ONLINE BUSINESS ASIA

RESOURCES TO PLAN, START AND GROW YOUR BUSINESS

Where to Host Your Website

Every website consists of data within text, image and media files, and these files must be stored somewhere. When a user views your site, they are actually using a web browser (such as Chrome, Internet Explorer or Firefox) to open and read these documents that you have stored on an internet connected server. You therefore need to choose where and which kind of server to store your website on; a shared server, dedicated server, or a virtual private server. Let’s review these and help you find where to host your website:

Using a Shared Server
As you might have guessed, a shared server hosts hundreds or even thousands of other websites on the same server. You get great value for money here, and it’s fairly easy to get started as you’re not taking over a whole computer, but simply adding your files to one that’s already set up. The potential downside is that if you are sharing a server, your website performance may be affected by the volumes of traffic accessing the other websites on your server; a large load of traffic to the other sites on your server could severely slow down your website performance on that particular day.

A shared server is a great starting point for a small business or a low traffic brochure site for an offline business. These are low maintenance and generally offer less technical support than a dedicated server or a VPS, but at this level you probably don’t need the extra service and technical hassles involved.

You might find a shared hosting package for US$3-5 per month, which is generally aimed at small websites and blog owners, and this likely involves hundreds or thousands of small websites sitting on one server alongside yours. This is fine as long as you understand the limitations of such a service; if you grow and attract larger amounts of traffic, performance (the time a page takes to load) may begin to suffer, and it’ll be time to upgrade to a more robust hosting solution. This website (Online Business Asia) uses BlueHost as a simple, easy to set up shared hosting solution; you can access a special OBA offer on your hosting through this link.

Using a Dedicated Server
Again, you might have guessed it: a dedicated server is leased completely to you, without having to share it (and your website performance) with other websites. You have complete control over the machine through a browser-based control panel and root (or admin) level access. You’ll probably find that these computers run Linux or Windows Server, and will take a bit more technical knowledge to administer than a shared server. Fortunately, dedicated servers usually come with technical support to help you out, should you not be able to solve issues through the control panel.

You will pay more for a dedicated server however; expect around US$100 per month or more. This is probably the right choice for you if you run an ecommerce business with large volumes of traffic, or if you have a digital product that needs to be delivered electronically to your customers.

Using a Virtual Private Server
A Virtual Private Server (VPS) is effectively halfway between a shared and a dedicated server for your website in terms of cost and features offered. Using a VPS will give you all of the functions of a dedicated server, but at a much lower price point; you may pay US$25-40 per month for your VPS and the technical access and support that comes with it.

How does it work? A VPS is technically a shared server, whereby each of the server’s computers is running multiple “virtual servers”. These VPSs are programmed to think they are running on their own dedicated machine, and are located within their own partition of that machine’s hard disk. In reality, the hard disk hosting these multiple VPSs shares its resources across each of the partitions, which means you will get less storage space, lower memory, and competition for processing time, which can reduce performance if the other VPSs on your server are experiencing heavy traffic days. On balance, a VPS can be an excellent business solution, giving you many of the benefits of a dedicated business solution at a lower entry cost.

How Much Space and Bandwidth Do I Need?
Web hosting packages are usually sold and marketed based on the amount of space allocated, however most websites actually require very little space, so there’s often no need to pay for large amounts that won’t be used. For example, an average ecommerce website might only require 1-2GB, so an “Unlimited” space plan is really not necessary to pay a premium for.

Usually hosting plans will offer you a certain amount of bandwidth, and then charge you extra for use beyond these limits. Let’s take an example; if you have a web page with 100KB of data and a user accesses this page, 100KB of bandwidth will be used of your total allowance. As with hosting space, bandwidth is often marketed in high numbers, but in reality you won’t need a huge amount; a good rule of thumb is 10-12 times your hard disk space in bandwidth allowance.

Technology To Look For
A shared hosting service should include PHP 5 and MySQL 5, which are programming language and most commonly used database respectively. This information should be easy to find when researching your prospective web server. Whether or not you need the full functionality of these technologies, it will be safer to have the option and generally costs no more than other packages.

Managing a server is usually done via cPanel, which is a graphical web-based control panel that allows you to manage your website and hosting account. CPanel gives you access to setting up emails, forwarders, databases, and many other functions required to administer your site.

