All digital marketing advice out there requires you to create content, lots of it. We don’t disagree.
Needing to start somewhere, you develop processes for creating lots of content assuming that some of it will connect with your audience. It might, but it’s not a strategy for connection and engagement. So much of the content out there doesn’t appeal to audiences in a way that drives a connection. Its missing something, a context, awareness or reader empathy. It lacks…
Often when we create content we focus on what we want to say or what we want our audience to know, losing track of how it impacts our audience or if it’s valuable to them. Once you have a process in place for generating content, improve that process so the real you comes out.
The key is to match your online personality to your real, offline personality.
Our aim in this article is to give you some content ideas that develop a content portfolio that is well rounded and help you create content that captures your brand in a way so you can better connect with your audience online. We’ve broken it down into 5 primary types of content and provided multiple examples for each one.
1. Promotional Posts
Although social media posts are about adding value to your audience, you can and should directly promote your products and services from time to time.
Some promotional content ideas may include:
Freebies for email signups
Specific products or services
Discounts and specials
2. Educational Posts
If you coach, consult, train, or teach, this is an important category for you to focus on. Share your wisdom to build trust and credibility.
Educational post content may include:
Links to your other content
Tips and tricks
Free resources (reports and guidelines)
Answers to FAQs
Live video training
3. Entertainment Posts
Anytime you can make your audience smile or enjoy themselves, that’s a win. Entertain your audience with a fun contest from time to time. Just make sure to tie it into your industry.
Types of entertainment posts that may work for your business include:
Throwback / nostalgia
Contests and giveaways
4. Conversational Posts
Speaking directly to your audience and asking them to engage is a great way to connect. You don’t want to always be talking at your audience, the more you can listen to them, the better. The key to conversational posts, just like a conversation, is asking questions.
Types of conversational posts that work include:
Fill in the blanks
Asking for advice
“Caption this” photos
5. Connection Posts
People love to see behind the curtain. This is relevant to a factory, office or any business. Behind the scenes photos and videos humanize your business for potential customers and, like personal photographs, helps your current customers connect with you on a personal level.
Types of connection posts that work include:
Behind the scenes
Photos from special events
Being able to scale your content is good, but scaling connections and engaging content is even better. As you develop your content process continue to search for ways to be yourself, leveraging what sets you apart from your competition, and give your audience a good idea of what it’s like to work with you. Using different approaches to your content can help you avoid being one dimensional and help you appeal to more of your audience. After all, connection is the key, and having an authentic content portfolio will drive personal connections with your audience. Your online audience will grow, audience will become customers, and customers will share your valuable content with friends and family.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put us all in uncharted territory as individuals, communities, and businesses. All indications are that the economy will slowly start to reopen. Some areas across the country will open faster than others, but all businesses are faced with the same challenge – how do busineses market themselves when consumer behavior has changed so drastically and we don’t know when or if life will return to the way it was?
The reality is people’s needs don’t go away even if they aren’t buying, your services and products are still needed. Your customers are spending more time at home and on social media listening to messages that demonstrate leadership and empathy in the context of the gravity of their situation we’re all enduring.
Many businesses are asking if they should stop marketing entirely or just market differently. How can businesses use marketing to emerge from this pandemic stronger?
Should I Stop Marketing?
When money stops coming in the thought of spending on marketing is difficult. You probably are thinking, “why should I advertise if nobody is buying?” It’s a fair question to ask. The important thing to keep in mind is that people want to buy and many are ready to buy, but the current lockdown and quarantine environment is preventing them.
The point here is that now, more than ever, you need to stay in touch with your customers. They are more connected to marketing channels than usual. They’re looking for news about how their life will change or return to normal. They’re listening and planning. If your voice is silent, your customers will assume you closed, forget about you, and engage with a competitor.
Your Competitors are Asking the Same Questions
“Why should I advertise if nobody is buying?”
Your competitors are trying to make the exact same decisions as you. Many of them will decide to not spend money to stay in front of their audience right now. That means this is an unprecedented opportunity to capture a greater market share consumers with your message.
You can be growing your audience and future customers even when people aren’t buying. Continuing your marketing isn’t just about maintaining your current customers, it’s about growing your list of potential future customers. You can come out of this with more customers than you had before it started. It just won’t feel like it until people start spending again.
