I am pleased to announce the release of my new blog which is called StatStory.com. The goal of this blog is to provide real answers for Analytics questions, working code and examples, videos as well as a my own personal playground for testing analytics ideas. Having said that I will still blog about analytics on Mark8t.com, but at Statstory, I will delve into deper issues that do not fall directly into the world of Digital Marketing. But have no fear, I will still offer articles here I feel have a direct impact for marketers and SMB’s and the way they go about their business. If you have an interest in this area, I hope you’ll check it out.Print This Post
A couple of years ago, I was looking for a solution that would be easy for users to update, with a backend that was fully customizable. In the past, if someone asked my opinion on what to use to accomplish this, my inital reaction was to recommend WordPress.WordPress is easy to setup, use and customize for most needs, but it requires a lot of work if a non-coder will be managing the content. So in my view, WordPress is still a fine option, but if non-technical user content manipulation is a major concern, Concrete5 is the best option.
I don’t know why it took so long, but for me, Concrete5 flew mostly under the radar. That is until WordPress fell short for my needs and I started to look at other solutions. I wish I had learnt about it sooner, but it’s better than never and personally I think at the right time. Concrete5 was created by Franz Maruna and Andrew Embler in 2003, for there own use. It was only in June 2008, due to a more “noble human cause” Concrete5 was released to the public with a very permissive open licence. In doing so, they gave an aswesome tool for all us to build great websites and an option beyond the traditonal Drupal/Joomla debate. Also by opening it up, they got the assistance of the public feedback and code additions to make it an even better product.
So what makes Concrete5 so amazing (in my view)? Here are just a couple of reasons Concrete5 may be the CMS option for your needs, as it was for mine:
- Concrete5 is an open-source PHP MYSQL based script which is free. I have always appreciated being able to get in the guts of things
- It’s super easy to build with, once you get the hang of things. There is a lack of updated documentation, but by asking questions, looking/exploring the code, you will see it’s pretty straight forward
- It has fine granular control for user permissions. This is awesome if you are turning the site over to other parties to modify content. You can specify what they can edit or modify, right down to the block level.
- Upgrading is smooth. You can back-up your database easily. Best of all, Concrete5 is a true MVC. The core code remains untouched as you modify “your” version of it, so you never have to worry about over-writes or other issues you might with other software.
- It’s extremely user friendly for the non-techincal user once it’s set up. Need WYSIWYG editor? Done! Need to allow users to move content around? Easy! Allow front end editing? Yep! Made a boo-boo and need to go back a version or 6? No problemo! It’s honestly as close as you can get to great parts of Sharepoint, without all the downside.
- The Marketplace. There are tons of things free for use with the core Concrete5, including themes and add-ons galore. The prices are more than fair and reasonable. If you are a coder yourself you can sell or offer for free your own upgrades as well.
As someone who has a passion for web development, I’m also a marketer. I understand that not everyone is willing (or capable) to get deep in code, but nonethless, Concrete5 (with the marketplace for your needs) offers a nice balance for both the coder and the marketer. For the Web Development/IT team, they are able to build a robust CMS that allows users of different abilities and roles to take charge of the site. From a marketing perspective, it allows them the freedom to change a banner ad, modify a file or change content on the fly without calling out for technical assistance. Another positive is the learning curve for a site admin is quick, because it’s initivituive. For users it’s seamless. It is truly the easiest DIY CMS in the marketplace.
Having said all of the above, there are some things/tips I felt was worth noting/sharing before you jump in. While Concrete5 is a great tool, I thought it was only fair to share the following:
- The default search is really not that great, and there are few options in the marketplace. It’s an okay search for pages, but it you want it to search the text of your PDF or if you are looking for filters to reorder searches by date or relevance, there are slim pickings. You can certainly code something yourself, consider a Google Custom search or use a search script like Lucene to make it better. I think the issue of search is an issue for most out-of-the-box CMS scripts.
- The documentation is sometimes scattered, and out of date. many screen shots or walk-through use code/screenshots of things that have changed. This can be very frustrating at first, because in the end most solutiobs end up being easy in Concrete5. Unfortunately when you start out using Concrete5 it’s not as simple to learn all the tricks. I should point out many CMS’s do have this issue as well, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me as Concrete5 is an awesome tool. Be warned, though, if you are expecting hand-holding this is your warning that this script does not offer you this.
- The Concrete5 community. Sometimes you get answers, but sometimes you won’t. To increase your chances try to get the answer first by doing the work. Most users of the community are Web Developers so if you expect someone to just hand over the code, it is unlikely to happen. Having said this, they are very friendly and the support for many of the add-ons (including the free ones) is great.
