Category Archives: Content Marketing

12 Tips for Taking Better Marketing Photos for Your Social Media Campaigns

Every business needs to be active on social media to be relevant in today’s digital world.

So if your company is on social media, it’s a safe bet that you’re uploading photos to your profile on a regular basis. Pictures and other visual elements will improve your marketing strategy.

But it can be challenging to find the right pictures to post.

Let’s say you want to upload at least one new picture to a social platform each day. That’s 365 images per year.

Lots of businesses don’t have a library of that many original photos. So they just take a random picture and post it to their profiles last minute without putting too much thought or effort into it.

This is going to be a major problem for your business if you’re using a similar strategy.

Everything you share with your followers on social media must have a purpose. In order to get the best results from your campaigns, everything needs to be high quality.

Fortunately for you, technology has advanced to the point where you have a professional quality camera in your hand or pocket in nearly all waking hours.

You don’t need fancy equipment to take great marketing photos. All you need are some basic photography skills and inspiration for your subject matters.

Every day, 300 million pictures are uploaded to Facebook. Instagram has an average of 95 million photos uploaded daily.

If the photos you add to social media don’t look professional, it’s going to hurt your brand image. That’s why I identified these 12 tips to improve your social media marketing photos.

1. Create balance with grid lines

The rule of thirds is one of the most basic photography skills that you should get familiar with.

This technique will improve the composition of your photos and create balance, which is more visually appealing to anyone who sees the picture.

Your smartphone allows you to enable grid lines when you’re taking a photo.

This feature makes it easier for you to follow the rule of thirds.

The grid is very simple. It’s just two vertical lines and two horizontal lines that are all spaced apart equally.

You should position your subject matter and anything important in your photo where those lines intersect.

An amateur photographer just centers everything on the screen. But that’s not as appealing.

By using the rule of thirds, the image has more room to breathe.

Just look at all of the open space in the skyline above. This puts more emphasis on your subject matter.

Plus, people are used to this tactic being applied in professional photography, whether they realize it or not. So when someone sees a photo without the rule of thirds applied, it will automatically not seem as attractive to them.

2. Find symmetry

Symmetry is another visual element that we are just naturally drawn to.

So if you have the opportunity to capture symmetry in an image, you should definitely do so.

Here’s a great example of a photograph with symmetry.

It’s simple, but it works.

Now, take a moment and imagine what this photo would look like if it weren’t taken from this angle.

If the camera was positioned slightly to the left or right, the symmetry would be lost.

Sure, it may still seem like a nice picture of a walkway going out into a clear ocean on a beautiful day. But capturing the symmetry elevates the image and brings it to a more professional level.

Your pictures need to stand out to draw attention from your followers.

If it looks like an amateur is taking all the photos, it will reflect poorly on your brand. We both know you don’t want that to happen.

3. Crop instead of zooming

Another rookie mistake that I see people make all of the time is using the zoom feature.

Manually zooming in on a subject is a big no, unless you’re using a professional camera to take pictures.

But like I said before, that type of equipment is unnecessary. Your smartphone will capture pictures that are good enough to post.

However, once you start zooming, it damages the quality of the photo.

Instead of zooming, just get closer to your subject. If that’s not possible, don’t worry about it. Take the picture from where you are and use the rule of thirds to improve the composition.

After the photo is taken, you can just crop the image to your liking.

Here’s an example of how to do this in Adobe Photoshop.

For the most part, you shouldn’t need to do this on your computer. You can crop photos directly from your smartphone.

Notice how even though this picture is being cropped, the rule of thirds is still being applied.

The reflection in the water is also a nice touch, but we’ll talk more about that shortly.

4. Embrace natural frames

Framing your image is another basic photography skill. No, I’m not referring to developing your photo and putting it into a wooden box.

Sometimes subject matters are perfectly positioned to be captured within a natural frame surrounding it.

Any time you have the chance to use a natural frame, you should take advantage of it.

Here’s a simple photo of an airplane wing that has a natural frame.

This image is perfect for so many reasons.

First, if you try and get too close to the window to take the picture, you’ll end up getting a glare. Second, the wing by itself is just too boring.

By adding the window to the picture, it elevates the quality of the picture to the next level. You get the see the lighting changes and the shadows as the natural light from the sun comes into the plane.

Here’s the thing, if you’re not happy with the natural frame you can always just edit it out by cropping the image, as we previously discussed.

When you’re taking a photo, keep an eye out for natural frames such as trees, fences, bridges, archways, or anything else that creates a similar framing effect.

5. Look for reflections

I briefly mentioned this before when we were talking about cropping. Taking photos of reflections can add a really unique perspective to your photo.

Check out this example from Todo Bien Tours.

Todo Bien gives private coastal bus tours in southern California.

So obviously they want to show their social media followers what their bus looks like. But rather than just showing a boring picture of the bus, they use a reflection to capture the water and coastline during a sunset.

It’s a creative way to show off your photography skills.

Taking a picture of just the bus or just the sunset would be average and pretty basic. But by capturing both in the window reflection, it elevates this campaign to new heights.

6. Shoot repeating patterns

Just like symmetry, patterns are another great way to capture the attention of your followers.

Sometimes finding the right pattern is all about shooting from the right angle and perspective. Just look at this photo of bike wheels to show you what I’m talking about.

This pattern isn’t necessarily present from every angle.

If you step back and photograph these bikes from above, or head on, the pattern wouldn’t be the same. It would just look like a row of bikes.

Yes, the subject matter may still be relevant enough and usable for your marketing campaign, but it can be improved by using this strategy.

7. Get a tripod and mount for your mobile device

Earlier I briefly mentioned how you don’t need a professional camera or expensive equipment to take high quality photos for your social media campaigns.

But with that said, it can’t hurt to invest in something small, like a tripod and mount for your smartphone.

The tripod will allow you to go hands-free when taking a picture. Plus, it helps ensure that the image is level.

You can also use this type of equipment to extend your range and make it a little bit more comfortable to hold your phone securely.

Joby has a bunch of great products for this purpose.

You can check out their website to browse for what you need.

Otherwise, there are thousands of other similar products available online from other retailers as well.

Most of these are pretty inexpensive. You can find a quality stand and mount for under $50. It’s worth having, even if you don’t use all of the time.

8. Create a new perspective

You don’t want your social media marketing photos to look like everything else out there.

It’s important for your brand to come up with new perspectives to separate yourself from the crowd.

I really like this example from Tropicfeel on their Instagram page.

The picture itself is beautiful. The houses, ocean, and coastline grabs the attention of an audience right away.

But something about this photo is a little bit different than you normally expect.

It’s not typical for people to put their legs and feet in this type of shot. Usually, you’d expect this to be a selfie or just a landscape shot.

But Tropicfeel uses this unique perspective to showcase their product, which is the shoes in the photo.

Look at the caption.

They created a new hashtag of #tropicselfeet to encourage other people to take this type of photo as well. This is a great way to write instagram captions that drive engagement.

So find a perspective that’s unique to your brand.

For example, let’s say your company sells skateboards. Rather than just taking a picture of a guy on a skateboard, you could mount a camera to the nose of the board.

9. Take candids

You don’t always want to just take pictures of your products.

People are a great subject matter for your social media campaigns. In fact, photos with faces get 38% more likes and 32% more comments than photos without them.

But your subjects don’t always need to be posing.

Candid shots add a human element to your brand. They show people in action, as opposed to just putting on a show for the camera.

Take a look at these photos that were uploaded to the Thule Facebook page.

None of the people in these pictures are posing.

All of the shots are candid.

The reason why this works is because it shows an audience how people behave naturally when they are doing something.

This is an opportunity for you to showcase how your products and services can be used on social media.

I also like the idea of taking candid photos of your employees. By showing your staff in photos, it creates a more authentic interaction with your audience. Your followers will realize that there are real people behind the scenes of your brand.

10. Get abstract

Think outside of the box.

You need to realize how many pictures are flooding the timelines of your followers on a daily basis. If your marketing photos don’t jump off the page at them, they’ll just simply keep on scrolling.

Abstract images are a great way to capture attention, like this one from the Allbirds Instagram page.

Allbirds has a line of shoes called tree runners. So lots of their posts encompass nature and different photos of trees.

This one is definitely one of the most unique photos that you’ll see on their profile.

It’s art painted onto a fallen tree trunk. The image on this unconventional canvas is a nature scene, which also includes trees.

At first glance, a social media user might not even realize what they’re looking at.

But it’s definitely enough to stop them in their tracks for further examination.

11. Be funny

Stop taking yourself so seriously.

OK, there are certain businesses that need to more serious than others. If your company specializes in things financial investments or funerals, you probably shouldn’t be cracking jokes on social media.

But those types of brands are just a small percent of the population.

If your company sells products or services to a target audience that can appreciate some humor, don’t be afraid to take a funny photo for your social media campaigns.

36% of consumers are prompted to make a purchase after seeing a funny post from a brand on social media.

So taking a humorous photo can do much more for you than just drive engagement. This strategy can directly lead to sales.

Just make sure you stay away from controversial subjects.

I definitely don’t recommend making jokes about subjects like politics or religion. Photos like that can really damage your brand.

So keep it light, but stay professional.

12. Don’t be conventional

How can you make your marketing photos jump off the page to social media users?

You want your posts to make people say, “Wow!”

Leave them in awe. Here’s an example from the Vuori Instagram page.

This post is advertising their men’s swimwear.

A conventional idea would be just to photograph a picture of the swim trunks. That’s boring.

Another idea could be showing a model wearing the bathing suit, or even swimming in it. But again, that’s boring as well.

It’s conventional, and audiences expect those types of posts from brands.

You know what’s not conventional? A guy jumping off a cliff into the ocean wearing those shorts.

This photo is awesome. It’s definitely the type of post that will grab the attention of users on social media.

Conclusion

If you want to run successful social media campaigns, you need to focus more attention on the quality of your marketing photos.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to buy expensive equipment or hire someone to do this for you. It’s easy to take and edit photos without hiring a professional.

All you need is some basic photography skills to get you started in the right direction.

After that, it’s just all about deciding what types of photos will speak to your target audience on these platforms.

Use this guide as a reference and inspiration for your future marketing photos.

What types of photos does your brand share with people on social media?

How To Start a Business: 23 Steps To Becoming Operational

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Starting a business is daunting.

There is so much to think about and so much to do.

It’s hard enough trying to figure out how to build and grow a business. The last thing we want to think about is figuring out how to put together an operating agreement or picking the right accounting system.

The good news is that all of the things that need to get done in order to start your business have been done a million times before. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel or waste brain power on figuring out what to do.

There are at least 23 things that you should do when starting a new business and we can walk you through each one of them step-by-step.

I’m going to assume you already have a business idea, and I’m not going to show you how to build or grow your business in this article. These are the practical steps, necessary to begin operations.

Note: I cannot stress the value of building like you are going to grow from day one enough. I get that you are probably the only person in your business right now. You should operate as if you are an organization of people, not just yourself. This will save you an incredible amount of headache down the road, and also leave you room to try and fail in areas that you won’t want to fail when you do have a sizable organization.

1: Put together a very high level and basic business plan

Don’t overthink this. You just need to be able to answer two big questions:

  1. What do you need to do in order to get to profitability?
  2. How are you going to pay for the things that you need to do in order to get to profitability?

If you think long and hard about these questions, you’ll end up with a good starting plan. Be realistic about what it’s going to take. Do your research, and know your numbers. Put it all to paper, and the business plan will evolve into a useful tool and true north for at least the first 6–12 months.

2: Come up with a name

Coming up with a name can be harder than doing the business plan! Your name is…well…your name. It has to be good. It does not have to be perfect and it does not have to be a fancy, made up word like Google or Yahoo. Generally speaking, here is what matters:

  • You have to be confident in the name. Honestly, this is probably all that really matters. It’s definitely the most important aspect of coming up with a name. If you don’t love it, then you can’t sell it. You’re going to be selling it 24/7/365 for a long time. At least that is the plan!
  • You need to pick something unique. The general rule of thumb is that when you search Google for the name there isn’t an established business or product that already has the same name.
  • Your name must be memorable, brandable and simple. You don’t want to make it harder than it already is to be found and known.
  • You need to have the .com of your name. This is critical! It’s unbelievable how many people take this for granted and just completely disregard their domain name. If you want people to take your business seriously, make sure you have the .com.

A good process for coming up with a business name:

  1. Brainstorm words, concepts, ideas, beliefs, descriptors, etc.
  2. Brainstorm names based off your initial brainstorm in step 1.
  3. Check the names in Google. Delete any options that are already a known business — especially not one in your space.
  4. Make sure the domain name can be acquired. Check out our guide on how to buy a domain name for help here. Do not expect to register a domain name for $7/yr and call it a day. You really need to invest in a domain name for your business name. If you have a tight budget, get creative! You can get a great name that checks off all the boxes for under $1,500 if you put in the effort.

More tips for coming up with a name:

  • Imagine your name with a logo on a big sign in your future office space.
  • Imagine your name on a T-shirt.
  • Say your name out loud. “Hi, I’m Name from Business Name.” How does it feel? Do you like how it sounds?
  • Bounce your options around and talk to people about it.
  • Spend some time thinking about it and let it sit for a while. Do you continue to come back to the same name?

3: Buy your domain name

Again, do not take this lightly! It is not an area that makes sense to be cheap. We use Namecheap to buy our domains — you can read more about why in our review of the best domain registrars.

4: Set up social media accounts

It’s tough enough to find a good name where buying the .com is possible. Chances are, you won’t get exact match social media handles as well. Do everything you can to get them, but if that fails — get creative. Your social media handles / urls are much less important than your website, but they’re still worth putting effort into.

