Archive for August, 2011

Review: Six Small Business CMS and Web Marketing Systems

Monday, August 29th, 2011

What’s the best web content management system (CMS) for your small business? Should you look at something beyond a CMS—a web marketing system (WMS), that provides additional functions like customer relationship management (CRM) and email? There’s no shortage of options, and the decision is an important one: you’ll be “married” to the platform you choose for as long as your current site is up.

Content management systems are valuable tools for small businesses that 1) don’t want to make a big investment in IT infrastructure, 2) don’t have web development (HTML, CSS etc.) expertise on staff, and 3) want to be able to maintain their own web content (adding new pages, text and images) over time, without needing to learn web coding skills.

“Free” CMS options such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal have an obvious appeal (price) to small businesses, but none are cost-free. All require some level of technical expertise, and Joomla and Drupal particularly have steep learning curves. Low-cost, fee-based tools are generally more user-friendly, provide more features, and most importantly come bundled with support. For businesses looking beyond “free” tools, here are six CMS and WMS options that can help you get more sales and marketing productivity out of your website, while being easy on your web content contributors.

Keep in mind that all of these tools impose some design limitations; if you need a truly custom look and feel like these sites, your only option is to hire a professional web design and development firm. But if you can live within a template (and most of these tools do offer a respectable array of options), you can save thousands of dollars on design and coding costs.

CMS Only

These platforms offer website building and content management tools with hosting, but no “extras.” If you are just looking to get a site up on the web and already have systems in place for CRM and marketing automation, these tools are worthy of consideration.

Squarespace

Pricing: $150-$600 per year ($12-$50 per month)

Squarespace LogoSquarespace is a generally well-regarded tool with reasonable design functionality for building natively search-optimized websites and blogs. It offers a solid set of features including site search, multiple permission levels for different types of contributors, a form-builder, and  built-in analytics. The learning curve is far less daunting than most free CMS alternatives, and a strength of the tool is its mobile support. For anyone looking for an inexpensive, easy-to-use, basic website building and management tool, Squarespace is definitely worth consideration.

UPDATE: After closer examination, SquareSpace is not worthy of consideration, due to weaknesses in search engine optimization, specifically:

  • • Custom meta title tags for high-level pages are limited to 50 characters (even the most conservative SEOs recommend 65 characters for the title tag).
  • • Meta title tags inside a section (e.g., “blog”) will always begin with the section name. You can customize the section name, but you can’t override the fact the all-important first few characters of every page title in that section will contain it.
  • • You can’t create custom meta description tags (!) which are essential in “selling the click.”
  • • The people behind SquareSpace seem to lack understanding of how SEO works. True, manipulative tactics don’t work, but solid, white hat SEO is essential to getting a website ranked highly. Their information is both inaccurate and offensive to legitimate SEO professionals.

LightCMS

$240-$1200/year ($20-$100 per month)

LightCMS LogoLike the other tools listed here, LightCMS is low-cost, easy to use, search-optimized and provides tools like a forms builder. What sets it apart is better design flexibility than most of the alternatives, calendar tools and built-in ecommerce functionality. For developers and agencies, LightCMS also offers one of the most attractive partner programs. Considering all of its features, LightCMS is another shortlist-worthy tool for basic website creation, particularly for smaller B2C companies who want an easy-to-manage online store.

Solution Toolbox

$300 per year ($25 per month)

Solution Toolbox LogoAnother website building option that includes extras like ecommerce functionality with credit card processing, and nightly backups. The site is a bit cheesy, but the functionality of the tool is solid. Solution Toolbox provides their own comparison of their system to Squarespace and LightCMS, but take it with a grain of salt; it’s biased in their favor of course and some of the specifics are out of date (for example, Squarespace now includes a forms-builder). Still, for smaller consumer marketers who want to run an online store in addition to their basic website, this is worth a look.

Web Marketing Platforms

These suites combine CMS functionality with additional web marketing applications to provide more than just a website, but a complete online marketing software system.

Business Catalyst

$480 per year ($40 per month)

Business Catalyst LogoBusiness Catalyst combines the features of the products above—a CMS, forms builder, and ecommerce tools—with email marketing functionality and a basic CRM system. It provides respectable design flexibility and support for mobile devices. Though the product had issues in its original incarnation, Adobe has fixed many of these issues since acquiring it in late 2009 and continues to invest in product development. The catch? Business Catalyst isn’t sold directly to users, only through web developers and agencies (though there are ways around this).

