Website Data and Security, and Who to Talk to for Help

Audio Version: 10:36

Security has become a hot topic in our culture. From privacy-related suits against Google and Facebook to wholesale credit card theft from stores like Home Depot and Amazon and card skimmers at gas pumps and on ATM machines.

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.

Contact Forms

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.

eCommerce Checkout

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.

Website owners also use cookies to get an idea about which pages users like. If you can see which pages people don’t spend much time on, that may be a signal that the content on that page needs to be improved to help customers.

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.

On-Page Security

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.

reCaptcha screenshot

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.

This wordpress website needs to update some plugins, theme or CMS.

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.

screenshot of a browser url bar of a site that has an SSL properly installed

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.

Domain-Level Security

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.

Web Developer

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.

Marketing Provider

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.

Hosting Provider

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.

For more on hosting providers, see our article, How to Choose a Hosting Provider.

Legal Representation

Nobody expects a security breach, but we do need to plan just in case. As laws are tightening down on data and its use, it would be wise to work with your lawyer to put in place a comprehensive privacy policy that your support team can help you execute. Specifically, ask them to help you write up a privacy policy that includes considerations like GDPR and California’s recently passed CCPA.

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.

 

Web Jargon Explained

Often, the hardest part about learning new things is learning the language. This doesn’t just apply to traveling in foreign countries. Nearly every specialized area comes with words and terms you probably hadn’t heard before you started learning about the topic. Whether you’re studying chemistry, business administration, computer science, or birdhouse building, you’re going to run into some unfamiliar words and terms that you’ll need to learn.

JM Online knows that in our industry, there are a lot of technical words, or jargon, that can make it a challenge for newcomers to engage. Our aim is to communicate the importance of your online presence, hosting, website data, and many other jargon-heavy topics.

We can’t help you see the importance of our message if the jargon is making our communication impossible to understand. So to better serve you, we’ve created this cheat sheet of common jargon. Almost every support phone call we are on includes most of these words.

Common Jargon Cheat Sheet

Hosting

The space on a server ( basically a special computer) where a website, email, mobile app, or any web-based software lives. Your home has a physical location on a piece of land, and your website files have a real location on a server.

Domain

Your website domain is the address that people type into the browser when they want to visit your website. Your domain or domain name might look like: www.mywebsitename.com

URL

A URL, or uniform resource locator, includes your domain, plus the pages and content that make up your entire website. While www.mywebsite.com is your website’s primary URL, www.mywebsite.com/services is the URL for your service page.

CMS

CMS is an acronym that stands for Content Management System. In the old days, the only way to edit your website was to edit it using HTML code. A CMS is a user-friendly way to control the content on your website without needing to know how to code. Common CMS’s include WordPress, Joomla, Square Space, Wix, Magento, Shopify, and more.

WordPress

WordPress is one of the most commonly used CMS’s. Over 27 million websites are built using WordPress. WordPress is open source, which means you don’t need to pay WordPress to use it, and anybody can develop tools or plugins that work with WordPress.

WordPress CMS Logo

Browser

A browser, or web browser, is software on your computer, phone, or tablet that allows you to look at websites. More technically speaking, a browser is software that requests information, or files, from servers to be displayed on your computer. Common browsers include Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge.

Common Website Browser Logos

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a tool that allows you to see how people behave once they visit your website. You can see how much traffic you’re getting, where it’s coming from, which pages are visited, and how long each visit lasts. These numbers help you understand what’s working and what needs improvement on your website.

Google Analytics Logo

Google Analytics Dashboard
Here is a basic view of the Google Analytics dashboard, and the kind of data you can expect to see.

Google My Business

Google My Business is a platform for business owners to control how their business appears on a Google Map search result. When online users search for a business “near me,” Google gives them a map result. Managing your Google My Business account ensure that your business information is accurate on the results page.

Here are some more articles about Google My Business, it’s value to you and how to set it up, click here.

Optimize your Google My Business page to

Google My Business dashboard screenshot
Here is a view of the dashboard of a Google My Business account. This gives you an idea of what kind of information that this tool provides as well as some data to help you make better decisions with your online presence.

Google Search Console / Webmaster Tools

Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) is a tool that allows you to see how people find your website using Google Search. If you want to monitor where your blog posts are ranking on Google search, ask your web manager for access to Search Console.

Google Search Console logo

Google Search Console dashboard screenshot
This is a basic view on the Google Search Console dashboard. This gives a sample of what you can expect when you visit your Search Console account.

Security Package

Security packages are unique to your provider, so make sure you ask them to explain it to you. Generally, website security packages keep unwanted traffic from accessing your website. If you’re only doing business in the USA, for example, international traffic may be blocked to eliminate the possibility of non-customers attacking your site.

Email Client

An email client is software installed onto your phone, tablet, or computer that allows you to send or receive email. Common email clients include Microsoft Outlook, and if you’re using an Apple device, Apple uses an application called Apple Mail, or just Mail.