5: Develop a brand identity

It’s nice to have a logo, colors, fonts and a general look and feel to go along with your name. You can always update your brand identity down the road, so the initial run just needs to be good enough. 99 Designs is a great option for a full brand identity package. You can run a design contest that allows you to pick from hundreds of options.

6: Get some business cards

Your brand identity package from 99 Designs will come with business card designs. You can use them to get business cards printed online by Vista Print.

7: Find an accountant and an attorney

This one is easy to put on the back burner. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle and potentially save your business altogether by getting ahead here. Line up the legal and tax pros ahead of time. There are lots of great options and your accountant and attorney can both be remote.

We haven’t personally used it, but we’ve heard a lot of good things about Upcounsel.

8: Set up an LLC

You can use your attorney for this, or you can use a service like Legal Zoom. Setting up an LLC is simple, so it’s a good spot to save some money by using a service like Legal Zoom.

9: Get an EIN

Getting your Employer Identification Number is something you can take care of along with the LLC. They typically go hand-in-hand. You’ll need that to do just about everything, including business banking.

10: Create an operating agreement

Even if it’s just you, an operating agreement is needed. Unless you have other people involved with your business, you can definitely get away with Legal Zoom here. Chances are, things will evolve and you will update your operating agreement down the road anyway. If you do have other people involved, have your attorney help out here.

11: File necessary paperwork with your state

If you’re using a lawyer, they can do all of this for you. Otherwise you’ll need to do some research into the requirements in your state, which also vary depending on the type of business you’re starting.

12: Set up 1Password

By now you are starting to see the theme here: Reduce future headache! Set up your systems now and you’ll be able to focus on growth moving forward.

1Password is an excellent tool for managing all of your passwords and sensitive data. It makes it easy to securely share logins with your team — which is key because Centrify estimates that lost passwords cost $416 in productivity per person.

13: Open a business bank account

Pretty straightforward. You’ll need that EIN. It’s typically most convenient to go with the same bank you’re already using for your personal accounts.

One thing to watch out for is a the upselling that many of the bigger banks do. For example, with Bank of America, we went ahead and took them up on an offer for Intuit Payroll. It ended up being a terrible user experience. The people at Intuit recommended that we sign up for a new account directly with Intuit because they couldn’t figure out how to solve some of the problems we were having. They put the blame on Bank of America. This ended up working out because instead of signing up for Intuit Payroll, we researched other options and found Gusto, which is much better.

The point here is to use your bank account for a bank account and be wary of using them for other offers or services.

14: Setup a G Suite account

G suite is the most important tool for our business. We do almost everything using G Suite. Our emails and calendars are all on G suite. We also rely heavily on Google Drive / Docs.

You’ll need to get this set up as soon as you have your domain name. Then you can easily get your business accounts set up.

15: Create a basic, foundational website

Your website can be a very big project depending on your business. In some cases your website could be the business. That’s why the focus here is simply on a basic, foundational website.

It’s good to have a one-page site live with information about your company. Then you can build further from there.

You can be up and running in the matter of minutes with Wix. Once you’re ready to do a full feature website, it’s easy to switch over to WordPress.

16: Set up a payroll service for employees and contractors

We like Gusto. They are very good. We use them and find their service to be superior to Intuit Payroll.

You won’t need to worry about this until you start paying employees or contractors. It’s good to have it ready and on deck though. Not only will the service automate your payroll, but it will also take care of taxes and forms that need to be filed.

17: Set up Quickbooks

A Quickbooks account is essential from day one. This is how you’ll manage your books and ensure you always have good records. Going back and importing historical data isn’t fun. The sooner you get it set up the better.

18: Put a basic accounting system in place

The best bet here is to work closely with your accountant. A good approach is to ask your accountant what you need to be doing throughout the year to make things easier when tax season comes and to make sure all quarterly obligations are met.

Quickbooks does all of the heavy lifting, but there are still things you’ll need to stay on top of. There is some crossover with what’s already been outlined here, but Shopify put together a good guide on small business accounting.

19: Create a subscription tracker

This is easy but often overlooked. 1Password is great for keeping track of your subscription logins. You still need some way to quickly see everything you have and what you are paying for, especially as you grow and have more people using and signing up for different tools and subscriptions.

A simple spreadsheet is all you need. Track the subscription, cost per month or year, terms (if any), payment method (what account or card is it tied to?), and renewal date.

20: Start using a project management solution from day one

The biggest thing here is to get in the habit of tracking all of your work. Even if you are the only person in your company, you should operate like an organization because someday you will have no choice. The other benefit besides creating good habits is the historical information and data that will come from working like this starting day one.

It’s very valuable for new people to come into your organization and be able to look back at what work has been done in the past. It’s context that will help them (and your business) be successful going forward.

It doesn’t matter what tool you use. You’ll likely change it a bunch of times anyway. We use Trello. There are dozens of great tools.

21: Build an internal wiki system from day one

Just as you should use a project management tool from the very early stages, it’s extremely valuable to start documenting everything right away.

If you ever want to scale your startup, you’ll need your brain to scale too. Your internal wiki is like your brain. Giving your future team instant access to your brain is huge. If you already have a disciplined approach to documenting things in the wiki, your team will follow suit.

It’s not fun figuring out the value of a wiki system 3 years down the road, 50 people deep. You’ll think of an endless number of documents you wish you’d have written out as you went along.

We use Confluence.

22: Set up a Slack account

Everyone loves Slack. It just works. Mobile communication is key.

23: Create a strategic plan for the next 12 months

Like your business plan, your strategic plan doesn’t need to be complicated.

Here’s how to write a simple startup business plan for year one:

  1. Come up with one big goal for the next 12 months.
  2. Determine what you need to do in order to reach your goal. What projects or activities will you need to perform?
  3. Figure out what metrics or parameters you can use to monitor progress. Put in place a system for tracking them.
  4. Review and challenge monthly. Make any necessary adjustments.

Even in a one-person shop, taking the time to do this will force strategic thinking and purposeful action. It will help you avoid being reactive and randomly doing whatever comes your way.

It becomes even more important when you have a team that needs to know what direction to march. They will need that context in order to do their jobs.

Other guides written on how to start a business are pretty general. I don’t see a lot of value in reiterating what is already out there, so here is a list of guides that I would recommend for further reading on how to start a business:

 

10 Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2019

As we close out 2018 and enter a new year, it’s time to look toward the future.

Many of you might be making some new year’s resolutions such as diet changes, workout routines, and quitting bad habits.

But outside of your personal goals, you also need to keep an eye on your business operations. More specifically, you must focus on your marketing department.

Marketing continues to change over time. Each year we’re seeing new trends.

What worked for your company in 2010 may not work in 2019.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you need to completely abandon or change your strategy that worked in 2018. But you need to at least recognize the newest trends.

It will be up to you to make any necessary adjustments based on what’s trending.

Here’s the thing. Other marketers are already jumping on board with new trends and technology.

To gain an advantage over your competitors, you want to prepare yourself to adapt to these trends before they have the chance.

I’ve narrowed down the top ten marketing trends you need to look out for in 2019.

1. Chatbots

Chatbots and live chat isn’t new technology by any stretch. However, we’re definitely seeing a shift in the way these are being used from a marketing perspective.

Have you seen chatbots recently when visiting websites?

According to stats, 1.4 billion people interact with chatbots each year.

And 80% of companies say they’re already using or plan to use chatbots by 2020.

I’m expecting to see a huge increase in chatbots being used for marketing purposes in 2019 in order to reach that number by 2020.

You should consider using this technology in your business if you’re not already doing so. That’s because implementing live chat provides better customer service.

It’s much easier for customers to communicate with chatbots online than to send an email or call a representative.

Using chatbots has many potential benefits:

You can have a chatbot window automatically pop up once a visitor lands on your website.

This will make it much easier for them to reach your customer service team.

Chatbots also help drive conversions.

Live chat makes it three times more likely that your customers will complete the purchase process. Furthermore, live chats generate a 20% increase in conversions and a 305% increase in ROI.

Marketers have recognized these advantages and acted accordingly.

I’m expecting to see more websites with chatbots in 2019. You should consider using this marketing strategy as well.

2. Interactive video content

Video marketing has been trending upward for years now.

We’re seeing an increase in videos on social media, websites, and blogs. People are even running successful video blogs.

But in 2019, we’ll start seeing additional changes in the way video is consumed. I’m talking about interactive videos.

The Washington Post uploaded this 360-degree video to its YouTube page:

As the video plays, users have a chance to view the entire area by clicking the navigation button in the top left corner of the screen.

You can start using interactive videos for all other purposes I mentioned earlier:

  • email
  • website
  • social media
  • blog

The idea behind interactive videos is to increase engagement:

They perform better than regular videos. There is a greater chance that people will finish watching a 360-degree video and you’ll get a higher return on your investment.

In fact, 98% of people in the United States believe that 360-degree videos are more exciting than traditional video formats.

And 90% of people say content is better when it can be viewed with a 360-degree view. It should be no surprise that 360 videos have a click-through rate eight times greater than that of traditional videos.

Furthermore, 70% of marketers say interactive videos have had a positive impact on their businesses.

Audiences are 65% more likely to interact with a 360-degree video.

Given these numbers, we’ll see more of this content in the coming years, starting in 2019.

3. IGTV

Have you heard of IGTV?

It’s a standalone app owned and operated by Instagram.

This concept launched in June 2018 and was specifically made for mobile devices.

This app is similar to YouTube. One of the major differences is that all of the videos are vertical since they are made for phones.

Video content plays as soon as you open the app, similarly to the way a video would be playing if you turned on a TV in your house.

Instagram has seemingly taken over social media.

Everything the team touches turns to gold.

Its active users have been trending upward since its inception in 2010:

I don’t see any signs of this slowing down.

Even if it can get only a fraction of those 1+ billion users to download and use IGTV, the new app will be a big hit in 2019.

Marketers will need to adjust their strategies accordingly.

They’ll need to have a presence on IGTV in addition to Instagram.

This will force marketing teams to produce more video content specifically for this app.

You’ve got to follow the consumer. If your target audience and current customers are using IGTV, you need to do the same.

Since the platform is so new, you can get ahead of the game right now by familiarizing yourself with the app and producing more content for it.

4. Enhanced personalized recommendations

Artificial intelligence algorithms are making it possible to offer more personalized content than ever before.

Your company can increase sales by personalizing the customer experience.

I’m sure you’ve seen this in your own life. For example, when watching Netflix, you get recommended movies and TV shows based on what you’ve watched so far.

Businesses use this on their websites as well.

Again, this isn’t necessarily new. I’m sure some of you might even be using this strategy on your sites.

But in 2019, the technology will make these recommendations better and more accurate than ever before.

Consumers are willing to share personal data if they can benefit from a more personalized experience.

As you can see from the graph above, younger generations are much more accepting of this technology than older ones.

That said, everyone needs to jump on board now.

This marketing strategy will be the way of the future.

5. Facebook and Instagram ads

Paid social media ads aren’t new, but the trends are definitely changing.

More businesses are focusing on Facebook and Instagram ads than on other social media platforms.

As you can see, Instagram and Facebook are the only two social sites that more businesses are planning to use paid ads for than not.

And ads on other social sites such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat are slowly becoming obsolete.

In fact, 31% of brands on Instagram are currently using ads.

That number is up from 24% in 2017, 12% in 2016, and just 4% in 2015. The volume of ads on this platform has grown nearly eight times in just four years.

It doesn’t surprise me that Facebook and Instagram are the two platforms trending upward for paid advertisements.

Since Facebook owns Instagram, businesses manage ads on both of these social sites in the same place. The format makes it much easier for businesses to create ads that target the right audience, based on its needs.

You even have the option to use lifetime value to create a Facebook audience that actually converts.

Those same benefits aren’t offered when you advertise on other social sites.

The types of ads that can be run between Facebook and Instagram are also versatile. Businesses can experiment with these formats to see what gives them the best results.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re currently using other social media platforms to advertise, you may want to consider switching to those trending.

If you are not running any paid ads, you should at least try them, or your competition might steal your customers on social media.

6. Beacon technology

Beacon technology is similar to GPS, but it’s not quite as complex.

Businesses are leveraging beacon technology to target customers, especially in retail stores. Here’s how it works.

First, companies need to encourage their customers to download their mobile apps.

Once the app is installed on a user’s device, it will track their location. When an app user walks by a beacon in a store, the company knows exactly where the customer is within that store.

It’ll be able to tell when the person is shopping for a specific product. Then, the brand can send the user a promotion via a push notification that’s related to what they’re looking at.

It’s a great way to improve the profitability of your small business mobile app.

Ecommerce businesses can use this technology too, even without a physical store.

If you have an ecommerce platform, you can place beacons in public areas relevant to what your company offers. Then you can send targeted push notifications when app users are in the vicinity of those beacons.

The reason why this technology will increase in popularity in 2019 is because mobile app popularity is growing as well.

And 42% of small businesses already have mobile apps.

An additional 30% of companies plan to build an app in the future. Further, 55% of businesses owned by Millennials have mobile apps.

Younger generations have recognized the importance of this technology. That’s why they are adapting sooner.

Your company needs to jump on board as well. You won’t be able to leverage beacon technology without a mobile app.

7. Voice search

Between smartphones and products such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, voice search is booming.

Voice recognition software isn’t new. You’ve been able to use the speech to text function of your phone for years now, but you’ve probably experienced its imprecision.

Technology has evolved. Google Home has 95% word level accuracy.

Voice search will have a direct impact on ecommerce sales.

Experts predict that by 2020, 50% of searches will be voice searches.

