Mobile-First Indexing Is Coming: Is Your Website Ready


Is Your Business Website Ready for Mobile-first Indexing?

The day of reckoning is upon us. On March 26, Google began its great rollout of mobile-first indexing. And websites that are not optimized for mobile shall know the great pain of plummeting search engine rankings. As mobile views continue to overtake desktop views, websites must be mobile responsive. According to TechCrunch, the majority of people who use Google search now do so from mobile devices, and have done so since 2015. Lagging behind is no longer an option for businesses that want to be visible and competitive.

Google's Mobile-first Indexing: A Brief History of Mobile Overtaking Desktop

Google began to prioritize mobile sites in 2015 by boosting the rank of mobile-friendly webpages on mobile search results. The following year, Google detailed its plan to change the way its search index operates, explaining how its algorithms would eventually be shifted to use the mobile version of a website’s content to index its pages – as well as to understand its structured data and to show snippets from the site in the Google search results. 

In December 2017, Google began transitioning a small handful of sites to mobile-first indexing, but did not identify which ones had made the move.

Now, the rollout is officially underway. To avoid misunderstanding, Google explains that it will still have only one index for search results – the mobile-first index is not separate. This means that Google will look to a website’s mobile web pages first to index your website, not the desktop version – so change your mindset about the latter being the “real” version of your site that gets all the SEO, content, and structured data markup attention, and the former being an afterthought.

Google likens this switch to the move from analog to digital

 

In a related development, Google recently announced that starting this July, page speed will also be a ranking factor for mobile searches, with slow-loading content being downranked. Don’t say we didn’t warn you in our blog post of February 28, “The Importance of Getting Your Website Up to Speed!

Mobile Responsive Website Design: Ensuring Your Business is Ready

Continuing with our self-reference, our blog post of March 7, “How to Tell if Your Website Needs a Redesign,” discussed how a responsive website that changes based on the needs of the users and the device they’re viewing it on is mandatory.

Responsive web design allows a website to respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. The practice consists of a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries. As the user switches from laptop to mobile devices, the website automatically accommodates for resolution, image size and scripting abilities.

Responsive web design gives visitors a seamless user experience (UX) on all mobile devices. Orlando SEO, Orlando Digital Marketing, Orlando Web Design, Best Lake Mary SEO Company

According to Google, 61% of users are highly unlikely to return to a website that doesn’t work well on mobile, with 40% moving on to visit a competitor’s site. Couple this intrinsic drawback with diminished rankings from not having a website optimized for mobile-first indexing, and you can see how detrimental a non-mobile responsive website can be to your bottom line.

SEMRush offers the following advice for getting your website ready for mobile-first indexing:

• Aim for a loading speed of less than two seconds.
• Make sure your content is the same from desktop to mobile.
• Be aware that there is no longer a need to block CSS, JavaScript or images.
• Consider including expendable content on your mobile site – such as accordions, expandable boxes and content hidden in tabs. While this wasn’t weighted very high on desktop sites, it will be on mobile.

Of course, the best way to ensure your website is ready for this transformation is to work with a web design company that keeps up-to-date with industry changes. Virtual Stacks Systems is a full-service digital marketing company with 25 years of experience that includes developing websites for a wide range of businesses and organizations. Contact us today, so you can be ready for high rankings tomorrow!

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Measuring the ROI of Video Marketing – How to Capture the Unicorn


Is Your Video Marketing Strategy Working?

Video marketing has matured beyond the “next big thing” or “shiny new toy” stage. Digital consumption trends have shifted heavily toward video over the past six years. That is, people would rather watch video than read. However, grabbing eyeballs for cat videos is different from making sure your marketing video is not only being seen by members of your target market, but that its viewers are taking the desired action to make your investment worthwhile. For those wondering if it’s possible to measure the ROI of video marketing, the answer is yes. In fact, 51% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI.

Achieving measurable results with video marketing takes planning and some amount of work – it isn’t as easy as posting to YouTube and waiting for views. And for those expecting your video to “go viral,” even if lightning strikes, it doesn’t mean that everyone who watches will be your customer. Approaching video in the same way as other components of your marketing campaign can help your business reach its goals – whether to draw in qualified leads, increase sales, etc. Here are the main steps.

Establish a goal – It may seem obvious, but first determine what business objective the video content addresses.

Video marketing goals typically fall into one of the following categories:
• Brand awareness
• Engagement
• Lead generation
• Lead nurturing
• Increasing sales
• Customer service
• Education (product demonstration videos, for example)

Determine what specific action you want the viewer to take after watching the video. Keep in mind that a video is one piece of your larger conversion funnel, which should also consist of social media, blogging, email marketing, etc. Tracking ROI is easier when you are more accurately able to identify each video’s place in the conversion funnel and its specific objective.

Make sure your content is designed to accomplish its goal – A video intended to generate leads should link to a demo request landing page instead of standing alone. Again, this goes back to identifying a video’s role in the conversion funnel and making sure all of the components work together. Creating a dedicated landing page for your video rather than relying on YouTube as its sole host can make a big difference, because 60% of visitors will watch a video before reading text on the web page. When visitors click on the link, they’ll be drawn to engage further with social calls-to-action, promotions of your blog, and other related materials on the page.

Establish your KPIs – Having established your goal, you need to link them to key performance indicators. KPI benchmarks are measurable and closely related to the underlying goal. KPIs provide metrics that tell you how well (or below par) the video performs.

