B2B E-mail in the GDPR world

As with all posts on the subject, I must start it by saying that I am not a legal expert. This blog should be read in light of that knowledge.

We are now just over 12 months since GDPR came into force. From the outset, it was suggested that the new regulations would have a significant impact on E-mail Marketing.

The ironic thing is that GDPR did not actively change the rules on e-mail marketing. Regulations in this area were set out years earlier in the e-privacy directive in 2002. Since then you have needed Opt-in in for consumer emails, and a clear opt-out for B2B campaigns. GDPR did not change that. What it did do however was re-enforce the burden of proof re consumer opt-ins. In broad terms, B2B email regulations were not altered. B2B email without a specific opt-in is still permitted where there is a “Legitimate interest” in doing so.

GDPR 12 months on

So, 12 months on, where do we stand?

For B2C campaigns, the burden of proof regarding opt-in now means that double opt-in, where subscribers confirm their intention, is the only real option. This post focuses however to B2B campaigns, the arena where most of our readers sit.

In B2B email, GDPR actually changed very little. When operating in markets where customer relationships go beyond simple email communications, and where broader relationships mean that strict double opt-in would become intrusive and unworkable, sending well-targeted emails to a contact group who are likely to be interested in your content, and where there is a clear and functional system for opting out (unsubscribing) is still perfectly legitimate.

Beyond the rules – attitudes have changed

However, post-GDPR, attitudes to email have changed. Not so much amongst recipients but rather in the minds of the companies supplying e-mail marketing solutions. In the eyes of these organisations, double opt-in is now the default. Whilst this may be appropriate given their focus on consumer markets, it can deliver challenges for legitimate B2B email marketers.

For these people it has shifted the attitude to e-mail, focusing squarely on quality, not quantity, and identifying email as a tool predominantly for communicating with people who already know who you are. The quality of your list is now, more than ever, critical to maintaining deliverability.

The best way to ensure this quality is to use double opt-in where you can be 100% sure that emails are accurate. However, where this is not possible, e-mail verification systems (we use one called kickbox.io), and the careful monitoring of bounces are key to maintaining list and data quality.

In conclusion

So, where are we 12 months on from GDPR? I think it has changed B2B e-mail marketing placing the focus squarely on quality rather than quantity, and forcing people to think about exactly how it is used, and who they target.

I think it has also increased the importance of Social Media (Especially LinkedIn in B2B markets) as a tool for reaching out more widely to your target market. But that is another post!

Number 1 on Google within 24 hours – NO, NOT one of THOSE ads!

Number 1 on GoogleMarketing is not a 1-trick pony

There are many business owners who live in the misapprehension:

If I can get to Number 1 on Google my business will succeed

This is a nice idea that quietly sidelines a number of important questions, such as:

  1. Do people really search for the term(s) where I rank #1?
  2. Are the people who search part of my target audience?
  3. Are searchers actually looking for the products/services I can supply?
  4. Does my website tell the right messages when people visit?

Many of you will know my mantra: Marketing is a process NOT an event. The ideas above demonstrate this. There are many elements you need to consider as part of a marketing process, and most of these or not ‘fit & forget’. They need regular work. If you do achieve high ranking on search engines, your position can slip. You need to keep your website updated. This means regular, new, relevant, engaging content. Furthermore, a business should market across a range of channels, using a range of tools. You should not rely on just one approach. Over-reliance on Google Search catches out many businesses every time Google updates their algorithms.  This post from searchenginejournal.com makes interesting reading 

Number 1 on Google within 24 hours

Right, I have had my say about not relying on any single marketing tool. Yet, at the same time, you should aim to get the best results from each marketing tool you choose. Let’s look at an example that happened recently for a client using Google Ads as part of their marketing mix. As with many BSA clients, their business is niche, targeting specific services to specific target markets. This sometimes presents a problem when picking target keywords for a campaign. If you select a fairly general keyword which gets lots of searches, it can need a high bid to get your Ad to appear on page 1 of rankings. Worse, most of the people searching won’t be looking for your niche product/service. As a result, you end up with the double-whammy of paying high click-fees for poor quality traffic. Obvious, I hear you say, don’t use general keywords. Instead, just target very specific terms that relate exactly to your offering. Arguably, SME businesses should (almost) never use general keywords. Better to target for highly relevant keywords/phrases. They will typically drive better quality traffic at lower click cost. Often this can be a successful strategy, one that we recommend and is used by several clients but sometimes even this falls short.  A client of BSA currently uses Google Ads as one of their marketing tools. However, some of their services are very niche. This can present a problem.