To stop marketing now will cost you more later when you try to build your audience back up. It’s much more cost-effective to stay engaged now and have your audience ready to buy when the time is right, rather than fall behind now and start over later.
How should I Market Differently During the Covid-19 Crisis?
Your marketing should be sensitive to the context of the environment. Many people are living in a state of fear and anxiety, many have lost their jobs, and some have experienced the loss of loved ones. This is not the time for hard selling. Your marketing should be helpful above all else. Education, humor, and support are all great vehicles to use to share your message.
Reassure your audience that your business is responding appropriately, following best safety practices, and that you’re open for business if you are still able to provide service and or products.
Avoid the Hard Sell
A hard sell is when a salesperson applies pressure on a potential buyer by creating a sense of urgency. Often it’s conditioning pricing, such as “This price is only good for today”. It’s based on the assumption that the buyer is indecisive.
It’s generally a good idea to be smart when hard-selling even in normal times, but even more during an economic downturn. You want to let your audience know what you have available, but when promoting directly tie your message to a solution to a particular problem and highlight the benefit.
Focus on trust-building. Be helpful, patient, empathetic and respectful. If you can solve a customer’s problem without selling them anything that may create greater lifetime value when they return to you, or tell their family and friends. Maybe you gave them a troubleshooting tip that helped them avoid getting a costly repair. But when they need the repair they’re going to come to you. You’ve created customer trust and loyalty with more long term repeat sales.
Communicate More than Ever Before
The Coronavirus has made it very difficult to know which businesses consumers can do business with (Ted made this overly clear in our Facebook live discussion, follow this link for his experience: https://youtu.be/5Zl6cls2AhU?t=160). Communicating must be part of your approach. We emphasize overcommunicating because sufficient communication will likely fall short in terms of frequency and clarity. The idea is to keep your audience informed, so when they’re ready to buy, they can buy from you. If you go silent now, you may lose them forever.
What should I be doing so I can bounce back strong when life returns to normal?
Now is the time to be planning and preparing for when the economy picks back up. Whether it slowly turns on or surges after months of consumers being on lockdown it will return and you need to be ready.
Here are 5 p’s that are adapted by Harvard Business Review that can be used to help guide your marketing now. Answer these questions in the context of during the crisis, immediately after things open, and when the new normal arrives:
Position – Where do we want to go?
Perspective – What can we see?
Plan – How will we do it?
Projects – What will we prioritize?
Preparedness – How do we get ready?
Don’t Remind Your Customers about What they Already Know
There’s no need to launch new coronavirus marketing campaigns that remind people that times are tough. Everyone is living it, and more than anything, people are ready to get back to normal and are ready to do their part to help their local economy get back on stable ground. You want to strike a healthy balance between selling and overly empathetic branding. At the end of the day your customers are going to return to you because you’re solving a problem they have. Focus on solving your customer and how you solve their problem.
Respond to today’s crisis by adjusting your message to our context, then distribute your content. We’re already to get back to normal, but emerging from today’s crisis requires planning. Doing your homework today will allow you to emerge into a position of strength. Don’t stop marketing, remain visible and available. And most importantly, keep solving your customers problems.
Does it ever seem like you have a surplus of ideas, but a shortage of results? Maybe you have a well-formulated plan to improve your online exposure, but there is so much to learn to be able to do it yourself? Or maybe you have a plan that you can execute, but you don’t know how to track bottom-line results?
Ali Rowghani, a former executive at Twitter and Pixar, identifies how a CEO’s role changes over 3 phases of business growth. The first critical transition for a leader is moving from doer-in-chief to delegator-in-chief. Or put another way, maximizing your productivity doesn’t scale your business, building teams does.
“The first critical transition for a leader is moving from doer-in-chief to delegator-in-chief.”
But delegating is hard. You won’t have the same control over everything. It won’t be done your way – like it always has been. The quality of work won’t always meet your standards. You need to change from the person that can do it all, to the person that can teach your skills to your team.
Even if you aren’t a CEO, this lesson applies to you and your direct reports. We’ll talk about 2 leadership tiers and how each tier can delegate to a team.
