Tuesday 18 December 2012

Taking Your Business Online

With the retail sector struggling, and intense competition from overseas online stores, more and more Australian businesses are moving online. But the online business world is full of landmines and potholes one must avoid, and for every success story there are most definitely stories of failure. We’re here to help you decide whether a move online could be beneficial, and to get a better grasp on the do’s and don’ts of eCommerce.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bricks and mortar store who would never consider going online, or an online store who would never consider leaving the virtual business market, the same business principles apply.

  • Fundamentals; you NEED to deliver quality customer value and service. The business landscape is changing with the increasing prominence of eCommerce and the constant technological advances, and with that, customer perceptions of value and service are changing.
  • Understand what your customer wants and how they behave. This is where you can get a huge competitive advantage. This is understanding how, when and if your customers interact with technology. The idea is to make your brand as accessible and engaging as possible in order to generate more revenue.
  • Understand your customer’s purchasing motivations. The major purchasing decision motivators are service, convenience, customisation and price. Determine which of these influence your customers the most, and how you can cater towards this.

Why are so many businesses going online these days?
The reasons are quite simple really:

It opens up your potential target market, in most cases it allows businesses to sell to a more global market due to increased accessibility.

It can lower overhead costs due to a decrease in rental costs and storeman salaries which can ultimately result in a higher profit margins.

Some brands are going online basically because they have no need for physical stores – book stores are a perfect example as most customers have no need to touch/feel the product before purchasing.

But perhaps the main reason why small businesses are either moving online or created as online business’, is really, the lower start-up costs in comparison to bricks and mortar stores.

If you do decide to jump on the bandwagon and ditch the bricks and mortar stores; there are 3 main principles you should follow when designing your online business.

  1. Accessibility.
    Make sure your online store is easily available to your target market. Remember a major selling point for customer’s to go online is convenience; so exploit this perception like you would a buffet.
  2. Simplicity.
    If customers go to a store and struggle to find where things are, or actually purchasing the product is complex and frustrating, they’ll leave. Thousands of research papers have told us this for years, and the same principles apply to the online space. If customers struggle to navigate the page, find the site to be cluttered or are getting frustrated with the layout, they won’t bother. Plain and simple. Remember, modern customers have more buying power than ever before.
  3. Informative.
    One major reason why some customers are hesitant to go online is they’re worried that the product will not be what they imagined it to be. To combat this, give detailed specifications on physical products with extensive information. Make it feel like the product is actually in their hands, and they’ll be eating out of the palms of yours.

  1. Don’t forget, even when you’re completely online, you may still need warehouse/office space. This may be for stock, customer service lines, sales people etc. Just because your customers only purchase/view stock online, doesn’t mean you should forget about any physical office locations. Amazon.com, one of the most successful eCommerce businesses made this mistake early on. They never anticipated the need to rent a warehouse for their stock, and it almost ruined the business in its early years. So in many cases, keeping a portion of their physical locations will be necessary.
  2. Don’t forget the importance of customer service. Yes, it will be on a completely different platform to traditional retail, but it is still essential. This includes being very timely with customer questions and feedback, and having a contact number should be considered. Customers still like to interact with real people whilst shopping, so try and give them the best of both worlds.
  3. Don’t just assume that because you are online that your costs will halve, and your revenue will exponentially grow. You still have to market your brand, deliver quality products/services and continually innovate your brand and products in order to compete effectively.

Friday 30 November 2012

Social Media - Why You Should Use It, and How

The business world is ever-changing and intensely competitive, so any competitive advantage you can gain is priceless. Successful business strategies can always be boiled down to the fundamentals; catering to your consumer’s needs, wants and demands – basically giving the public what the public wants!

What do most modern consumers want? Accessibility and a brand with personality!

There has been extensive stigma surrounding social media and how it can damage a business’ reputation and that it takes a lot of resources to successfully run a business’ social media page, but if it is done correctly, it can take a little as 15 minutes a day. But why should your brand have a social media outlet? Well the chances are a very high proportion of your target customers are using social media, and getting your brand out there and engaging with consumers is what business is all about. It’s cheap, effective marketing!
If you don’t move with the times, you’ll get left behind. It’s as basic as that.

A few tips and tricks to make sure your social media campaign is effective.

