social media, etc. - you should see an increase in overall traffic to your website.

2. A blog is a great way to show your expertise

Think about the last time you needed to purchase a new item, say a computer. Did you pick the first shop you saw, then walk in and purchase a computer? Chances are high that you didn't. Most people research companies and retailers who have a good rating or who come across as an expert, and purchase from them.

As many people do this research online, it can be a challenge to establish your company as the expert in your field. Your blog can be the perfect tool to establish your company as a go-to expert. If you answer common questions and provide tips, there is a higher chance that your articles will be regarded as helpful and having potential customers contact you. What this means for you is an increased chance of conversion.

3. Blog articles have a positive long-term effect

When you search on the Internet you will often find a number of blog posts at the top, with some maybe even being from the last year or so. A well crafted blog post will often see a wealth of interest within the first few days of posting largely because of sharing via social media services and users who have subscribed to your posts.

If your posts get a fair number of shares, comments, etc. there is a good chance that search engines will begin to show it higher in results. What this means for you is that the post will continue to be seen in results for a of couple weeks to months or more, depending on keywords, etc. This translates to longer visibility, and a higher chance of traffic and leads in the future.

Of course, not every post will be a smash hit and bring leads pouring in, but an active blog that produces good content could prove to be of great value to your business. It will take time, but most bloggers do see increased payoffs.

Looking to learn more about blogging? Contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

January 8th, 2014

BusinessValue_Jan07_BTechnology is an important part of any business and has come to be relied on for many tasks performed in a multitude of roles. As you likely know, tech advances at a furious pace, so fast in fact, that it's often a challenge to keep track of all the innovations and trends. In an effort to help monitor progress a bit easier, take a few minutes to look ahead at the year to come, in terms of what tech developments are on the horizon.

Here are five tech trends small to medium business owners and managers should keep their eyes on for 2014.

Tech we wear

Wearable devices like the smartwatch will become one of the hottest gadgets in 2014. While this concept really began in 2013, with devices like the Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear, you can bet that most device manufacturers are developing some form of wearable tech for this year.

The biggest evidence that supports this claim is the inclusion of newer, faster BlueTooth standards in both iOS and Android updates. These updates allow devices like phones and tablets to connect to existing wearable devices like fitness bands and wireless headphones.

What this means for businesses is a potential increase in the number of devices connecting to networks, such as from employees bringing devices into the office. Companies will need to look back at their mobile device policies to ensure that their systems remain safe. Concerns aside, these devices could pose a new way to interact with customers or even to create different, engaging content.

It really remains to be seen as to how businesses will benefit from this type of tech, but there is a good chance that many companies will find a productive use for it.

Changing views on the cloud

Many experts like to think of cloud systems as a new concept, but it's really reaching the end of this part of its life cycle. By now, most businesses are using at least one cloud-based system and have at least a basic grasp of what it is.

Because of its prevalence and increased use, it's difficult to actually completely avoid the cloud. Many have started to realize this fact and we think 2014 will see an increasing number of business owners begin to change their views on the cloud. They will start educating themselves and looking for systems that really meet their needs instead of simply picking one that everyone else uses.

This change of view, and increased education will likely lead to an increased adoption of cloud systems. This will be due to strategic decision-making rather than because business owners feel they simply need to be in on the cloud. This also likely means that many cloud providers will become even more transparent and likely more willing to help customers by creating systems that are truly useful to small businesses.

Mobile marketing will become mainstream

It is pretty apparent that mobile devices are the next big thing, and in 2014 mobile marketing will become one of the most popular forms of marketing. From developing mobile specific content to advertising only on mobile platforms through apps like Facebook, we should see a rise in the number of mobile ad campaigns.

Overall, this should lead to more ads being shorter, visually forward; essentially easily digested by mobile viewers. Beyond that, businesses of all sizes will start to pay attention to mobile related data, distinguishing mobile users from desktop users, and looking for ways to cater to both crowds through different campaigns.

Increased use of two-factor authentication

Security is always an issue that many business owners are worried about, as well it should be because there is a good chance that security concerns will increase in 2014 - especially if mobile wearable devices really take off.

In order to make it more difficult for accounts to be hacked, many of the larger companies like Google, have introduced two-factor authentication which requires users to enter a password and another form of information, usually a PIN number sent to a mobile device.