But first, let’s talk about limits.
Know Your Limits
Maximizing yourself doesn’t scale a business, it creates burnout.
You’re probably a high performer and the most productive person in the company. There’s a good chance that your talents and skills expand well beyond your job title. Isn’t that how you got to where you are? You’re a great doer-in-chief.
When it comes to building your online presence, there are many platforms that will used in your marketing strategy. There are multiple channels to manage, audiences to engage with, metrics to track, and content to create for each. It also requires specialized knowledge that you likely will need to develop. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn it all.
Developing teams scale businesses.
You have the vision, but the people around you have the time. Develop them. You will have fears about the speed and quality of work without you. Add value by casting vision and leading your team to work to your standards, faster.
Understanding your limits will give you the confidence to delegate.
Maybe you’re a CEO wearing a bunch of hats or maybe you’re a marketing manager that has all the skills. Delegating looks different depending on what role you play in your company. Next we’ll talk about each of these roles and how each needs to give definition and set expectations.
Company Leadership – Owners, CEOs, CMOs
Define Bottom Line Expectations
Before you start spending money on marketing, take the time to clearly define what success means. It could be defined in terms of leads generated, deals closed, or visitors to your website. Success must come back to the broader company goals and revolve around your bottom line: Profit. Without defining success and having a system in place to measure it you’ll never know if your investment is worth it.
Define Roles & Responsibilities
Empower your team by delegating specific performance responsibilities. This gives team members an aim and a sense of ownership in the campaign. When you tell your team exactly what you want it gives them a shot at delivering for you. Don’t be vague. And ask them to repeat it back to you to ensure you’re all on the same page.
Know When to Outsource
If you don’t have a marketing manager or a dedicated internal team, the fastest way to get up to speed is by hiring an agency. Agencies are diverse teams of experts who specialize in their field. Just like you, they’ve studied and developed their skills their whole lives, they have the staffing and industry-specific tools needed to get projects going full speed quickly. When your team doesn’t have the capacity and you need to get going fast, hire an agency.
The Marketing Manager
If you are a marketing manager your decisions will look a lot different from the CEO. As the person directly responsible for the day-to-day operations of marketing your primary goal is to keep everyone focused on the plan and the key performance indicators. This creates a culture focused on results and gives team members something to use to measure the success of their efforts.
Give Clear Instructions
Make sure to provide detailed instructions for every task you delegate. “Manage the email list” is not clear delegation. Give details on what successful management looks like by clearly defining expectations and outcomes for the email list. Do your customers do different things based on industry? If so, create user personas so the email list can be tailored to each segment.
Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you need, but you can still set good boundaries and define what you do know. If you need your team to define something, tell them.
Set deadlines and ask for deadlines. Deadlines are the catalyst for getting things done.
Use a System
The most effective way to delegate in the digital age is by using project management tools. Nothing keeps projects organized and on task like a good project management platform. Try any of these:
Trello – Create a workflow or delegate using color-coded cards and boards
Basecamp – Great for uploading files and assigning tasks
Slack – Great for messaging and likely integrates into your other management tools
Asana – Designed for managing complex projects with growing teams
Trust Your Team
After you’ve delegated a task, let your team work in the weeds. Resist the temptation to be the doer-in-chief. They won’t solve problems as fast as you or in the same way as you. But you may be surprised to find innovative ideas rise up if you are patient. Let them get into the work and solve problems for you.
Whether you’re a CEO, owner, or marketing manager, scaling means you must transition from doer-in-chief to delegator-in-chief. Your time can’t scale. Discovering your limits will give you the confidence you need to make that transition. Your new role as a business leader is to empower your staff to also make decisions within their area of expertise – and trust them to solve problems for you.
The invasion of COVID-19 into our lives has caused upheaval for so many and Omaha-based businesses are no exception. Between broken financials, new rules for physical storefronts, and determining what you can do for your employees, everything about your business probably feels something like a very blurry tornado.
Another factor to consider is your business’ local online presence. But this post will help you sort it out without having to spend hours Googling everything.
We’ll discuss in a few bullet points what you can do for each piece of your online presence, along with a link to the platform and relevant documentation.