- -Test locally or have a sandbox. I highly recommend you use XAMPP to test locally because it’s just the smart thing to do. To make Concrete5 work you will need to change a line in the file C:\xampp\php\php.ini: error_reporting = E_ALL | E_STRICT to error_reporting = E_ALL & ~(E_NOTICE | E_STRICT | E_DEPRECATED).
- Concrete5 is very unforgiving if you make coding errors which is wehy you should test and work locally.
- Don’t worry if you break a page, you can roll back versions, even by sitemap. First approve than remove the pages that give you an issue
- If you remove a block, you will lose all your content.
I really find none of the downsides to be a deal breaker, at least for me. Nevertheless, if you are tight on budget (i.e. not willing to spend any money) or insistent on DIY, Concrete5 customization is not for the coding faint of heart. You will need to get your hands dirty with some code. To get it functional you do not need to be a coding expert, but if you want a nice theme you will need to have an interest/ability to get coding. Of course, you can hire someone to do the work for you, but part of the fun is getting in the guts and doing it yourself. Best of all, no matter the path, once you are finished, you will have an amazing tool that your whole team can use easily. If you are convinced and ready to get started, download Concrete5 here and the best place to learn more is here!Print This Post
If you have a business, you might think that selling your products online is difficult, but it’s not as hard as it once was. In the last couple of years, there have been great strides to getting your business online, and moving beyond the traditional areas of entry such as E-Bay. If you are serious about selling products online, but want to have a professional look to the experience, there are several solutions, which, depending on your level of comfort of code, that can make sense. The benefit of these solutions is you own the experience and you also get all of the money with little or no transaction fees. Not all of the solutions work for all businesses and business types, so I will outline the product and some information you need to know before you jump. Whatever you choose, if you are interested in selling online, the next couple of solutions are your best bet to getting there.
1. Shopify to me is one of the best options for a business looking to dip their feet into ecommerce. It is the only one which is fully hosted, without an option to host yourself. To me it’s solution that offers the best fit for those that want to sell online, but really have no interest in the code (i.e. How it works.) Shopify is great because it takes care of the hosting, it’s PCI Complaint (i.e it meets Payment Card Industry Rules) and an extensive option for free and paid themes. There is a 2% transaction fee for the entry level program, but their top line program waives all fees. You can see the latest pricing here. With a 30-day free trial and the ability to upgrade or downgrade your plan without additional charges is a big plus
2. Magento is the another great option. It is has become the big beast of ecommerce. Recently, it was bought by E-Bay (Paypal). Magento offer several product solutions from community to full enterprise (which are self-hosted) to their new fully hosted option of Magento Go. Unless you’re a real code hound, Magento Community is not a good fit. It is not PCI Compliant, and you really need to want to get your hands dirty. If you have code experience and the money, Magento Enterprise is an awesome product, which will far exceed your wildest dreams. Nevertheless, for the average business looking to get online, Magento Go is a great option. They offer many of the features of Shopify, but there is no transaction fees even at the entry level. Magento offer a 30-day trial and easy upgrade to other options. The Magento Go product is relatively new compared to Shopify. My edge goes to Shopify as it had been in the full hosting business longer, and Magneto is not as quick as easy to pick up when you want to make customizations. As someone who loves code and a challenge, I appreciate Magento and the fact I can deep and dirty with the code. It really is a personal prefernce, thankfully with free trails available from both, you can get a sense which is the better fit. Learn more about Magento Go here.
3. Prestashop is another superb solution for a small business. They are mostly known as a self-hosted solution, where you can get down in the code and do you own thing. More recently they launched PrestaBox, which is there hosted solution. The cost of PrestaBox, is a $10 (Euro) set-up and a 2% transaction fee. What makes Prestashop unique, is by being a European based company, multi-languages are available for your website much easier. Personally, the I have always used the self-hosted option when using PrestaShop. I would also recommend it for business in French speaking areas or countries, as the native language of the development team is french.
The next two options are not ecommerce platforms per se, but they are CMS platforms with a critical mass of installs: Concrete5 and WordPress. They are great fit for companies already using the platform or if they are looking to sell only a couple of dozen products. The main benefit of using these platforms is that they are free and open-source, so you can modify to your hearts content. The downside of these solutions is you need to love code, you are on your own for hosting and, as these are community supported, sometimes you may not get the quick answers that you need when you have questions.
