Third-Party Integration: Know Before You invest

Many clients ask me to help them find a cost effective enterprise solution for ERP, CRM, e-commerce, and a variety of data management challenges they are faced with. It was not too long ago that third party on-demand and OTS (off-the-shelf)  solutions were simply not what they promised to be. They had an unprofessional look and feel, custom branding wasn’t possible, they took a lot of time to learn, took days to implement properly, didn’t really deliver on what they promised, and often required a very deep commitment from users.

Times have changed and some third-party applications have come a long way to provide cost conscious users with robust, customizable, and brandable solutions.

Affordable no longer equals “cheap”.

The challenge remains though to select from the multitude of products available the one that is right for you.

Whether it’s a custom solution or off-the-shelf, it has to be flexible enough to grow along with you, meeting your needs today while able to accommodate the new ones that come along with growth. Additionally, it is important to be able to detect the product’s limitations and potential incompatibilities with the way in which you do business.

For example, when considering a third-party cataloging solution, you want to find a product that provides you with line item level functionality but does not require your products to be tied into the system to such an extent that if you were to discontinue the service or, for whatever myriad of possible reasons, the service became unavailable (company went out of business, system malfunction, etc.), you would lose all sales and marketing information at the product level. This scenario happens often. My team had to rescue several businesses from such an occurrence when they discontinued using the third-party service but did not plan ahead.

Any quality third-party solution should integrate seamlessly with your branded website. You always want your web pages to provide the indexable product information that serves to educate and motivate your prospective customers.  Your search engine optimized web pages and offsite efforts serve to build your authority score in the eyes of the search engines for the terms associated with your content, providing you with search engine effectiveness and on-going return on investment.

On the other hand, if your content is tied with the third-party solution at every level, linking only from your homepage before leaving your site completely to access it, then you essentially own nothing that serves to build your business online. Once you stop the service you are out of business on the web because no one can access your product content online any more. For those of you who sell through your online application, this can have a detrimental effect on sales.

The third-party app evaluation process has to take into consideration what you can and cannot do without. Sometimes it makes sense to use a comprehensive product catalog solution, for example, that takes care of everything from soup to nuts. What you have to understand is what you are giving up. Does it make sense for the way you do business? What happens if you decide to no longer use the product?

Always consider:

  • What must the system do today and in the future
  • Does it offer a flexible architecture that will grow along with you
  • Does the look and feel accurately represent your branding and your professionalism
  • Is it user-friendly for the public as well as the administrative tools you will have to use
  • What is the learning curve
  • How long does it take to implement
  • How will you be affected if you discontinue to use it or it malfunctions
  • What are your true costs of ownership, including but not limited to purchase price
  • What is the return on investment (how does it streamline processes, particularly for leads, sales, and time-consuming administrative tasks)
  • What are the limitations and how will you be affected by them

There are many excellent third-party solutions available for whatever you need to accomplish, from enterprise level ERP solutions to simple little cart apps for custom requests for quote or online sales. Whatever your objectives, understanding ‘how’ to consider your options is critical to making a wise investment. Make a poor investment and it could cost you dearly in time, money, and business.

Why Good Online Reviews Are Important

An interesting New York Times article recounts a horrifying online shopping experience a woman had with an e-retailer. The poor victim subsequently learned about an advocacy website where consumers vented their frustrations and experiences with this particular online merchant. The most disturbing part of the story was a statement posted at this consumer advocacy site by this unsavory merchant claiming his dishonest and sometimes threatening business practices (even involving physical threats and intimidation) were part of an overall strategy to generate online sales:

“Hello, My name is Stanley with…I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”

The merchant claims that the negative response resulted in higher listing spots in Google and increased sales online: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.”

Negative advertising is nothing new. It works.  And it can even be used effectively in a positive way, like Listerine’s negative advertising campaign that focused on the fact that the product tastes bad: “The Taste You Love to Hate (twice a day).”

Negative online customer reviews, however, are akin to notoriety. And notoriety and popularity are two very different things. Poor customer service and bad business practices are never advisable if you plan on staying in business for the long run. It is much more productive to develop sales initiatives that support both your overall growth objectives and your company mission statement. Three solid years of great online reviews and five star customer satisfaction goes a long way toward helping you achieve not only your search engine effectiveness but your longevity or even your value if you wish to sell your business or go public.

Long term versus short term: every short term initiative has a long term consequence. Encourage positive online reviews by offering your customers real value. From the experience they have at your website to the benefits of the product or service they receive from you, give them a good reason at every turn to take time out of their busy day to rave online about the experience they had with your company.

Business Development Tip to Optimize for Google Preview – It may be time for a website facelift

Google’s new Instant Preview feature allows users to click on a magnifying glass icon to get a screen shot of the web page associated with the search result link being displayed. With instant access to the ‘look’ of a website page, Google’s new browser feature has big implications for business website owners.

People, in general, are highly influenced by the way something looks. During a search, the first thing they will look for on the ‘instant preview’ is the item or information they were searching for. Additionally, they will be evaluating whether or not they want to interact with the page. If anything about the way it looks is unappealing, they will not even click through.
The history of culture and societies, never mind the brief history of the internet, tells us that people pass judgment based on the way a person, place or thing looks. Your website isn’t excluded here. That brief snapshot, in that split second,  now represents your entire business!