Logos of the most common email clients

Less Frequently Used Jargon

The jargon below are words that you may not experience as frequently. These words would be something that you would hear in a conversation if you’re performing more technical work on the site, such as building a new website or trying to make your website more secure.

Dev Site

A dev site, or development site, is commonly used when a website is being rebuilt, or when a brand-new website under construction. It’s a virtual space that allows you to view the website’s progress while keeping it hidden from online users.

Website Launch

When you’re building a new website, there comes a time when you’re ready for it to go live or become accessible for online users. The process of making your site available for the public to see and use is called a website launch.

Server

A server is like a computer. Just like your computer, it has documents, images, and folders. The difference is that a server operates as a centralized resource for multiple users, while your computer is only used by whoever is logged in. A server never gets turned off, allowing computers to access its contents 24/7. Your website is a collection of files and folders that live on a server.

Caching

Caching is a process that your computer, server, or browser uses to remember data. Caching minimizes the amount of work required to load data or websites. The less work that’s required to load, the faster the data or website loads.

PCI Compliance

PCI, or Payment Card Industry, refers to the standard for data security. PCI compliance means your website meets the information security standard when credit cards are transacted through your website. If you’re taking credit card payments through your website, your hosting server needs to have a specific configuration to meet PCI compliance.

reCAPTCHA

A reCAPTCHA is a tool that is installed onto your website that determines if a visitor on your site is a human or not. Frequently used on contact forms and login pages, reCAPTCHA tools block spam bots from submitting malicious data on your website.

reCaptcha screenshot

Domain Registrar

A domain registrar is a company that reserves domain names. If you’re starting your business and you want to reserve a domain name, you’ll need to visit a domain registrar like GoDaddy or NameCheap to purchase and secure your domain name.

SSL

SSL stands for secure sockets layer. It is a secure method for connecting two computers (your device with a web browser, for example) by encrypting or codifying data so that it cannot be read or stolen. Websites with SSL certifications will display the small padlock symbol in the browser before their domain name. All websites should have this to be deemed trustworthy by today’s online standards.

This is how a browser looks when you're visiting a secure site.

Browser warning that the page you're visiting doesn't have a
If a website has an SSL but the SSL is broken, site users may see a stronger warning like this. This is because if an SSL is used to protect credit card transactions, submitting a purchase through this unprotected site could put your credit card data at risk.

For more about SSL’s and site security, click here.

HTTP

HTTP or HyperText Transfer Protocol is a set of rules that are used to transfer data over the web. When you visit a website, your browser is sending messages formatted in HTTP.

HTTPS

Similar to HTTP, but HTTPS sends messages securely using an SSL so that data cannot be stolen.

As a website owner or future website owner, you will sooner or later become involved in technical conversations in order to improve your online presence. We want you to be confident and able to engage with your technology. Understanding these words and terms will help you make the best decisions possible for your hosting, website data, email, and everyday website problems.

How to Choose the Right Hosting Solution

Whether you’re a marketing director or business owner at some point you’ll consider website hosting.

For most, web hosting is set up and then forgotten. You probably know you need a host for your website to work online, several companies offer the service, and the fee is minimal.

All of that is true – but often business owners just want to get started so they sign up for something basic. Later they later discover some limitations and want to customize their plan, giving them more to consider.

We’re going to take a deeper look at why choosing the right website hosting matters and answer questions like:

  • When do I go with the DIY hosting solutions like GoDaddy or Blue Host?
  • When do I choose a web hosting company with in-house technicians?

Let’s start by considering your needs.

What are my web hosting needs?

Before you can decide if a DIY web host or a full-service hosting solution is best, you need to think about what you need on a daily basis.

Depending on the type of industry you’re in, you might require special treatment for sensitive information. Think HIPPA or PCI compliance. If you plan on accepting credit card payments, you payment solution may require you to be hosted on a PCI compliant server. That might be more difficult to ensure using a DIY service.

Does your website get spikes during certain times of the year? Think Black Friday or Cyber Monday. DIY web host solutions aren’t always clear on how you can manage your resources.

Will you get more resources allocated to your site when you need it? During a heavy traffic spike, when you should be making money, your website could freeze – cases like this are why some businesses prefer hiring a professional hosting solutions team.

Some other important questions:

  • Do you have international users?
  • Do you need the ability to set up subdomains or development sites?
  • Will you want to deploy a mobile app?
  • Do you want email addresses with your domain name?
  • Do you send newsletter blasts from your domain?

I don’t get a lot of traffic on my website

If you’re starting out or serve a niche market, your website may not be getting a lot of daily traffic.

If your site is basic or you make some small changes periodically using WordPress or Joomla, you may not need many configurations, and a DIY solution like GoDaddy, Bluehost or FlyWheel may be a great solution for you.