Add a banner or other type of message that’s obvious but doesn’t disrupt the normal use of your site. Be as specific as possible. An example can be found here: https://www.mcallisterortho.com/
You could also create a site page specifically for COVID-19 related updates. (See related bullet point for Google My Business below)
If your site has eCommerce features and you’re not shipping anything at this time, disable the cart functionality.
If only some products (such as non-essentials) are not being shipped, disable those products or mark them as unavailable.
Do not pull down or disable your entire website. Even if it’s a short-term measure, that will negatively impact Google’s indexing and ranking of your site.
Most locations now have the option to “Mark as Temporarily Closed.” If this is the case for your business, select that option right away.
If your business is open but the hours have changed, update the hours in the “Special Hours” section of your business information. It’s the same area where you would mark holiday closures.
Google has made available a post type called “COVID-19 Update.” Make a post right now describing clearly how customers can do business with you. Make additional update posts as warranted. No need to post frequently but if you have new information regarding the future of your business, don’t be afraid to share it! This is a way to communicate with existing and potential customers who are searching for information about your business.
If you have a page on your website for COVID-19 updates, you can post that URL in the business information of your Google My Business property.
If you’re a health professional and have started providing your services through video conferencing, or telemedicine, you may now have a field to post your site page with information about this service.
My number one recommendation is to make a checklist. It can be easy to get lost in the whirlwind of issues to cover or possibilities to take advantage of. Try to identify each category or platform to cover, prioritize it from most visible to least visible, and then work through that list at least once a week. If you can do that, you’ll be putting your business presence in a good position to rebound when the time comes.
Does your business depend on scheduling in-person appointments with your customers? Are you trying to figure out how to keep scheduling appointments while being disrupted by quarantine, social distancing, and business operation mandates?
Without knowing when restrictions will be lifted, how can you plan to begin filling appointments again? Do we wait for permission to allow our businesses to return to normal, or do we adjust our business in order to continue scheduling appointments and serving our clients?
You can still get in front of your clients even if you can’t meet face-to-face. Go online to meet with your customers.
Here are 3 ways to meet with your customers online when you can’t meet in person:
1 – Schedule Video Appointments:
When you can’t meet your appointments face to face, you must embrace technology. Meeting with a client on the phone is better than not meeting with them. But meeting them face-to-face over video, creates a stronger connection than a phone call.
Zoom and Skype are the major video conferencing applications. Use those if you and your client are comfortable with them.
If these applications are uncomfortable to you or your client, you can use technology that’s already in your pocket. Most consumers use a smartphone and most smartphones have a video call feature. For Apple Devices, schedule a FaceTime call. On your Android use the Duo application to video call your client.
“What if I need to make a repair, video is no substitute for getting my hands on the problem.”
You’re absolutely right. We know you won’t be able to do a full diagnosis or a repair over video. In this season you won’t be able to do your work as normal. You must see this as an opportunity to create a relationship, serve your client and gain their trust. Taking a look at their problem over video will give your client a chance to feel like their problem will get solved soon. You will be building trust with a client and have a better chance to schedule an in-person appointment for the future.
2 – Offer Online Scheduling
Schedule your appointments for the future when you’re more confident that you will be able to meet in person. If you are getting a flood of calls, schedule them for 1-2 months ahead when you trust that you will be able to start meeting in person again. Depending on the scheduling software and tools you use, consider taking your scheduling online to allow your customers to book their own appointment with you. Scheduling online can also allow you to easily reschedule many appointments if you are still unable to meet in 1-2 months.
There are a number of online tools that can assist that range from simple to very complicated. Here are 2 good options to consider:
BirchPress – Birchpress is a comprehensive calendar and scheduling system. You can create a calendar and have multiple service providers set their availability for each day. You can add padding in between appointments for drive time, and you can categorize each provider based on their skill so that users can book the correct appointment. If you have customers that are in different time zones trying to schedule an appointment with you, Birchpress may not be the best option for you.
WordPress Booking Calendar – This may be one of the best free online scheduling tools you can integrate into your WordPress website. The free version is good if you are a small team with simple service offerings. You can upgrade to pro and additional extended versions that allow you to book by the hour, customize admin permissions, take payments, and customize the front end view to match your website theme.