In 2014, it is highly likely that we will see an increase in the number of services that offer this form of authentication. What this means for many businesses is increased security, which should be welcomed.

IT becomes more of a core business function

Historically, IT has been seen as a separate business entity, something that supports core business functions. But, as many companies increasingly rely on technology, it has started to shift and become more of a core business function.

Many business owners will begin to question their existing technology and whether it really is giving them the best value possible and if they are using it effectively. Because of the largely complex nature of many systems, small business owners that take an interest in their IT will likely find that they struggle with managing and optimizing it. They will instead turn to an IT management partner who can help them find customized solutions.

While this isn't a new trend by any means, technology is becoming increasingly advanced and many companies are struggling. If you are looking to make IT more of a core business function, or would like to gain control of rampant systems please contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 11th, 2013

BusinessValue_Dec09_BOne of the more important, and indeed popular, marketing tools for small to medium businesses is email marketing. When employed correctly, the email can be a great way to not only grow your business connections but to also connect with your customers. One of the main downsides of this type of email blast marketing is that there is a good chance your emails will be blocked by spam filters.

If you are developing a new email marketing campaign, you need to first know a bit about spam filters. Because there are no set rules that all spam filter developers adhere to, you will notice that filters vary in how effectively they can block emails. Some filter nearly all spam while others filter only the most obvious spam messages. Getting past these filters takes trial and error but there are tips you can employ to succeed.

1. Take a look at your content

It is worthwhile looking at the coding of your email. Because some email scammers include hidden HTML or other coding that the recipient won't see in an email, many filters are now set up to scan the code of an email as well. You should get someone who is proficient to either develop a cleanly coded email template you can use, or to audit the code to ensure there are no problems.

Beyond this, take a look at the actual content you are including in your email message. If you are including special offers, sales, and content that isn't overly useful, there is a high chance that recipients will flag the email as spam, causing future communication that comes from you to be blocked.

The most successful emails tend to provide useful information like how the product or service can be used, updates from the company, and even industry-related articles. Basically, anything that drives interest and the desire in the recipient to contact you about the service you provide.

2. Know the common spam trigger words

In an effort to cut down on spam, many email providers scan the subject line of emails for potential spam words. If these keywords are found, the email will likely be blocked. The challenging part about this, is actually figuring out which words will get through filters and which will cause an email to be blocked.

One of the best resources we have found is this article on Hubspot. In general, good advice is to avoid cliche, and words that have come to be associated with sales oriented talk or jargon e.g., price, cheap, and no fees. Avoid special characters, like '$' and '!' in the subject line, as many spammers use these to try to grab the attention of the reader.

3. Audit your subscriber lists

In order to maximize the percentage of users who open your emails, clean out your subscriber list on a regular basis. Take a look for email addresses that have been deleted, or users who no longer work at the business. By auditing your subscriber list, you raise the chance that your emails will be opened and read by more recipients.

You should also look into the email addresses themselves. If you are sending an email to a general account i.e., sales@company.com, you may not be actually reaching a real person, but an account that automates tasks instead. Try to send your email to individuals instead of general accounts.

4. Test before you send

Testing your email before sending it out to your audience will help in ensuring that your email makes it through spam filters. The best way to test is to look for a spam testing solution. These solutions allow you to essentially send the email to a number of different services and clients, before presenting you with a report on whether your email managed to get through to the main services.

You can test the email itself in different browsers. While many Internet browsers can render or show most emails, they will often render them slightly differently e.g., text will be bigger, or content may not expand to fit screen size. If the content looks weird to the viewer, there is a high chance that it will not be read and may be flagged as spam instead.

5. Ensure you follow established verification procedures

As you may or may not know, there are actually verification procedures that users who send bulk emails must pass. These various procedures essentially let the different email services know that you, as the sender, are a legitimate business and not a spammer.

Many of the bigger email service providers have set guidelines on their websites for bulk senders, so try looking on the Internet for the different guidelines. Some of the more general requirements include:

  • The email be sent from the same IP and email address.
  • The same name, address and information is in the From: header of every bulk email you send.
  • Ensuring that the DNS (Domain Name System) records and address you use points to your company and are correct.
Of course, this can take time and some knowledge of how the Internet and email works, so one option is to work with an email expert who can help you set up your server or third-party platform so that emails from you will be verified. If you are looking for a way to make your email marketing efforts more successful, or to ensure that they make it through spam filters, please contact us today to see how we can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 12th, 2013

2013Nov12_BusinessValue_BThere are many steps to take when developing a product, service, or even an email blast that will be viewed by large numbers of recipients. One of the last stages in this process often involves testing and trying to figure out what works best and what customers react best to. One common method of testing is the A/B test - but is this type of testing really all it's cracked up to be?