Last year, 13% of households in America owned a smart speaker. This number is expected to reach 55% by 2022.

As of January 2018, voice search was conducted 1 billion times a month. I predict that number to be higher in 2019.

8. Predictive analysis

Predictive analysis is somewhat related to personalized recommendations.

But the AI and machine learning algorithms used for predictive analysis can be used for many other things.

Here’s a look at how businesses are already using this technology:

As you can see, 23% of businesses are using predictive analysis, while 90% of businesses believe it’s important to use this technology.

Since business owners recognize its importance, but less than a quarter of them are actually using the technology, it’s only a matter of time before they jump on board.

As you can see from the graph, only 26% of businesses surveyed have no plans to use predictive analytics in the near future. Everyone else is either currently using it or has plans to use it for marketing.

Predictive analysis will help you segment your customers better.

This technology can help improve your automation efforts and reduce churn.

One of the best ways to use predictive analysis is to prequalify your leads. Algorithms and software can help you come up with a better lead scoring system.

By prioritizing your leads and identifying top prospective customers, you’ll be able to generate more conversions.

9. Mobile payments

Does your business currently accept mobile payments?

If not, you need to plan on it soon. This will be a growing trend in 2019.

Just look at these numbers:

One portion of mobile payments allows customers to pay for goods and services directly from a mobile app.

Businesses such as Starbucks have an app that allows customers to buy coffee in their storefronts by paying with their mobile phones in advance.

Another portion of mobile pay comes from alternative payment methods.

Roughly 440 million users across the world used contactless pay options in 2018, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

That number is expected to increase to 760 million by 2020.

To go from 440 million users to 760 million users, 2019 will have to be a huge year for mobile payments.

Your business should adapt and be prepared to accept these types of payments.

Consumers are getting used to it. If you don’t have their preferred payment option, they may take their business elsewhere.

10. AI and machine learning adaptation

Many trends on my list use AI and machine learning.

This technology has been around for quite some time, but it continues to improve and evolve each year.

There are many different uses for AI in the future:

Lots of these functions can be applied to your marketing strategy.

You need to learn the marketing skills you need to survive in the age of AI.

Furthermore, AI is the fastest growing marketing technology:

It has the highest year-over-year growth compared to all other technologies on the list.

Your company can no longer afford to ignore adapting to the new technologies, such as AI and machine learning.

If you do, you won’t be able to keep up with your competitors.

Conclusion

2019 is going to be a big year for marketers.

New technology and ease of accessibility have made marketing more competitive than ever before. That’s why you need to recognize the newest trends.

If you’re not sure what to expect in 2019 from a marketing perspective, you can use this guide as a reference.

This isn’t a list of bold predictions or trends that I pulled out of thin air.

Everything I listed above is backed by data that’s trending upward. It’s a safe bet to follow these trends if you want to be successful.

What marketing trends is your brand planning to follow in 2019?

How to Drive Retail Sales with Beacon Technology

With online shopping growing in popularity, retailers need to come up with new ways to keep their customers engaged to drive sales.

Retail stores are no longer just competing with other neighboring shops. Consumers can shop for virtually anything from the comfort of their own homes or even on the go from ecommerce shops.

If your retail business can’t adapt to new technology and the latest trends, you’ll struggle for survival in the coming years.

Beacon technology is definitely something your business should consider using. While the term may sound futuristic and complex, it’s actually quite simple.

You’ll be using beacons to track your customers, similarly to GPS. Although beacons and GPS are often confused and associated with each other, they’re not the same.

GPS technology needs three major components to work:

  • satellites
  • ground stations
  • receivers

Receivers, such as a cell phone or a car, send signals to satellites that calculate the distance between each one. As a result, these calculations can pinpoint exactly where the receiver is located.

Beacons are far less complex.

These devices are small and not very expensive. They run on battery power.

Instead of broadcasting their locations to multiple satellites, beacons simply share their locations with devices capable of receiving their identities.

It’s easy to install beacons throughout your retail store locations. Implementing this technology in your retail shops will help you increase sales by personalizing the customer experience.

If you have never used beacon technology before, this is the perfect guide for you. I’ll show you how to leverage this technology to drive retail sales.

You’ll even learn how beacons can help generate revenue for ecommerce businesses without physical locations.

Encourage customers to download your mobile app

The first thing you need to do is get people to download your mobile application.

If your retail store doesn’t have an app, you’ll have to put your beacon technology strategy on hold until the app is built. Your app is a great way to increase sales by encouraging mobile spending.

I’ve spoken to many business owners who are hesitant to launch apps for their retail stores. They don’t think it’s necessary because their clientele would rather shop in person than online.

Sure, some people would rather see, touch, feel, and try on items in person as opposed to online, but the reality is they are still using mobile devices during the process.

In fact, 80% of people have used their mobile devices inside of physical stores to improve their shopping experiences.

This is how consumers are using their devices:

You need to make sure your mobile app has all of these functions.

If you think your app needs improvement, you should read my guide on the top successful features of a mobile commerce app.

People won’t want to download your app unless it improves their shopping experience. But if your app does all of the things on the list above, it will be easier for you to get more downloads.

But you can’t just assume your customers will download the app simply because it’s available.

You need to promote it on all your distribution channels.

Share a link to the app store on your website. Talk about it on social media. Include a download link in your email campaigns.

Give your customers an incentive to download it, such as a coupon or discount off their next purchases.

Once the app is installed on their mobile devices, you’ll be able to use beacons to drive sales.

Monitor customer movement in your stores

If you have beacons set up throughout your retail store, you can track the way users shop.

It’s simple. When a customer who has your app walks past a beacon, the beacon transmits a signal.

Here’s a visual representation of the way this works:

As you can see, the example above ends with the customer receiving a targeted, personalized message.

But you need to make sure there are specific parameters set up before a message gets sent. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say your retail store sells clothing.

A male customer who has your mobile app on his smartphone comes in to buy a new pair of jeans. But in order to get to the men’s jeans section, he needs to walk past the baby clothes and footwear.

If you have beacons installed in those locations of the store that automatically trigger a message about those departments, it’s ineffective. In fact, this strategy will probably backfire.

We know that 52% of app users find push notifications annoying and distracting.

Further, 46% of people will disable push notifications if they receive more than two from the same app in one week. And 32% of users will stop using an app altogether if they get six or more notifications a week.

Make sure your message is relevant and timely, which I’ll discuss in greater detail shortly.

You can send the user a message if they are spending long periods of time near a certain beacon.

For instance, if that shopper in the above example is spending 15 minutes in the men’s jeans section, it’s a safe assumption they’re shopping for that product.

Improve in-store navigation

If you have a small boutique retail shop, your customers may not need much help getting around your store. The layout is probably pretty self-explanatory.

But that’s not the case for all retail locations.

Sometimes, it feels you can get lost inside these big shops. Customers spend more time trying to find their way around than they do shopping.

What’s your current system for helping customers navigate through the store?

Maybe you have a store map at the entrance or signs above each aisle.

But that doesn’t help someone who is in aisle 14 and the product they’re looking for is in aisle 26. They aren’t going to walk back to the entrance to read the map, and they certainly can’t read the signs that far away.

Traditionally, this is how retail shops operate. But now, with the help of technology, you can create a map function in the mobile app.

Take a look at how Target puts a creative twist on this simple feature:

Its customers can use this tool to create a shopping list before they arrive at the retail location.

When they arrive, the map will indicate where to find the items they need. This makes it easy for them to navigate around the store without getting lost.

Beacons placed throughout the store will show where the item is in relationship to the signal being transmitted from the phone.

Send timely discounts

As I said earlier, you want to make sure that any messages you send to your customers are timely and relevant.

For the most part, you can’t go wrong with sending a discount. Everyone wants to get a deal.

Think about the shopping experience from the perspective of your customers. As they browse around the store, they get a notification on their device.

Which type of message do you think would entice them to make a purchase?

“We sell winter coats and jackets!”

or

“20% off all winter coats and jackets!”

This is a rhetorical question. Obviously, the discount is more enticing.

Furthermore, discounts and coupons are the number one reason why shoppers would agree to in-store tracking and push notifications.

Stick to what you know your customers want. Don’t try to make things more complicated than they need to be.

If you send them a push notification or message that’s for something other than a discount, it’ll annoy them. Then you run the risk of that customer disabling their location settings or turning off push notifications for your app.

Target nearby customers

Customers don’t need to be in your retail store to benefit from your beacon technology campaigns.

You can use beacons to target customers who are in the area.

If you place beacons around stores, you can send a message to customers giving them a reason to come in and shop.

Take a look at this example from Charlotte Russe:

A customer who passes a beacon near the store could be sent this type of push notification.

Take a moment to look at the time this message was sent.

It’s reflects my previous point about timely discounts.

The in-store promotion is being run 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM. The push notification was sent at 2:40 PM to someone in the area.

You can use this strategy to run flash sales and other promotions as well.

It makes much more sense to send an in-store promotion to someone in the area than to every single app user. If people aren’t in the area, the promotion won’t be relevant to them.

Improve customer profiles

Everything I’ve talked about so far involves timing concurrent with shopper’s behavior. But you can leverage beacon technology for future actions as well.

Collect data on the ways customers shop in your store. Then use that information to improve their profiles.

Right now, you are probably using data such as online browsing behavior and purchase history to send personalized recommendations to your customers.

For example, if a customer browses for headphones online but doesn’t purchase them, you may send them a follow-up email the next day with a discount on headphones.

You can do the same using beacon technology.

Consumers are willing to share personal data if it improves their shopping experience:

As you can see from the data, younger generations are more comfortable with this type of technology than older generations.

That said, it’s more likely that a Millennial will install your retail app on their phone than a Baby Boomer, so you should be in the clear here.

Besides, in order for you to proceed with beacons, you’ll need to request location permission from users as they install your app on their devices. Otherwise, you’d be in violation of their privacy rights.

Customers who spend longer periods of time in certain sections of your retail store are obviously interested in those products.

Include that information in their customer profiles.

The next time they launch the app or shop online while signed into their profiles, recommend those types of products on their homepages.

Use beacons for your ecommerce shop

The majority of the discussed ideas in this post are relevant to physical retail stores.

Yes, there were some examples of how retail shopping behavior can improve online shopping experiences as well.

But beacon technology can also be used for ecommerce shops without physical stores. You just need to get a bit more creative.

For starters, you still need to encourage your customers to download your app for this strategy to work effectively.

Focus on it no matter what. Just look at the way mobile commerce is trending upward:

Then you can put beacons in locations related to what you’re selling. Here’s what I mean.

If you sell surfboards, kayaks, paddleboards, etc., you can put beacons by a beach. When a customer with your app goes to the beach, they’ll get a notification about those types of products.

If your ecommerce shop sells sports jerseys and other fan apparel, you can put beacons outside of various sports stadiums.

For example, if a customer walks by Fenway Park in Boston, they’ll get a notification about discounted Red Sox jerseys and hats.

This would make more sense than sending them a notification about a team that plays in Los Angeles.

The promotions are still timely and relevant, improving the user experience. This type of message would definitely entice the app user to buy from your ecommerce shop.

Conclusion

Retailers need to adapt to new technology trends if they want to survive today and in the future.

Beacon technology is a great place for your retail store to start.

First, you need to make sure as many customers as possible download your mobile app.

Then, you can place beacons throughout your store to monitor their shopping behavior.

Use this information to send them timely, relevant, and personalized messages that will improve their shopping experience and drive sales. Beacons can be used to target customers in the vicinity of your shop by enticing them to come in and buy something.

Once you collect data about customer in-store shopping behavior, you’ll be able to improve their customer profiles.

Ecommerce shops without physical stores can benefit from this technology as well. You just need to think outside the box to find places for your beacons.

If you follow the tips I’ve outlined above, your retail stores and ecommerce shops will generate more sales with the help of beacon technology.

How is your retail business using beacons to improve the customer experience?

How to Manage and Avoid Ecommerce Chargebacks

Chargebacks have become a growing problem for ecommerce companies. In fact, credit card chargebacks are rising at a rate of 20% each year.

Statistics show 40% of consumers who file chargebacks will do so again within 60 days. And 50% of those people will file another one within 90 days.

Banks and credit card companies make it easy for their customers to dispute charges on their accounts. Ecommerce companies are paying the price for this behavior.

Those of you who have an ecommerce shop know what I’m talking about. I’m willing to bet you’ve had to deal with these situations in the past.

They are a real pain, to say the least. On your end, you thought you did everything right.

A customer placed an order online. You fulfilled the order and got paid.

Only later, you see that the transaction was nullified. You probably weren’t even notified of this chargeback until after the fact.

What happens now? Why are you being punished for fulfilling an order? How far do you need to go to optimize the customer experience?

Chargebacks have become a hot topic lately in my consulting work. And nobody seems to know how to handle them.

That was my inspiration for writing this guide.

First, I’ll explain what you need to do once a chargeback has been filed. Then, I’ll show how you can prevent this from happening again in the future. At the very least, you’ll be able to minimize your chargeback rates moving forward.

Here’s what you need to know.

Don’t waste time disputing chargebacks

Everyone I’ve talked to has the same first instinct when it comes to chargebacks.

Dispute it.

They feel their ecommerce business was not in the wrong, so if they file a dispute, the situation will be rectified.

Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.

Sure, in theory, it sounds like a good plan. But banks and credit card companies design the chargeback process to protect the consumer, even if the retailer isn’t at fault.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but disputing chargebacks will be a waste of your time. You don’t want to deal with this headache.

As you can see, the overwhelming majority of merchants are disputing chargebacks they feel are illegitimate.

What is considered illegitimate?