3 – Create Online Tutorials
If you can’t make appointments or meet with clients, you can still meet with your customers online. Your customers still have questions and needs even if you are unable to meet right now.
Consider creating online tutorials, blogs, or videos answering the most common questions your customers ask or how to do the most common repairs you make or steps to fix the simplest repairs.
You may be thinking, “If businesses make money by answering questions and fixing things, why give away your business for free?” Your customers come to you to solve their problems, and when you do, it creates loyalty. When you can’t go out and make the repairs, focus on teaching your customers how to fix the leak they have right now, even if only temporarily until you can come and do it professionally.
Once you have your trust-building content created, distribute it. Put it on your social media channels, put it on your website and in an email newsletter.
Just because you can’t meet with your customers face to face, doesn’t mean that you can’t keep serving your customers. But you may need to innovate and change the way you do business to keep creating loyal customers.
Are you a dine-in business? Are you just trying to wait it out, or are you looking for ways to respond to the change in consumer behavior due to COVID-19?
In a report by Yelp’s Local Economy Coronavirus Impact Report states that delivery and take-out are replacing dine-in.
Instead of waiting for consumer behavior to change again, what can dine-in businesses do to become a delivery and take-out business?
Start by creating a take-out menu. These need to be your customer favorites and you must be able to make them quickly if demand spikes.
Here are 2 ways to quickly transition to a take-out or delivery business:
Our recommendations are designed to get you started taking orders soon, in the next couple of hours. For this reason, we suggest taking payments at your store POS terminal as usual. Once you are taking orders, then consider setting up a payment processor with your order form.
1 – Use your existing contact form:
Chances are you have a contact form on your site. Create a new form where you can allow people to choose which to-go menu items they want. Include their name, address, contact information.
Take their payment cash or card when they arrive to get their order. Also, many contact forms allow you to quickly configure PayPal or other payment processors to allow you to take payments at checkout.
If you aren’t familiar with your contact form plugin, google it quick to get a tutorial. Here is a tutorial for Gravity Forms and Contact Form 7:
Gravity Forms – How to create a contact form in under 2 minutes
Contact Form 7 – Customizing a Form
Time to first order ~ 1-3h
2 – Install “Restaurant Menu” plugin
The Restaurant Menu is a complete plugin that is ready to configure with your store info, menu items, and delivery preferences. Once installed, it will prompt you to install a mobile app onto a tablet or phone to receive and manage orders. It even allows your device to connect to your device to a ticket/order printer in the kitchen via Bluetooth, WiFi or USB.
All instructions are toward the bottom of the page starting at “How to Install and Activate”. Setup your menu on the plugin website, copy the button shortcode to a prominent place on your homepage and start taking orders.
Time to first order 1-3h.
After you get your take-out order system started, consider adding a credit card payment fields or PayPal. Consider repurposing your staff into a commission-and-tips-based delivery team.
Spread the Word
Tell your loyal customers that you’re open for business and you’re doing take-out. These loyal customers likely follow you on social media. Use a hashtag, something like #takeoutomaha.
Most business owners don’t think this way. In an effort to have a big immediate impact, most businesses try to take too big of steps and find themselves with projects upended, incomplete, over budget and behind on scope. Thinking of your online presence as a long term process, composed of many small steps, prevents your brand from becoming a liability, and allows your company and online presence to grow together.
Chances are your business isn’t in marketing or technology. But the expectation is that you understand marketing and technology well enough to put together a plan. Where do you find the time to learn all of this? How do you know what you should do? Where do you start?
Here are 6 principles that we believe will help any business make decisions for building and maintaining their online presence.
1. Have fun!
Building a business is fun, why shouldn’t it be? We all know your online presence should make an impact on your future customers, but why not let it be a fun and exciting experience also? Enjoy the process.
In the same spirit, choose some problems to solve just because they are fun. Maybe you’ve always wanted to be on the radio. Have you considered starting a podcast? Maybe you’ve always enjoyed fashion. Consider a set of videos or photos promoting your brand and have fun selecting clothing or doing makeup.
The energy of fun is contagious. If your team is having fun with an online initiative, you likely already have a higher level of buy-in and involvement. And that makes it fun for your audience to watch.