SEO and YOAST to the rescue

If a keyword or phrase is so specific that not many people actually search for it, Google may decide that even though it is an eligible word/phrase, the search frequency is low to the point that they don’t feel it is worth displaying ads! This may be even though those few people who are searching are EXACTLY the potential customers you are looking for. This is exactly the problem faced by our client – and on the Google Ads platform, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. This problem meant we needed to think laterally. If the search term is so specific that very few people searched for it then maybe not many people optimised natural search for the term on their website either? Readers will know that we are great fans of WordPress and the Search Optimisation tools available with the Yoast plugin which proved its worth here too. On the client’s (WordPress) website we went to the relevant service page, checked Yoast was installed and fired it up. Setting our preferred (and v specific) search phrase, Yoast made several recommendations as to how we could optimise the page content. We followed the recommendations and adapted a couple of others until we were happy we had the balance of content that read well and a ‘Green Light’ from Yoast (Yoast users will know what I mean!) The final step was to publish our updated page and then wait for the Google Algorithm to do its thing.

The outcome

Past experience is that it can be at least a few days if not a week or more before changes get picked up by Google but this time it was quicker (perhaps because it was such a niche term?). The day after we posted the new content, our client’s website is ranking #1 for the search phrase we used. It is possible to get a #1 ranking on Google within 24 hours and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Now we just need to try to keep it there – but that is another story. Like I said, a process NOT an event.

How effective is your Marketing?

Targeting your marketing & measuring effectiveness through Google Analytics is key to modern marketing. So I thought it would be worth a post looking in more detail at Events in Google Analytics. Wilst I am not planning to write a detailed tutorial on how to set up event tracking (you can find that here), I want to look at the power of tracking events as part of your marketing strategy.

What are events

In google analytics, an event is any action that a visitor may take on your website. For example:

  • Filling in and submitting a web form
  • Viewing a video
  • clicking a link
  • downloading a pdf
  • Placing something in their cart

The list is endless and as such, tracking events can be a very powerful tool in your marketing kit-bag.

Where do you find them

Event Statistics can be found in Google Analytics under Behaviour -> Events in the Google Analytics menu. This section will be blank until you set up some event tracking tags. This is done using the Google Tag Manager. You will find details on how to set it up here on setting this up here.

How can you use Events

Being able to track when people perform specific actions on your site, you can easily monitor the effectiveness of your marketing activities. Lets look at a couple of Examples: You are running an ad campaign on Google, with the objective of directly generating enquiries through a form on your website. By setting up a google analytics event to capture when someone completes & submit the form, you will be able to track these trough Google Analytics, and see exactly how much each enquiry is costing you. You Have a video on your site, you are thinking of investing in more, but want to know if people are watching it. With video it is possible to capture detailed stats through event tracking, like are people playing the video, and if so, how much of the video are they watching. Monitoring this over time, you will be able to see if the video on your site is of interest to people, and thus is it worth creating more content. You are getting people to your eCommerce site, but not getting orders You can set up an event to trigger at various stages of the buying process for example to see if people are putting things in their cart. That way, you can start to diagnose where the stumbling blocks are.

The World is your Oyster

Hopefully you can start to see that when trying to measure the effectiveness of your marketing, Events are very powerful. If you wanting to dig deeper into the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, then I suggest you check them out in more detail. If you can see how events might be useful, but would like some help incorporating them into your marketing, we would be happy to help.    

We almost lost our Google Partner status and we are delighted

We got an email from Google recently informing us that we were about to lose our Google Partner status – The reason,  not that we had, under performed or let certifications laps, it was simply because we were delivering for the clients and making their Google Advertising more efficient. Let’s take a look at this in a bit more detail: The client in question was spending 4 figures per month on Google advertising, and whilst cost effective, they felt it could be more efficient. They therefore asked us to review the account and make recommendations. As a result of this, once we had implemented the recommendations, mainly focusing keywords, and increasing quality scores by focusing of adverts & improving landing pages, we were able to reduce cost per enquiry by over 50% whilst increasing number of enquiries coming through via Goggle Advertising. As a result, the clients spend with Adwords was more than halved. It was this reduction, that put our partner status at risk. The fact is, we delivered for the client. Something that is infinitely more important to us that our partner status with Google, so we are delighted with the result.