1. Shameless Self-Promotion

No matter how good your content is, how good your promotional campaigns are and no matter how many updates you do, they’re all virtually pointless unless you advertise the fact that you have a social media presence. Too many businesses put effort into their social media campaigns, but don’t inform their customers. Let’s face it, a lot of consumers are lazy and won’t even think to look a business up on Facebook. You have to be proactive, add incentives for liking you on Facebook. It will all be worth it in the end.

2. Show Your Soft Side

One reason why some businesses have been skeptical about joining Facebook, are the negative comments unhappy customers leave, and the damaged these comments can do to a brand image. Ladies and gentlemen, do not fear. If handled in the right way, these negative comments can help build a positive view of your brand.

Ultimately, it’s important to respond to these comments. Not replying makes it seem as though your brand does not care, and does not feel accountable for their actions. It is important to respond in a timely, and empathetic manner in an attempt to solve the problem at hand.

3. Timing is Everything

Ask Stephen Bradbury how he won his miraculous gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in speed skating, and he would probably say “he timed his run to perfection”. Ask Michael Clarke about his record breaking season of cricket with 4 double centuries in a calender year, and he’ll say ‘Timing was the Key’. Ask Felix Baumgartner what the most crucial part of the ‘Red Bull Stratos’ Mission was, and I dare say, that he would answer, “the timing”. The same fundamentals that cultivated in major events in history applies to marketers, and even more potently, to Social Media Marketing.

Understanding your customers will make this process much easier. For example, knowing when the majority of your customers are online, and making sure you post then will maximise your exposure and results. Posting at 3am in the morning when most of your customers are asleep is not recommended… in fact highly frowned upon.  It seems like common sense, but many brands forget to consider such an integral part of the success for their social media campaign.

4. Content is King

Business is about providing your consumers with some sort of benefit, and social media is no different. If you want more people to like your page and engage with your brand, give them something to engage with! Having quality, relevant and evocative content helps build brands, and help position them within a market. Content is vital to your brand’s personality and perceived value. NEVER underestimate the power of content.

5. What’s the Key to Presenting an Effective Image On Social Media?

Just like the cliché answer that almost everyone feels obligated to use when asked; “What do you look for in a partner?” – Personality.

People aren't looking to interact with a corporate, up-tight brand over social media. Consumers go onto social media platforms for light-hearted entertainment and to interact with peers, therefore your brand should be a little less formal. In no way am I saying that a legal firm should be posting about their weekend out, but I’m saying have some personality – whilst staying in line with your business profile.

Don’t be scared to show opinions, use semi-colloquial language, and make jokes (as long as they are tasteful), and make interacting with your customers as fun and enjoyable as possible.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Your Online Privacy

So much of our day-to-day lives is now wrapped around some form of internet connectivity, that it's hard to imagine how we would function without it. From email and games to social media and communication tools, life as most people know it is lived (to some degree) in a virtual world.

Then we hear a story about a site changing its policies to 'reflect the ever-changing online environment'. Whenever a major player changes its own rules there are always a handfull of people complaining or walking away in protest - canceling their accounts.

Some recent events that have sparked great emotion;
1. Facebook's timeline rollout [PC Mag]
2. Twitter's 'selling' of archived tweets [Mashable]
3. Wikipedia's subjective editing [PC World]

At the end of the day, the social media giants really aren't going to worry too much about a few thousand people leaving. Because of the sheer volume of people using their sites, and the millions of new users joining every day will mean that they're never really going to take a hit.

While some of the policy changes do certainly alter the accessibility of our information, it's ultimately not something we should be concerned about if we've taken appropriate precautions, and understand the risks of using social media.

Tips & Suggestions:

1. It's called 'social media' because it's designed to be social.

When you post or submit any information to any website (either as a message or just information), assume that it may be accessible by more than just your intended recipient. Unless the recipient (person and/or website) is covered to protect your information by law (banks, medical, legal etc..), they're not only free to use it how they want, but they're free to change their policies on such things as well. Although it's probably not in their best interest, they can even edit the information you post if they wanted to. This includes 'private' messages or even email.