Still wondering where to host your website? You may want to use BlueHost, where we host Online Business Asia; we recommend and use this host ourselves. Take a look a the link below:


How to Choose and Register a Domain Name

Choosing the right domain for an ecommerce business can be one of the most crucial decisions around branding, marketing and developing your business. Get this right, and people will find your site more easily, remember your brand quicker, and you’ll see more business coming in your virtual doors. So, how to choose and register a domain name?

Include Your Keywords in Your Domain
A website with its primary keyword in the domain name will be guaranteed to do better in SEO for that keyword versus a site with a non-related domain name. For example, the website www.smartbuyglasses.com sells sunglasses and eyeglasses; whenever a user searches for “glasses” or “buy glasses” or a varaition of these keywords, the www.smartbuyglasses.com site will be near the top of organic search rankings, as these keywords are right there within the domain name, indicating to search engines that this website is specifically relevant to those keywords. What about Amazon.com I hear you say? While Amazon (and other well known websites) don’t have any real keywords in their name, they do have massive marketing budgets which allow them to win in other ways. Unless you have Amazon’s budget, do yourself an SEO favour by choosing a domain with your keyword inside.

Which Top-Level Domain?
A top-level domain (TLD) is the .com or .org etc listed after your domain name. If you are purely focussing on a local market, say Hong Kong for example, you may wish to simply use the .hk TLD and project to your customers that you are a local and trustworthy business. If you are chasing a regional or global audience you may wish to use the .asia or the .com TLD, depending on the brand identity that you want to project to your customers. As domains are fairly cheap, it is probably worth while buying all of these and split testing which results in more traffic. You can always direct all of your TLDs back to the same site, and it is safer to control your domain with a number of TLDs in case your competition buys them, or you decide to enter new markets later on. Generally speaking, you should aim for the .com and/or the local TLD of the markets you are operating in, and avoid the other TLDs unless you have a specific reason for using them (you may use a .org if you are a non-profit for example).

Your Domain Not Available?
What if your chosen domain is already taken in the .com TLD? You have a couple of options; choose a different TLD (like .net or .asia) and hope you can outrank the .com eventually, or change your expectations for your domain. You may wish to go with a miss-spell or an alternative use or order of keywords within your domain.

Personally speaking, if there were already a well established .com website out there, I would not want to develop and market my brand in competition with them; you may find you work hard to get your brand known, all to send traffic accidentally to the original .com domain and not to yours.

Get brainstorming and pull out a thesaurus to help you find synonyms to your keywords and verbs that you wish to include in the domain; perhaps you can restructure the name and grab that domain in your required TLD.

Googling your preferred domain name is also a good idea; you may find your domain is owned by someone who is not really using it, and willing to sell it to you for a reasonable price. Sites like GoDaddy.com and others often have an “auction” facitility for buyers and sellers of domains to come together and settle on a price for premium domain titles.

Domains and Trademarks
Just because you own the domain, doesn’t mean you also have the right to use these words in your logo or other business activities. It is wise to check your chosen business brand and domain against your country’s trademark registry, to ensure that you don’t accidentally infringe on another person or company’s intellectual property. Doing so could have legal consequences and may delay or reduce the possibility of your business starting up and becoming successful under that name.

On the other hand, once you have decided on your name, logo and domain, you should consider applying for trademarks to secure your intellectual property within the markets you operate. As each legal jurisdiction is different, it will be prudent to get some professional advice on filing for trademarks and protecting your IP assets. This will help you to legally defend your business as necessary, and will also add value to your company should you wish to sell in the future.

How to Get Started on WordPress

We discussed Content Management Systems (CMS) in that previous post, and WordPress is one of the most popular CMSs available. Depending on who you ask, WordPress CMS now powers between 20-25% of the websites on the internet, creating a powerful community of users, developers, and contributors to this open-source platform. At the end of the day, using a CMS like WordPress can speed up your time to market and make developing your site a much easier experience than coding it from scratch.

Get Started on WordPress
Head over to www.wordpress.org to download the WordPress code. Note that this is not www.wordpress.com, which this is the free and more limited version hosted on their server, and usually results in a domain such as www.yourwebsite.wordpress.com, which you don’t want for a commercial or professional site. Download the zip version of the code and extract these files into a folder on your computer.

1. Database Time
As with any CMS, you will need to store your content in a database and then as your site is displayed the content is retrieved from here. You will want to use MySQL on your server, which, as we mentioned previously, should come together as part of your hosting package.