Genoo

$2,400/year ($200 per month)

Genoo LogoGenoo is a solid, easy to use tool, very strong on email marketing / marketing automation. It offers some of the best built-in SEO tools of any of these packages. Genoo doesn’t provide native CRM functionality, but does have a pre-built integration to Salesforce.com. This is ideal for midsized companies with at least moderately sophisticated internal marketing resources who are already using a separate CRM system and are ready to graduate from hosted email marketing services. Genoo’s offering includes training on how to use its lead-nurturing capabilities.

ePROneur

$1,800/year ($150 per month)

ePROneur LogoThis is a complete web marketing package for smaller, non-ecommerce businesses. It provides a robust CMS for a website and blog along with native CRM, email marketing, and forms-building tools, as well as comprehensive strategy guidance for making all of the pieces work together. The ePROneur package uniquely combines hosting, software, services and strategy to help companies with limited resources effectively generate leads and revenue online. The web marketing resources section of the company’s website also offers a wealth of free strategic and tactical web marketing information.

Any of the alternatives above can help small to midsize companies cost-effectively build and manage their web presence with no IT infrastructure and limited technical expertise. The key from there is to choose a platform whose strengths match up with your business type and needs. And also to investigate multiple options to determine which tool, and company, you are most comfortable working with.

FTC Disclosure: Webbiquity has no affiliate relationships with any of the vendors in this review.

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How to Get More Blog Traffic – Real World Data

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Every blogger wants more traffic. How to get it? The key is a balanced strategy of search engine optimization (SEO), social media, syndication and guest posting.

So where does blog traffic come from, and how does this change over time? Looking at data from the Webbiquity blog, several trends are apparent. This B2B blog isn’t necessarily representative of all blogs of course, but the trends likely aren’t much different for many business blogs. What’s important here isn’t the specific results from this blog, but what those results say about how to get more traffic to your blog.

 

Six conclusions that can be drawn from this graph:

It takes time to build a blog audience. Don’t expect miracles right out of the gate, or get discouraged by low blog traffic at first. Patience is a virtue, and persistence is rewarded. Even those early posts may draw significant traffic over time as your blog gains traction.

Direct and referral traffic are highly correlated. It’s striking in the graph above how the lines for direct and referral traffic remain nearly parallel over time. But it makes sense: the more often your blog is “seen” on other sites, the more people will bookmark it, subscribe to your RSS feed, and type in the URL directly.

SEO doesn’t produce immediate results, but is crucial over the long term. Just as it takes time to build a following, it also takes a while to build credibility and authority with the search engines. Note from the graph that search was the lowest source of traffic to this blog for its first three months, and for six of the first nine months. But it’s been the top source of visits for nine of the past 10 months (the only exception resulting from the spike in direct and referral traffic to the Nifty 50 Top Women of Twitter post). And even with the falloff in direct and referral traffic over the last two months (more about that in a moment), search traffic has held up fairly well.

A closer look at Google stats (see below) reveals an even more remarkable point about search: while direct and referral traffic tend to be “spiky” based on the popularity of individual posts, search traffic is more consistent over time.

B2B Blog Traffic Sources

 

Social media is important. Of the top dozen sources of traffic, four were social networking or related sites: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and HootSuite. Twitter is the most productive, driving more than half of all non-blog social media visits. Including blogs, more than one of every seven visits came through social media (blogs, social networking, social bookmarking, or tools like HootSuite and bit.ly) sites.

Syndication is also helpful. Three of the top 12 traffic sources for this blog were syndication or content aggregation sites: B2B Marketing Zone, Social Media Informer and Social Media Today. The best syndication sites will vary by industry, so choose sites appropriate for your blog subject manner. Don’t overlook smaller blog directories and RSS syndication sites that can collectively drive notable traffic (as well as providing valuable links for SEO purposes).

B2B Blog Traffic Source DetailDigging deeper into the Google Analytics results and correcting errors (such as GA sometimes mislabeling search visits as referral traffic) yields a more detailed picture. Search is the top source of traffic for most blogs over time. But search is affected by every link, so a multi-faceted approach is critical. For example, links from other blogs may provide only modest direct traffic, but they influence search engines and other social media sources, as well as increasing direct traffic.