2. Create an alias

I'd recommend for every parent introducing a young person to the online world, to create an alias for use online. Determine a name, date of birth, address & phone number. Then create some standard passwords & hints that relate to your new alias, a mothers maiden name, a pets name, city 'you' were born in - all questions you may be asked when registering for online services. Write them all down and keep it by the computer for easy reference. This creates a level of separation between your online profile and your personal information. Obviously for interacting with legitimate sites, you'll want to use your actual information, but for places it doesn't matter as much (forums, galleries, photo/file sharing & download services),

3. Create a free online email account to use for dubious registrations

Once you have your alias determined, go and create a free email address (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo etc..) using those details. This creates a level of separation between your online profile and your personal information. You may have noticed that sometimes when you register for something, you instantly begin to receive hundreds of junk email from all kinds of places. Keeping registrations in an email account that's separate from your main email means you're reducing the amount of spam you have to sift through, but if you need to log in to confirm something that's sent to you you can do it. If you're signing up for a service that you're not 100% sure about or don;t feel you need to hear from them again, this is the email account to use.

4. Don't leave a social site just because you are unhappy with changes

This isn't so much a privacy protection stance, as long as your customers (or potential customers) are there, you also need to be there. As with any of life's curveballs, you just need to roll with the punches. Facebook isn't going away (at least any time soon), so you need to work out how you can adapt your usage so that you feel comfortable with the public availability (real or potential) of the things you post.

5. Be cautious what you sign up for

There are many 'easy' signs that a site is just looking for people to enter their personal information. Watch out for;
- popups telling you that you were a randomly selected winner and to click to claim your prize.
- ads telling you to register to get a free iPad (Apple products are commonly used as bait)
- notices that 'you have qualified for a 'free gift' without having made a purchase
- Opt-in check boxes when registering for online websites. Read the language carefully, sometimes they reverse the language to confuse you (check the box to not receive our emails).
- Opt-in language that allows the site to share your information with their 'partners' (this is particularly dangerous since they then have the right to sell off your address to hundreds of 'affiliated' databases).

6. When submitting personal information (especially credit card info), check it's a secure site

There's 2 quick ways to check if the site your information is being submitted via a secure page. Securing pages prevents something called 'eavesdropping' where a non-authorised party 'watches' what you're typing into a form. This is not something that's controlled by the person owning the website, but can be prevented by them using encryption.
1. The address at the top will start with https://.. that little 's' stands for secure, and means that the page has an SSL certificate encrypting information being entered.
2. Look for a little padlock or  in your browser header or footer. This is something that can be a little harder to find, as there's no consistent place across different browsers. For instance, firefox now uses a document icon on a blue background to the left of the URL.
A lack of an SSL certificate doesn't mean that your information will be stolen, it just means that it's not being sent encrypted to the recipient. It's like sending a postcard through the mail instead of a sealed envelope.


Don't perpetuate the problem.

Never, ever, not ever forward an email to part or all of your contact list because an email tells you to. Tracking pixels in emails are not able to identify individuals that forward emails, only if the site generated an email to a specific user, and then only if HTML formatting is used and images are enabled etc. in other words - there is no way for a company to track every person that forwards an email. However, emails that are forwarded around with lists of email addresses on them are easy ways for email farmers to not only collect your email address, but then sell it to multiple dubious mailing lists.

When developing your own site, make sure your language is clear and concise. Don't try to trick people into signing up for your mailing list. Sure you might get more people on your list, but you risk losing the trust you have/had with your clients if they feel you were deceptive.

Talk to us today about your online security and how you can add security measures to your own site so that others can trust you too.

Monday 10 September 2012

myCMS Facelift

The boys have been working hard over the last few weeks, putting together a brand new look for myCMS. We will be starting to roll it out this afternoon and will be completed by the end of the week. You don’t have to worry though! All the features that you loved about the old myCMS are still there and we are providing a cheat sheet to help you through anything new.

Simply visit http://cheatsheet.mycms.com.au/ to check out all the new features and improvements and if you are still having any problems don’t hesitate to contact your project manager.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Business in Sutherland Shire, Northern Beaches and Melbourne's East

How well do you know the local area of your business? Have you lived there your whole life? Are you new to the region? Knowing your immediate client base and the community can be an invaluable insight into the purchasing mindset of those closest to you.

Look at the businesses in your local area that have prospered and those that have been and gone. What was the difference between them? How did they market themselves? And who did they market to?

Some businesses can rest on the laurels of their reputation and word-of-mouth advertising, but the majority of small companies in the Sutherland Shire need to make some kind of effort to get their name out there in these days of mega-corporations setting up shop and under-cutting stand-alone businesses.