WordPress Hosting from BSA

WordPress is a great business and marketing tool, and as anyone who reads our blog regularly will know, we are big fans. However nothing is perfect, and WordPress does have a couple of shortcomings.

WordPress can be quite resource hungry

WordPress is an open source platform. Whilst this gives many advantages, it does mean that, whilst being incredibly flexible, it is not the most efficient piece of software on the market. As a result one criticism that can be levelled is that sites based on WordPress can be a little slow, especially when running more complex eCommerce systems. As with anything though, there is a solution, and that is to choose the right host. WordPress will run on pretty much any hosting package that offers PHP and a MySQL Database, but many hosting packages will have high contention rates (Lots of sites on a single server), and with no control over the other sites on the server, this can mean that your WordPress website becomes a little sluggish.

The BSA Solution

Because 90% of the sites managed by us are built in WordPress, we make sure that our hosting is designed with the platform in mind. Furthermore, because we are 100% business focused we appreciate that one solution will not fit every situation. For this reason, we offer 3 levels of hosting from a simple low cost offering, through shared hosting optimised for WordPress, to VPS hosting on our own private server. With these 3 options it is always going to be a solution that fits your needs.

What about Security

With WordPress powering nearly 30% of the sites on the internet (and a 50% share of the CMS market), its no surprise that it is a target for hackers. Whilst this can cause issues, with some forethought & careful management, it need not be a reason to miss out on the many benefits that WordPress offers.

The BSA Solution

We have been running WordPress websites for many years (our own website has been on the platform since 2008), so we have some experience of WordPress, and how to manage it. As a result we have 4 golden rules for keeping a site secure:

  1. Be Careful what plugins & themes you use – Most vulnerabilities in WordPress are introduced through plugins & themes some of which are poorly written & maintained. By being careful to only use well respected, and well maintained plugins, you can keep these risks to a minimum.Some of the better plugins are charged for, and we actually think this is a good thing, as it encourages developers to update & maintain their software. Because we run many sites using the same plugins, in many cases we have multi site licences for these plugins. We are therefore able to use them on clients sites, and include the cost in the monthly hosting fees. Our experience also means that we are happy to advise clients when they are considering using a plugin on their site.
  2. Make sure it is up to date – Because WordPress has a huge user base, when vulnerabilities do get identified,  fixes are usually created and published very quickly. WordPress also has a great system for notifying you of updates, and applying them is as simple as clicking a button.Keeping your site up to date is the best way to protect against vulnerabilities in the WordPress code.
  3. Run a good security plugin to keep the hackers out – We run a plugin called Wordfence on all our sites. Wordfence uses the fact that it is deployed on a huge network of sites (Over 2 million at last count) to spot threats as soon as they appear and as once it identifies a threat (or after 30 days for the free version), it will roll out a defence against it to all the sites on its network. Furthermore, the plugin allows scanning of sites against standard file sets & known malware, so if your site does get compromised you know as quickly as possible.The final thing that Wordfence will do is protect your site against brute force attacks by monitoring it for suspicious activity (people trying to access non existent pages or trying to log in with incorrect credentials), and will automatically ban offenders.Whilst there are other security plugins available, in our experience Wordfence offers a good balance between functionality & cost.Running a good security plugin like WordPress is a great second line of defence.
  4. Back up your site regularly – No defences are perfect, and no matter what precautions you take, there is always the risk that the worst happens, and your site gets hacked. At this point, if you have a good backup routine, getting your site up and running should be as simple as restoring a clean backup.

BSA Website Hosting Plus

As experts in managing WordPress websites, we have come up with 3 levels of hosting,  based on the 4 principals above. £15 per month* – This is our basic hosting package on a standard shared server. This low cost option is perfect for those that need a website, but don’t need anything fancy. At this level, we will host your website, back it up regularly. The rest is up to you. £35 per month* – This is our most popular option. In addition to the above, this will give you access to a range of premium plugins used commonly on website (eg Gravity forms, Advanced custom fields Pro Wordfence Premium, many Woo Commerce add ons, to name a few) We can also offer discounts on other premium WordPress plugin licences. In addition, the site will be hosted on a server optimised for WordPress. Whilst still a public shared server, this can offer a significant speed benefit over standard shared hosting. We will also include an ssl as standard, so your site is reported as “secure” by browsers £60 per month* – Our top level of hosting is on our private managed server. At this level, we have 100% control over the hosting environment & the sites running on it. Furthermore, sites on this server are monitored every 15 minutes, so as soon as there is an issue with the site, our technical teams are notified and able to address the situation quickly. If non of these fit – Whilst one of these options is likely to meet the requirements of most people, we recognise that sometimes, requirement may be different, and we are always happy to work with clients to create a hosting environment that works for you.