With that said, it’s a good idea to be aware of the basic minimum best practices for today’s web. For example, all websites should have an SSL. An SSL is a tool that encrypts information to make it difficult to steal. Most browsers tell site visitors if an SSL is present. For example, next to the URL in your browser you’ll see either lock icons or shields to tell users that this site has an SSL and is secure:

If a site is not secure, you would see these icons:

You don’t want your users to feel like their security is at risk when they visit your site. For more on SSL’s, see our blog post, Does Your Website Need an SSL Certificate?

In addition, it’s a good idea to set up a spam filter when you’re setting up your email hosting.

If you’re planning for the future and expect to grow, include periodic upgrades as needed in your growth plan. Or you can avoid needing to migrate your site once it has matured and is more difficult to manage, by starting with local web hosting professionals.

My website gets a lot of traffic

If you know your website is getting a lot of traffic or experiences traffic spikes, you may require more advanced configurations. There are a number of hosting solutions that can ensure that your site stays fast when it’s under load.

Ensuring you’re on a dedicated server eliminates the conflict with other websites experiencing high volumes and gives you access to your server’s full resources at all times.

If you have a high-volume site, consider setting up an efficient caching plan. Caching is a technique that allows your server to store a snapshot of your site instead. When your site experiences high volume, caching can greatly reduce the workload of your server and help your site load faster for your users. Here are some tips on how to make your site fast.

Often server-level caching is executed using a CDN (content delivery network). A CDN is a network of servers that are distributed worldwide that store snapshots of your website. This way, your website is geographically close to any worldwide user so that during peak traffic hours your international users will experience the fastest site you can serve them.

A CDN has the added benefit of providing email obfuscation, hiding email addresses from page crawlers, like email harvesters and spambots, looking for email addresses on your pages that they can add to spam email lists.

Should I use a dedicated server?

Like most things, the answer is – it depends. By now, you have a sense of some of the considerations to make when determining if a DIY host solution or a full-service host solution is right for you. Let’s recap the important takeaways to this point.

  • Most out of the box DIY hosting solutions are on a server that’s shared by many other domains. This means you’re all sharing resources that are engineered to the needs of multiple sites, not customized to your needs.
  • When you’re on a dedicated server, you get 100% of the server resources at all times.
  • If your payment processor requires PCI compliance, you’ll likely need your own dedicated server.
  • If your industry requires special treatment of information, such as HIPPA compliance, you may require additional customizations that need to be done on a dedicated server.

Can I do it myself?

Again, it depends. Basic websites with a small traffic volume can probably be managed by a curious person and a lot of YouTube videos using a solution like GoDaddy.

But as your website grows in traffic volume and the complexity of your needs grow, you may want to consider reaching out to a local web hosting professional for guidance and support. There are some important questions to consider before you commit to the DIY approach.

  • Do you want a local (human) expert to help you in real-time when you need it?
  • Do you want expert support to help when making upgrades and adjustments?
  • Do you know how to configure the solutions that are right for you?
  • Do you have the time to learn hosting technology so you can solve problems when they arise?
  • How much of your time can you put into hosting management every week?

 

As you can see, choosing the right hosting solution for your website takes some thought. Do your prep work upfront so as you grow you can position yourself to provide for your needs as they arise.

In general, if your website doesn’t get a lot of traffic, and doesn’t handle sensitive information, a DIY solution could be the best choice. If your website is growing, plans to grow, and handles sensitive information, a local web hosting provider is probably going to be the better long-term solution.

Have You Claimed Your Google My Business Listing?

When people search for a business like yours, they’re using Google ~92% of the time. If you don’t have a Google My Business listing the chances of someone finding you diminish significantly. Not only does a GMB listing help customers find you, but it tells them valuable information about your company – like how to get driving directions to your location and opening a phone dialer to call you on mobile search. Let’s talk about the features of a Google My Business listing.

Google Maps local search icon

What is a Google My Business Listing?

 Google My Business is a free tool for businesses and organizations that helps to manage their online presence across Google, with an emphasis on Search and Maps. When you verify your business information with Google, you’ll help customers find you and let them know more about your business. A GMB listing will allow you to control how your business information is displayed on Google.

For More information about the power of using your Google My Business listing, see our article, Why You Should Optimize for Local Search

Control and Manage Your Information

GMB gives you the power to manage the information Google users see when they search for your business. You can display and update your hours, website, phone, and address.  GMB also gives your visitors the ability to get turn by turn driving directions to your location. Ensuring that your business information is up-to-date and having some relevant business photos ensures that your future visitors know that they at the right place.

The GMB Business Info search result

Engage with Customers

GMB allows you to read and respond to customer reviews. You can post photos to keep your audience updated. Businesses that add photos to their listings receive 42% more requests for driving directions on Google Maps and 35% more click-throughs to their websites compared to businesses with no photos.

Google My Business Reviews and Responses Demonstration

Track Your Visibility

Discover insights about your customers, like where customers who searched for your business are located. Find out how many people call your business directly from the phone number displayed on local search results in Search and Maps. .