3 exposure methods you may not have tried

1. Sponsor a local school or team

Schools are vast networks of people, and they're always in need of money. Contact your local school to see if there is any project they need help funding and ask about the promotion exposure they can provide you. You may make it onto a newsletter that's seen by thousands of local people for just a few hundred dollars.

2. Make it easy for your happy customers to tell others about you

Whether it's through social sharing options on your website, or a 'refer a friend' discount you can offer customers, you want to make sure you don't miss out on word of mouth referrals. These are often MUCH more valuable than most forms of paid advertising.

3. Brand yourself

I don't mean by tattooing your logo to your forehead (although that may also attract some attention), but vehicle signage is great for local exposure and brand reinforcement. Many of our customers have seen our Digerati cars driving around the Sutherland Shire and Northern Beaches, and it's just one more way of reminding people that you're there. You don't need to try and use it as a pitch, or a specific call to action (which can be difficult when people are driving), but you want to become a saturated brand that they will be familiar with when thinking about the services you offer.


One important thing to remember is that online listings, both free and paid can be invaluable - especially to a market that may not even know you exist. Google, Bing and Yahoo all have paid advertising options that allow you to get some targeted exposure for very little money. This can be a much cheaper option (and/or much less manual work) than trying to increase your search result ranking organically, and means you can be very specific in your advertising to different sectors of the market.

2 free things you can do in less than an hour that can make a big difference.

1. Make sure you have a Google & Bing maps listing.

Many more people are starting to use map services to find local business. It's much quicker to open google maps to find a store near you than to try and rely on the searches to return accurate results, plus, you can see exactly where the business is located.

It's also a good reference point for people using smartphones, or customers driving to find you.

Google Map Listing: https://maps.google.com (look on the left "Put your business on Google Maps")
Bing Business Portal: http://www.bing.com/businessportal

2. List on business directories. The more local the better.

Even though Google is the #1 place people go to look for their information, every listing boosts your online exposure and is reflected in your search result ranking. The more local of a directory you can get on, the better. If your city or suburb has a listing of local businesses with website links, that is a great place to be listed, because it directly ties your business with a location.

Even a free listing on directories like Australian based Hotfrog.com.au, have public listings that can be indexed by search engines.


At Digerati Solutions, we're always here to chat about ways to be more effective at reaching your audience. Talk to us today.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Top 10 websites for inspiration

When starting a new project it's easy to go to what you know. A tried and tested formula that's worked in the past. But web design is different. For the most part, people and businesses don't want the same website as everyone else. They want something that will stand out from the crowd - something that makes people pay attention.

It may be as simple as a mouse-over effect or an innovative way of navigating around the site, but it't always good to keep abreast of the industry and keep the pulse of what's new and cool. Just like the catwalks of Paris, you don't necessarily take a whole site to use, but little bits from here and there, some colour inspiration and some flair can be just what you need to have your users glued to their screen for a few minutes longer.

Here's a list of my top 10 websites to visit when I'm looking for some new ideas or just some of the current trends in web design.

1. The FWA - http://www.thefwa.com

This site has long been the exclusive list of the best in the world. The people and companies pushing the envelope right to the edge of the desk. Unfortunately most of these sites are out of a modest budget range, but very cool none the less.

2. CSS Website Awardshttp://www.cssdesignawards.com

This is a neat little site that showcases some quite regular sites that offer things out of the ordinary, or sometimes just look nice. Either way, it's a nice place to drop by now and again.

3. Dribbblehttp://dribbble.com

While Dribbble is a new exclusive tight-knit (often snobby) group of designers, it actually had an awesome gallery of web designs and unique web elements. While you rarely see a full site design on the site (due to the small size of the image you can upload), you do see a lot of small pieces which allows you to focus on some fine detail. Good luck trying to get a full designer account, but you can view the gallery no problems.

4. Site Inspirehttp://siteinspire.com

A nice little site with a lot of nice design work, but the featured sites often seem to be a little too arty for my preference. Still if that's the look you're going for - this may be just the site for you.

5. Pinterest - http://www.pinterest.com

While it's definitely not a place to find cool web designs, it does have a load of very cool art, crafts, architecture, cooking & photography - all of which can spark a cool idea.