4. Concrete5 is amazing when it comes to flexibility of adding content. You can build whatever you like, and make it easy in the future to change content as you need. However, while Concrete5 is free, some of the add-ons you might need to set-up your store are not. Before you get scared, keep in mind you can build your own add-ons for free (well, you know in your own time), and there are lots of free add-ons. Nevertheless, if you have to pay for an extension or two the prices are fair, especially when compared to to the time and effort it would take to code the same same add-on. Most importantly, the ecommerce add-on found in the Concrete5 marketplace is supported by the Concrete5 development team. Another benefit of this solution is that if you look at the cost of hosting Concrete5 yourself and buying a couple of add-ons, you are saving tons of money compared to other solutions by year two of your Conceret5 project. You can benefit even more if you have an interest in do-it-yourself. The code is not impossible to understand (assuming you get PHP) and make modifications is super simple with their structure of separating out the core when a future upgrade occurs.
5. WordPress. No this is not a typo. Sure you can use WordPress for blogs, but more and more companies are using it as a CMS. WordPress has countless add-ons to sell memberships and allow you to also sell products. To me it’s the perfect solution if you already have WordPress up or if you are looking to sell less than a dozen items. My favourite add-ons for Ecommerce task in WordPress are: WP Easy Paypal and s2Member® Framework, but there are literally hundreds of cart free cart solutions to choose from. Personally, WordPress works if what you are selling is small subset skus, but you want to have the ability to easily add posts/comments on the products right on the page. For higher volume solutions, I would consider one of the other solutions above.
In my view, these five picks each bring to the table something unique, but thankfully they all have the ability to try before you buy. A couple of further notes on my list. I figure most small business do not have the time to get involved in coding their store, that’s why some usual suspects are missing. If you are still looking for other options and have time to tinker with code, I can recommend you look at OpenCart , CS-Cart , Zen Cart and OSCommerce. Whatever you decide, the options to get your online website looking like a professional destination for your customers is better than ever before. Take the time to get the best fit for you and your audience.
Share your thoughts: What solutions have you tried from the list? What did you like/hate about them? What advice do you have in making a selection?Print This Post
Your website speed is highly important. It doesn’t usually get much thought what a second or two can make, but recently an article in the New York Times reinforced it’s importance. I highly recommend you read the full article, because I feel there is tons of great info (especially about mobile sites). For me, it was a real eye-opener that now researchers are talking about milli-seconds when it come to site speed. Some of the other key nuggets I found worth consideration include the following:
People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).
“Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,” said Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft.
In 2009, a study by Forrester Research found that online shoppers expected pages to load in two seconds or fewer — and at three seconds, a large share abandon the site. Only three years earlier a similar Forrester study found the average expectations for page load times were four seconds or fewer.
The two-second rule is still often cited as a standard for Web commerce sites. Yet experts in human-computer interaction say that rule is outdated.
I know, its not a surprise that website speed is important. In the past I covered how Google now looks at Page Speed as part of their algorithm, but now I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the tools and ways to measure how you are doing. One of the best tools for this is right in Google Analytics with their own Site Speed analytics. At the end of last year, Google announced enhancements to Google Site Speed analytics that make it really useful. The best part of using Google Analytics is that you can segment the information, by country or time and get a real feel for the issues on your site. The only downside of Google’s implementation is that it’s based on averages and not by median, so a couple of slow connections can skew your numbers. That’s why it’s great to have other tools for analysis. For this reason, I will focus on those.
Personally, I have found the three below tools best for checking on how you are doing, not only because they analyze your performance, but they also give you each something special:
Free Speed Test (by Internet Supervision): The best part of this tool is you can quickly see how you are doing in various countries.
Web Page Test: This tools allows you to test different browsers in different locations. It allows for testing tour site mobile perfomance and compare yourself to your competitors (visually). Other features in the advanced setting include multi-step transactions, video capture, content blocking and much more. Best of all it runs diagnostic information against your web page to output recommendations and suggestions for improvements from Google Page Speed.
gtmetrix: This is a tool that I can hardly believe is free, but it is. Not only do you get a detailed report, you can export it to PDF for presentation purposes. Also if you sign-up for a free account you can graph performance of your site, save your reports, get historical overviews and analyze sites with HTTP authentication. You also get recommendations to improve your performance from Yahoo YSlow.
As you can see, some of the tools above leverage Google Page Speed and Yahoo YSlow for recommendations. If you want to have constant access to the recommendations, you can use Google Page Speed and Yahoo YSlow by downloading their respective browser add-ons or widgets. Combining these insights with user location testing can really help you figure out the most efficient ways to increase your site speed. If you are not comfortable in making changes to your sites, all of the above websites offer services to help you in making changes to your site. Another option, if you have money and are looking for an end to end solution, you may want to consider Aptimize. It’s a great add-on to any site which can help with speed up your site without the need to get your hands dirty with deep code.