Here’s a good test to start with to let you know if your web pages need improvement. Have  someone you trust with a critical eye, evaluate your ‘instant previews’ against others on the Google Results page for:
1) First impression
2) Fulfilling expectations (can they see what you said you offer?)
3) Professionalism
5) Experience (does it look pleasurable and inviting?)
With Google’s ‘instant preview,’ first impressions count more than ever before.

Think about it.  If you have done a good enough job to even be found in Google within ranking results your buyers are looking, what a shame it would be to not get a click-through to your site based on the fact that you did not put your best foot forward.  If you’re ranking you have the content, DO NOT let leads / sales slip through your fingers because of poor design!

Ranking in Google: Understanding What Google Expects

Remember “Mayday”, the day a few months ago when Google released the results of algorithm changes that affect the way web page listings would be ranked for ‘long tail’ searches (phrases with 3 words or more)?

One of the most critical explanations Google provided about the change was actually quite simple and can be applied to any of the more than 400 adjustments to the algorithm the company makes throughout a given year.

Google’s Matt Cutts explains that the change is a way of “making sure things look good from a quality perspective.”

That’s it.

This is the explanation that should be your guiding principle behind the development, expansion and search engine optimization of each page of your website.  In their ‘Ranking in Google’ webmaster tutorial video on Youtube, Google states that among the many ranking factors ‘relevance’ and ‘importance’ are the two principle valuations.

To ensure the highest quality, Google aims to provide ‘relevant’ results that match the “query and interest of the user.” There are systems in place to help them achieve this including a degree of ‘personalization’ where the result is “customized to the individual’s search history.” Additionally, a degree of “importance” is attached to the web page through a system that evaluates the “quantity and quality of pages that link to it.” One of the more than 200 components of this valuation is something called “PageRank™”, which is a type of link analysis that determines the perceived value of a web page by the number and quality of “inbound links” from relevant, high quality sources that point to it.

Google recommends that the best way to increase your page’s PageRank™ “is to create good content, participate thoughtfully in relevant communities online and offline, and from this garner links naturally.” It is not acceptable to buy or sell pages with a high PageRank™. This includes the buying or selling of advertising where “you’ll want to make sure those links don’t pass PageRank by using the ‘no follow’ attribute.”

Google warns that that the web is changing at a frantic pace and that “constant content and link updates around the web” can affect your site’s presence in Google. It also cautions that web pages that violate the Google Webmaster Guidelines will “fall to a lower ranking.” The recommendation is to “carefully evaluate your site identifying and fixing any issues.”

For long term results, Google advises the following:

  • Think like your users
  • Provide content designed for users not search engines (no cloaking – sending different content to Googlebot than you are sending to users)
  • Consider how your users are likely to search for this content (use the language they use to search)
  • Don’t disappoint your users as they engage with content and links on your site (fulfill their expectations)
  • Regularly verify that all links on your site are still pointing to relevant resources that reflect well on you and your organization

To improve your ranking in Google you must first be honest with yourself about what is and isn’t working. Don’t confuse a sharp looking site with one that works to convert your target audience groups in addition to attracting them by ranking well in Google. Remember what Cutts said: “make sure things look good from a quality perspective.”

From Google’s standpoint, quality is measured by ‘relevance’ and ‘importance’. You are charged with proving that your web pages provide a frequented and valued resource to users whose search queries include your target keywords and phrases.

SEO for Google Images Search for Added Visibility

With Google’s recent updates to Google Images, it just makes good sense to SEO your website’s images, particularly if they are an asset to your selling toolkit. Having indexed more than 10 billion images, Google’s densely populated tool attracts users who are “learning and even shopping.”

Searchers who have a very specific need may use Google Images to identify or learn more about what they want while at the same time consider possible solutions. For example, a home owner with a mold problem wants to identify the mold she has, learn more about it, and discover what can be done to get rid of it and keep it from coming back. Using Google Images, she would search ‘black mold on walls.’ Providing eighteen results per page, Google displays images related to the search. When the user clicks on an image, a new screen opens that displays the image and caption on top and the web page where the image resides below.

Ways in Which Google Identifies Images

The context in which the image resides on the web page carries the most amount of weight for image identification. Google’s indexing algorithm is predominantly concerned with the body copy or textual information on the page that surrounds the image or that the image supports. In other words, identification and relevance both play a factor in indexing and ranking. Think of Google’s overriding objective: to provide end-users with information relevant to their query. The assumption is that people search images as a stepping-stone to the more detailed information they are after. They don’t just wnt to see the picture. They want to learn something about it.

What You Can Do

Search engine optimization of your images ensures two very important things:

1) images are clearly identified and contextually placed on your web pages to offer you the greatest support for your sales and marketing or informational message; and

2) Google Search can easily identify them and their contextual relevance, making them easy to index and rank within the Google Image search results pages.

Strategically placing images on your web pages and ensuring they are surrounded by carefully crafted body copy offers you an additional opportunity to increase your visibility online and be discovered by potential buyers, members, or supporters who are actively looking for what it is you offer.

Search engine optimization of your images is another aspect of the optimization process that is designed to help you get discovered by your target audience groups and identify your highly focused content as relevant to their needs.