6. P22 - http://www.p22.com

A font foundry that produces loads of very cool fonts. If you've never paid for a font, it's about time to start. Fonts have been the focal point of a number of sites I've worked on. I find them very inspirational, and very interesting. On the other hand, if you're looking for a site to get fonts at no charge that can be used commercially - check out Font Squirrel.

7. GettyImageshttp://www.gettyimages.com.au

While not a web design specific site, Getty is arguably the premium stock photo provider worldwide. It has an extensive range of royalty free (note this does not mean free) and exclusive rights managed images. If you're looking for a unique photo or set of brand photos that will define your business and brand on your website this is the first place I'd go to ensure nobody else will pop up using the same photos.

8. DeviantArt - Web Interfaces - http://browse.deviantart.com/designs/web/

While DA is a breeding ground of art (of every kind), it does often have some nice web layouts featured on there. Unfortunately the web interfaces category is constantly bombarded with animated gifs, forum signatures and other random banners, there's still some inspiration to be found occasionally.

9. Websites that suckhttp://www.webpagesthatsuck.com

While it's not necessarily a positive inspiration. It's good to see things that turned out quite bad from time to time (and to make sure none of my work is ever listed on there). Sometimes the idea was good, and the artwork was good, but the execution that let it down. It can be worth a visit for a chuckle from time to time too.

10. Designspirationhttp://designspiration.net

Another site of many cool design pieces, but very few for web design which is why it's so low in my list.


What are your favorite places for inspiration?
Talk to Digerati Solutions today about how we can build the coolest website on the block - together!

Monday 30 April 2012

Pinterest - The new kid on the (social media) block

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a cross between twitter, a bookmarking site and a global game of show & tell. Users find interesting photos online and 'pin' them to 'boards' (or save them into categories). Similar to Twitter, you can select to 'follow' your friends but Pinterest also determines other people that post similar content and add them to your feed as well. The end result is a constant stream of photos of all different topics and styles. Clicking on the photo takes you back to the website it came from, so you may be checking out a million dollar kitchen followed by a great rainbow layer cake recipe or weekend craft ideas with the kids.

For the most part, the photos are high quality, and even if you're just into looking at great inspiring photos, you'll get a lot out of the site without ever pinning your own images.

It may seem a little strange in concept, but it's very simple to work out, and before you know it, you've spent 3 hours looking through all of the great content.

Pinterest is NOT meant to compete with the likes of Facebook or Twitter, and really doesn't provide a similar function. Its main function seems to be providing an unlimited resource of things that people like; including (but not limited to) cooking, clothes, art, nostalgia, flowers, craft, cocktails, aspirational quotes, unbelievable home renovation, as well as a slew innovative products and portfolio pieces.

Pinterest Screenshot

A Bit Of Background

Pinterest started in early 2010, and although reaching 10,000 members within 9 months, it wasn't until an article in Time Magazine (Aug 2011) that it started to gain a massive following. By December 2011 they were averaging 11 million visits per week, and by January 2012 there were almost 12 million unique users, making it the fastest site in history to break the 10 million user mark, and as by March it was officially the 3rd largest social media network in the US. 

It has been reported that as many as 85% of users are female, and altough the averages are slowly coming back towards even, the user base is still heavily weighted by women which does prove to be a great targeted demographic for marketing.

Appropriate Use

Although the official rules are relatively unrestricted, they do have a Pin Etiquette page which outlines their requested usage. This includes things like being respectful, crediting your sources & user responsibility for reporting questionable content.

It's important to note that all content that you pin is public, so anybody can see your activity - whether they're a member or not. There are no private boards, so it's intended to be a truly social and open network - like twitter.

There is ongoing discussion around the tone of the artwork being added by businesses, whether it needs to have some level of artistic merit, or if all is fair game. As noted, there's no rules that touch on the tone of the content (beyond inappropriate content), but I think you'll find more success if you produce artwork somewhere in the middle.

Content that has more of an artistic or high quality photographic element are more likely to be liked or re-pinned.

Getting The Most From Pinterest

The genius thing that Pinterest have done is to integrate each action with your favorite social network (Facebook or Twitter). Whenever you add something new, like something of someone else or re-pin content, the action is saved to your news feed. This means that the things you 'like' are being exposed to your entire social group (and visa versa), as WELL as random people that like similar things.