  Google My Business Screenshot of Where Customers View Your Business on Google

You can even track how many of your visitors have been requesting driving directions to your business. In the Insights menu, there is a chart for customer actions that shows how many times driving directions have been requested.

A screenshot of driving directions that have been requested in Google My Business

Google Posts

Promote offers, news, events, product updates, and announcements by adding a post to your GMB listing. These posts show up on Google Search and Maps to provide another way to keep in touch with customers and prospects. Keep your description short, use good photos, and end with a call to action like “Buy,” “Call Now,” “Learn More,” or “Visit Us.”

Screenshot of the GMB Posts area

Google My Business Messaging

A messaging feature lets you directly chat with customers. You can quickly respond to questions and assist current and potential customers. The messages can be directed to any phone number so a staff member can be tasked with these interactions. There is an option to turn messaging off if you’d prefer to keep communication channels more simplified.

GMB Messaging Business Welcome Message

Video Uploads

You can now upload videos to your listing. The maximum video length is 30 seconds. Videos lead to higher engagement and provide an opportunity to showcase your business products, service, and give visitors a more personal look into your business. These videos must be taken at your place of business. Google will remove any videos not related to your business location.

For more about optimizing your listing, see this blog: Benefits of Google My Business

Ready for Your Google My Business Listing?

Ready to get started? The first step is verifying your business on the GMB platform and customize each setting. See our step-by-step guide to getting started optimizing Google My Business. Happy optimizing!

How We Think About Marketing at JM

Updated October 2019

What comes to mind when you hear “multi-dimensional and always evolving”?  If you said technology, you’re right. A less common answer, but also correct, is marketing! Technology and marketing evolve together. Technology is in the driver seat transporting civilization forward, and marketing is always a half step behind doing its best to keep pace.  At JM we think about marketing on multiple levels, but it all starts with your website. 

Your Website is Still #1

When it comes to your business image, your website gives you the most control. It’s the only “place” on the internet where you have full control of how customers view you and interact with your business. When you look at the development of online platforms and how people are using them the math tells us Google and Facebook will not be around forever.  To have your entire online business presence built on a platform you can’t control, and one that will likely go away or dramatically change is risky. And, some of the most effective online advertising still requires a landing page hosted on your own domain.

Building Your Website is Only the First Step

If you built a 5-star resort in Hawaii would you rely on word of mouth advertising for people to find it? Probably not.  Your website has a lot more competition compared to your 5-star Hawaiian resort. There are over 1.6 billion websites online. If you build the best website in the world nobody will know it exists without the proper promotion. In order for customers and prospects to find your website and care, you must actively promote it in a variety of ways.

How Will They Find You?

Google is the number one website on the Web when it comes to traffic volume. For over 90% of people who discover your business online, their first touchpoint is on the Google search result page – not your website. Google has its own priorities and driving people to your website isn’t on the top of their list. More and more Google is building features to keep users on the search result pages rather than clicking on organic links. 

  • Google My Business & Local Pack
  • Featured Snippets
  • People Also Ask

It’s great that people can find your business website using Google but increasingly, search users are getting their information without ever clicking through to a website. You need a strategy for engaging those users through the new features Google continues to introduce.

Paid Ads on Google

You want to put your advertising dollars in the highest traffic areas. Right now, that’s Google. There are a number of different types of paid ad campaigns you can use on Google to better help customers find you. 

Search – A “Search Network” campaign will show text-based ads above Google search results, and other sites in the network, when a person searches for terms that are relevant to your ad’s keywords. For example, say you run a local barbershop school. Your Search ads will be shown to high-potential customers at the moment they are searching for “barbershop schools” and above all the search results (called organic results).

Example of where Google Ads are placed in search results

Display – The Google Display Network helps you find your audience. It helps you reach people while they’re browsing favorite websites, watching YouTube, checking their Gmail account, or using mobile devices and apps. 

example of Google Display Ad placement

Video – Video campaigns allow you to show video ads on their own, or within streaming video content on YouTube and across the Google Display Network.

Shopping – More than a Search ad, Shopping ads show searchers a photo of your product, title, price, name of your store, and a link to purchase. All this is placed above other types of search results and sometimes on the right side of the search result page.

Social Networks

The social networks can’t be ignored if you’re aiming to maximize the potential for customers to find your website. If you’re thinking there are too many social networks and not all of my customers are using them or only using a few – you’re right. You only need to engage through the social networks your customers are using.

  • Broad-Reach: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram
  • Specific Targeted Audiences: Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Twitch

We help businesses determine what social networks their customers are using, and value-added strategies they can use to engage them. Give-aways is one effective way to get your customers to engage on these platforms.

The Near Future (1-2 years) 

Image Search

Over the past several months, Google representatives have said they are focusing on Image Search. They followed through on that by announcing several new features at their recent I/O conference. These features include using high resolution images and 3D objects to use in Augmented Reality (Like this chair? Open the camera app and see this chair in your living room!). Knowing Google, their long-term interest is in how to best sell ads on the Image Search results page. Nonetheless, all the changes and new features offer new opportunities for your business to attract new attention.