Open your cPanel interface; this can usually be done by typing the following into your browser: www.yourwebsite.com/cpanel (replace “your website” with your actual domain name!). Log in to cPanel and click on the MySQL databases icon. Here you will be able to create a new database and give it a name; go ahead and call it something to do with your site, and create a login and strong password, noting these down somewhere for safe keeping. Just keep in mind: sometimes cPanel will add your cPanel login name to the front of your user database name; so if your database user name is “wpadmin”, and your cPanel login is “kkwong”,your login may become kkwong_wpadmin. Write down both just in case, and check this later to be sure.

2. Add Your Users
On the same page, you will have to assign this new user to your database. Select the user from the left side drop down menu and the database from the right side list and click “Add User To Database”. Once you have done this, we will need to add these details into WordPress.

Open the file on your computer with the downloaded WordPress code, and locate the file called “wp-config-sample.php”, and rename it as wp-config.php. Open this file in Notepad (or another text editor) and find this line of code:

define(‘DB_NAME’, ‘putyourdbnamehere’)

You will need to replace ‘putyourdbnamehere’ with the name of your newly created database above. On the lines that follow, replace “usernamehere” with your MySQL username (such as “wpadmin”) and “yourpasswordhere” with your chosen MySQL password above. Save this file.

Now you can open FileZilla again and copy all of the files in the database folder to the root of your website. If you want to create a blog within your site, you can create a subfolder here. Open the /wp-admin/install.php within your root folder, and this will run the installer; on the install screen you can give your blog a title, enter your email address and click “Install”.

After a short wait you should see a Success message, and be given the username “admin” and a randomly generated password. Write these down, and if you want to change it to something easier to remember, you follow the next steps. Click Log In again, and enter your new username and password, which should bring you to a page suggesting you change your password. Make the change as necessary here, or you can always change it later at your Profile page.

3. Choose Your WordPress Theme
You will now have a WordPress dashboard set up at www.yourwebsite.com/wp-admin. Visit the front-end of your site and you will see a plain and dull looking WordPress theme; fortunately there are thousands of themes to choose from, and changing them is a simple process.

Go back to your dashboard, and click on Appearance -> Add New Themes. Here you will be able to browse through thousands of options, and select the theme that fits your site best. You can also preview themes here, to get a feel for how your site will look. Choose your theme, and press Install, which may prompt you to give your FTP information that you used with FileZilla. Click Proceed, and your theme should be installed; visit the front-end of your website by clicking “Visit Site” at the top left drop down menu of your dashboard, and you will now see your (content-empty) new theme! You’ll probably have to do some adjusting to the theme and layout, which we will cover in more detail in the coming blog posts.

So there you have it – go and get started on WordPress and you’ll have a site up and running in next to no time!

Introduction to Email Marketing

One of the best ways to stay in touch with your customers, and to encourage them to regularly return to your site, is through building an email list. This list will be a valuable part of your company as you grow, and how you manage this list may determine just how much of a sticky community of followers you build. Keep in mind, most countries have strict rules around data protection and privacy, so it’s important to play by the rules and let your customers know that you do respect their information.

What Kind of Email Marketing?
Once you start to build a list of customers and prospective customers, you need to decide just what kind of emails you will be sending them. If you are a daily-deals site it might be expected for you to email these people daily (or even multiple times per day), but if you’re a retailer of specialty products with a long purchase cycle you might only be able to justify emailing once per month.

After you determine the frequency of emailing, you want to determine just what to send your customers. Will you be writing a regular newsletter with helpful content, or will your eDM be a pure sales brochure of what you’re selling this week? Either way, taking time to write out a calendar of planned emails will help you clarify just what and when you will be communicating to your customers. Remember; it is much easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to sell to a new customer, so keep your existing customers happy so that they don’t unsubscribe.

Segmenting Your Lists
Before you begin a one-size-fits-all email campaign, think about how your customers might be different from one another and segment your lists accordingly. Not every customer is the same, and being treated with more personalised service will result in happier and more satisfied customers in the long run.

For example, you may segment your email list into: repeat customers, customers who purchased one time only, and prospective customers. You may choose to email each of these groups a different themed email, and with more or less frequency depending on your strategy. If you have customers who purchased different product categories, you may want to segment by these categories to better tailor your offers, or you might segment by a number of other factors such as gender, age, location, or previous activity levels. The key here is tailoring the emails as much as possible to the customer, and thus ensuring better open rates, click rates, and more sales from your email marketing campaigns.