Run your business, let us run your WordPress website

If you run a WordPress site, and would like to talk to us about hosting, please get in touch, we would love to hear from you. (* all prices quoted ex VAT)

Looking to the future of the WordPress editor

In a recent post, I talked about the concept of page builders and mentioned Gutenberg – The new editor coming to WordPress later in the year. As a follow up, I found a video from a recent wordpress conference that talks about Gutenberg, and how it will integrate with WordPress to make site customisation & editing easier, couple this with the Yoast Plugin, and you have a great system for creating engaging content optimised for search engines like Google. I thought you might find it interesting:

 

Technology delivers usability – At a price

Let’s get one thing straight: websites, and the technologies that drive them, are getting increasingly complex. As are the demands that businesses put on them. Back in 1999 when we produced our first website (thank you wayback Machine), anyone with a text editor and a how to book on HTML could create a website. But a site that would – by today’s standards, be considered rudimentary at best.. Fast forward 19 years, and the websites have moved on. As has the technology and complexity of the systems driving them. Whilst this means that websites are now capable of much more, the skills & knowledge needed to create than have also expanded beyond “html for dummies“. Fortunaly, as is often the case much of this complexity can now be handled by a friendly user interface. In this way fully functioning websites can be created with the need even to resort to HTML code.

Enter WordPress Pagebuilders

A Page-builder is basically a WordPress plugin that allows you to manage the layout and content of your site using a friendly drag & drop/fill in the boxes interface. It will then convert this into the code needed to display your site correctly. As with most plugins, there are many options out there if you want to use a page builder. After some research, we have come up with 2 that we are focusing on:

WP Bakery, was one of the first page builders, and is bundled with a number of themes. It is therefore worth consideration. For our money though, Elementor seems to be the better option. There is even a page builder that is being considered for addition to the WordPress core – Gutenberg –  Whilst this is rudimentary at present, the fact that it has WordPress behind it means it is definitely one to watch. It is currently expected to make an appearance in the WordPress core later this year. Whichever page builder you choose, there are a number of things to consider. Hence we have decided to look at the pros & cons of using a page builder over getting a WordPress template custom coded from Scratch.

Pagebuilders – Pros

  1. They simplify the process of creating & managing page layouts – This is pretty much the nuumber one reason for using a page builder, they alow you to create professional page layouts using a verity of technologies including jquery and css animations & effects without the need for any coding knowledge.
  2. They give more content control to non-technical users – Using a page builder allows non technical users to manage their content without needing to resort to “coding”. Once you understand how the page-builder works, you should be able to manage the content on your website without trouble.
  3. They Allow focus on Marketing rather than tech – As we have stated in another of this weeks posts Technology should be the servant not the master. Pagebuilders do tame the technology, and so allow you to focus on creating & delivering the marketing message, putting you rather than the techies back in control.
  4. They handle the  visual complexity in your site within a plugin – Typically a pagebuilder is a wordpress plugin, thus using them to drive your layout & content allows you to use a basic theme (What is a WordPress Theme?) as a starting point. This means that all the complexity in the site is kept in one place (Plugins). In our experience, because they are more general & less influenced by fashion, plugins tend to be better supported, updated more regualrly, and become obsolete less quickly. Thus keeping the complexity in your site with the plugin arena is a good move.

OK, so those are the reasons to use a page builder, but what about the reasons not to.