2. Create the right relationships
Your #1 goal as a leader is to build a team that can function without you. This means hiring the right people, but it also means finding the right businesses to partner with when you’re ready to do something different.
The fastest way to make an impact with your online presence is to hire a company that does it every day. They often work with businesses across many industries and have built their business by solving problems like yours. They know the technology, resources, and strategies and they have the people to help you go from 0 to 60.
Your agencies may be able to help you make decisions beyond their field of work. These agencies have worked with your competitors. They have worked with great organizations and well-managed businesses. Having strong relationships gives you the chance to talk about problems you share and their experiences with creative ways to solve those problems.
How should you structure your department?
What roles do you need in your department?
How should you transition from a team of 1 to a department of many?
Your agency partners have wide networks and may know someone that would be a good fit for your company. Connect on LinkedIn and network to find mutual contacts with your interviewees. Your next hire may be a recommendation from an agency relationship.
3. You don’t have to do it all
There are lots of great ideas out there and pressure comes from everywhere, telling you that you need to do everything. All the industry leaders, articles, and even your colleagues are quick to tell you what you’re missing.
Steve Jobs was famous for asking his colleagues, “What have you said no to today?” Saying no recognizes that not all good things are equally important. Saying no to good ideas for the sake of your biggest problem requires clear vision and thick skin.
Let’s simplify it all.
1 – Take inventory of everything you want to do – every improvement, upgrade, and extra task possible when starting a new project.
2 – Isolate the biggest problem you have. Take inventory of all the problems you would like to solve in a list. Circle the #1 problem, your top priority.
3 – Solve your biggest problem first. On your list of improvements and upgrades, circle the smallest number of steps that must happen in order to solve your biggest problem first.
Say no to the rest.
4. You don’t have to know it all
What if your top priorities are all outside of your comfort zone? The best answer is to start with your relationships and see what progress they can help you achieve. You can’t be shy. Be willing to talk to those people you haven’t spoken to for a long time.
If you don’t have a connection who can help, the same principle applies: take small steps. Learn the most important or the most interesting thing. And of course, always be looking for relationships to help you out.
5. Should I start fresh or fix what I have?
Are you ready for a fresh start or a symbolic change? Do you have the wrong contact information or outdated employee photos on your site? Is your technology is no longer supported? Have you had a change in brand?
You have a decision to make: Do you want to fix the immediate problems? Or do you need to start over?
Any neglected system will require lots of work to clean up, but that doesn’t mean you must start over. If your online presence has been neglected, but there isn’t anything fundamentally broken, you can focus on fixing the immediate problems. Examples of fixable immediate problems are:
Do you have massive email lists that need to be consolidated and sorted?
Are there tons of old pages and blog posts that need to be cleaned up?
Is there confusion about multiple or redundant admin accounts that are causing confusion?
When considering rebuilding, evaluate your system itself, not the amount of work required to clean it up. Even if you start from scratch, you’ll have to clean up these messes. You want a system that can grow with you.
Is the system inherently robust and extendible?
Is it constantly breaking?
Does it require specialized knowledge to operate?
Those are the types of questions that will help you decide if you should rebuild.
6. Plan to maintain your online presence
It’s always expensive to fix anything that has deteriorated. Like everything in business, your online presence will deteriorate if you neglect it. The good news is you can decide on a maintenance plan. It’s ok if you’re in a season where you want to do less. Make a plan that covers the basics.
The point is, no matter how mature your online presence, you need to maintain it. Maintenance is what prevents it from deteriorating.
You see, there is a lot of freedom. You don’t have to be an expert and you don’t have to do it all. Consider what is right for you and your business. Where are you already strong online? What resources do you have available? Commit to maintaining your online presence and take the first step.
You became a business leader because you’re a problem solver and you have a big idea. Big ideas are transformative. You are here to transform the world with your business! But why is it so hard to make progress? Why does it seem so easy for other people to get results?
Each time, you take the first step but have a hard time finding the next steps. So what is missing? The solution shouldn’t be smaller goals or solving smaller problems.
In 2001, a group of software developers faced the problem of how to “do it all.” This group worked on huge software projects that were exciting and promised to solve complex problems. But they were frustrated by unrealistic expectations from management and clients. “Feature updates” often upended projects and forced them to start over.