Post frequency matters. Back to that dropoff over the past two months—in a way, this blog is a victim of its own success. Because I’ve obtained several wonderful and active clients through my blogging, I’ve had less time to write posts over the past 60-90 days, and the resulting dip in direct and referral traffic is readily apparent in the first graph above. But for corporate blogs, the lesson is clear: maintaining consistent post frequency is crucial to maintaining high blog traffic and continuous growth.

A substantial share of “Other Referring Sites” traffic to this blog comes from WebMarketCentral, the website marketing resources portal. The lesson for companies is to feature your blog prominently on your corporate website, as that can be a rich source of visits.

All in all, your specific results will vary, but again the key to getting more traffic to your blog is a balanced approach of activities including search engine optimization (SEO), social networking, social bookmarking, syndication, blog commenting and guest posting. And of course writing compelling content for your audience.

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New Features Added to B2B Marketing Zone and Social Media Informer

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Several great new features were recently added to the B2B Marketing Zone and Social Media Informer by co-founder Tony Karrer. One of the most obvious is that posts now include images, making the sites more visually appealing than the former text-only design.

Redesigns Enhance Social Media Informer and B2B Marketing ZoneBoth of these sites bring together content from leading experts and companies like Brian Carroll, Paul Dunay, Ambal Balakrishnan, Harry Hoover, Gini Dietrich–really too many to list. You can find a long list of the Featured sources on the right side.  There is a lot more content that comes in as well beyond the Featured sources.

The home page itself will show you the latest and best content at any time.  For example as I’m writing this, I see a few great posts right up top:

Best is decided by the system based on social signals – that’s clicks, views, twitter, delicious, and other kinds of inputs that tell us what people are doing with the content.  And the goal of both sites is to make sure that great content from lesser known sources still makes it to the top.

Each day, week, month and year, each site generates a “Best Of” Edition.  You can change the Edition at any time.  That allows you to see some really great stuff beyond what you typically see on the home page.  For example, included in the July 25th edition on Social Media Informer are these posts (among others):

Posts on both sites are categorized by subject. Topics on B2B Marketing Zone include social media, inbound marketing and business blogging. Social Media Informer covers topics such as social networking, small business and brand monitoring.

The intent of the sites is to aggregate and make it easy to find great content.  You’ll see only see a snippet of each post.  When you click the link, you will be directed back to the source.  In other words, we curate the content, but don’t own it.  You can still comment and interact with the content on the original site.

Visiting these sites is a great way to find fresh content, but you can also subscribe to newsletter digests on both sites.

This is a quick overview of the new features on these sites.  Tony and I look forward to continuing to improve them.  If you have thoughts, or comments, please feel free to contact Tony Karrer via email at: akarrer@techempower.com.

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Be Everywhere Online – Without Your Foot in Your Mouth

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Guest post by Kristin Zhivago

Tom is right. As he contended in Web Presence Optimization Reloaded, you should be “everywhere.” You have to appear in all the channels where your customers may be lurking.

But—and this is big—if you appear in those channels with a message that does not resonate with your potential buyers, it’s worse than not being there at all. You will be convincing potential buyers that you really don’t understand their issues, don’t know what they really care about, and aren’t really going to be able to solve their problems. You will be “unselling,” rather than selling.

Roadmap to Revenue by Kristin Zhivago

Details about the revenue-growth method (including the questions you should be asking customers), are in Kristin's new book, Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy.

How do you make sure your content—wherever it appears—is relevant and convincing?

You ask your current customers a tested set of questions that will result in you knowing exactly what you should be saying to your future customers. Using this method, you will actually be able to reverse-engineer your successful sales so you can produce new sales in quantity. Fortunately, you only have to interview 7 – 10 customers of any given type to see ironclad, bankable patterns emerge. These patterns will direct your company’s efforts going forward, and will result in higher revenue.

You should ask your questions on the phone, in a conversation. Your customers will be more relaxed and tell you more on the phone than they will in person. They will also give you more usable information than you’d ever get out of an emailed or webform survey. People tend to “clam up” when they’re typing something that could be used against them in some way. And “listening” to social media won’t tell you what their buying process was, or what they were thinking as they made the purchase. Even social media companies hire me to have these conversations with their customers.

The interviewing is just the first step to increasing your revenue. Equally important is what you learn, and what you do with the information after you have analyzed it and discussed it.