The Question for You: How is your audience using Image Search in their everyday life?

Voice Search

Currently, 25% of people are saying voice is their first choice for searches. Personal voice assistants like Siri on Apple’s products and Amazon’s Alexa are becoming more and more popular among users. Voice presents new and interesting problems that haven’t yet been solved. But as Artificial Intelligence helps develop new capabilities, user adoption of voice technologies are expected to grow over the next several years.

Voice searches are more conversational and specific. Keywords people use for their voice searches are often a string of 5 words or more.

Example:Backlinko found an example in Google Home results for the query: Are figs good for you?

When you’re optimizing your content to answer questions in voice search, answer the specific question directly as possible. Studies show that 29 words are ideal.

Example: “Figs are high in fiber and a good source of several essential minerals, including magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper, and potassium as well as vitamins, principally K and B6.”

Further Future (next 10 years) 

What is in store for us 10 years down the road? Will Google and Facebook still be here?  If they are, will they be used in the same way? 

The truth is we don’t know what’s coming, but we can forecast with confidence that whatever is coming will be something few can imagine today. With the current rate of innovation and the way artificial intelligence algorithms are advancing, automation and immersive user experiences are some of the biggest breakthroughs we’re likely to see.

In the coming years the issue of user control will only get more intense.  We can’t predict the future, but we can prepare for it to the best of our ability. With everything that’s in our future, the best way to secure your online presence and image is with:

  • A website built to be flexible enough to adapt to rapid technological change
  • A strategy that takes advantage of the digital platforms best suited for your brand and your customers.

Take the First Steps

It’s time to get to work. There’s so much and can feel overwhelming. Where do you start?

You start putting one foot in front of another.

To help place your first steps, we’ve outlined 5 simple things that you can do on your website to improve your business online. 

4 Ways to Update Your Website

If you’re a business owner having a website is a must for any kind of effective online presence. For starters, you need a website for online advertising. A website also gives you the most control for managing your business image.

Google and Facebook are necessary now, but there’s no guarantee they will be around forever. If you already have a website, you need to make sure it’s modern and optimized for user experience on both desktop computers and mobile devices. Let’s take a look at how an Omaha web design company like us can help you get your website updated or built from scratch.

reasons to have a website

Use WordPress

WordPress is one of the best platforms for building a business website, or any website, and is what our Omaha web developers use most often. WordPress is cost effective. The designing and development are affordable, and the upkeep and maintenance expenses are inexpensive. WordPress is search engine optimization ready. WP websites have simple and constant codes making them ideal for Google indexing. Our WP websites designs are responsive, meaning they adapt to mobile devices automatically.

Use Professional Photography

Photos enable you to show your customers and clients what you have to offer them. Consumers like to see things for themselves before making a purchasing decision. The photos you use on your website represent your business. Low quality, unprofessional photos communicate a “low quality” message about your company and products to the people viewing the images. That’s just how the human mind works. Investing in professional quality photos is an investment in the way customers and prospects see you — first impressions do matter.

Clarify Your Message

If you have a great looking website and professional photos, but your messaging is poor or confusing you will lose business.  Every word serves a purpose.  Right away you need to be clear about what you’re offering and why it’s going to make your customer’s life better. You need to focus on the benefits first and the features second. If you’re not familiar with the principles of persuasion and effective sales writing investing in professional copywriting services is just as important as investing in professional photography.

Add Value by Educating

Potential customers come to your website because you’re an authority in what you do. You’re an expert in your industry. Instead of telling customers you’re the best, prove to them you’re the best by giving them some value upfront. Share your expertise about what you know, and educate your audience. Once they feel empowered with new knowledge, they’re more likely to make a decision and choose the expert who helped them fill in the gaps of their understanding.  You can educate on any page within your website, but regular blog articles are one of the most effective ways to accomplish this. It also has the added benefit of helping your SEO rankings.

Ready to Update Your Website?

The most important things to consider for a modern website is making sure it’s responsive, has good photos, and clear messaging. If you hit those three points, you’re probably in good shape. If you’re lacking on one or two of those and don’t want to take on all the updates yourself, we can help you out.

Mobile First More Important than Ever

Google has a mobile first mentality. Not so much because Google likes mobile, but because people like mobile. Now, more than ever before, people are using mobile devices to navigate the online world. Because of consumer demand Google has adjusted, and if the website user experience on mobile isn’t excellent, it hurts the website’s organic rankings.

If you’re thinking about SEO in Omaha and improving your web marketing you’re going to need to make sure your website is optimized for mobile devices in 2019. 

Responsive Websites are Mobile Friendly  

We build responsive websites. Responsive websites respond to the resolution of the device, and the format shifts depending on the resolution the website is being viewed under. In most cases the desktop view will inform the mobile view.