The developers’ frustration moved them to come together after-hours to find a way to work better. At these sessions, they developed what is now known as the Agile Manifesto. The Agile Manifesto “uncover[ed] better ways” of working where completing small tasks repeatedly produced projects that were more frequently done on time, in budget and made their clients happier.
How does this apply to my online presence?
Remember your offline business 5-7 years ago? Look at how much has changed! Most likely, the biggest differences between then and now didn’t happen in one day or week or even one month.
When it comes to maintaining your online presence, we encourage you to view it as a long-term process composed of many small stepwise improvements.
Most business owners don’t think this way. What usually happens is the business’ online presence is either neglected or isn’t set up as a robust system that can accommodate ongoing change.
Eventually, a business owner may realize their online presence has become a liability for their brand. Maybe they want to promote a new product but are afraid to send people to their website. Maybe a competitor has a 3-year head start with marketing and they can’t imagine how to catch up.
At JM Online, we often discuss with our clients how to make progress on seemingly insurmountable projects. There is no silver bullet approach for every problem, but it usually comes down to breaking the work into small, doable tasks and then taking the first step.
Don’t solve smaller problems. Break down big problems into achievable tasks.
In our next post, we’ll discuss the approach we take with our clients who have big projects ahead of them. We’ll talk about the power of relationships to help you in times of need.
We believe this should be fun and you don’t have to do it all or even know it all.
Our identities have become more than flesh and bones, now we have digital aliases that are vulnerable to abuse. In this new digital landscape, government jurisdictions have made significant strides to protect our privacy. The European Union passed the GDPR laws, and recently California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
So what does this mean for a business owner? A webmaster? An eCommerce manager? In this article, we’re going to take a look at commonly collected website data, what your website security needs to accomplish, and how to know if you’re protected.
What kind of data is collected?
There are two primary ways that data is collected on a website. You either actively submit data into a website, or you provide data passively as you browse.
Information You Submit
Most businesses use their website as a virtual storefront for their business in real life so that they can make human-to-human connections or product-to-human connections. Depending on the website security, some or all the information you submit can be collected on any particular website. This includes credit card and social security information. The following are types of data that is collected that you submit to a website.
Most websites have a contact form where you can send an email to the business, ask some questions, or apply for a job. Here it’s common to give your name, your email, or your phone number.
We’re all familiar with online purchasing. Every time you make an online purchase, you’re submitting private information through a website. With eCommerce, it’s more than just your name and email, but it’s also your shipping and billing address, as well as your payment information.
Passively Shared Data
Every time you browse online, you’re creating new data points about you. Have you ever noticed that you feel like you’re being spied on by businesses that you frequently do business with or websites that you only visited? Your browsing behavior is collected through the use of “cookies.”
Cookies are little pieces of information that a browser asks to store on your computer. Usually, cookies are used to personalize your experience to give you a better experience when browsing and shopping. They’re also used to choose advertisements to display to you. If they know you like to watch football on Sunday, that may be a clue that you would be interested in some chips or chicken wings.
Where Does Your Website Security Need to be Implemented?
Any time data is transmitted, it’s at risk. Distilling down website security into 1 or 2 bullet points is oversimplifying the problem. You need to consider security at multiple levels of your website to provide a safe browsing experience for your users.
Let’s start with security checkpoints that are very close to your user, and gradually get further away.
Spammers like to use contact forms to upload dangerous scripts to your site where they can be deployed and infect your entire website. Many contact forms use a service called ReCaptcha to help block malicious behavior from attacking your site.
Every time a contact form is submitted, data is transferred. A ReCaptcha is a tool that is commonly used to verify that the form user is a human. ReCaptcha uses logic or math questions that bots may not be able to answer correctly. A correct answer helps to verify that a malicious bot isn’t trying to attack your site.
Code Level Security
Web code is regularly maintained to close security patches that malicious bots and spammers look for to spread viruses and steal data. One of the most common ways that websites become infected is by using old code. Spammers look for any website that is using out of date technology because they know exactly where the security holes are, and they can attack those vulnerabilities with ease.