You will learn:

  • Why they came looking for your solution—the problem they were trying to solve, and how they describe it. These words and phrases will become the magic words that resonate with customers. They won’t have to translate your internal jargon into the words and phrases they would naturally use.
  • What their concerns were as they were trying to buy. I say “trying,” because only a few companies in the world actually make it easy for their customers to buy from them. Most companies place one barrier after another in front of buyers when they’re attempting to buy.
  • What they like about your company, products, and services (which you should be promoting), and what simply isn’t working (which you should fix).
  • What they wish you were selling. It could be a small tweak to your existing product line, a new service associated with your product line, a new way of packaging or supporting the product, or even a new product that would provide a new revenue stream.

Armed with what you’ve learned, you will then map out their buying process. You will create marketing and selling tools that make it easy for them to take the next step in their buying process, encouraged by what they see as they go.

Using this approach, all of your online and offline content—and the tools produced for salespeople—will resonate with customers. Your product developers will know exactly what they should be focusing on. Top executives will know what should be offered, how the business should be structured, and even what people are willing to pay for those products and services. You will know the promises that they want you to keep, and you will make the necessary changes to your company so you can keep those promises. You will create a revenue-growth action plan that lays out the steps you need to take to make all this happen. You won’t have to guess and experiment anymore.

Kristin ZhivagoAs you make these changes to your website, marketing and selling tools, products, and services, customers will respond positively. They will buy more. And, they will tell others how great you are, which will increase your sales even more.

Kristin Zhivago is a revenue coach who helps CEOs and entrepreneurs sell more by understanding what their customers want to buy and how they want to buy it. She blogs at http://www.RevenueJournal.com.

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5 Questions Every Business Website Must Answer

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Twitter, YouTube videos, text messaging…there’s no question attention spans are short. Everyone is busy, asked constantly to “do more with less,” including most critically their time. To connect with buyers in this environment, your business website needs to provide them with the information they need—quickly and concisely.

Key Questions for Skeptical ProspectsBy the time a buyer reaches your site, he or she has likely done the basic research. The problem is defined, the solution set narrowed, and now it’s time to choose between competing vendors. In order to make the short list, and ideally to win the business, your site needs to quickly answer five critical questions.

1. Who are you? Unless your brand is a household name, at least within your industry, this is a critical element. Don’t waste your “About” page company history and trivia—make it “sell” your company. Write about awards, media/analyst recognition, number/importance of customers, length of time in business, the experience of your founders, funding, growth and financial performance, and/or any other information that conveys the message: we are the “safe” choice to buy from in this industry.

2. What do you sell? While that is obvious to you, it isn’t to prospects unfamiliar with your company. Use keyword research tools to make sure you are using terms your prospective buyers use, and make it clear and concise. Do you sell a point solution or something that’s part of a broader product suite? Products only or also associated services? For example, suppose you sell web content management software. That could mean a free or low-cost content management system, enterprise content management software, or a web marketing system that includes CRM and email capabilities as well as a CMS.

3. Who do you sell to? No company, especially a small business, can be everything to everyone. Make it clear who your target customers are; this will help weed out prospects who aren’t really qualified and enable you to tightly focus your web copy on your best potential buyers. Do you sell to consumers or to other businesses? To what specific demographic? To big companies or small? In a particular industry or set of industry segments? Make it clear to your site visitors if they are “in the right place.”

4. Why are you the best choice? This is where you differentiate yourself from the pack. Be as direct and factual as possible about your differentiators: service, price, features, capabilities, technology, experience, focus, expertise, acknowledgments, TCO, ROI…tell your prospects what makes your product or service uniquely suited to their needs.

5. How do I buy from you? If a qualified buyer has landed on your site and you’ve done a good job answering questions 1-4 above, this is the critical final question. What do you want the person to do next? Can they buy directly from your site or is it a more complex, high-value purchase that requires a sales cycle? If the former, give them a clear and simple path to the purchase. If the latter, you may need to provide more than one option—but don’t offer too many choices, which may overwhelm the prospect. Possibilities include downloading a white paper or report, signing up for a newsletter, contacting you for more information, following you on Twitter or Facebook, signing up for a free trial, viewing an online demo, or registering for a webinar. Different options likely make sense on different pages. Keep it simple and clear. Test different calls to action.

Much of this may seem obvious, but many business websites still either overload visitors with too much content or make key information hard to find. Differentiate your organization from competitors make it an effective sales tool by concisely answering these key questions for your prospective customers.

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