A/B tests defined

The concept behind A/B testing is to release two different versions of  what is being developed, to see which performs best. This can cover a wide variety of business processes from traditional direct marketing to websites and even email marketing.

A good example of A/B testing would be developing an email marketing campaign where two different versions of an email are sent out with the goal of getting people to visit a page on your website. Version A may have slightly different content and images from version B, and half of your list would receive A with the other half receiving B. You then track the responses and visits to your site to see which version has worked better.

The information gained from this type of testing can then be used to improve future email campaigns or products and zero in on what is really effective in getting clients to do what you want.

A/B tests can actually vary in purpose. The most common being testing the difference between two versions of the same idea. Other times version A is a current version, while B contains improvements and is sent out to gauge customer reactions to these new developments.

What benefits can a business gain from A/B tests?

Compared with other testing methods, A/B testing offers four concrete benefits:

  1. It's cheap - While it may incur costs developing different versions, most of the time this is fairly minimal, with small differences between them. And, when it comes to testing, you can usually just split the groups in half, with no need to develop completely new groups for each version. Finally, when the test is complete and data has been gathered, it is usually not time consuming or costly. You can usually just decide to use the one that performed the best - with little need to invest in any big changes.

  2. It can accurately measure performance differences - A/B testing makes it easy to measure performance differences between two options. You really just have to collect the relevant data and then compare the results. Beyond that, this type of testing makes it easy to measure the difference between two options, even if this is small.

  3. It measures actual behaviour - During the development stage, it can often be difficult to accurately guess how products or different versions will fare when released to the public. By employing A/B testing, real customers are the ones who are testing, so you can better judge and see how your target market will react. This can go a long way in helping you create desirable products and services that will be well received.

  4. It can resolve trade offs - When unsure about wording, strategy and outcomes you can conduct an A/B test to see which option works best. A good example of this is offering a coupon. Do you offer it in the email or do you put a code on your site? If you include this in an email, other customers may react negatively if  they don't get the same discount. A/B testing can help you figure out what style works best, while minimizing problems.

When should they be used?

When A/B tests are used correctly, they can be a valuable tool in helping you add value to your business. That being said, they aren't great for all types of testing situations. In general, A/B tests are most successful when they are applied to projects with these three parameters:

  1. There must be only one clear goal - A/B tests work best when there is only one goal or outcome to measure. For example, which version of an email gets the most clicks, or which page gets the most amount of visitors clicking on a 'call to action'. If you try to measure more than one goal at a time, the results can get complicated.

  2. The outcome must be measurable - If you cannot measure an outcome easily from this type of test, then you likely won't be able to pick an option that works best. For example, it is difficult to easily measure satisfaction from A/B tests compared to what customers prefer.

  3. Designs need to be complete - A/B testing works best when you have a complete, or near complete, product, email, etc. The key here is to conduct A/B testing and possibly make minor changes to implement the option that provided the better results. The options are viewed to then be the final version employed.

If your project meets these requirements, then A/B testing will likely be useful and could help you improve your business profitability. To learn more about harnessing and gathering data from these and other types of testing, please contact us today.


Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

October 17th, 2013

BusinessValue_Oct16_BMarketing is an important business function that nearly every business does. One of the more popular methods of marketing employed these days is email marketing. This form of digital marketing has proven to be more effective than any other method, yet many companies still struggle with developing campaigns that actually work.

If you have been struggling with your email marketing campaigns, here are five helpful tips.

1. Sort out your contact database If you have had an email newsletter or marketing campaign for more than a couple of years you likely have a large or fair-sized contact database. A problem many businesses run into is that their contact databases are simply out of date. Emails are being sent to accounts that have been closed, or to recipients who have moved jobs. An out-of-date database can really hurt the effectiveness of email marketing.

It would therefore be a good idea to conduct a periodical audit of your database. Take the time to update information like names, positions, email addresses, etc. You should also look at how your database is organized.