Pagebuilder – Cons

  1. They restrict flexibility of detailed layout tweaks – Because the page-builder adds a layer of flexibility & complexity into the site layout, it is much more difficult to edit the site layout directly. This means that changes to the core content & layout have to be done via the page-builder removing the ability to simply add bespoke functionality. In reality not a major issue, but you have to accept the limitations of  the page-builder. Whilst additional custom coding can sit along side page-builder content. There is no doubt that it’s inclusion does place restrictions on the way a site can be developed.
  2. Adds reliance on third party support (of Pagebuilder creators) – by using a page-builder, you are relying on this being supported by the plugin’s developers, and requiring those developers to maintain & update the plugin into the future. Whilst not an issue in its self, you do need to choose carefully when deciding which page-builder to use. You must also have confidence that the support will be there when you need it.
  3. They are an additional layer of complexity – As with anything, ease of use for the end user means complexity hidden elsewhere. In this case, the page-builder is acting as an interface translating the drag & drop actions of the user into code that makes up the web page. This added complexity creates additions potential for issues & conflicts with other elements of the site. This is the key reasons to select a page-builder with a good track record for support.
  4. There is no (realistic) going back – or is there? – Once you start using a page-builder, you are pretty much committed to using your chosen builder into the future. Another reason why support is key!. Being WordPress, there is always the option to switch to a new theme & rebuild the layout of the site, and whilst the content would be unaffected, it would require a fair bit of work, so this definitely needs consideration when selecting to use a page builder.

In Conclusion

If you want to maximise control over your site layout without the need for support from a more technical partner, then a page-builder may be the answer. However, having support from someone who understands WordPress is valuable. As is someone who can offer direct technical back up when you need it. Even if you do decide to use a page-builder. It’s the 80:20 rule. 80% of the time, you will probably be able to deliver great professional results using WordPress & a page-builder like Elementor, but for the 20% of the time when you want to do something a bit extra, outside the capabilities of the drag and drop, then having someone on the end of a phone to assist is invaluable. If that person also understands you business& marketing objectives, all the better.  

Leaping into the Cloud

Managing BSA’s accounts is important to me. I have always believed that if you are on top of your accounts and your cash flow, you have fundamental, day-to-day control of your business. It is a philosophy that has served me well for over 30 years. For virtually all of those 30 years, I have been a Sage Accounts man. I know the software and it has proved reliable. I have tamed the Sage Reporting system and quietly thanked them for the option to restore backed up data when disaster struck (or more specifically, I made a stupid mistake!) Yes, it is over complex for our straightforward needs, and the support can be quite expensive but it was what we (and our accountant) knew and fundamentally, it worked. Yet in the rapidly changing world of business technology, Sage started to become a victim of its own success. The software didn’t really evolve. Sure there were regular new versions – though the only time we tended to upgrade was when our existing copy stopped working because it wouldn’t run on an upgraded PC. New versions did bring new features but nothing groundbreaking. All the time, the new kid on the block – high-speed internet – was growing. About 4 years ago I started reading about cloud accounts, web-based accounting where, for a modest monthly fee, you got access to a fully regulation-compliant accounting system that was supported and evolved as part of the package. My first thoughts were that it was too big a step. Sage worked for us while the idea of such a radical shift was to big a leap into the unknown. We also had a huge investment in Sage with many years of financial data stored and archived. The process of transferring this to a new system didn’t bear thinking about!

The winds of change

Life evolves, and so does business. While Sage Accounts had been our stalwart for so long, BSA as a company has consistently metamorphosed over the years. In early 2014, our accountant started talking more earnestly about retirement and ‘shouldn’t we perhaps be looking for someone to replace him?’ To be fair we had heard this idea for a while and never really taken him seriously but this time, something was different. Coincidentally, around the same time, I found myself talking to a young accountant, relatively new into practice, who was promoting an online accounting package – KashFlow. Previously, many practitioners I had spoken to saw these new services as a threat to their business where my guy (Mark) saw it as an opportunity to do things differently. Tentatively we decided to investigate further, particularly encouraged by 2 factors:

  1. Mark offered to support us through the transition at no cost
  2. KashFlow included a facility to directly import data from Sage

My plan was to get KashFlow up and running then use it in parallel with our existing Sage system for a couple of months. I might be taking that leap into the unknown but I like to keep my options open! Unfortunately, it wasn’t to prove straightforward.

One Step Forward, 2 steps back

We had taken the step towards the brave new world of online accounting. The plan was to implement the KashFlow import/conversion facility and work with Mark to tidy up any loose ends. We had a lot of data to import so the process ran overnight. The following morning I logged on to KashFlow in great anticipation… According to our new accounting system, we owed just over £2 million in VAT! Something wasn’t quite right. The second backwards step reflected a common problem with IT (and many other) services. We all only know what we know. It turned out that Mark’s experience with KashFlow was quite limited and – perhaps coupled with the fact that he had offered to support our transition at no cost – trying to figure out what had gone awry with the transfer and fix it proved too much. We were back to good old Sage and our dalliance with online accounting was over – or so I thought.