How to Optimise your Open Rates
When you start emailing your list, you may initially be disappointed to see the small amount of emails being opened. The reality is people get so many emails it can be hard to stand out. Other factors such as aggressive spam filters, and customer initiated filters, mean that 70-80% of your emails may never actually be opened. Email marketing is a science and an art, and getting higher open rates on email campaigns is a book topic in itself, however you can greatly increase your results by following a few simple rules:

1. Use a professional mail server such as Mailchimp or Aweber. Using a service like these will ensure your email deliverability, and will allow you to send large amounts of email without being labelled as a spammer with the major email providers (gmail, hotmail, yahoo etc).

2. Work on your subject lines. An email must have an attractive subject line in order to be opened. Usually the shorter your subject line is the better it is, and avoid using spammy sounding words or phrases, or too much punctuation; this is a sure-fire way of being labelled as spam. You might try to put the person’s first name in the subject of the email, and make sure the subject is interesting and relevant. Having a time-specific call to action can also encourage people to click through to your email’s content.

3. Look at who you’re sending ‘From’. By this I don’t mean Mailchimp or Aweber, but within this software you can specify the ‘From’ name that people will see in their inbox. Should you give your email a persona and a human touch, or simply the name of your business? This is probably best decided according to the specific business you are running, but worth thinking about as the customer will notice these things.

4. Write an attractive preheader. What’s a preheader? It’s the small preview of text seen after the subject line in your email provider, and effectively another selling point for people to open the email. This is often ignored by email marketers, or left with a standard ‘Can’t see this email?’ type phrase, which won’t do your open rate any favours. Think about how you can customise this snippet of information as a helpful teaser enticing people to open your email and learn more.

 

How to Get Killer Click Through Rates
The second major statistic that email marketers look at daily is the click through rate; this is the percentage of people who received your email and actually clicked on one of your links within the email. As you might expect, this is the whole point of most emails; to encourage people to visit specific web pages and hopefully result in sales for that particular company. Here are a few ways to bring up your click through rates:

1. Get people to open your emails. It might sound obvious, but you can’t have good click through without a solid open rate, so work on getting high levels of opens on your emails first. Once you have people reading your emails you can then try to funnel them toward the next steps.

2. Include a strong call to action. Make it obvious what you are trying to get your readers to do! If you want them to visit your site, put the link near the top of the email so it is one of the first things your readers see. Include a number of links on images, text, and in multiple places to try to capitalise on as many clicks as possible.

3. Avoid one big image; have a balance of text and images. If some of your customers have images turned off on their phones or browsers, your message will probably not be getting across to them. Try to have a good balance of short, concise text, and attractive images that serve as links to a relevant page on your site.

4. Pay attention to design. People on your email list probably know your site and what it looks like, so pay attention to your email design and make sure there’s some continuity between what you’re doing online and what you’re doing with email. Try to observe the basic rules of colour themes and layouts, and it will be less of a challenge for people to move from your email to your webpage.

5. Keep it fun and interesting. Spamming your readers with daily sales pitches for different products may or may not get the results you are looking for. Instead, why not keep a healthy mix of newsletter-type helpful information alongside your list of favourite products for sale? Linking snippets of blog posts to their actual page on your site is a good way to encourage people to move from inbox to online, and while they’re on your site you then have the chance to move them toward a sale.

6. Use heatmaps to see where your customers are viewing and clicking. A heatmap basically shows you where there is the most to the least activity happening on your email eDM. Use this customer activity data to determine where to place your links and calls to action to get the best click through results from your campaigns.

At the end of the day, each email list (and customer base) will be different and expect different things. It’s up to you to keep testing new ideas to increase your open rates and click through rates, and you’ll eventually find what resonates with your customers. Try to be fair and consistent, and seek feedback from your customers when you can. Done properly, an email marketing campaign can help boost any business’s bottom line for a relatively small investment of time and effort.

How to Set Up Google Analytics

One of the fantastic things about running an online business is the availability of data and information about your customers. It is possible to know so much about what is working and what isn’t, and adjust your strategies in real time. An excellent source of this data is Google Analytics; the best news is that it is free with any Google account.

1. Set up Google Analytics 

To get started, log in to your Google account (or create one if you don’t have one already). Head to www.google.com/analytics and click on ‘Create an Account’.