Because of the varying nature of many email campaigns, it is highly likely that you will eventually develop email campaigns that target specific emails. If your database isn't segmented, it could be a nightmare to create effective campaigns. At the very least you should include information like the contact's:

  • name
  • position
  • email address
  • industry
  • location
  • referral source
2. Ensure people opt-in Because of its widespread use, email has become the medium of choice for spammers and even hackers trying to gain access to various systems. To counter this companies have adopted email scanning programs with strict filters that block any emails that could be spam. Beyond that, many states and countries have no spam laws which require that companies must get recipients to opt-in so that they can receive email marketing.

There are a number of ways you can get people to opt-in including:

  1. placing links in a clear spot on your website
  2. having a link in an email footer
  3. Having an opt-in link below sign up or inquiry forms.
3. Determine the purpose A common reason most everything fails in business is because it doesn't have a clearly defined process. The same can be said for email campaigns, if they lack a clearly defined purpose e.g., increasing sales, promote a product or move traffic to a website, then the chances of success will be low.

When developing a campaign take time to define the purpose, what do you want the recipient to do. From there, develop the content and layout around that purpose. Be sure to also define the type of people you want the email to reach because this will make it easier to define a recipient list from your database.

4. KISS Many email marketing initiatives fail because the company tries to include too much information or has an overly complex layout and sign up procedure. Try writing content that gets to the point and tells what the audience needs to know in a clear, concise and correct manner.

When developing the layout, aim for something that looks clean with ample white space and only essential information. Careful use of images and design should also drive attention to the most important content.

Beyond that, content should also be optimized for mobile devices. Because many recipients will deem your email marketing as non-essential, they may not look at it while at work. This means that they will likely look at it on their mobile device. If your content doesn't scale to fit smaller screens, this could lead to the reader simply deleting the email.

5. Don't be afraid to get some help Email marketing can get overly complex so, why not get some help? Try working with different email marketing providers to see what works for you, your content and what provides the best results.

By working with an email service like MailChimp or Constant Contact, you could drastically improve the effectiveness of your campaigns.

If you are looking for an email marketing solution contact us to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 18th, 2013

BusinessValue_Sep16_BAlmost every company currently operating has important and valuable information and files that they would like to keep not only secure but from falling into the wrong hands. The problem is, many business owners are unsure as to how to go about securing or protecting important files and data. Not to mention the fact that there may be confusion over who owns what. The first step you should take is to look at securing your intellectual property.

Here are four tips on how to keep your resources related to intellectual property (IP) secure.

1. Map it Before you can actually take steps to protect your data and property you need to actually know what information and files you have on your folder, along with how important they are. The best way to go about this is to have your managers or team leaders identify the type of information they use and store, along with its value and the risk you could face if it is lost or stolen.

Try to get them to ask questions like:

  • Are there items that should be marked as classified or encrypted?
  • How is data to be moved? Is it ok to use removable devices like USB drives or CDs?
  • Is printing of classified or important documents and information allowed?
  • Are employees connecting to the network with their own devices? If so, do we have access to the files they take/access from their devices?
  • Is there any information or property that needs to be patented?
2. Update or create an IP policy As you get the answers to the questions above and rank the importance and risks associated with data it is a good idea to either write or update any existing IP policy. You should take steps to ensure that you define:
  • The different levels of security for documents.
  • What classified documents are and how they are to be identified.
  • When employees should encrypt documents or mark them as classified.
  • What will happen when the policy is breached.
  • Who is cleared to mark documents and apply security elements.
  • Steps for recovering classified or important IP resources from employee's devices.
Once you have defined a clear policy, you should have employees acknowledge that they understand the policy by signing it, or an acknowledgement form which can be attached to the policy. Beyond that, it would be a good idea to periodically review your information and update the policy.

3. Enforce the policy If you are going to through the effort of producing a policy, you should follow through and enforce it. Once again, this information is often incredibly important to your company and if it goes missing this could prove disastrous. Policy monitoring and enforcement is essential, and should usually be done by the HR department, or the owner/manager of the company whose name has been applied to patents or other IP.

4. Test your policy All good plans need to be tested from time-to-time. IP policies are no exception, and should be tested at least once a year. The best way to test this type of policy is to actually try and steal it. Now, since you know about the company and the way data is stored, you are not the best person to try and steal your own data. This is where hiring an external firm or working with a managed service provider helps. They will often have ways to test your systems and can provide you with tips on where to make improvements and how.

If you are looking to take steps to protect your valuable IP and data, please contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.