Security at the website code level often means that you’re using up-to-date code, up-to-date plugins, and up-to-date CMS versions (like WordPress). Save yourself from unnecessary headaches by keeping plugins and code up-to-date, and removing old plugins and code you no longer need.
If you are using WordPress, the Dashboard has some features that help you to know if you need to upgrade some plugins, themes or your CMS. At the top left of your WordPress menu, under Dashboard, there is a notification that tells you if you have some plugins, a theme, or your CMS out of date. Or if you go to plugins, there are notifications letting you know which plugins are out of date.
Also, when installing new plugins, check to see the last time the plugin was updated. If it’s been many years since the developer updated it, it’s possible that the plugin and its code is no longer maintained. This is a sign that there may be vulnerabilities in the plugin and you should try to find a different option.
Server Level Security
When a user opens your website in their browser, their browser asks the server to show the web page. If the user is filling out a contact form, that data is being transferred from your contact form to your website database. As this data is transferred, it’s vulnerable to being intercepted by malicious hackers. What if you could encode this data so that it only makes sense to your website and not to others?
At the server level, you can install an SSL certificate so that data submitted through your site is encoded, kind of like Morse code, but only your server has the key to understanding it.
Most browsers today require that your website has an SSL or your website will display to visitors as an unsecured site. Most payment solutions will detect that your site is missing an SSL, resulting in the payment solution not displaying on your site, and eliminating the possibility to accept payments through your website.
You know your site has an SSL if your website URL starts with HTTPS instead of HTTP. Think of the extra S as meaning “Secure.” Also, browsers will often show a lock, or a shield next to your URL when it has an SSL certificate.
It’s also a good security practice to completely block users from geographic areas that you don’t do business with. If your server detects that a website user is from a foreign country, your server can block the request from the server so that the page will not display. If you don’t do business there, there is no reason to let their hackers have access to your site. However, certain marketing channels such as Google Ads may require that your site not use geographic blocking. Talk to your digital marketing consultants about whether this applies to you.
You can have all of the above security vulnerabilities completely closed and still be wide open to security risks because another level of security exists at the domain level.
When a website user types in your domain into their browser, there’s an extensive directory, similar to a phone book, that ensures that www.yourdomain.com shows your website, and not someone else’s.
A method called Domain Name Server (DNS) spoofing, or DNS Cache Positioning, is when your information in that extensive directory is changed. When this happens, your users think they’re logging into your eCommerce store to make a purchase, but they’re actually handing their personal information, address, and credit card information over to a thief.
There are DNS obfuscation services that can be used that will make your data in the directory hidden, and often those services will also protect you even more by not showing your real website, but a copy of it, making it all that much harder to steal your information or mimic your actual website.
Who do I talk to in order to ensure that I’m protected?
Now that you have a feel for the complexity of your website security, how do you ensure that you are protected? What other things can you do to communicate to your website users that they are safe doing business with you?
The short answer is to keep 4 people close to you: your web developer, your hosting provider, your marketing provider, and your lawyer.
Your web developer should be able to help you with the website level security, plugins, CMS, and technology upgrades. They should be able to help you keep up-to-date and troubleshoot any compatibility problems you may discover as you stay up to date.
In most cases, your marketing provider will be installing and using many of the plugins and technology on your site. You’ll need to work with both your web developer and marketing provider (who may be from the same company) to ensure that best practices are covered.
If you’re looking to beef up your server-level security, the first step is talking to your hosting provider. But keep in mind, they may need to upgrade the technology on your server, which may not be compatible with the code of your website. If this is the case, you should consult with both your website host as well as your developer to ensure that improving your server-level security does not break your website.
Your web host should be able to help you with your domain-level security. Your host may not actually control your domain though, but most hosting technicians understand the technology well enough to help you make the necessary configurations required to keep you safe.
Having a website opens you up to online security risks, but you can be smart and protect yourself from many threats. That’s why we recommend that you develop strong relationships with your web developer, website host, and digital marketer and of course ask your lawyer if you are compliant with new laws. These people are the experts that stay up to date on best practices, latest news and obsess about keeping you and your customers protected.
If you have more questions on website security, we recommend that you give us a call and we can help guide you to the right people or solutions that are right for your needs.