2. Get your tracking code

Follow the prompts and enter your contact details and accept the terms and conditions. Here you will be given a tracking code, which is a piece of JavaScript that needs to be inserted into every page of your site. If you are using WordPress, you can install a simple plugin such as Google Analytics by Yoast that will help you with this, rather than having to do it manually on each page.

3. Start Tracking!

Come back to Google Analytics and select Real-Time -> Overview on the top left column; if you are browsing your site at that time you should see at least one visitor (you) in the real-time results. Use your mobile or another device to access the site, and you will see this as a 2nd active user. Google Analytics will now track each of your site visits with a dizzying array of detail and information to choose from.

Becoming an expert at using Google Analytics may mean the difference between success or failure in your online business. Knowing what is successful and what is not will help you determine where you spend your advertising budget, how you attract and convert customers, and ultimately your use of all of your company’s resources. Be in the know and make informed decisions about all of this by taking the time to learn how to set up Google Analytics and get tracking your key website data!

Coding Your Own Website From Scratch

If you choose to operate an eCommerce business and sell physical products, you may be best advised to start your shop on a marketplace platform (like eBay/Lazada/Rakuten), or use a CMS with a shopping cart function. If however your business is a technology related company, or an online information product or service, you may need to build a custom site. Coding your own website from scratch is certainly not for the faint of heart, as there is quite a lot to learn and it can be a challenging process! Let’s discuss it a little further here:

The advantages of building your own site:

  • You get exactly what you want
  • Increased and/or proprietary functionality which can add value to the business and become a key differentiator or Unique Selling Proposition to your customers

The disadvantages of building your own site:

  • Development costs will be higher than using a CMS and customising it
  • Higher chance of bugs with your site, which will need to be tested, tweaked and fixed, potentially delaying the launch and effectiveness of your site
  • Lower usability and more difficult to update than a CMS, depending on how much development has gone into each of these factors

If you’re not a web designer or developer by trade, you may find that building a bespoke site is simply not worth your time to learn how to do, or worth paying a skilled person the amount needed to make the project happen. Remember, most technical projects encounter some form of ‘scope-creep’ whereby either the person commissioning the site adds to the task list during the process, or the designer/developer underestimates the time and effort needed to complete the task. Either way, if you’re on a tight budget you’ll want to keep this in mind, and the longer your site is in development, the longer you’ll have to wait to start earning money.

If you are committed to building your own custom site, you may want to develop a simple WordPress site as a ‘placeholder’ site in the meantime, and use this as a way to gather interest and collect email addresses from future customers.

What are HTML, CSS and JavaScript?

Modern websites now separate the content from the presentation and the interactivity by using HTML and CSS.

HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is code used to ‘mark-up’ the importance and meaning of your web page content and doesn’t control how that content appears on screen. The HTML describes the structure of each page semantically, and does not contain any presentation formatting (fonts, bold, italics, colours etc), as this is the job of the CSS files. The result is cleaner code that search engines find easier to index.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are files located on your server and imported into the HTML determining the on screen appearance of each page. A key benefit of using CSS, is you can change the entire look and feel of a site by changing the CSS (or the ‘theme’ of a site), without having to re-code the HTML of each page.

JavaScript can be used to manage simple interactivity on a page, for example: making sure a customer has filled out all of the forms on your signup page, or animating certain sections of your pages to highlight activities or responses you would like to see from your customers.

The result of using HTML, CSS and JavaScript together is a more fluid, modern website that can be more easily updated and changed as necessary. Using CSS will also help your site be more suitable to mobile devices, and will display your pages better on multiple screen sizes. Once the CSS has been downloaded onto your users’ browser caches, your pages will also load faster, meaning better performance and happier customers.

Web Developing Tools
To code and develop a site yourself you will need to invest in an HTML programmer’s text editor, and/or a visual web design package. A HTML editor such as PSPad (www.PSPad.com) is free and has a great variety of features. Another high-powered text editor is UltraEdit, which comes in a variety of pricing and give you extra confidence in the fact that it is regularly updated and has a wide support community of users and forums. Visual tools commonly used include Adobe Dreamweaver (via paid monthly subscription), and Microsoft Expression Web 4.0 (at time of writing free for PC users).

To add images to your site, you will need to use photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements (a much cheaper and still feature-rich version of the full Photoshop software), or you might choose to use some of the free online photo editors such as www.PhotoshopOnlineFree.com or www.FreeSerifSoftware.com.

Using these tools, you can build a static website on your computer without having to connect to a server, by creating the HTML, CSS and JavaScript files and locating them in a folder together on your hard disk. Launching the HTML file will open the web browser, and there you have it; your new static website!