The big benefits of responsive websites in the context of mobile include:  

  • Increasing your reach to tablet and mobile audiences
  • Increasing sales and conversions
  • Consolidating your analytics and reporting
  • Increasing your visibility in search engines
  • Saving time and cost on site management
  • Saving time and cost on mobile development  

The Big 5 Mobile Optimized Website Benefits

1. Improved User Experience

What happens when you receive a link via a text message from a friend, you click the link and it takes you to a jumbled mess of a website that you can’t understand? You leave. And you likely never go back, killing the chances of that website ever making you a customer.

If users can’t easily browse and read the content on your website from their mobile devices, they will always leave uninspired. Mobile optimized sites are critical for attracting and retaining new customers.

A website built for an enhanced mobile experience will keep users engaged through clean page formatting, with intentionally ordered content and clear calls to action. A good experience is not just the direct result of a nice looking page – but also of a page with valuable content.

2. Increased Time on Site

Time is the currency of the internet. You have only a few seconds to capture a website visitor’s attention. You have even less time when users are on mobile devices because they’re typically accessing your website when they’re out and on the go. When visitors encounter your mobile friendly website, they stay on the website longer, and you increase the odds of making them a customer. Increased time on site also one of the most critical factors for SEO success.

3. Faster Loading Speed  

Speed is important because as we just mentioned – time is a huge factor for user experience. A website that isn’t optimized for fast load time will render very slowly on a mobile device. In worse case scenarios it will not render at all. Studies show mobile website users will abandon a page if they have to wait more than 6-10 seconds. Check out some ways you can increase you website speed here.

4. Improved Mobile SEO  

If Google recommends it, we do it. Google recommends website developers build their sites to be responsive. A responsive website increases the likelihood your site will rank well in Google mobile search results. So, that’s what we build, because we build websites with search engine optimization in-mind.

5. Competitive Advantage  

Despite the data, and the recommendations, a lot of companies have ignored the growing trend of mobile users. By building pages with mobile experience in mind, you’ll keep yourself ahead of the competition.

Why have a Mobile First Mentality?

Mobile optimized websites are a big part of search engine success. It’s critical for any business that wants to compete to make sure they have a website that is mobile friendly. A one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. The good news is we make responsive websites that are designed to thrive in the mobile online environment.

If you’re looking to make your website mobile friendly or need a new responsive website give us a call, 402.292.7500 and we’ll walk you through your options. 

The Importance of Link Equity

Link equity is a search engine ranking factor for your website. In essence, it refers to the equity or “value” passed from one page, or one website, to another through posted links.

Search engines like Google view links as votes by other websites indicating that your page is valuable and worth promoting. Having quality inbound and outbound links on your site can boost your organic rankings with search engines.

graphic  of browser with backlink

Types of Links

If you’re getting confused by all of the different link terminology let’s clear things up here. There are three different types of links.

Internal Links – An internal link would be a link on one of your website pages that links to a different page within your website.

External Links – If you have an external link, also known as an “outbound link,” it will link to another website or website page that is not yours.

Backlinks – Backlinks, also called “inbound links,” are links on another website that link back to your site. If website A makes an external link to website B, website B will have a backlink from website A. 

What Determines Link Equity?

Every type of link on your website weighed for link equity. There are some considerations to keep in mind when evaluating link equity. 

Relevance – If your linking to a page about knitting cat sweaters from an article about proper car maintenance the link isn’t relevant. Google is smart enough to figure that out at this point. Irrelevant links do not add value or build your authority. 

Age Helps  – When credible websites that have built up authority link to your website they pass on more link equity than links from brand-new sites.  

Crawlable – “Spiders” or “Crawlers” are names for programs search engines use to discover the content found online. HTML is the primary language. Make sure your pages and pages you’re linking to are crawler friendly, or they’ll be ignored. If you’re not sure about this, ask your website developer.  

Location – Links that are buried in footers and sidebars aren’t given as much weight as links positioned higher on the page.  The same goes for videos. The higher the video is on the page the more weight it’s given.

How to Get Quality Backlinks

There’s a lot of scammers out there in the web marketing world selling backlinks. The problem is they don’t pass the Link Equity criteria. One of the best and most affordable ways to build your link equity is by using the trust you’ve built with your partners, clients and affiliate organizations. Sometimes, all it takes is to ask a trusted partner or client for a link, and you’ll get it.

High Quality Original Content

Another way to get quality backlinks is providing value. There’s so much noise and poorly written content, that when actual quality original content is produced it rises to the top.  If you’re producing engaging and informative original content consistently you’ll eventually get noticed and become an irresistibly linkable authority.  

The Bigger Picture on Rankings

The reality is Google uses over 200 ranking factors in their algorithm. If you think that’s a lot – you’re right. It’s easy to get lost in the details, and by the time you think you understand it something changes.  Working with a web design firm that stays on top of this stuff is a great way to know you’re doing everything you can to get heard amongst all the noise.