Well, research shows that 80% of consumers have filed a chargeback simply because they didn’t have time to communicate with a merchant to receive a refund.

This is an example of friendly fraud. The customer commits fraud without realizing what they’re doing is wrong. Or maybe they knew this was an illegitimate reason but didn’t care.

Regardless of the reason, just 18% of merchants say they win the majority of their disputes against friendly-fraud chargebacks.

Banks and credit card companies are still siding with the consumers.

What is the takeaway here? Don’t waste your time.

Sadly, in the long run, this will be a losing battle for you. You’re much better off putting more effort into avoiding chargebacks in the first place.

In certain instances, it’s worth disputing a chargeback, but I’ll discuss that later.

Ship orders on time

It’s possible your customers are filing chargebacks if their orders weren’t received when promised. There are a couple of different reasons for this.

First of all, if the package hasn’t arrived, they might think they got ripped off by the merchant. This is especially true if you’re a new, relatively unknown business.

That’s why you need to understand the top elements that add credibility to your website to make your company appear more trustworthy.

It’s also possible the customer thinks the package was stolen from their door or potentially misdelivered. Either way, if there’s no delivery, the customer won’t want to pay for the order.

But what if it’s none of these reasons?

Maybe the order is still on the way and hasn’t been delivered yet.

In this case, the customer could start the chargeback process and then receive their package a few days later. By then, the damage is already done.

Do not promise a shipping deadline you can’t meet.

With Amazon offering two-day free shipping on many orders, it makes anything longer than that seem unacceptable. That’s why customers with Amazon Prime memberships have higher expectations for free shipping timelines.

Furthermore, in 2017, 35% of consumers said they expect businesses to have much faster delivery times.

And in 2018, that number has increased. Now, 43% of people say they expect faster deliveries. I’m expecting that number to continue rising each year.

If you can ship orders fast and make sure they get delivered on time, you will reduce the chances of getting chargebacks filed for this reason.

But sometimes delays happen for reasons that are out of your control.

Winter storms, other acts of nature, or truck breakdowns could cause delays in the shipping process.

In this case, you need to let your customers know their orders will be late ASAP.

Let them track the shipping. This should be a standard part of your ecommerce process.

Once an order has shipped, you should immediately send the customer an email with the tracking number so they have access to this information.

Monitor transactions for fraudulent activity

Don’t assume every purchase on your ecommerce platform is legitimate.

You need to check each transaction and look for red flags of fraud.

I recommend setting up a fraud metric system to help you with this process. This system would set parameters to flag orders that appear to be suspicious.

For example, if you have an abnormally large purchase shipped to an address different from the billing address, you may need to require further verification to complete the order.

In addition to credit card numbers, your ecommerce shop should also require billing addresses. This is called an AVS, short for address verification system.

You’re probably familiar with this since I’m sure you’ve had to do it in your personal life to complete some transactions.

With an AVS, a criminal with an access to a stolen credit card can’t make a purchase without knowing a zip code associated with the card. If you don’t have this added security measure in place, you’ll be out of luck when a cardholder files a chargeback for a purchase made by a credit card thief.

According to Experian, businesses are experiencing an increase in fraud losses in 2018:

Only 40% of business owners say they are very confident in their abilities to detect fraudulent activity.

Furthermore, 45% of business executives say they are significantly more concerned about the risk of fraud becoming a growing problem.

This is no surprise. That’s because the cost of fraud is adding up quickly.

On average, fraud is costing retailers 2.1% of their annual revenues.

I know this may not seem very high at first glance, but this adds up faster than you might think.

If you’re doing $2 million in sales, that means you’re losing $42,000 each year to fraud.

That’s assuming you’re within the average. If you’re not taking steps to prevent fraud and chargebacks, these numbers can be even higher.

And 2.1% doesn’t sound small when you put it in terms of dollars.

As you can see from the graph above, only 27% of businesses say they’ve experienced fewer fraud losses over the last 12 months. You need to take steps to put your ecommerce business in this category.

Provide exceptional customer service

As I said earlier, sometimes customers file chargebacks for the wrong reasons, such as wanting a refund.

While this is not an appropriate reason to take that action, the customer can still win. Plus, you probably won’t win a dispute.

To avoid this scenario, you need to make sure you have easily accessible customer service options.

Take a step back, and analyze in what ways your customers can reach you if they have problems.

If a general call center is the only option, chances are your customers are frustrated and dissatisfied.

As you can see, 43% of consumers think it’s difficult to reach customer support agents.

People are busy. They have better things to do than waste time being on hold, waiting for someone to address their concerns.

It’s likely very easy for them to dispute charges by opening their credit card mobile apps. This can probably be done in a couple of clicks.

That’s why you need to improve your customer service by implementing live chat.

Now if someone has a problem with their order or product, or has a general question, they can reach a customer service representative as fast as possible.

This gives you the ability to offer a solution much quicker. You want to give your customers complete peace of mind.

You’re there to help them. Be available for assistance on as many channels as possible.

Monitor your social media comments. Shockingly, 79% of customer complaints online are ignored by businesses.

It’s unacceptable if your ecommerce business is part of the majority in this case. That’s terrible customer service.

When someone complains, look at it as a chance to make things right. If you ignore them, it could be the reason why they file a chargeback.

It’s also important to make sure that everything you’re selling meets a quality standard and is not falsely advertised. High-quality products that match the online description won’t have as many chargebacks.

Send post checkout notifications and follow-up emails

Once someone completes a purchase online, you want to let them know how the order will be billed.

Explain how the charge will read on their credit card statement if the name of your ecommerce shop does not match your billing statement name.

If your customers don’t recognize a description on their credit card statement, they could file chargebacks without realizing they purchased from your company.

It’s easy to avoid confusion by being transparent. Take a look at this confirmation email from Tropicfeel:

The company highlighted how the charge will read on credit card statements. Because it’s a startup still building its reputation, it’s important it makes its name clear for the customer.

Take your email strategy one step further. Send a follow-up message once the order is delivered.

This email will be a great opportunity for you to ask for customer feedback.

If something is wrong, invite the customer to share their problems with you. Remind them of your fast and easy return policy.

Now you can stay ahead of any issues and rectify the situation before the customer has a chance to file a chargeback.

Choose a processor with great merchant support

How are you currently processing payments for your ecommerce shop?

If you’re not happy with your current situation, you should consider switching to a payment processor that offers friendly merchant services.

The cheapest option isn’t always the best. You won’t get good support that way.

Earlier I said you shouldn’t dispute chargebacks, but depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary at certain times.

If you have a couple of chargebacks for $100 or $200, it’s best to just let them go. But if you have illegitimate chargebacks totaling tens of thousands of dollars from just a few transactions, you’ll likely want to follow up with a dispute.

Under these circumstances, you’ll want to make sure this process is as smooth as possible for you. That’s why I recommend using a processor such as PayPal or Stripe.

As you can see, it’s easy to manage your merchant support options through the Stripe dashboard.

All you need to do is upload evidence to the platform, and it’ll submit everything to the bank.

For this added service, you’ll be charged a dispute fee. But I think it’s worth it.

Good payment processors will make your life much easier in difficult circumstances.

Again, you shouldn’t expect to have a high success rate with your disputes. But if you’d like to deal with this process, it’s best to have a processor do the heavy lifting for you instead of dealing with the banks directly.

This will save you time and minimize your stress.

Conclusion

Chargebacks are starting to become a wide-spread problem for ecommerce businesses.

Your company needs to know how to deal with them and prevent them from happening in the future. Otherwise, it’ll cost you a lot of money in the long run.

For the most part, it’s not in your best interest to dispute chargebacks. Most merchants aren’t winning these disputes, so choose your battles wisely.

In the event that you want to go through this process, it helps to have a good relationship with your payment processor.

To avoid chargebacks, you need to provide excellent customer service.

Ship your orders on time. Make sure customers have easy access to representatives through as many channels as possible, including live chat.

Monitor transactions for fraudulent activity. Implement an address verification system to curb criminal activity.

Send post checkout emails to customers, explaining how their purchases will be billed. Then, send another message asking for feedback once the order has been delivered.

If you follow the advice in this guide, your ecommerce business will have an easier time managing and avoiding chargebacks in the future.

What steps is your ecommerce company taking to avoid chargebacks?

The Best Domain Registrar

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The best domain registrars make it quick to search and buy a great domain name, then easy to configure it and manage it over time. They will also have excellent customer service (both live support and a robust knowledge center) and a spotless reputation — you don’t want your domain registrar to be going out of business.

There are thousands of accredited domain registrars. The best one is Namecheap. We prefer it over other top registrars NameSilo, Google Domains, Gandi, and Hover. Namecheap has great prices and is really easy to use. It’s the registrar we go to, and the one we recommend to our family and friends who are building their websites.

Our Top 5 Picks

We wholeheartedly do not recommend 1&1 or GoDaddy. And although you may be tempted to bundle domain registry with your web host, we suggest keeping them separate. These are two different competencies, and it’s best to use expert providers for each.

How the Best Domain Registrars Compare

Our Favorite: Namecheap

Namecheap’s checkout process is simple, with very limited upsells. Once you’ve purchased your domain, the dashboard is clearly laid out. We’ve found Namecheap’s knowledge base to be thorough, helpful, and even charmingly human — often there’s a simple “That’s it!” at the end of an article that actually makes us smile. Great documentation is key: buying and setting up a domain isn’t part of most people’s expertise. If you need more support, Namecheap have 24/7 live chat help and a 2-hour ticket response time.


The Namecheap purchase flow is simple and straightforward.

Namecheap’s $0.18 Fee

That $0.18 ICANN fee is a mandatory charge from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, for each domain registration, renewal, or transfer. It’s negligible, although noticeable, especially considering other registrars, including NameSilo, absorb the fee.

Free Domain Privacy

Namecheap provides a WhoisGuard subscription for free forever. You definitely want WhoisGuard. It’s a privacy protection that prevents your personal contact information from being displayed in the publicly accessible Whois database. (If you don’t have protection, you get spam. So much spam. We skilled WhoisGuard once years ago and are still getting spam phone calls…) As long as your domain is with Namecheap, you’ll never pay for WhoisGuard. GoDaddy, on the other hand, charges $10/year and most web hosts that offer domain registration charge $12/year. Note: Privacy is also free with Hover, Google Domains, NameSilo, and Gandi.


With Namecheap, WhoisGuard protection is free forever.

Skip the Upsells

    • Stellar Shared Hosting ($2.88/month) – Skip it
      You shouldn’t get your hosting from your domain registrar. They’re two very different competencies and we don’t know of any one company that nails them both. (If you’re after hosting, we’ve written a review of the best web hosts. TLDR: Our top pick for beginners is InMotion Hosting; for everyone else it’s SiteGround.)

 

    • Private Email (two months free, then $9.88–$49.99/year) – Skip it
      If you want a business email, it’s always free to forward emails from Namecheap. If you’d like cloud storage for that email, or to send emails from your domain name, we recommend not buying it from your registrar. Our universal recommendation is G Suite ($5/user/month), which includes Gmail, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Calendar, and Hangouts.

 

    • Professional Gmail ($5/user/month) – Probably skip it
      This is the going price for G Suite, so you can buy it here now, or add it later, but we think it’s simpler to keep you billing for G Suite directly with Google. That way, if you ever leave Namecheap, you won’t have to get them to transfer you G Suite account back to Google.

 

    • PositiveSSL ($1.99/year) – Skip it
      You’ll need an SSL certificate if you plan to accept payments or collect other sensitive information on your website, but not this one. The PositiveSSL Namecheap is upselling here is just a Domain Verification. We recommend getting your SSL from your web host.

 

  • EasyWP ($1/month) – Skip it
    You’re here to buy your domain name and only your domain name. If you want managed WordPress hosting, we recommend using a top web host, focused on hosting and only hosting. SiteGround and Dreamhost both have some good managed WordPress built into their shared hosting plans.

Other Top Domain Registrars to Consider

NameSilo

At first glance NameSilo is laughable, especially compared to its competition. Its aesthetic seems to be late 90s Power Point — although a new site is thankfully in beta testing. (We suspect this is in large part due to NameSilo being acquired in early 2018 by software company Brision Innovations.)

What we appreciate about NameSilo: it’s a domain registrar and that’s it. It’s really cheap (even cheaper than Namecheap), throws in domain privacy for free (though you’ll need to opt-in by selecting it in your cart), and offers a full-blown discount program for bulk domain purchases. There are virtually no upsells and you can start configuring your domain in checkout — linking it to a third-party service (like a website builder) and entering custom NameServers. Customer support is also comparable, with a rich knowledge base and 24/7 live chat. If you don’t mind some (hopefully temporarily) outdated interfaces, NameSilo is a great option.


Outdated aesthetics are a real trust-breaker with NameSilo. But a new site is on its way!


You can start configuring your domain name during NameSilo’s checkout flow. Don’t forget to opt-in to WHOIS privacy.

Google Domains

We like the familiar and simple Google-style interface: there are literally no upsells at all, and absolutely zero flourish. But: most web developers prefer not to share more information with Google than is absolutely necessary. There’s also very little documentation. If you need help, you won’t be able to dig into a rich knowledge base. There is chat, email, and phone support in English, 24 hours a day, and in French, Spanish, and Japanese with more limited hours.


You’ll recognize the familiar Google styling: clean and straightforward.


Google Domains makes no fanfare of its free privacy protection. Just make sure you turn it on.