Coding your own website from scratch is certainly not for everyone, but may be necessary if your site requires a high level of customisation or a proprietary function not available from a plugin on a CMS. Rather than tackling this task yourself, it may be worth approaching a qualified developer who can finish the task in less time (and with less headaches!) than you will be able to. This way you can focus on what you are good at (business development/marketing/partnerships etc), and get a professional to take on the task of building your site.

Content Management Systems for Ecommerce

If you want to set up your own website on your own domain and add a moderate level of customisation, a Content Management System (CMS) can be a great place to start. A CMS is a ready-made and tested website, that allows you to extend and add to the functionality by way of plugins, without having to code it by hand. Content management systems for ecommerce can give you an excellent way to build and customise your site, and start selling quickly to your target audience.

Three key benefits to using CMSs are:

  • Fast to get started – you could set up a simple functional site in a day or less
  • Tested, reliable, and regularly updated – the larger CMSs have a vast network of users and support channels meaning less issues for you
  • Customisable through plugins and open source coding – you choose the functionality you need and enable it by adding the appropriate plugins

A CMS may be limiting to you if your website needs a specific functionality not provided by an existing plugin. You could pay a developer to design and code a specific plugin for you, though this can be a challenging process, and you’ll want to find a developer who knows your CMS well and can capably do the job in a reasonable time period.

Two leading CMSs in the marketplace are WordPress and Magento. Let’s discuss them both here:

WordPress CMS
Originally well known for being a blogging platform, WordPress has expanded into an open-source community CMS and is now responsible for hosting around 19% of the world’s websites. WordPress is therefore a very large community of people using, developing for, and testing out the WordPress platform and ever growing list of available plugins. Written in PHP, WordPress will work with most web hosts, and by offering thousands of themes (many of them free), allows you to give your site the look and feel you want. A simple, easy to use CMS, WordPress makes it quick to get started in business, and provides a vast array of plugins for extra functionality.

Magento CMS
Also an open-source CMS, Magento powers around 200,000 ecommerce businesses and is generally seen as a stronger enterprise solution for ecommerce businesses that plan to scale quickly. In general, Magento systems have stronger plugins (called Extensions) which allow greater functionality, however you may find the need for a Magento developer to fully utilise and implement these systems. In short; Magento provides more options and more complexity, which means you can customise further, but you’ll have to be ready to pay for it.

Good Web Design Principles for Asian Websites

If you use a Content Management System (CMS), you may well choose a pre-designed “theme” for your website and feel you don’t have to be too concerned with designing your page from scratch. It is however still important to have an understanding of good web design principles; getting the basics right will help you look professional and make a great impression on your new visitors, resulting in people who stay long enough to buy what you’re selling.

Designing with the user in mind
A website needs to be functional and user-friendly in order to survive, so keep your users front of mind when designing your masterpiece web pages. Customers are often lazy, impatient, and time-poor, scanning rather than reading, and clicking only on the most obvious areas in order to find what they are looking for. If the site design and layout isn’t intuitive enough, the user may simply click the back button, and go on to an easier-to-navigate site (even if that site has a poorer offering or less professional design standards). The point here, is design must be relevant to the user and create a positive and intuitive experience so that the user enjoys browsing, and can find his/her way through to your solutions in the simplest and easiest manner possible.

Understanding the culture of your users
Western design principles traditionally encourage use of minimalistic content, white space, and a simplified and focussed web page. Take Google.com.hk as an example; a simple logo and search bar focus the user’s attention to the centre of the page, with the vast majority of the page left as white space. Simple and subtle header and footer bars offer links to further Google offerings, but do not crowd out the main focus of the page, which is obviously the Google search function.

Contrast this to Yahoo.com.hk and you will immediately notice a vast difference in strategy and design. This page mirrors the busyness that Asian users have come to expect from local websites; large numbers of links, images, advertising, and articles fill the page in a flurry of options and activity, and true to many Asian web pages this one also extends and scrolls down far longer than your standard Western web page.

How should you design your web pages? That of course depends on the company image that you wish to portray, and the users that you expect to attract. Below are a few universal truths to remember when putting together a professional design.

Colours and Fonts
With so many colours and fonts available, you may be tempted to create a collage and a rainbow of all of these across your pages. This is not a good idea, and aesthetically displeasing to most people, even if they can’t quite put their finger on the issue right away. As frequent users of many professionally designed services, sites, and systems, we have been conditioned to feel comfortable within good design, and your site should also make people feel comfortable and confident to spend their time navigating your pages.