Business is a process, not an event

Another day, another networking session, another forward thinking accountant. To be fair, the scenario was remarkably similar save 2 things:

  1. The accountant in question was more experienced
  2. The software in question was Xero, not KashFlow

By now, our existing account had retired so the pressure was on. I know that business is a process, not an event, so we decided to give internet accounting a second chance. This time we did things a bit different. rather than try to import all our historic data we only went back 2 years. The older data was still available in Sage should we need to access it. We also recognised that trying to run Sage in parallel with the new system was going to be impractical. Assuming we could get the balances to balance and the reports from the 2 systems to match, we would take the plunge. the general view is that you make this sort of change at the end/start of your fiscal year or at least at the end/start of a VAT quarter. We are gluttons for punishment and did neither – but it worked! The combination of Xero knowledge and accountancy from our shiny new accountants was invaluable. We wouldn’t have done it without them. The hiatus lasted for the first few months, through the first VAT return on the new system but by the time we got to March and the end of the financial year things had settled and we have never looked back. 2 full years down the line and Sage is all but forgotten.

A Learning Process

Moving our business accounts into the cloud is definitely one of the more significant changes that have happened at BSA – and certainly one of the most beneficial. Here are some key wins:

  • Significantly reduced book-keeping and accounts admin time
  • Reduced accountancy costs
  • Easy access to our accounts from anywhere I have internet
  • Online storage of invoices and other paperwork
  • Streamlined reporting
  • Integrated submission of VAT
  • Flexibility to integrate with the rest of our business

…and what did we learn? Things that would have been good to know when we started

  • The transfer required some work – but it was worth it
  • Working with a professional accountant who knows your chosen system is essential
  • Xero support has been great
  • Not having traditional backups was a concern but there are add-on backup services we now use

The future

One of the exciting features of the growing world of cloud-based software is the opportunity for data integration. There are more and more ‘Apps’ (both good and bad!) being developed that extend the functionality of Xero and other cloud-based software allowing business to be done more quickly, more easily and more cost-effectively – interesting times ahead. If you are contemplating moving your accounts into the cloud and would like to chat, do get in touch

WordPress and why you should be using it

First let me declare an interest – We like WordPress, and without exception, every site we have built in the last 12 months is based on the platform, including a number were we have converted sites into WordPress from other platforms like Joomla and OS Commerce. WordPress has come a long way since its birth as a blogging platform back in 2004 when v1.0 was released, Partially thanks to the fact that there are over 70 developers working on and contributing to the core WordPress code, and probably hundreds of thousands of developers working on and developing the platform more widely.. The result is that 14 years later (give or take a month) WordPress is now the leading CMS on the internet. If you like stats, here are just a few for the platform which is now estimated to power over 25% of the world.s websites.

Why should I use WordPress for my website?

If going with the crowd is not a good enough reason to use it, and often it is not!  Let’s have a look at some good reasons for using WordPress. And some of the things you need to be aware of if you do! Here are 6 reasons to use WordPress:

1. WordPress is Open Source

Yes, WordPress is FREE! You can install it and build your own website for zero cost! You can download it here. or use it on the free wordpress.com platform without even having to worry about hosting. Though the latter ceases to be free very quickly if you want to do anything other than run a very basic site. OK, most SME business will work with a specialist to build their company website but managing costs is always important and an open source programme offers significant savings.

2. WordPress has a Huge User base

Perhaps as a consequence of being open source, millions of businesses have adopted WordPress and a large user base has encouraged the growth of WordPress specialists who:

  • Offer support to users – With a wide support base you aren’t tied to a particular developer
  • Develop Themes and Design Templates – Templates offer a low cost alternative to expensive bespoke web design. Increasingly, even web-design companies are using templates when they build sites for clients.
  • Create add-on functionality through dedicated plug-ins – many of which have free versions to encourage use.

3. There’s a Plugin for that!

WordPress is powerful ‘straight out of the box’ but you may find there is particular functionality that you need but isn’t immediately available. Chances are that you aren’t the first to want that extra functionality. There is every likelihood that someone has developed a plugin to add what you are looking for. WordPress has literally 1000s of Plugins (44,000 at the last count) many of which have free versions that add functionality which could cost £100s or £1000s to code from scratch. Even the paid-for plugins often cost less than £50 and offer full technical support Some examples of plugin functionality include:

  • Image and Video Galleries
  • E-Commerce Systems
  • Enhanced Security
  • Bespoke administration and back-end functions
  • SEO and Analytics
  • Email, Social Media and Marketing

The fact is there are very few unique requirements in a website In most cases requirements from company to company are similar, so more often than not, a plugin exists to give required functionality with only limited need for additional coding.