Hover

We appreciate Hover’s recommendation engine in principle, but we think that choosing a brandable domain name is important enough that you shouldn’t be playing around with automated suggestions at the last minute. If you’re still tinkering with your URL, you’re probably not ready to buy. (Need help deciding? Read our guide on We do like that there are limited upsells in Hover’s purchase flow, and privacy protection is included (like with Namecheap). Email forward isn’t free though; it’s $5/month. Our biggest worry with Hover ultimately is its backend. Browse through Hover’s outage history and you’ll find hours-long outages are frequent.


Hover’s Whois Privacy Service was degraded for days and the outage report is not robust.


Hover spit our domain name request through a thesaurus.

Gandi

For over $15/year for the same domain we can get for $10–12/year, we want to see more from Gandi. It has a beautiful interface, and is well-regarded amongst developers, but there’s not much it offers that Namecheap or even Google Domains doesn’t: free domain privacy, free SSL for one year, email hosting. One standout is its domain bundles. You can score a deal if you want to buy multiple TLDs at once.


If you want to bundle popular TLDs, Gandi will give you a good deal.

Domain Registrars We Don’t Recommend

Avoid any registrar with a bad reputations and histories of poor customer support and billing practices. That includes Spamhaus’ entire list of worst domain registrars, as well as GoDaddy and 1&1, based off of tips from users on Reddit. (GoDaddy is even suspected of throttling outbound transfers. Not great.)

What to Know When Buying a Domain Name

Keep your domain separate from your web hosting provider.

A domain registrar should be just that: a domain registrar. While many web hosts and website builders offer domain registration as part of their services, typically as a step during the signup process, we generally recommend keeping those services separate. (And we’re not the only ones.)

Hosting your domain with a registrar and your website on a web host gives you a lot more flexibility and control should you ever decide to switch web hosting providers. It also makes managing multiple domains a lot less of a headache, and provides an additional layer of security should one service be compromised — if someone hacks your web host, they won’t be able to touch your domain, and vice versa.

It’s not a terrible thing to bundle your domain and hosting, especially if you’re only working on one website. It’s convenient, and web hosts and websites builders often promote a free domain as part of their hosting package, which can be tempting. Just know those offers usually only last for the first year, and web hosts will almost always have a higher domain renewal fee than a good domain registrar. And, if you ever want to move to a different web host, there’s a chance it’s going to be a major hassle. Make sure you read the fine print of your web host’s domain policy to make sure they’ll allow you to transfer it, should the need arise.

You definitely want domain privacy.

Always opt-in to domain privacy. Most domain registrars include it for free; those who don’t usually charge about $12/year. Buy it. It’s what keeps your personal information (including your name, phone number, email address, and mailing address) from being listed in the Whois public database — and therefore out of the hands of spammers. This may not be the case forever. Since the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in May 2018, some registrars are not publishing their customer’s information to avoid liability, and many people suspect the entire Whois protocol will be overhauled in the near future. But, for now, it’s still our recommendation.

Beware of price jumps.

Domain registrars like to play around with promotional pricing — maybe you get the first year for a lower price, then it renews for its “regular” or “renewal” price. Anyone who has bought cable is familiar with this pricing structure. Buying a domain up front for long period of time (ICANN caps it at 10 years) will lock you into that renewal price, which comes in handy if you know you want that domain and can afford it. Domain registries can alter prices at their whim, like when Uniregistry jacked up the price on a handful of TLDs in early 2017. In one day, .hosting domains went from $20 to $300 and .blackfriday increased from about $10 to $100.

What is ICANN?
ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It’s a non-profit that’s responsible for coordinating the unique, specific names and numbers that identify your online presence — also known as domains and IP addresses. ICANN doesn’t own or operate domains and IP addresses; rather, it coordinates with domain registries and domain registrars, and acts as a central repository for IP addresses, to implement universal operating procedures that keep the internet running. It’s not unlike how cities manage naming streets and assigning home addresses: the city doesn’t own your house, but someone has to keep track of what it’s called. ICANN also requires domain registrars to provide accurate contact information for the owner of each domain, and to make that information publicly available through Whois.

Remember to turn on automatic renewal.

In a lot of businesses, auto-renewal is sneaky — a way to charge you for something you never use and forgot you bought in the first place. But when it comes to domain names, we absolutely recommend it. Forgetting to re-up means your site will go down, which happened to automated marketing powerhouse Marketo in 2017. Even worse, if you have a covetable domain name, it might get scooped up. That’s what happened to Google.com back in 2016.

Domain registrars don’t all have access to every domain name.

For the most part, if a name is available, you will probably be able to purchase it through any of the best domain registrars. But some accredited registrars only offer limited top-level domains (TLD). (A TLD is the stuff that comes after the dot.) This is especially common in smaller registrars, or providers that over domain registration as a secondary service, like a web host. (For example, InMotion Hosting, one of our favorite web hosts, can only register .com, .net, .org, .biz, .us, and .info domains.)

That’s because registrar is different than a registry. Registries are who actually hold the TLD and their associated names — for example, VeriSign controls all .com and .net domains while PIR controls all .org and .ngo domains. Registrars manage the reservations of the names provided by the registries, and have to act in accordance with each one they are involved with. Not all registrars work with all registries, which is why some only have access to specific TLDs.

How come some registrars charge more than others for the same domain?

Registrars are middlemen between you, the customer, and domain registries, who hold all the domains. It’s similar to how department stores are the middlemen between shoppers and clothing manufacturers. The registries set their prices — the equivalent of wholesale prices — and registrars add their fees on top. That’s how they make money. A registrar selling a domain for more money than its competitor is just making more money off the sale of the same product. (Some registrars are making headlines for registering domains “at cost,” including Cloudflare, the content delivery network provider. )

Recap: The Best Domain Registrar

You should buy your domain name from a registrar (not a web host) and you should not buy anything else from your domain registrar. You’re here for one thing and one thing only.

There are a number of registrar-only options including Google Domains, Gandi, Hover, and NameSilo — but we recommend Namecheap.

Namecheap has good prices and is the easiest to use. It’s what we use. There are a few upsells, but you can skip them, since the only one you really need is included for free: privacy protection.

12 Tips for Creating Signup Forms That Convert

Every website can benefit from signup forms.

Depending on your business, these forms may vary greatly in their design and purpose.

Some of you are using signup forms to simply collect email addresses for your subscriber lists. Opt-in forms are great for your lead generation strategy.

Other companies rely on signup forms to acquire new customers. Subscription-based businesses need signup forms to generate revenue.

Signup forms improve communication between you and your current or prospective customers. They also allow you to share more information about your company while gaining insight into people who sign up.

Regardless of what you’re using signup forms for on your website, they are useless if your website traffic isn’t converting.

Unlike other customer acquisition strategies you’re probably using, creating a signup form isn’t expensive.

All you need to do is implement some minor changes to your website. Typically, these forms can be updated and embedded in just minutes.

You already spent much time, effort, and money getting visitors to land on your website. Don’t let those efforts go to waste by not improving your conversion efficiency.

This guide is perfect for anyone using signup forms with underperforming conversion rates. It will also help those building new signup forms.

After you review the tips I’ve outlined on this list, you’ll be able to generate more leads, improve conversions, and ultimately increase revenue.

1. Reduce the number of form fields

People are busy. They have better things to do than spend all day on your website.

To get them to convert, you need to make your signup forms as short as possible.

If these forms are long and require too much information to complete, people won’t take the time to fill them out. In fact, studies show that fewer form fields have the highest conversion rates:

Forms with fewer than five fields convert at a rate of nearly 20%.

If you currently have signup forms with six or seven fields, you can increase conversions by 4.5% just by eliminating a couple of these.

Shorter forms are not just faster to fill out but also less intrusive to the visitor. Here’s what I mean.

Obviously, longer forms require more information. But the website visitor may be hesitant to provide you with certain details about themselves.

They may wonder why a business needs their postal code if they just want to sign up for an email newsletter.

Depending on the circumstances, do you really need their last name? Why do you need billing information for a free trial?

These are the types of fields that can be eliminated to make your signup forms as short as possible.

2. Know when to use one or two columns

For the most part, I recommend using one column for your signup forms.

These are easy to read and fill out, and they won’t be confusing. People are more likely to skip a line or complete lines out of order if they have to deal with two-column signup forms.

If someone skips a required field, it slows down the whole process. But I’ll talk more about this concept later.

When you have one column, it’s obvious in which order the lines should be completed.

However, different website visitors may not view a two-column form the same way. Take a look at some examples of how people could progress through a form with two columns:

Lots of these will require extra steps and clicks that will slow down the progress.

If someone gets confused or frustrated, they won’t finish filling out the information.

If you’re currently using a two-column signup form, I suggest changing it to one.

That said, a multi-column form might be necessary at certain times.

You can use two columns if your signup forms are longer. I know I said short forms have the highest conversion rates, but some of you will have longer ones, just by the nature of your business.

Let’s say you have 20 form fields.

If you stack these in one column, the form will look long and intimidating to a website visitor. Forms this long may even require some scrolling to complete.

It will look more appealing if you create two columns with ten fields in each one. Then, the entire signup form can fit on one page without any scrolling required.

HubSpot tested one of its lead capture forms with 13 fields, which is long. However, the team liked using this method because it helps it qualify its leads better.

In this case, the variation of its signup form with two columns had 22% more conversions than the version with just one.

Depending on the form, you need to know when it’s in your best interest to use one column or two.

3. Offer an incentive to sign up

Why should someone complete your signup form?

No, this is not a rhetorical question. Sure, you want them to sign up so you can turn a profit, but how does this benefit visitors on your website?

Realistically, it doesn’t. You need to do more than just ask them to sign up.

Research shows that offering an incentive, such as a chance of winning something, increases your chances of getting a conversion by 15 times:

Sometimes, running a contest for your signup form isn’t practical. But that’s not the only type of incentive you can provide.

Other offers can increase your conversion rates five-fold compared to a straight ask.

Monetary offers usually work well. If you’re collecting email addresses, you can give new subscribers a discount off their next purchases for signing up.

If you are using signup forms to generate profits through subscriptions, for example, make sure your offer is attractive.

You need to learn how to create a highly effective value proposition. Then, you need to make sure that value proposition is clearly displayed on the landing page where you have the signup form.

4. Enable autocomplete

An autocomplete option simplifies the signup process for users on your website.

Chances are, you’re not the first person to ask them for the information you’re collecting in the signup form.

Depending on the visitor’s browser settings, this information can be stored. Once they start typing, the browser will recognize the required fields and automatically fill them out for the user.

However, this will work only if you enable the autofill feature when you’re programming the form fields on your site.

According to Google, users fill out forms 30% faster with autocomplete than without.

Speed is one of the reasons why you’d want to keep form fields as short as possible. If you have longer forms, the autocomplete feature will help improve your conversions.

Just make sure it’s easy to make changes in case the information provided by autofill needs to be corrected.

For example, a user may have multiple email addresses. They won’t want to use their work email address on your website if it’s for personal purposes. If the autofill adds the wrong email address, they should be able to correct it without the changes affecting the other form fields.

5. Allow social signups

Another way to speed up the signup process is by allowing social signups.

If you can integrate your website with social media platforms, users will be able to sign up with just a click or two.

Currently, 34% of retailers have this feature on their websites:

As you can see from this data, Facebook is the most popular social media site for signup form integration.

If you want to implement this on your website, follow the Facebook developer instructions.

Once you set this up, here’s an example of what your signup form will look like:

This is a relatively short signup form. It has only four form fields, which should make this form highly converting, given the information I shared with you earlier.

However, the process can be simplified even more for the user.

By clicking on one of the social icons I highlighted, they will sign up with just one click if they are already logged into one of those profiles.

If they’re not logged in, they’ll be redirected to a page that requires their username and password for the corresponding account.

Either way, this is still faster than filling out a signup form, no matter how short.

6. Avoid CAPTCHAs

CAPTCHA is short for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart.”

In short, this technology is used to distinguish between an action completed on a website by an actual person and a computer.

I’m sure you’ve seen these before. It’s one of those steps you have to take to verify you’re not a robot.

Here’s an example of what a CAPTCHA function looks like on a signup form:

Businesses implement this feature to detect bots and avoid spam.

However, it ends up being an extra step for users.

I’m willing to bet you have had to complete similar CAPTCHA forms multiple times in order to proceed with something. It’s annoying, especially since you’re obviously not a robot.

In addition to this being an extra step for people to complete, it’s also very frustrating if they get it wrong.

After a couple of attempts, they may decide to just abandon the signup process completely, which will obviously hurt your conversions.

You’re better off running the risk of some bots or spam on your website than turning prospective customers away with a CAPTCHA form.

7. Focus on opt-in placement

Where is your signup form located on your website?

In some instances, the form will appear on multiple locations on different landing pages.

Depending on your business, a signup form won’t always be your priority. For example, if you have an ecommerce shop, you’d rather prioritize sales than email signups.

The most common place for an email signup opt-in is in the footer of a website:

But it doesn’t mean it’s the ideal location.

If you rely on this signup form to drive revenue, you’ll want to make this the focal point of your landing pages.

Try including a signup form in the sidebar of your blog posts. You can even have them appear as popup windows when someone clicks a specific CTA on your website.

The point is, there isn’t an exact winning placement that’s the same for every business and all of their landing pages.

It’s up to you to determine your priorities and then choose the location of your signup form accordingly.

8. A/B test your CTA

If you’ve never run an A/B test before, I highly recommend reading my guide on everything you need to know before you start A/B testing.

Signup form CTAs are the perfect candidate for these types of experiments.

You can test many different elements of a CTA, such as its:

  • size
  • placement
  • color
  • font
  • wording

Making subtle changes can have a major impact on your conversions. Just make sure you’re testing only one element at a time.

Once you complete your A/B tests, you can be confident that your signup form CTA is optimized for high conversions.