In regard to colour scheme, you will want to pick a base colour which will be relevant to your target customer base and this may also be a dominant colour within your logo. Remember that colours resonate strongly with people and may result in their actions changing accordingly; greens may give the impression of environmental care, light blues may evoke feelings of happiness and relaxation, and bright reds may suggest passion, violence, or love (depending on the context). Certain colours may also have positive or negative cultural connotations attached to them, so do your homework and make sure your colour schemes are suitable to all of your prospective audiences. It’s important to bear these things in mind when choosing a base colour for your site, however a base colour may not be the dominant colour used on every page; you may wish to opt for a simple black and white theme, and use your base colour for specific highlights and calls-to-action within your site.

When selecting fonts (or typefaces), choose a maximum of three fonts on each page. Across your site, you should have two main fonts which you’ll use for headings and paragraphs, and these should be consistent from page to page to give the user a feeling of continuity and predictability. You may choose a third font for special use or to highlight certain parts of the page, or as part of banner images, but use these sparingly!

Typefaces come in three broad categories, including: serif, sans serif, and decorative. Serifs are the small hooks on the ends of letters, and generally make these fonts look more formal, traditional or serious. Fonts without serifs (sans serif) don’t contain these hooks and are generally more contemporary in feel and easier to read quickly. Example serif typefaces include Georgia and Times New Roman, and sans serifs include Arial and Verdana. Decorative fonts, such as Comic Sans, might seem interesting at first but should not really be used in professional design; they can be distracting, illegible in smaller sizes, and difficult for users to read in longer lengths of text. A safe option may be to choose Georgia for your headings, and Arial for your body text, and skip any use of decorative fonts. Follow these good web design principles and you’ll be on the right track to an attractive and easy to use website.

Beginner’s Guide to Keywords and SEO

What are keywords? Here in our Beginner’s Guide to Keywords and SEO, we discuss exactly what keywords are and how to get these right to generate large amounts of organic traffic.

Simply put, keywords are individual words or phrases that search engines use to match people’s search enquiries with relevant content on the web.

For example, say you want to research short haired chihuahuas. You may go to google and type the keyword short haired chihuahuas and see which pages come up. It’s the search engine’s job to provide the most relevant search results to you the customer, and this is done through algorithms that ‘crawl’ each site’s use of keywords and determine how relevant these pages are to topics and keywords that their customers (the web-browsing public) are searching for.

What does all this mean for your business? There are 2 steps necessary to cover the basics in keywords and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and they are:

1. Identify which keywords your business should compete on

2. Place these keywords strategically in your web pages

Let’s have a look at these two steps in more detail:

1. Identifying your keywords

You’ll want to identify exactly which keywords your customers are searching for, and include these in the setup of your website pages to ensure your site gets found ahead of the others.

Google provides a helpful keyword research tool called Keyword Planner, which can be accessed for free through your Google Adwords account. This is a great starting point, so open the tool and head to the search function.

If you use Keyword Planner to search for a generic keyword or topic, the tool will provide you with a list of suggested categories and individual keywords and an estimate on the amount of monthly traffic on each of these. Note: short-tail keywords (for example: fashion) will have a lot of traffic and a lot of competition and may be impossible for you to compete on. Long-tail keywords/keyphrases (for example: Korean fashion styles) may have less overall traffic, but more possibility of you competing and being found for these keywords.

The trick is to find keywords that have strong amounts of traffic and little enough competition; you want to be on page 1 of search results of keywords that are searched 400 times or more per month. Stats show that the vast majority of people rarely look at page 2+ search results, so try to compete on keywords you can get to page 1 with, and that have some good traffic numbers.

Use this tool to narrow down your top 5-10 keywords; these will be the basis for your SEO strategy on each of your web pages.

2. Placing your targeted keywords within your site

Now that you have your list of targeted keywords, it’s time to place them exactly where the search engines are looking for them. Deliberately stuffing your pages full of all of these keywords is not advised, as Google and Yahoo have caught on to this practice long ago and usually penalise pages for these black-hat techniques. Instead, make your pages relevant to your chosen keywords, and try to include these exact keywords in the following places:

  • Web page title
  • Web page URL
  • Copy of the page (try to get the keyword in the first sentence, and once or twice more throughout the page)
  • Names and alt text of any images included on the page
  • Meta-description of the web page

Remember keywords are all about relevance, so write your pages for humans (not just for google), and these people will stay, share, and return regularly to your web pages. If you include the above techniques and build relevant, helpful web pages, the search engines will see this and reward your pages with higher rankings, sending you more and more organic search traffic.