4. WordPress has a huge developer community

Because WordPress is effectively a standard with a huge user base a corresponding developer base has grown up. From Freelancers to major businesses there are thousands of people out there who really understand WordPress. In 2015 there were over 20,000 attendees at WordPress developer conferences across the globe. Given that only a fraction of developers attend these, its not unreasonable to estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of developers across the globe. As an WordPress user, you may well choose to work with a specialist but if you find that your chosen supplier isn’t delivering, you shouldn’t find yourself handcuffed to them with a site based on proprietary systems or developed in a way that no one else understands. You will always have the option to move to someone who better understands and meets your needs.

5. WordPress Content Management really works

WordPress is very usable, and as a web-based platform you can use it from anywhere you can access the internet. OK, there is a learning curve but, depending on how involved you want to get, you can be using WordPress in about half an hour and, in my experience, the more you use it, the more intuitive it gets. WordPress works in the real world – maybe this is why it is so successful.

6. WordPress has a solution for a wide range of budgets

Whilst you can spend £1000’s on a WordPress website if you want are specify exact look and functionality, you can get a WordPress site for free, and every price point in between is also catered for.  Whatever the price point, WordPress delivers excellent value and the knowledge that it will be developed & updated into the foreseeable future.

Don’t use WordPress because…

There are certainly people who don’t use and don’t like WordPress – do I really want to develop a website that my customer can update in-house rather than paying me to do it for them?! There are also people who quote technical reasons why WordPress should be avoided. Whilst there is no doubt that being a “Jack of all trades” does give the platform some limitations, for most mainstream company websites it does an excellent job of delivering. That said I think it is only fair that we look at the Cons as well as the Pros….. Here are 4 things to consider when taking the decision to use WordPress.

1. WordPress is vulnerable

Any high profile software can attract the attention of hackers. There are regular news stories about the impact of the latest security breach. WordPress is no different and does get targeted but this is another area where the WordPress developer community comes into its own. As fast as hackers are looking for security weaknesses to exploit, WordPress developer are looking for those same weaknesses and blocking them. WordPress gets regular update releases and sites can even be set to automatically update themselves. In my experience, problems tend to arise where sites are not kept technically up to date. Almost all security issues are introduced by plugins.  This is one reason we favour commercial, professionally supported ones. Whilst this does add to the cost, it increases the chance that issues will be identified & fixed quickly. We make sure all our clients’ sites are kept up to date and also regularly backed up so we have 2 layers of protection in the unlikely even that there may be a problem.

2. All WP sites look the same

There is no reason that they have to! As I mentioned, there are thousands of high quality templates available to give your site the look you want. Take a look here or here for just some examples of what is available. And if you want something truly bespoke you can create any design in WordPress take a look at these great examples of what is possible The other reason sites tend to look the same is more to do with user experience & functionality. The fact is many websites tend to look the same, not because of the platform they are built on, but because of fashion & what works. Most sites are designed to fulfill the same basic function (communicating information) so it is no real surprise that there is a lot of similarity across the web!

3. WordPress can be server resource hungry

OK this can be true, but is it really an issue? A standard installation of WordPress is designed to work efficiently and most web servers will run it no problem. Every plugin you add to your site requires additional server resources and if you start to add a lot of plugins, you can start to see your site slowing down. However there is a modest-cost solution. The cost of web hosting is coming down and standard server specifications are going up. If you do need a more powerful server, it is inexpensive to get server upgrades to keep your site flying.  In any event, I believe the benefit of WordPress with lower development and maintenance costs balances out any modest increase in hosting costs as your site evolves.

4. WordPress isn’t ideal for E-Commerce sites

If I was building a dedicated, high traffic e-commerce site, I would maybe think twice about using using WordPress. There are other (also Open Source) platforms such as Magento which are designed from the ground up for E-Commerce but they can be quite expensive to implement If you are looking for e-commerce as just an element of your site then WordPress offers several e-commerce plugin options. One of the most popular is WooCommerce. Here are some examples of WooCommerce stores

Finally…

You want your website to be at the heart of your business the best design/functionality at the lowest cost with straightforward updating to keep your messages current – and without getting handcuffed to the wrong website company – take a look at WordPress – here are some impressive WordPress stats.