9. Highlight incomplete information

I briefly talked about this earlier when comparing forms with one column or two.

A user may leave a required field incomplete. If this happens, you want to make sure it’s corrected as fast and as efficiently as possible.

This user obviously wants to convert. They filled out some information and clicked your CTA.

Don’t let them get away without completing the process.

If they click on your CTA and nothing happens, they may just assume there is a problem with your website. That’s why you need to clearly highlight incomplete fields.

Here’s an example from the ClassPass website:

As you can see, I only filled out my first and last name on this form. I didn’t enter an email address or password.

Once I clicked the “Sign up” button, the email address and password boxes both turned red with an alert saying “This information is required.”

Without this type of alert, someone who made an honest mistake may not understand why they can’t submit their form.

The example above is very simple. It’s pretty obvious which fields were left blank.

However, that’s not always the case with longer signup forms. Don’t make users go back and hunt for what’s wrong. Highlight the error for them so it’s clear.

10. Showcase social proof

Your business should be looking for unique ways to effectively use social proof to increase conversions.

Signup forms are a great opportunity for you to do this.

The whole idea behind the concept of social proof is that people are influenced by others. If you can show your website visitors that other people have benefited from what you’re offering, they will be more likely to convert.

Integrating your social proof strategy with your signup forms is ideal because it’s going to be visible when people are making their decisions.

Here’s an example of how Single Grain used this strategy on its signup form:

The company is showcasing some of its top clients.

If major corporations such as Uber, Amazon, and Salesforce have benefited from its services, it must be good, right? That’s what people think when they see this type of social proof.

That’s not the only way to approach it.

You can use statistics that highlight an expert’s opinion. Say something like, “95% of doctors recommend XYZ.”

Just make sure it’s accurate.

You can also use a celebrity endorsement to create social proof.

Create proof in numbers as well. If 750,000 other people signed up, it will encourage others to do the same. Have a running tally of the number of customers or email addresses you’ve collected next to your signup form.

It’s also just as effective to include customer testimonials on these landing pages.

11. Use sentence case

It may not seem like a big deal, but typography can impact conversions.

You need to make sure your signup forms are easy to read. I see this often in my consulting work.

All too often, I see companies misuse capital letters. They do this to emphasize some information, but it doesn’t come off that way.

Just look at the difference between sentence case and all caps:

Today, people associate all capital letters with yelling. You don’t want to come across as if you’re yelling at your website visitors.

Sentence case looks cleaner, and it’s more conversational.

If you scroll back up and look at the examples above, you’ll notice the majority of the content is sentence case.

In some instances, you can get away with using title case. But I would always avoid using all capital letters. This looks too unprofessional.

12. Eliminate distractions

I briefly talked about this earlier. Each page of your website should have a priority.

Once that priority has been established, it should be the focal point of your landing page.

Don’t try to encourage people to sign up for something while simultaneously promoting your newest product and playing an embedded video about your company culture at the same time.

It’s too complex, and the website visitor won’t know where to focus their attention.

By eliminating distractions, you will focus the user’s attention on converting. Here’s a great example of a simple landing page from the Free Conference Call website:

Nothing else is happening on the screen except for the invitation to sign up and create an account.

Yes, the page has a background image. But that’s fine.

This type of image is much more appealing than just a plain black or white background.

Plus, the image is positioned perfectly. Both of the subjects in the background are looking in the direction of the signup form.

It’s only natural for you to follow their eyes toward the form.

By limiting text and prioritizing the form on the screen, you will increase conversions.

Conclusion

Adding signup forms to your website doesn’t guarantee your traffic will convert.

Whether you’re creating a new signup form or trying to improve an existing one, you can make changes that will increase conversions.

Use this list as a reference to help you through this process.

If you apply the tips I’ve outlined above, your signup forms will turn into conversion machines.

What tips is your website using to increase conversion rates on your signup forms?

11 Outdated SEO Tactics You Need to Retire

Just like most aspects of marketing and technology, search engine optimization has evolved over time.

Marketing strategies that were effective for your company five or ten years ago may not be as effective today. The same applies to SEO.

Search engines have changed the way they rank websites.

If your company hasn’t been staying up to date with the latest trends, your SEO strategy is outdated.

I see this problem all too often in my consulting work. Many companies still employ old strategies that no longer work.

That’s what inspired me to write this guide.

The outdated tactics on this list vary in terms of how they will affect your business.

Some of these are ineffective but harmless, while others could potentially hurt your SEO ranking.

Every business with a website needs to read this guide. Use it as a reference to see if you’re still using outdated SEO tactics and possibly hurting your SEO game.

1. Exact match domain names

Exact match domains were popular for a while.

With this strategy, websites were able to move up their search rankings very quickly. In some instances, rankings climbed in just weeks or even a few days.

As the name implies, the whole idea behind an exact match domain is that your website matches the keywords you’re targeting. For example:

  • detroitplumber
  • garagedoorpartsmiami
  • bestpizzanewyork

But Google adjusted its algorithm to make exact match domains obsolete. When it made this update back in 2012, the influence of exact match domains dropped nearly immediately:

Now, an exact match domain has the same chances of ranking as high or as low as any other domain name.

In fact, some of these exact match domains have a greater chance of being flagged by algorithms or manual reviews. Low-quality sites won’t be ranked high just because their domains are exact matches to the targeted keywords.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to brand a company with an exact match domain.

For example, think about Amazon. Imagine if it started with a domain like

“buyandsellbooksonline.”

That’s just not brandable. This strategy is less trustworthy, and it will make it increasingly difficult for you to build links.

Instead, you want to make it as easy as possible to increase your brand exposure by having a domain that’s brandable.

Don’t use exact match domains.

2. Link directories

For the most part, link directories are useless. There are some exceptions for niche-specific high quality directories.

This strategy worked before search engines become powerful.

People could find what they were looking for by using sites with directories.

These were easy for site owners to install and manage, and they increased in popularity. However, a link directory doesn’t provide actual value to website visitors.

That’s when search algorithms got adjusted to ignore link directories.

Now, having a link directory on your site can get you penalized if you have low-quality links. The same goes for article directories.

Marketers started to use software to submit articles to thousands of directories. But this low-quality content didn’t provide any value to people. It was a quick and simple way to build links.

Today, link and article directories are usually perceived as poor content, and they won’t help increase your search ranking.

3. Flat URL architecture

By default, WordPress will set up your pages with URLs like this:

http://yourdomain.com/page1

It may look simple and clean for your visitors, but it’s not helping your SEO.

If you don’t change these defaults, it will be challenging for search engines to understand the hierarchy of your website. SEO crawlers and bots will rate all your pages with the same level of importance, but that’s not what you want.

You need search engines to recognize the importance of each page compared to its relationship within other pages.

You can manually change your defaults to something like this instead:

http://yourdomain.com/category1/page1

Then, the hierarchy of your site architecture will make more sense.

Removing the flat URL structure will make it easier for crawlers to index your site, which ultimately will improve your SEO ranking.

Search engines will be able to learn the value of each page within your site.

I recommend making these adjustments sooner rather than later. If you change your architecture, you’ll also have to change all of the redirects which can potentially hurt your ranking.

4. Automated link building

Links clearly play an important role in SEO.

Once this was discovered, many marketers tried to take advantage of link-building software to maximize their domain exposure on as many other sites as possible. They did this so their sites would be recognized by search engine algorithms.

As a result, their links got randomly posted on forums, blog comments, link directories, and guestbooks.

While I’m an advocate of using automation to improve your operational efficiency, this isn’t where you should be using that strategy.

Link building is only effective if it’s high quality. You can’t automate this process.

You have to build strong relationships and create valuable content.

For alternative methods that work, check out my post on the process of consistently building backlinks every week.

5. Keyword stuffing

When search engines weren’t as complex as they are today, keyword stuffing worked.

Sites would just put dozens and dozens of keywords throughout new content. The problem with such keywording is it’s unnatural because it was only being done to improve the search relevance of the page.

This doesn’t work anymore.

As algorithms became more advanced, keyword stuffing lost its power. Now it just looks like you have low-quality content.

You can potentially be penalized for keyword stuffing as well.

A recent study from SEMrush showed the most important ranking factors:

While keywords make the list, they’re not nearly as important as the other aspects of SEO are.

In fact, 18% of domains that ranked for high-volume keywords didn’t have any keywords in the body. Only 3% of backlinks had anchor text with keywords.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t include keywords in your content. But you need to make sure that you’re using them sparingly and that your content is written to read naturally.

You’re much better off publishing valuable content without lots of keywords than low-quality content with too many keywords.

6. Keyword variation pages

Do not create a separate page for each variation of a keyword you’re trying to rank for. This strategy won’t work.

Search engine crawlers are smarter, so you don’t have to do this in order to target these variations.

Google’s AI system, RankBrain, can even detect and rank sites for keywords not displayed within the content.

For example, let’s say you create a landing page dedicated to your B2B audiences about boiler services. RankBrain will understand that this page will also be relevant to users who search for things like:

  • boiler cleaning
  • boiler maintenance
  • boiler inspection
  • boiler repair

You don’t need to have a separate page for each one of these keyword phrases. Having too many pages on your site will make your site navigation more difficult than it needs to be.

For this example, you’d just need to have one page. Then, you’d include a subheader for each one of these variations.

This strategy will make your content more relevant and improve your site navigation.

7. Paid links

The last thing you want to do is violate Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Buying links can improve your ranking, but not if you get caught. For this reason alone, I don’t think paid links are worth it.

Some of you may have bought a few links without getting penalized in the past, but don’t think that means you’re invincible.

Sure, you might be careful with the way you’re conducting your operation, but what about the seller?

According to Google, both the buyers and sellers are guilty. It describes such practice as a link scheme:

If someone is selling to you, they’re probably selling to other sites as well.

All Google needs to do is catch one person, then follow the trail of links.

If an unnatural pattern of inbound links is identified and leads to another buyer, it can get traced back to the same seller you’re using. It’s very easy for you to get caught.

Build quality links the right way, and don’t try to take any shortcuts.

8. Building several interlinked sites

Some of you may own multiple businesses and websites. This seems like a good way to build links among them, right?

Not necessarily.

Interlinking sites need to be relevant to each other.

If you have a website selling camping equipment, it wouldn’t make sense to link to your other business offering credit loans.

You’re not rewarded for the total number of links you build. Relevant links hold more weight.

You might not be penalized for this, but it limits your opportunity and resources you can use for promoting your primary site.

However, there are certain times when this can be done properly.

For example, let’s say you have a commercial contracting company and a plumbing company. These are relevant to each other, so interlinking them would be fine.

I’ve seen some instances when people create multiple websites just for their link building strategy. This won’t work.

It’ll be difficult for you to manage this many sites for this purpose alone, so each one won’t have a high authority ranking.

Google will recognize this pattern, and your SEO ranking will suffer.

9. Prioritizing quantity over quality

Publishing ten pieces of new content a day is useless if they are all low-quality.

You’re much better off sticking to a publishing frequency you can handle without letting the quality suffer.

Write for people, not for bots. Writing for bots is unnatural.

As I said before, these new algorithms and site crawlers are becoming so advanced that they can distinguish between poor quality and high quality content.

Look at your blog for example. How long are your posts?

These are the average lengths of blog posts published over the last four years:

As you can see, the majority of these posts have 500-1,000 words.

But that doesn’t mean that’s your sweet spot. Longer blog posts are slowly trending upward each year.

For the most part, I would recommend going longer over shorter.

But don’t force a long blog post for the sake of increasing your word length. By nature, some topics will be longer or shorter than others.

But it’s definitely better to publish five 1,000-word posts a week as opposed to 50 100-word posts a week.

Those 100-word posts won’t be high quality. You can’t possibly address a topic properly in that length.

10. Irrelevant guest posts

Guest-blogging is another great way to build links, but you need to make sure you’re doing it properly.

Irrelevant posts won’t help you.

Instead, you should only be guest-blogging on sites that will increase exposure for your brand. You want to reach a new audience that falls within your target market.

The only way to do this is by publishing relevant content.

For example, I’m a content marketing expert. I have no business submitting my posts to cooking magazines.

It’s irrelevant to my personal brand, website, and target audience.

As I discussed earlier, Google will identify irrelevant links and potentially punish both parties.

Take this into consideration when managing guest posts on your site as well. You won’t want to publish irrelevant guest submissions for the same reasons.

11. Ignoring local SEO

It’s a misconception that you always need to focus on the big picture.

Many companies are just trying to get traffic and ranking by targeting mass audiences as opposed to their actual target market.

This is especially important to local business owners. If you have a local business, you should be prioritizing traffic from people in the area.

Don’t put too much emphasis on generating traffic from people out of your market.

Sure, traffic can improve your site ranking, but local SEO will be much more beneficial to your overall strategy.

Here’s a recent study from Search Engine Land looking at the factors of local SEO:

Use this graph as a reference.

Are you making the right effort to improve your local SEO strategy?

If you’re ignoring these areas, it’s a big mistake.

Conclusion

SEO has changed. It’ll continue changing in the future.

If you are still using the outdated tactics on this list, it’s time for you to put those behind you.

You need to start implementing new tactics.

I’m referring to things such as voice search and mobile-first indexing. I’ll be coming up with more in-depth guides on those topics in the near future.

But for now, just worry about retiring the strategies on this list. They’re a waste of your time and could potentially be hurting your ranking.

What are some new SEO strategies your website has had success with?

How Blockchain Is Changing the Digital Marketing Industry

Cryptocurrencies have been a hot topic lately to say the least.

You probably heard about Bitcoin years ago—the most popular cryptocurrency with the most media coverage. In the early days, it was primarily used for transactions on the dark web.