If you’re using WordPress for your site, there are a number of plugins available to make the SEO process easier and more comprehensive; Yoast SEO is one plugin that is we have used over the past few years and highly recommend. There are plenty of other helpful plugins, so take a look out there and get your keywords and SEO right from the beginning!

Building quality pages with targeted keywords and strong SEO strategies is as complicated as you want it to be; indeed many people are building careers and agencies dedicated to this ‘art’ of learning to please the major search engines. Fortunately, if you follow the above steps you’ll already be ahead of a great deal of your competition.

For further reading, you may want to also check out 9 Winning SEO Strategies for Bloggers – these tips apply to most webpages (not just blogs) and will take you to the next level of SEO success.

Laid Bare: The Pros and Cons of Online Business

With a global audience and billions of people spending more and more time online these days, you may want to consider launching an online business. Let’s discuss some of the pros and cons of online business and taking to the internet for your next venture.

Pros of Online Businesses:

1. Open 24/7
Ever browsed the internet at 3am and ended up purchasing something? Millions do it every day, and having an online store catering to the convenience-crowd can be a winning formula.

2. Inexpensive to get started
Own a laptop and a credit card? Great, you can start a WordPress business in a day and begin marketing your products/services for the cost of a cheap web hosting package (US$5/month or less). Sites like Amazon and Lazada allow you to sell on their marketplaces, collect money via paypal, and be up and running in very short periods of time with next to no startup capital.

3. Transparency & data availability
Yes privacy is dead. Online marketers now know so much about their customers it can be scary; some businesses literally scale back their systems around customer analysis so they don’t freak-out their customers with the incredible detail they know about them. On the positive side, you can really know your customers better and provide a stronger, more relevant offer to them, meaning the business serves them better and achieves excellent results for you.

4. Scalable
Want to start from your bedroom with a laptop (or an iPad)? Sure. An online business may work from this size and be able to be scaled up when necessary.

5. Start small, look large
If you invest the time/money into a professional looking site, who will know if you’re a one-man-show, or a team of thousands? Add a couple of different phone numbers and email addresses to your site (they can all be forwarded to one central place), and you’ll have the impression of being a large company, and the confidence of your new customers.

Cons of Online Businesses:

1. Competition
While it’s true that it’s easy and inexpensive to get started, that also makes it true for your competition. It only took you a day to start your Shopify store? Great, but that means you may have new competition popping up overnight if your idea is imitatable. Try to sell an exclusive product or service, and something that isn’t easily commoditised.

2. Transparency
The internet has created a level playing field for a lot of industries that used to thrive under less transparent market conditions. Why buy in-store if you can order online and get it 40% cheaper? Price transparency can make it tough to compete and keep a healthy margin on what you’re selling. Access to information also makes the customer a lot more informed about their choices, meaning you’ll have to find a niche in which you can win.

3. True Costs – Marketing & People
While setting up might be cheap enough, the true cost of most online businesses is in marketing and driving large amounts of quality traffic to your site. Traffic is the lifeblood of any online business, and acquiring this traffic takes a combination of time and money through Cost Per Click (CPC) advertising, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Social Media Marketing building an email subscriber list, and various offline marketing initiatives. While there are many ways to drive organic (free) traffic to your site, having a solid Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) plan is vital to knowing what you’re in for with regard to marketing costs and the subsequent growth of your online business.

Once your online business gets to a certain size of traffic and sales, you may find you have to hire specialised people to handle the volume of work. Yes many tasks and functions can be automated or outsourced, but there are also a number of ‘moving-parts’ that require dedicated human interaction on a daily basis; SEO managers, digital marketing professionals, logistics and operations, IT, and other functions that your business may need to keep the business up and customers happy.

So, Do The Pros or Cons Win?

Hopefully we’ve made it clear; setting up an online business isn’t just about sitting around at home in your underwear with your laptop and watching the PayPal payments come in. While it’s easy enough to get started in online business, it’s vital to think about how you will win and create a defensible business strategy for the long term. Knowing what’s coming will help you plan for and outmanoeuvre the inevitable competition to your brilliant new business idea.

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