Website Analytics – do you use them? You should…

Do you have a website? (if you are serious about your business, you should!). If so, you have the opportunity to get some real insight into how your customers and markets are engaging with you.

  1. Do you know how many people are visiting your website right now?
  2. Do you know how many people visit each day? How many and which pages they visit? How long they stay on your site?

All of this information is available to you and opens up real insight into how your customers, markets and contacts engage with your business. I have said it before and I will say it again, at heart, marketing is about engagement between your business and your customers and markets. Website Analytics can open up this information, but there’s a problem – actually, there are 2:

1. Analytics can be complicated

Most people who log in to Google Analytics (other Search Engines provide analytics tools but Google is the daddy!) take 1 look and never go back. On first sight, Google Analytics looks terribly complicated – and to some extent, it is. There are just so many possibilities and options you could spend all day analysing the stats – not very good for driving your business forward. It is also easy to get sidetracked. The more you delve into analytics the more the risk of it becoming the end rather than the means – another case of the techy tail wagging the business dog – I wrote about this here Despite the complexity of analytics, with a bit of thought, it can be tamed and put to work delivering real value to your business.

2. Analytics gets hijacked

How often do you see offers like this:

Want more clients and customers? We will help them find you by putting you on the 1st Page Google, Yahoo & Bing…

If you are anything like me it is at least daily. This is a classic case of the Marketing Magic Wand. You may have dipped your toe into analytics and seen how complicated it is, now here is someone suggesting they can use tools like analytics (and SEO (search engine optimisation) and PPC (pay per click)). The implication is that they understand the complexity and make it work for your business. In principle they may be right, there are certainly some highly skilled digital marketing specialists out there, but they are expensive and the process takes time. If your business operates nationally or internationally with thousands of website visitors daily, the investment may well be worth it but for most SME businesses, particularly in the technical/niche B2B arena, the true levels of website traffic simply don’t warrant this commitment. This said, there are a LOT of digital marketers targeting the SME B2B sector (the offer above is just one example I received today). These people often don’t know your business. They are working to their model where the focus is on rankings rather than traffic. Even when traffic is considered there is too much focus on quantity and not enough on quality. If you aren’t careful the end result can be a bill with no real benefit to you. – More reasons not to embrace analytics! However, there is an alternative…

The solution:

Don’t let someone take over your analytics. Integrate it with your day to day marketing – OK you may want some help but make sure the focus is on your business, not making someone else look good! You can’t ‘fit and forget’. Making the most of analytics takes time but it is easy to get carried away. This is where a plan is important. Focus on your goals and don’t get sidetracked. Set aside time each week (I suggest no more than an hour or so) to learn and develop your analytics. Take it one step at a time and don’t try to do everything all at once. It is a process, not an event. You will need to stick at it but the rewards can be significant. There are lots of resources online but, in my experience, the best approach is to integrate analytics into your wider business marketing, using the numbers to test and reflect the marketing you are doing.

And finally…

Here are my top tips for analytics in the real world…

  1. Know your traffic levels Before you do anything, benchmark your website traffic and work to increase/improve it. If you choose to engage specialists to help you, benchmarks give a basis for managing their activity.
  2. Profile your traffic In 3 words: Quality not quality. Having hundreds (or thousands) of visitors to your website may make you feel good but if they arrive then immediately leave, what is the point?The technical term is ‘Bounce’. A ‘Bounce Rate’ of 100% means every visitor arrives at your site then leaves without clicking to any other page. If you believe your traffic is the sort of visitors you want, look for reasons why they might not stick around then update your website content to make it more relevant to them.
  3. Set up Goals/Conversion Tracking Google Analytics includes some great tools for tracking website visitor engagement, measuring how often they download a ‘White Paper’, send an enquiry form, or even call you. In my experience, most people don’t use goals or conversion tracking. This is such a waste. Make sure you do!
  4. Join-up analytics with the rest of your marketing It is essential that conversions should equal sustainable engagement. By planning analytics in the context of your wider marketing it is easier to ensure all your efforts focus on the common purpose of taking your business forward.
  5. Keep it simple The last one isn’t easy but it is important. It is better to concentrate on doing a few things well than trying to do everything – which you won’t achieve! By integrating even one or 2 analytics fundamentals into your wider business marketing and using the information to make practical, common sense decisions that you can monitor can be enough to make a real difference.