But today, cryptocurrencies have evolved and are starting to gain traction.

Everyone knows someone with a cryptocurrency story. Either a friend, family member, or a friend of a friend invested in Bitcoin years ago and made a fortune off it.

Or maybe you’ve talked to someone who regrets selling too early before some of the most recent surges took place.

That said, I didn’t create this guide to spark a cryptocurrency debate. Everyone has an opinion on this method of payment, and I don’t want to get into all the pros and cons.

Instead, I want to focus on one specific area that makes this technology work.

Blockchain.

On the surface level, people associate blockchain with buying and selling cryptocurrencies, but it’s much more than that.

As a marketer, you need to recognize the latest trends and understand how blockchain technology works.

It will potentially impact your business today and in the future. It’s in your best interest to start educating yourself now.

Even if you’re not planning to implement cryptocurrency as a payment method just yet, knowing the concepts of blockchain is still important because it’s changing the digital marketing industry.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is blockchain?

Let’s start with the basics.

Blockchain technology can be compared to a shared ledger or an open record system.

These records are used to keep track of different transactions. There are multiple uses for the records on file.

As I said before, cryptocurrency is what comes to mind first. But blockchain can also be used to keep track of data such as home records, voting records, and medical information.

Each transaction is segmented by blocks, hence the name.

These blocks get verified by other users within the system. Blocks cannot be changed once they are verified.

The permanent blocks become added to a chain of other blocks that have already been validated as well.

It may sound a bit confusing, but here’s a great visual representation of the way blockchain works:

Right now, people are constantly buying and selling goods on the web. You might be one of those people.

But let’s look at third-party marketplace websites such as eBay.

Marketplaces turn a profit by charging buyers and sellers fees to use their platforms. If you buy something on eBay, the platform will use your bank and the seller’s bank to verify the transaction.

They will also confirm that the buyer and product actually exist.

Blockchain technology allows buyers and sellers to cut out these middlemen. This makes it possible to process transactions without the need of a third-party marketplace.

There won’t be any banks involved or transaction fees associated with the purchase either. Neither party will have to worry about exchange rates, even for international purchases.

It’s supposed to be a safe and fast way to make transactions. Blockchain is the backbone behind peer-to-peer electronic payments.

The first blockchain was created when the first cryptocurrency was created.

The software is open-source, allowing anyone to see the coding and make modifications to it. Next, different people and companies came out with different versions of blockchain without using the original coding.

Any user can see transactions made with blockchain.

They are visible to everyone, even when completed between two people. While the blockchains are visible to anyone, the identities of the users can remain anonymous:

Instead of having a name, each user in the system has a public address.

Algorithms can be written to automate the transactions. This is similar to the way you pay a Spotify subscription each month with your credit card.

Now that you understand the basics of how blockchain works, I’ll show you how this technology is being used to revolutionize the digital marketing industry.

Middlemen in digital marketing can be eliminated

Blockchain technology makes it possible for advertisers to avoid middlemen.

Right now, marketers go through third parties to handle their advertisements.

Let’s go through an example.

Let’s say a company wants to offer banner advertisements on its website. But it doesn’t want to sell its ad space to just anyone.

Ads linking to low authority or sketchy businesses won’t add credibility to your website.

How does this company proceed? It goes through a platform such as Google. In this case, Google will act as the middleman.

By participating in Google Adsense, the company is assured that it will be connected only with credible businesses that want to buy advertising space.

This process makes both parties feel secure about the ads.

The site selling the space knows it won’t have any malicious content from unreputable brands being displayed on its pages. Furthermore, the company buying the advertisement knows that its ads will be run on legitimate sites.

Google processes the transaction and charges a fee for its part in the deal.

That’s the current system that marketers are using without blockchain technology:

Now, let’s apply the blockchain concepts to this example.

Companies won’t have the need to go through a third-party platform such as Google with the blockchain structure.

That’s because blockchain users can be verified through its networks. People would know they’re getting what they’re paying for as opposed to potentially paying for clicks that aren’t genuine.

It’s still a safe and secure way to process each transaction.

Blockchain, ultimately, eliminates the need for intermediaries in the procedure:

Don’t get me wrong.

Google and its advertising platform aren’t going anywhere just yet. That’s not what I’m saying. It’s still arguably the biggest powerhouse in the marketing industry.

I’m not telling you to ditch your Google AdSense strategy either.

All I’m saying is the concepts behind blockchain technology will make it possible for companies to avoid these types of third-party platforms.

Ditching the middleman will make advertisements more profitable since marketers won’t have to pay additional fees for the transactions.

Consumers can control content

As a marketer, you don’t want to hear this, but consumers don’t want to see ads all the time.

That’s why ad blocking penetration continues to rise each year in the United States:

People have different reasons for using ad blockers.

According to a recent study, 51% of people justify their use of ad blockers because it’s their Internet experience and they want to be in complete control of it.

Other top results from the survey include convenience and wanting on-demand content without waiting for an ad to load.

In some instances, it seems ads have grown out of control. But that’s the nature of the modern digital world.

Ad targeting has become much better with new technology. The ability, for example, to use lifetime value to create Facebook audiences that convert makes it much easier for businesses to reach their target markets.

Sometimes when a customer makes a transaction or gives out their information to one party, they receive advertisements even when they never opted in to it.

Blockchain technology can give consumers the right to charge companies for their contact information.

If a company wants a consumer to subscribe to their newsletter, the customer can reply with their price to receive that content.

For example, each consumer who reads an email could cost brands fractions of a cent. Transactions would be processed through cryptocurrencies automatically.

This concept gives consumers complete control over who has their information.

It will also make it more challenging for marketers to showcase their relevance and level of importance to the consumer. Brands will need to learn how to create a highly effective value proposition in these instances.

Transparency and accountability will build trust

It’s not always easy for brands to gain the trust of their consumers. This is especially true for smaller, less-known businesses.

With so much information out there, people have become skeptical about what they’re being told and which brands are telling the truth.

People want answers.

They want to know where their food is coming from.

They want to make sure their clothes are coming from factories with appropriate working conditions for the employees.

Trust has a major impact on purchasing decisions:

Blockchain will force businesses to become more transparent about their operations.

That’s because every step and record can be verified and documented for everyone to see on these open source networks.

Consumers can have complete access to the supply chain of a retailer or distributor.

This type of information will show everyone exactly how and where their products are being manufactured. Each step of the process is tracked with blockchain.

Since this information will become public record, companies will be held more accountable for their actions.

They can’t claim their goods were manufactured in a factory with good health conditions if that’s not true. Otherwise, it won’t be verified in the blockchain.

Do you think this sounds crazy? Too good to be true?

Think again. Companies have already started doing this.

I recently read a case study on this subject conducted with IBM and Walmart. It covers the supply chain process with blockchain technology:

Technology was used to track where the products were coming from.

In this case, it was tracking food. The idea was to trace the source and supply chain of pork products through each step of the supply chain.

It started all the way back in China—the world’s largest pork producer.

Blockchain holds companies accountable and builds trust between the brand and their customers. This is a brand’s way of showing everyone it has nothing to hide.

With blockchain technology, the public can see digital contracts between two parties.

This forces everyone involved to keep up their end of the deal.

Security must be a priority

With this technology becoming part of our lives fast, businesses need to prioritize security more than ever.

Don’t get me wrong, businesses always needed to emphasize website security and protecting customer information.

However, since blockchain can be used to process transactions, malicious advertisements could potentially become an issue.

People are already concerned about malicious malware and viruses when it comes to their privacy and ads:

As a result of these concerns, we should see a growth in the fraud verification industry.

They will implement blockchain technology.

The verifications required to add blocks in this system can prevent criminals and bots from stealing precious information.

Businesses will accept more alternative payment methods

Right now, you probably can’t walk into your local coffee shop and buy something with Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency.

But we may not be too far from those days.

Some companies are already preparing to adapt to alternative payment types:

Only about 9% of businesses plan to accept Bitcoin within the next three years.

We’re still not at the point where it has penetrated the mass consumer market. But this could be approaching us faster than you might think.

Blockchain technology is making this possible.

As a business owner, you need to recognize this and at least prepare yourself to adapt when these types of payments gain more traction at the mass consumer level.

Conclusion

Blockchain is almost always associated with processing cryptocurrency payments.

However, this technology can be used for much more than that. Its applications have the ability to change the digital marketing world as we know it.

Blockchain gives marketers the ability to cut out middlemen when buying or selling advertisements, such as a PPC campaign.

Consumers will have more control over which companies can send them information.

Since blockchain transactions are an open ledger for anyone to see, businesses will be held accountable for their actions and forced to be more transparent.

Your business might not be ready to accept cryptocurrency just yet, and I’m not saying it should be. But it should keep an eye on this emerging trend in the coming years.

How is your company preparing for digital marketing changes associated with blockchain technology?

The Best Website Builder

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The best thing about using a website builder is knowing that, in a world where an online presence is absolutely mandatory, the technical proficiency to build and publish that presence isn’t.

Sure, you can sign up for web hosting, implement a template, and launch your own WordPress website. But there is an easier way. We should know: We’ve built some of our own business sites with website builders. It’s easy, fast, and unobtrusive to use an all-in-one tool.

Every one of our picks for the best website builders will help you get your site up beautifully and simply:

  • Wix
    Best for: Automating the tough choices
  • Squarespace
    Best for: Beautifully designed templates
  • Ucraft
    Best for: Building a one-page site for free
  • Onepager
    Best for: Quick set-up

What we look for in a website builder

  • Ease of use: everything’s all in one place, and it lets you get on with your real business. No technical proficiency required. No need for a designer or other outside help.
  • A beautiful final product: a professional, well-designed website that reflects your business.
  • Customer support: It’s there if you need it, but everything is intuitive enough that you don’t feel like you do.

We also ask questions in 5 key areas

  1. Style and templates
    What do the templates look like?
    How customizable are those templates?
  2. Usability
    How easy it is to get started?
    Or, how long does it take to build a nice looking site?
  3. Ecommerce and business needs
    Can I sell things on my site?
    Can I add a menu?
    A form?
    A map?
    Reservations?
  4. Pricing
    How much does it cost?
    Which tier should I start on and when will I need to upgrade?
    If it’s free, what’s the trade-off?
  5. Domains, emails, and other bonuses
    Does it come with a free domain?
    Does it come with email addresses?
    Any other extras I should be looking for?

Our top picks for the best website builder

Wix

  • Quicksprout Pick
  • Best for: Automating the tough choices
  • Paid plans start at $11 / month (billed annually)
  • Free trial period: 14 days
  • Sign up

It’s easy to choose Wix as a website builder. It truly takes on the name. Wix’s artificial intelligence asks you a few questions and literally builds your website before your eyes — unique color palette, features, and design all in one. It’s the best tool we’ve seen to get a site that matches your vision, even if you don’t know yet how you’d articulate that vision. Honestly, building a site with Wix’s AI felt a little like getting our minds read.

Wix has been at the forefront of this revolution, and is looking to closely combine AI and website building.

Why AI is the best tool to help build your next website, TechRadar

To start, click create site. You’ll be asked a question: What kind of website do you want to create? From there, the AI will help you build your website. (You can opt-out and go it alone at this point, too, but we appreciated the AI’s help.)


One of the first screens you’ll see when you build a website with Wix.

We loved how easy it was for us to find a template that matched our vision. The AI stayed with us as we edited the page, a little pink square in the bottom (it looks like a chat pop-up) helping us pick the next thing to edit and showing us how to do it. The Wix AI matched our business to its online presence, used our logo to create a color palette for our site, and gave us a template pre-populated with our logo and address. Connecting images from existing social media accounts made it easy to pull in all the assets we already owned.

As AI progresses, it will be harder and harder to know which site was built via AI and which was built via a designer. You can think of it like passing a “design turing test”, i.e. in the future humans will not be able to differential between the two. Then, it’ll have to get innovative. Instead of mimicking what it is learning from what’s created, it will get better and more experimental. It’s easy to see how soon most websites that are created use AI in some way.
—Wix VP & GM of Consumer Experience Nitzan Achsaf told
TechRadar

There’s a lot of variety between the Wix themes, and the personality of each theme matches its name well. The Business Advisor had a spot-on graphic of an analytics dashboard, while Astrologer features an astral hero image.


Some of Wix’s business-centric themes.

Editing your desktop site with Wix requires some patience. To change the text on a text box, you’ll need to hover precisely in the right spot. We did some deep breathing and were able to find enough inner zen to make all the changes we needed. The mobile editor has the serene helpful feel we wish the rest of the editor maintained. It’s super easy to click through the options for how your menu, quick actions, and scroll options work on your mobile page. What you change in the mobile editor doesn’t affect anything that happens on the desktop.


Wix’s editor requires patience — and some clicking around.


We prefer its easier-to-use mobile editor.

Wix does have a free tier, but we don’t recommend it. It has some of the most in-your-face “this was not paid for” company branding we’ve seen — an instant trust breaker. Wix free sites also have one of the most cumbersome domain structures: yourusername.wix.com/sitename so we’d be QuicksproutEditorial.wix.com/Quicksprout. Connecting your actual domain also allows you to attach a Google Analytics profile and add email accounts if you’d like ($5 / account / month, or about half that with an annual plan). Unfortunately, none of this pricing is very upfront. Wix wants you to connect your domain before you see the email pricing, for example. We found answers to pricing questions in the support center, not the user flow.

Take note: all of Wix’s plans are automatically set to auto-renew. Sticker shock is real, especially if you signed up with an introductory promo pricing (at the time of publish, premium plans were a full 50% off, for example). There are many frustrated customers on TrustPilot who’re unhappy with this. It is possible to turn off your auto-renew, but you’ll need to do it more than 14 days before your plan’s anniversary — and if you do it during your 14-day free trial, your trial will be cancelled immediately.