What is Google E-A-T and Why it Matters

Way back in 2013 Google released a 160-page search quality evaluator guidelines paper. The document revealed that good content is among the top three webpage-quality factors. It went on to define high-quality content as content that demonstrates a high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T). In August of 2018, Google released an algorithm update, and SEO experts determined that sites with low E-A-T suffered the most from the algorithm update. If you’re looking to optimize your SEO in Omaha or to improve your web marketing, this is an essential read.

Expertise

Google’s search quality guidelines have identified two types of expertise: Formal and Everyday Expertise.

  • Formal: Especially in the medical, financial, and legal industries, a certified professional is considered the most reliable source of expertise. This is because if incorrect information is published in these areas, the chances of putting consumers at risk dramatically increases.
  • Everyday Expertise: The Google guide document states “For some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc.”

The takeaway here is that you won’t necessarily need someone with credentialed expertise to fulfill the “expertise” factor is you’re working with a professional writer or are one yourself.

Authority

Authority is all about proving to your audience that the content on your website is legit. If your website falls under the “everyday expertise” category showing credentials aren’t as important. You can show authority by adding the author’s job title to their byline or linking to their professional website or full bio.

  • Cite Your Research – If your content creators aren’t “experts” thorough research and proper citation will make up for it. Linked sources is a signal to Google that you’re correctly attributing sources. Make sure your sources are high-quality backlinks. 
  • A Good Reputation – Reviews, and good reviews are critical. Most people rely heavily on reviews when considering using a company’s product or services. The Google guidelines state “Popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation.” Responding promptly and providing top notch customer service should be a part of your social media content strategy giving your customers plenty of motivation to leave you a positive review.

Trust

Transparency builds trust with your audience. Your website should clearly communicate who you are, how you make money, and that you will do what you say you will do.  If you’re accepting payments on your website users need to feel like payments can be accepted safely and appropriately. Your site should have a proper SSL certificate even if you’re not accepting any form of payment.  Providing helpful content rather than just trying to sell is another way to build trust.

  • Secure & Transparent – Be crystal clear about who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Make sure your site is secure and people know it.
  • Be Helpful – The whole idea behind content marketing is to provide value to your audience. Google is continually refining their algorithm with this in mind. They’re also using real people to determine if websites and web pages are meeting these criteria. Your content should either help or teach your audience something about a topic that is relevant to your business. Just trying to sell without giving value first is a trust buster.

The Big Takeaway for Google E-A-T

If you’re thinking that creating content that satisfies the E-A-T guidelines will take time, you’re right. The Google guidelines state it clearly, “We will consider content to be low quality if it is created without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill.”

The good news is you don’t need to become a content creator to satisfy Google E-A-T. There are plenty of affordable experts you can outsource who can create valuable user experiences for your customers. And before you know it, Google will recognize and reward you.

Six Reasons to use WordPress

A website is an investment. And to make the most of this investment you want both beautiful and robust. 

WordPress is often our preferred platform. Because of it’s flexibility for design and development and it’s countless plugins, WordPress provides our Omaha web design team with the tools for a customized website at an affordable cost.

WordPress logo

Here are six reasons you, too, should consider using WordPress:

1. Browser-based

WordPress is a browser-based, meaning you can manage your website from any computer, tablet, or phone with an internet connection. They even have an app for easier on-the-go editing. 

2. Endless Plugins

Plugins, Plugins, and more plugins! WordPress currently has over 10,000 plugins for you or your developer to choose from when building your website. These plugins add functionality, extend the life of your website, customize the user’s experience, and are a vital part of any good website. Better yet, most are free or well-priced.

3. SEO Benefits

Having trouble with your website ranking? Well Google is pretty fond of WordPress. Compared to other platforms, WordPress gets the edge in Google Rankings. Updating your website regularly with valuable and authoritative content is a must, but WordPress provides several SEO plugins to assist in optimizing your web pages with appropriate titles, H1’s and Meta Descriptions.

WordPress also released WordPress 5.0 in November 2018 that includes the latest version of Gutenberg – a block editor that allows for simple and functional page editing. The Gutenberg editor, in conjunction with the Yoast SEO Plugin is powerful for search engine success. 

INSTALL YOAST

4. Multi-user

WordPress allows multiple users. As an administrator you can add other developers and even assign access levels for each user. Monitor user updates and add or delete users as your business grows and changes.

It also provides plugins (yes, more plugins) for user groups, user permissions, wholesale eCommerce customers, and user profile and membership management. 

5. Customization

WordPress is 100% customizable to the user. If you have the knowledge, or a great developer, almost everything in WordPress can be updated, customized or changed to fit your needs.

GET WORDPRESS

How to choose the right keyword

Selecting a keyword seems easy. In theory, you would select what you think your customers might type into Google to find you. But to do this process well, there are many things to consider. After all, is not about getting traffic, it’s about getting the right traffic.