The way these things generally trend, within year or so, Australia will be well and truly on the Pinterest bandwagon. You will want to be on early to be familiar with how it works, but it's more important to be active. Just like most social networks, content exposure is highest at the time of posting (or pinning in this case). It's a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario, but why not have a dominant presence ahead of your competitors.

In terms of content suggestions for your business, there is an easy ways to integrate with your website. If you set up a specific image that represents your business you can add a 'pin it' button to your site. Users clicking this button and they will see a popup with the image you have made along with a pre-written message.

This can be great to add some viral component to a giveaway or promotion or just something new you want to get some wide exposure on.

Here's a few companies that have put a lot of effort into their boards and their Pinterest presence.
- http://pinterest.com/peugeotpanama/
- http://pinterest.com/etsy/
- http://pinterest.com/pauladeen/
- http://pinterest.com/threadless/

Creating An Account

Pinterest is a free network, but is limited access in that if you want to just go to the site and sign up, there's a 3-5 day wait for your account to be approved. The quickest way to get instant membership is to be invited by an existing member. This ensures that you start with at least 1 friend, and the Pinterest network stays communal in nature.

If you would like an invitation, just give us a call or shoot us an email, and we will send over an invite. Feel free to chat to us about how Pinterest could be a benefit to your business, and let us know how you're using it in a new and interesting way.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Facebook Evolution - Timeline for Business

It's the start of a new phase for Facebook, as they roll out possibly the biggest change to their platform in almost 2 years. The 'Timeline' layout and functionality for business sites will become standard within a few weeks (31 March 2012). There's some great new things the new format brings, so it's time to embrace the change.

You may have noticed the timeline layout for personal pages was rolled out a few months back to a lot of upset users. Not really because of any significant reason, ut because it meant a shift in how they use facebook and the placement of some key components moved around a little. The business side is basically the same, but with some nice additions.

See a new timeline outline here »

The key changes.

1. Public interaction with the brand without being able to force a 'like'
In the current version, you are able to basically make it impossible for a consumer to interact with you publicly, by posting on your 'wall' etc. Now, all standard facebook interactions will be possible without requiring a user to like your brand. This does NOT extend to applications though, and you can still force users to like your brand before they see additional content.

2. Cover photo
Each brand will now be able to select a large cover photo for display at the top of their page. This looks great and helps a business to expand its brand graphically within the facebook framework unlike before. There are some rules however.
Cover images may not contain:
- Price or purchase information, such as "40% off" or "Download it at our website"
- Contact information, such as web address, email, mailing address or other information intended for your Page's About section
- References to user interface elements, such as Like or Share, or any other Facebook site features
- Calls to action, such as "Get it now" or "Tell your friends"
Jon Loomer has a nice video outlining some of the new rules here.

Examples of some great cover images.

3. Application icons
In the current version, reaching custom applications was restricted to a small navigation under the logo on the left side, but you were able to set a default 'tab' page. The new layout means that you no longer have content that loads automatically, and instead, you get to highlight 3 content pages (now called apps) via the app icons directly below the cover photo. You can hold up to 12 apps, but there's only space for 3 app icons.

4. 'Pinned' post or featured photo
Not to be confused with the new social sharing site Pinterest. A pinned article is a post (text, photo, video or a combination) that you can 'pin' to the top of your timeline for 7 days. A featured photo is one that spans the full width of the timeline.
The restrictions that apply to canvas artwork don't apply here, but remember, it's just a photo, so if you want to direct people to an app, you're going to have to include a link to it in the photo description.

5. New W-I-D-E App page
Unfortunately all app content is now on a separate page, however there are a few benefits.
1. More space. The tab page layout restricted content to 520 pixels, but the new app page layout is 810 pixels (that's over 55% more space). Since you're going off to another page, they have added some additional navigation to the top of the page so you can easily go back to the timeline or to anywhere else in your facebook account.


Talk to us today about updating your facebook presence, or even helping you get set up.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

The 5 Keys to Online Business

It's hard for many people to imagine (or remember) a world without being able to shop online. The ease of being able to buy your groceries, Christmas presents and book in your mani-pedi (all while watching re-runs of Master Chef in your PJ's), makes going into an actual brick & mortar store seem like something out of a black & white movie.