So there you have it, some tools to help speed up your site. What tools do you use? What have your found to be your websites worst speed enemy? Let me know in the comments.Print This Post
Pinterest is the hot new social start-up everyone is talking about. With the exposure it is getting, it is quickly becoming the most exciting opportunity for businesses on a social platform I have ever seen. If your business has any way to share its product visually in an interesting way, than you need to seriously look at Pinterest. I covered yesterday the basics about Pinterest and what it’s all about. For today I thought I would dig a little deeper with some info and tips for using Pinterest to market your business. These are not the end all to be all tips, but some basic things I have noticed in using Pinterest and just spending time on the site. I also recommend you do your own research too, with a personal account, before you start with a business one with your brand.
But wait, before you start ask yourself two key questions:
- Do you have the time and resources to take on another social media platform? There is really no point to join if you have no time to engage and keep your content fresh. Your page will look barren, and it could reflect badly on your brand.
- Does your brand/business have a natural fit for Pinterest? Right now Pinterest, is mostly about lifestyle content and the main users are middle class 18-34 year olds women from the US. The latest data from Quantcast and Alexa can help you determine a bit more of there interests. With the amount of traffic these sites are generating, the demographic data tends to be more accurate.
So now that you have a market in mind here are the tips:
1-Yes, it’s all about Pinning, but it’s not all about you. If all you are going to do is pin stuff about your products and self-promote, you might be disappointed in the results you get from Pinterest. People don’t want to follow someone that is only pushing their business. You need to add personality to profile. One way is to show the human side of your business, for example creating a pinboard that showcases behind the secnes life around the office. Also re-pinning followers’ pins. By not only sharing your content, this will add a non-marketing dynamic to your pinboards. More importantly, it can help in promoting engagement with your followers. Make sure to read the rules of Pin Etiquette.
2- Make great visual content. Take time to think about how your products will be photographed. The shot of your products with a webcam and low quality lighting or that out-of-focus shot from your iPhone is not worth sharing. To get a feel for what your pictures should look like, spend time looking at what’s popular on Pinterest. This is best way to get some great ideas and a feel for what works.
3. Promote, Promote, Promote: Make sure you add the Pinterest follow button to your website and on all your product pages. Make sure you write a blog post and include it in your monthly newsletter. Promote your presence to your followers on other social networks. Most importantly integrate with Facebook. Pinterest makes sharing with/on Facebook so easy. The login option for Pinterest is Facebook. Users can invite friends from Facebook. To really integrate with Facebook add a Pinterest tab to your Facebook Page. This can help you better engage your current Facebook Fans to follow you to Pinterest as well.
4. Let your “fanvocates” promote/help your brand and business. Every person has brands they love, so make it easy to allow people to share pictures of them using your brand or business. On Pinterest you can create a fan Pinboard, where you can allow other users to contribute their own pins to your pinboards.
5. Engage Followers and Fans. When you first start out, follow the “big names” for your category on Pinterest. See what they share, and how they interact. Getting them engaged will be important so they will want to share the products of your business. When people start following you, follow them back. And if people place comments or questions on your content make sure you respond in a timely manner.
6. Don’t put everything on one board. Segment your business or products onto relevant boards. By keeping a narrow focus you can see what areas work better than others, but you also allow users to follow only what they want.
7. Lights! Camera! Action!: Pinterest is not limited to images. You can pin videos too! This opens an avenue to create a pinboard of How-To Video’s, Testimonial from customers, Videos from Events and more.
9. If you are launching a new product or need feedback, consider Pinterest as a social media focus group. It will make users feel involved in your product and business, but also help you gather first-hand opinions from potential future customers.
10. Make measurement easy. Add hastags to your content, especially if you plan a promotion across other social networks. Tell users where to find you. When you post content make sure you include a link to your website. If possible create specific landing pages. Make sure to tag those links. Once you make sure you content is tagged, crack open the Analytics. Look at what sends traffic back to your website. Make sure Pinterest is worth your time and effort. Focus more energy on what is working and tweak the areas that are not.
This list should get you on your way, or at least inspire some thought in how to use Pinterest for your business. If you are still looking for basic information on how to set up your account and get going, I highly recommend the Mashable Guide to Pinterest.
Now it’s your turn. How are you using Pinterest? What have you learnt? What are the tips you think are helpful to marketing businesses on Pinterest?Print This Post