The right keyword will bring in more potential leads, leading to more conversions. Additionally, the right traffic will stay on your website investing time in what you have to offer. This leads to low bouncerates and increased time on page – both important factors for search engine success.

keyword search icon

How do I start?

We recommend asking prospects and current customer how they found your businesses. After a while you may find a trend in the keyword or keyword phrase people are using.

This can get a bit complex if you’re a business who provides many different services. For instance, we have an architecture and engineering client who provides 10 different services. You cannot optimize for all 10 services, but you can begin to question prospects and find some potential trends and keywords that stand out among the others. Additionally, in this situation, you can provide good, informative, keyword-rich content on each unique service page for good page performance.

Once you’ve gathered some ideal keywords, search these keywords in the search engines to find how you currently perform under these keywords verses your competition, and any others you think might be a good fit.

Help me gather ideal keywords

Digging into keyword data

Ideally, you would use data to make final decisions about your keywords. There are many free tools available that can help including Google Analytics, Search Console, Moz and SEM rush.  These tools can give you some basic info about bouncerates, time on page, keywords, backlinking and information about your competition.

At the very least:

Check your website’s bouncerate: If your bouncerate is high for organic search, it’s likely that the right users are not finding your website.

Check search console: Search Console should be able to tell you the keywords you’re being found under. Go to search.google.com/search-console then performance. You’ll see a list of queries (keywords), clicks and impressions.

High volume, low competition: Google Ad Words Keyword Planner Tool is a good starting point. Here you can pull data on your potential keywords, along with other related keywords, and find the volume of searches for each. Ideally you want keywords with a decent amount of searches and low competition.

Help me gather data

In it to win it

For our Omaha SEO team, the value of a keyword is determined through data and testing. Depending on your industry and the competition, demand may be high for your ideal keywords or phrases. This just means there may be more work to achieve high rankings. So you need to be all-in.

Making a commitment to an SEO strategy is a commitment to invest time, resources and, often, patience. Constantly reanalyzing data, making tweaks, reanalyzing, making more tweaks. Occasionally the data indicates a need for major overhauls. Going the DIY route can be a lot of time spent for mediocre results, but a team of SEO experts can put in the hard work for the desired results.

Help me pick the right keyword

6 Things to Consider When Building a New Website

Building a website today much less resembles the lawless open plains of the Wild West and more closely relates to open freeways, endless roads to travel, scattered with check points and signs along the way attempting to guide you.

With technology so rapidly evolving, so many companies offering their services, and so many options when building a new website, staying up on the latest and greatest trends in technology can be overwhelming. That’s why I’m going to cover a list of the top 6 things  our Omaha web design team recommends considering when building a new website.

icon for building a website

Ownership

Building a good website requires a lot of work. You will need research, coding, design work, population, testing, security, and finally to launch the website. When it is all said and done, who owns the rights to the website – you or the company that created the website for you? Make sure you own the rights to both the design and content of your website, and ALWAYS ask this during your first conversation with a web design and development company.

Content Management System (CMS)

Think of the CMS as the brain of your website. Always research a CMS before choosing one. Google it! Read about its strengths and weaknesses, read reviews, and peruse websites built on the platform. Much like test driving different cars, different website platforms have a different feel to them and it will make a huge difference in user happiness and interaction. You will also want a well-known CMS, as it makes hiring new people to work on your website much easier. And just a quick tip, WordPress has rapidly reached its way to one of the most highly used platforms on the web, and it is one of the preferred platforms for our Omaha web developers.

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Purpose and Goal

Each website needs a purpose and goal. Some websites have a purpose to educate with a goal of helping to expand your brand awareness. Other websites have a purpose of generating online sales, or making your business money. A common goal includes collecting payments online to make your life a little easier. No matter the purpose or goal of your website, the navigation, content, and calls to action all need to work cohesively to accomplish this.

Mobile Friendly (Responsive) Design

Your website needs to be responsive. End of story. Most websites easily have above 50% of their users visiting the websites on a mobile phone or tablet. Without responsive technology the website will not look nice or function properly, which leads to high bounce rates and lower user satisfaction. Not having a mobile friendly website can also negatively affect your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking.

Make My Website Mobile Friendly

Timeline and Budget

Anything that is worth doing is worth doing correctly. Don’t know who said it, but it’s true. Yes, you can build a website for very cheap and have it up in a week, but in the business of web development you get what you pay for. Set a realistic timeline, and be open to learning. As with anything good in life – a new car, a new home, a website is an investment – take your time, do your research and save up for what you want.

Apples to Apples

There are a number of services and things required to properly build a new website. When comparing companies and pricing, make sure you receive an itemized list of exactly what services they will provide, the estimated timeline for those services and, of course, cost. The reason why you ask? Two companies may have similar pricing, but one may be offering you a great deal more for your money. The bottom dollar gets all the attention but the details are what makes a beautiful website.

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