We are living in the era of online shopping and while the global online shopping center is almost unfathomable, there are a few key elements that can make or break your online business.
Note: As much as we emphasise the importance of great creative - as long as the content is laid out in a manner that can be followed, the overall style of the elements is only a small factor of customer satisfaction compared to the key areas below. There are many non-pretty sites that are highly successful (Craigslist, Wikipedia & are just a few examples). Great design has little to do with how pretty it looks - it's all about how functional it is.
1. Ease of finding/browsing products

If a potential customer can't find what they're looking for, how are they going to be able to make a purchase? Try to think how your customers will be thinking when they come in, and not how you categorise your products. Select the best of what you have to offer (either the highest interest or the highest profit) and make sure the user sees those first.

Things to avoid
  • Don't categorise products primarily by brand. Unless you're a B2B operation, few customers will know which specific brand they like, so navigating through different styles becomes tedious. This does however work well as a secondary 'filter' option for people who want matching items after they have found one they like.
  • Don't try to overload the user with everything you have to offer at once. Create a hierarchy of information and highlight key areas for the user to see first. (Remember, bold text only stands out when it's surrounded by regular text).
2. Current & complete data

You've been looking for a specific product for weeks, you finally find it online and at the right price, you got to place the order only to find out that the product is no longer available or the price has changed. You've not only wasted the time of your customer (who isn't likely to ever come back), but you're now having to provide some customer service to smooth things over.

As monotonous as it is to keep a large inventory up to date on your site, it's essential that your catalogue is current, and as complete as possible. The more you add up front, the less likely you are to have products returned to you.

Things to avoid
  • Don't try to be deceptive in your descriptions. Yes it may close the sale for you, but as soon as the buyer gets a product that doesn't match what they expected, you know it's coming right back.
  • Blurry or small photos. Because a customer can't touch the product before they buy, you need to make the shopping experience as close to realistic as you can. The better you present your product (or service for that matter), the better it's going to 'feel' on screen.
3. Answers to common questions

There are a handful of questions that almost every user that comes to your site wants to ask. The goal of a good online business is to allow the user to not only search, find and buy what you're offering, but can also 'ask' any questions they would have asked if they were completing the purchase in person. Start with transaction-based questions like security, what will appear on a credit card statement, shipping rates & times, then go onto delivery, guarantees and warranty, then importantly a number to call (or a form to complete) for more questions.

Things to avoid
  • Again, don't try to mislead people. Be honest and clear about prices, delivery times, order processes and special offers.
  • There's no need to think of EVERY question. it's called frequently asked questions for a reason. Not 'every question that's been asked before'. Keeping the list somewhat limited makes it easier to skim through the list and makes it more readable. If people are presented with a long page to sort through, they're either going to skip it and call you directly or just go to another site.
4. Easy to understand terms & service information

Make sure any terms and conditions of your business are easy to find and easy to understand. This may be as simple as adding a link to your terms in the top navigation, or you may need purchasers to agree to your terms before completing a transaction.

You will also need to ensure that you have a legal privacy policy which outlines your company's policy on the collection and storage of personal information. A text link in the page footer for this is an adequate solution.

Things to Avoid

  • Industry Jargon. Speak in plain english (or your relevant language), and provide external links to explain technical things.
  • Don't take advantage of the fact that few people will actually read the terms by hiding in loopholes for yourself.

5. Customer service

We've all needed to return an item or call to report a problem with a service we're paying for. So we also know that the experience starts at a place of being unhappy to some extent. When we feel that the person we're talking with isn't taking us seriously, is being unreasonable or is minimising our problem it can quickly escalate.

Online support is no different, and in many cases is a little more sensitive. People are generally more wary of making purchases online since there is (often) no physical store to return to, or no way to make a personal connection with a sales representative.

Make sure your customer service personnel are adequately trained to keep your customers calm and help bring situations to a peaceful resolution. You can easily turn an aggravated consumer into a raving fan with the right tone. Since your customer is also likely to be savvy with online platforms, there is also a high likelihood that whatever the outcome, they will be sharing it on Facebook or Twitter.