As for which paid plan to pick, you have 7 options: 4 “regular” and 3 “ecommerce.” The difference really boils down to whether you’ll be accepting payments on your site or not. If you’re not sure about how much bandwidth you need, you can always start with a smaller subscription: if you go over the limit, you’ll get a notice from Wix (with no penalty) and use that as your signal to upgrade.

Squarespace

  • Quicksprout Pick
  • Best for: Beautifully designed templates
  • Plans start at $12 / month (billed annually)
  • Free trial period: 14 days (plus an additional 7-day extension)
  • Sign up

“Build something beautiful” is right. There’s no doubt that Squarespace wins the design and beauty contest here. The user interface has a bit of a learning curve and there’s not much of a Squarespace community to help you out, but the page you’ll end up publishing will be phenomenally good-looking.


Squarespace’s templates are all modern and beautiful.

But, building a website with Squarespace can feel a little like building IKEA furniture: in the showroom it’s all so beautiful and simple, but somehow it feels a little more complicated to put together than it promised. It can be hard to understand where exactly you are in the editor. We kept getting notifications that we were editing demo content, or that we would see the social logos once we connected our social media, or that we could unlock this or that feature with a paid subscription, but Squarespace didn’t go the extra step to make it easy to make that required move. It was a lot of fumbling through a beautiful interface, not exactly sure what changes were real, or where to head next. We also had some issues saving changes — an error message popped up and we had to move on, without our changes.


Editing a site in Squarespace has a bit of a learning curve.

Unlike IKEA, Squarespace is pricier than other website builders. That all being said, we love the way sites built with Squarespace look, and think it’s one of the simplest ways to create a beautiful, contemporary site.

Ucraft

  • Quicksprout Pick
  • Best for: Building a one-page site for free
  • Paid plans start at $6 / month (billed annually)
  • Free trial period: 14 days
  • Sign up

We love the free Landing Page option from Ucraft: create a single, mobile-ready page and connect your domain for free. The free version doesn’t get rid of the Ucraft branding but it’s minimal and not invasive. The template has all the features we’ve identified in our anatomy of a high-converting landing page. You can drop the branding by upgrading to a $6 / month Basic Website plan, and sell up to 50 items on the $14 / month Pro Website plan. If you have more items to sell, upgrade again, but note that once you upgrade, you can’t drop back down to a less expensive plan.


Ucraft’s themes are elegant and streamlined. It’s one-page free sites are designed to be a long scroll with anchored sections.


Build a Ucraft site using drag-and-drop blocks and elements.

We’re also impressed with the $229 Lifetime plan. If the subscription set up (and realization that if you love the site you build, you’ll be paying that monthly fee for… forever) isn’t your favorite, then this is a nice compromise. You still get the easy-to-use editor and tools of a website builder, and the one-and-done payment.

Onepager

  • Quicksprout Pick
  • Best for: Quick set-up
  • Paid plans start at $8 / month (billed annually)
  • Free trial period: Unlimited free editing; simply pay when you publish
  • Sign up

We were so surprised to name Onepager a top pick. The templates look dated and the product tour video hasn’t been updated in six years. But Onepager is so dead simple and easy to set up that we were able to publish a workable website for a local pizza shop in minutes. Yes, every webpage builder claims you can get started that fast, but with so many options, templates, and features, we’ve found that we’re distracted and deep in the weeds of perfecting our site, not publishing it. That wasn’t the case with Onepager.


Onepager is a simple website builder with a simple interface.

The Onepager templates aren’t very modern, but they’re straight-forward and the user interface is helpful, and we were pleased with the overall look of our super-quick site. (And, as we written about before, websites with simple homepages convert better.) For a small business that just wants to stake out its territory online — as opposed to, say, building an online empire — we think Onepager fits the bill.

We’d also recommend it to anyone who gets asked all the time to build a website for a friend, a family member, so-and-so’s neighbor who has a family business. For $15 a month, you can build up to 5 sites. With the $199 per month agency plan, you can build up to 150 sites with a white-labeled version of Onepager’s editor platform.

The 26 other website builder platforms we considered

  • Adobe Muse

    As of March 2018, Adobe has stopped releasing updates to its website builder software, acknowledging that simpler site builders like Wix and Squarespace have taken over: “For simpler websites, we’ve seen the emergence of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) website creators that use customizable templates to quickly create responsive websites that can be easily modified by the designer or a client.” — End of service for Adobe Muse

  • Cargo Collective

    Honorable Mention Amazing templates and designs perfect for artists and art galleries, but definitely not for everyone. If you’re after templates designed for displaying images and image galleries, definitely take a look.

  • Cindr

    True to its slogan, Cindr is very fast to use: add in new “blocs” and move them, but want to do much customization (say, if your team doesn’t have exactly 2, 3, 4 or 6 people on it…) and you’ll quickly get frustrated. We certainly were.

  • Duda

    There were too many deal-breaker annoyances on Duda’s own website (broken links, unclear organization, scroll bars on pages that don’t scroll, and typos) for us to recommend building your site with theme. And it’s just as well, as its primary focus is on white-labeling and reselling web designs, not on creating and building your own site.

  • GoDaddy GoCentral

    We’ve never loved the customer support from GoDaddy and GoCentral is no exception. There are only 8 templates, and you can only make extremely limited font and color changes on them. No moving or resizing. The GoDaddy forums are full of frustration and confusion. Case in point: GoDaddy updated live templates so their headers no longer looked the same. Support recommended changing themes if you didn’t like the new header. What a nightmare.  

  • Homestead

    The Homestead website itself looks like its from a different era. And the 27 featured templates from its collection of hundreds! have that same late-90s look.

  • Jimdo

    We really like using an AI questionnaire to launch our website, and we adore the ease of pre-populating the images from our Google Places, Facebook, and Instagram feeds. But, Jimdo’s editor was glitchy (images would appear as blank boxes, then reappear) and the design customizations were super limited. (Is it impossible to have a full width image header without a color filter? Seems so.) Wix makes all the same promises, and delivers.

  • Moonfruit

    We really wanted to love this Moonfruit. It’s clean, it’s modern, it’s easy to flip into mobile view as you edit, it has a helpful dashboard that lets you know how much of your 500 free MB storage you’ve used. And maybe it’s worth considering. But we found that the template-free starting point left us feeling more confused than empowered. The result: a lot of haphazard clicking and website that looked more amateur than any other we’d built.

  • Simvoly

    Not recommended. We were intrigued by the marketing lingo Simvoly opens with: funnels, analytics, A/B testing. Oh my! But, this platform shows lots of sloppiness that keeps it out of any competition for the best: typos in the animations on the Simvoly homepage are just the beginning. The builder doesn’t have an undo/redo function, or any way to save a draft page without publishing it. Simvoly knows the right buzzwords but doesn’t back it up with its product.

  • Site123

    We wanted to like the AI assistance for building our theme, but didn’t. We answered one question about our site (we’re a DJ, or a Diner) and got sent to a pre-built page for us to customize. There’s no sense of adding your own personal style or browsing through templates to pick the site structure you’d like. Want to change templates? You’ll need to go back and answer that one question differently. To get a design we liked, we felt like we had to cheat the quiz.

  • SiteBuilder

    You have to sign up before you can even browse the templates. That’s a dealbreaker for us, but they also have no free plan and once the promotional pricing wears off, your cost will double.

  • SiteZulu

    Not much to love here. Only 31 themes, the mobile version of our test site was buggy, and its the ecommerce “upgrade” is the free PayPal embed button.

  • SnapPages

    SnapPages is one of the most expensive website builders on the market. For the price, it doesn’t offer anything you can’t get elsewhere. Recently acquired by Subsplash, we expect SnapPages to focus on selling its services as part of the Subsplash service packages aimed at churches and nonprofits.

  • Strikingly

    This Y-Combinator-backed one-page web builder shouldn’t be compared to a full-fledged website builder like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace. It’s in the simplicity of getting something launched where single-page builders work best. But, Strikingly just isn’t as good as uCraft, which lets you connect your own domain for free and has a more beautiful and user-friendly interface, or Onepager, which is so dead simple you can literally publish a complete (albeit super simple) site in minutes.

  • uCoz uKit

    uCoz has a clean and modern interface, that is intuitive and easy to use (though noticeably slow to load). We didn’t love that we needed to sign up to see the templates, that most of the templates are very similar, and you’re extremely limited in editing the templates. Once you’re in a template you can’t change things like text styling and can only choose from one of three colors. This keeps you from making bad design choices, but also makes picking a template a much more important choice.

  • Virb

    We don’t recommend Virb, the MySpace competitor that pivoted to become a website builder in 2010 — while the one $10 plan is simple, but there’s no way to preview the editing tool, and honestly we couldn’t even figure out how to sign up. We clicked log in (but were told we didn’t already have an account…). Let us know if you can figure it out. By watching the Virb tutorial videos on its Vimeo account, which were uploaded six years ago, we got a sense that the tool hasn’t been updated recently, and here’s the deal breaker of deal breakers: it’s not WYSIWYG. To add social buttons, you’ll need to go to a menu, click add widget, and who know where they’ll show up on the page. We live in a world with the ease of drag-and-drop editors and can’t go back.

  • Vistaprint

    Vistaprint does offer some limited templates you can build yourself under its “Digital Marketing” offerings, but it’s still a business-card first business. In fact, one of the major selling points it offers is just that: your website can match your business card.

  • Voog

    Voog advertises that it’s the simplest multi-lingual site builder, that is you can build your site in one language and then add all of the copy in up to 10 other languages. Your user will choose the appropriate language with the little flag logo in the corner (you can also pre-select language based on user location). But, this is a feature Wix, Squarespace, and others also offer. We think it’s better to go with one of those bigger names for a few reasons: Voog’s site itself loads very slowly with noticeable lag on pages with more than one image, and its own pricing page doesn’t automatically notice the country you’re in. When your big claim is matching content to the user country, this is a big miss.

  • Web.com

    A hard no from us here. Before you even get to browse the template, you’re signing up for introductory pricing that’s $1.95 for the first four weeks, then bumps up to the “current rate” which is $22.95 a month right now, with no promise that it won’t be more later. And the fine print asserts there are 4 weeks in a month, so there are 13 “monthly” billing cycles in a year. No thanks.

  • Webnode

    A simple (almost too simple) designer with a super high price point. For no ads, you’ll pay $11.95 a month on the required annual plan. At that price, you can do far better.

  • Webs

    Built by three brothers and then acquired by VistaPrint in 2011 for $117.5M in cash and stock, Webs looks like it hasn’t been touched since. The editor is slow, and the templates are dated — the default “line” has the scrollwork of a fancy wrought-iron fence, for example — and the templates, which are arranged in an awkward horizontal scroll, don’t respond to the system’s filter so premium and free templates are intermingled. Can’t recommend.  

  • Websitebuilder.com

    A strong no. Uninspiring templates, buggy interface, a support chat portal that doesn’t work (and legitimately suggests unplugging your router to solve the problem), and terrible customer reviews that call out inaccurate billing and incorrect charges. We don’t doubt it: the terms of service say in order to unsubscribe from auto-renewals, you’ll need to turn to phone or chat, not simply update your account settings.

  • Webstarts

    There’s so much freedom with Webstarts: you can literally move anything you want anywhere on the page. The problem with this is that it’s easy to move something on the desktop editor in such a way that it won’t show up on mobile. For a website builder, it’s freedom to a fault. We like to see when the software stops us from making bad decisions we don’t even know we’re making, without any fuss. Mobile-optimization doesn’t click in until the Pro Plus level, which is $14.32 a month, billed annually (~$172).

  • Weebly

    In Q2 2018 Weebly was acquired by Square and has been increasingly geared towards entrepreneurs and online store owners (really gunning for online shops like Shopify). At least in its marketing, that is. When we checked out the one-star reviews on TrustPilot, we knew we couldn’t recommend Weebly. Another dealbreaker? There’s no undo button. Once you exit a module in the editor all of the changes you made are permanent. Delete a module, and want to undo it? Sorry, you’re simply out of luck.

  • WordPress.com

    We love WordPress and run our site on WordPress, but an easy-to-use website builder it’s not. Dive into WordPress.com and you’ll be quickly launched into a world that feels like you need technical expertise. (You don’t really need much, but the menu layout and wiki-style simplicity feels much more demanding than others. And it most certainly is not drag-and-drop intuitive.) If you’re up to using WordPress, we recommend picking a great web host, registering a domain name, and going through WordPress.org’s “famous 5-minute installation.” You won’t pay the monthly subscription you’d pay with WordPress.com and you get all the same features — you’ll just need to do some of the hands-on work. Read more about the difference between self-hosted WordPress.org and fully hosted WordPress.com on the WordPress.com blog.

  • Yola

    Yola is expensive and wants to upsell left and right. You’ll need Silver ($119 annually or $14.99 monthly) to ditch the Yola branding, and they’d like you to get Mobile Plus (an extra charge to make your business phone number and address show up on the bottom of mobile pages — this is free with Wix) and the $10/month ecommerce upgrade is simply a free Ecwid plugin Yola would love to charge for. The editor is a bit buggy, you can’t add a blog (Yola suggests embedding a Tumblr page…) and we don’t think the high price point and upselling are worth it for the mediocre product.

Recap: The best website builders

  • Wix Best for automating the tough choices
  • Squarespace Best for beautifully designed templates
  • Ucraft Best for building a one-page site for free
  • Onepager Best for quick set-up