At the end of the day, if a customer decides not to buy from you, you want it to be because the product itself or the price weren't in line with their expectations - not because they felt you were untrustworthy, didn't care about them, or they felt you were being deliberately deceptive.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid confrontational language like "If you had read our refund policy...", "Calm down", "You should have...", "Why didn't you.." or "Like I told you..."
  • Avoid suggesting that the reason the customer is unhappy is because of their own fault or incompetence.
  • Avoid using informal colloquialisms. Keeping your language formal is a great way to reassure the customer that you are taking them seriously. Phrases like "Just a sec", "Hold on", ""


Let us know your top tips for a successful online business.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

The Handoff - Letting Go

As a creative team, we get personally invested in every project we work on. Both designers and developers have a personal connection with the things we build. Every tiny image, link and button is fit into place with precision and love.

It should come as no surprise that it's hard to let go of control when it comes time to hand the reigns over to it's new owner - you, the client. To make hand-off a little easier for both of us, I thought we would list a few things that can help us both out.

1. Content Overload

Unless you're visiting wikipedia, a user is generally not looking for an opportunity to sit and read (primarily) when browsing for a product or service. For the most part, they want the key information presented quickly and efficiently with the option to read more if they would like more information. For this reason, you should keep content on your main pages short and to the point. If you have lengthy information that may be helpful, consider adding it as an article or a secondary page.

Although we usually allow for pages to expand to fit any length of content - it's a good practice to keep your text as concise as possible. If you will need to have pages that contain a lot of content - that should be something that's discussed before the site is designed so that we can take that into consideration too.

2. Copyright Protected Content

Acquiring pre-made images (photos or clip art) can be a tricky situation. Copyright law is much more extensive than most people understand, and infringements can be accompanied by significant legal consequences.

As a general rule, anything that's already on the internet (text, image, animation or otherwise) is protected by copyright law and you will need written permission to use it - unless otherwise stated. We will usually confirm that you have rights to use any content sent to us, but it's ultimately the responsibility of the site owner if content is being used illegally.

Image libraries are a great source of photos, videos and other media for us on your site. Using royalty free images means that after you have paid an initial fee, you have full rights to use that image however you like - for as long as you like. These images vary in price based on quality, size & the site you're on. but you can expect to pay around $2-$5 per photo.

Here's a few of the larger libraries;
- istockphoto.com
- dreamstime.com
- shutterstock.com (subscription based)
- gettyimages.com (royalty free AND rights managed images)
- sxc.hu (this is a free site, but most are not free for commercial use)

Note that using the watermarked image without purchasing the image is also illegal.

Copywriting is often a forgotten component to developing a professional site. The readability of your information, and the tone that is set on your site is a element crucial to high-level success. Hiring a professional copy writer to develop the full copy for the website and your company communications can raise your level of professionalism above most other small and medium sized organisations.

As with images, copying text from a competitors site is illegal, regardless of whether they will ever notice. Even changing a few words here and there is most likely inadequate to dodge a copyright infringement lawsuit. It can help to understand how a competitor ranks so high on searches by reading their text, but just re-write it in your own words and you're good.

Legal text again is something that is often overlooked or often copied. Speaking with your legal advisor will give you the best results for preparing your privacy policy & terms of service documents. Make sure they're specifically relevant to your site and your business, but most of all make sure that any claims you make in them are accurate. There's nothing worse than claiming something in your terms (that were 'borrowed' from a competitor), then having a customer finding you had breached them inadvertently.

3. Images

Regardless of how large the image shows on the website, the actual size of the image needs to be appropriate for the web. Photos you take with your digital camera (or even sometimes your mobile phone), need to be resized before you use them on your site. If you don't have any image editing software, you can use an online tool like smalljpg.com.

Try to keep the file size if any images below 40k for large photos, and 15k for smaller images.
Feel free to ask us what image dimensions are appropriate for your specific site.

Just for the record, the DPI (dots per inch) setting of a JPG file is not important as the display size (on a computer screen) is dictated by the screen resolution, not the print resolution. If the pixel dimensions are the same, there's no difference between a 300dpi file and a 72dpi file on a website.

3. Formatting

The key to a professional website is consistency. Headlines, along with body copy and callout text should all be the same font, size, colour and postion on every page. Images should have the same padding, borders & text labels.

While we can enforce content to follow very strict guidelines (overwriting any that you add), we prefer to leave a level of flexibility within the CMS tool for you to use it how you need to.

Be careful when copy and pasting as it can bring more than just text across. Embedded code, styles and scripts can be an unwelcome hangers-on that mess up the formatting and layout of the other content on your page.