Best KPIs for Measuring Video Marketing

• Awareness: Determined by the number of views and/or the percentage of viewers who watched the explainer video all the way through, etc.
• Engagement: Includes the percentage of completed video plays, average length of viewing, referral traffic to your website, shares on social media and comments.
• Lead generation: The number of sign-ups to a mailing list or the number of downloads of a report/booklet/whitepaper, etc., after viewing.
• Lead nurturing: The number of requests for an initial consultation, product demo or free trial product/service.
• Sales: The amount of revenue attributable to video views.

However, be aware that many of these KPIs depend upon a basis of reference. You can’t measure the impact of video on the effectiveness of a landing page without recording a baseline of how that page performs without video. Or be able to track video’s effect on purchase behavior if your content analytics aren’t integrated with a CRM (customer relation management) system – such as our own eZnetCRM platform for integrated business operations.

Establish the right frame of reference – Measurement is even more valuable when put into the context of a frame of reference that helps guide future decisions.

The basic frameworks are absolute, relative and attribution modeling ROI.

Absolute ROI  - looks at what result spending X-amount of money on the video creates. If it costs $500 to produce and nets 80 brochure downloads (your key benchmark), determining the amount each lead costs tells if the video was a profitable investment.
Relative ROI  - compares how well a video performed with your other marketing strategies. If spending the same amount of money on another strategy, like PPC text ads, which produced the better result?
Attribution Modeling ROI - measures the impact of each marketing component – such as display, social, print, etc. – on the overall results in a comprehensive manner.

The Take-home message – If your business is just looking into the marketing value of video, or is currently exploring it but not quite satisfied with the results, getting the right focus will justify your long-term investment. Our video production services at Virtual Stacks Systems produce a wide variety of marketing videos – and we provide social media marketing services for a comprehensive solution. Contact us to learn more.

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Why Your Business Needs a Custom Email Address


Still Using @GMail.com for Business?
This is Why You Should Switch to Branded Company Emails

It is practically impossible to do business these days without a custom email address. Whether your business is an online only ecommerce store, a brick-and-mortar, or a combination, a custom email address allows you to convey a professional image of your organization and increases its credibility. The message your email address sends is just as important than the message your email contains. For example:

• Custom email address = This is a real business

• Your personal gmail.com (or other) address = This is a side-hustle/hobby – or, even worse, a scam

According to a recent survey by Verisign – an internet domain name and security company – two thirds of consumers consider a branded, professional email address to be much more credible than a personal one. 

 While email may have fallen out of favor as the primary tool for everyday social interaction, it remains the most popular platform by far for business communication. According to Forrester, 87% of all corporate communications are carried out via email.

For budget-minded small businesses, a free email address might seem like the ideal solution. But the drawbacks far outnumber this single advantage.

Disadvantages to using a free email address for business

1- Lack of credibility/perception of your business as unprofessional or dubious.

2- Increased chance your email will be sent directly to the recipient’s spam folder.

3- Decreased data security. Yahoo’s massive data breach was reported in 2016, but occurred two years earlier, exposing sensitive personal and business for a long period of time. Major public email providers undoubtedly will continue to present an attractive target to cybercriminals.

4- Increased vulnerability to viruses.

Advantages to using a custom email address for business

In addition to helping establish credibility and strengthen branding, a custom email address can serve your business in the following ways:

1- More efficient collaboration with your team members – custom email addresses are rich in other features that help you collaborate with your team. Such features as contacts, tasks, calendar and outlook collaboration help you streamline your business operations. You can send, receive, and manage meeting requests, check your team members’ availability and view their calendar, which improves the overall functioning of your organization.

2- Greater flexibility and customization – You can create separate email addresses for people in various departments of your business. For example: service@ or admin@, which will allow messages to reach the appropriate departments or individuals, thereby providing a higher level of customer service.

3- You always have your files and data backed up – All of your contact information is vital to the success of your organization, and you cannot afford to lose any of it. When you get a custom email address from a reliable service provider, all your data is constantly backed up, and there is nothing that you stand to lose at any given point in time.

4- Greater security – Free email accounts are vulnerable to viruses that can compromise or destroy your company’s data, as well as infect the email accounts of others and steal their personal information. A custom email address provides greater protection. An email service provider should be able to supply adequate safeguards for your online data.

Virtual Stacks Systems has been providing affordable email hosting solutions for more than 20 years. Our services include anti-virus and spam protection, constant back-up with our global servers and experienced technical support. If your business needs help in reaching the next level of branding, customer service and security, contact us to learn more.

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Don’t Get Locked Out! Why Your Website Needs SSL


Don't Get Locked Out! Why Your Website Needs SSL - Even if You Don’t Think it Does

It seems that every week brings news about yet another high-profile hack or data breach exposing the personal information of millions of people to cybercriminals. While the increasing occurrence of such acts has inspired a thriving industry based on data protection, there is one common – yet powerful – security technology proven to prevent identity theft and other types of online crime: Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Here, we provide a look at the basics of SSL technology, why you should use it even if your website isn’t for ecommerce, and its advantages beyond security.

SSL is the industry standard used by millions of websites in protecting online transactions with their customers. In order to meet Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance, an online business needs an SSL certificate with the proper encryption of at least 128-bit. PCI standards verify that the SSL certificate is from a trusted source, uses the right strength of encryption and provides a private connection on any page that requires customers to enter personal information. Without a certificate that meets these standards, a site won’t be able to take credit card payments.

SSL is also essential in gaining customer trust in the integrity of your business by guarding against phishing emails, which contain links that lead unsuspecting customers to a convincing replica of an otherwise reputable site. Often disguised as advertisements or shipping confirmations, these emails attempt to get credit card information. When customers don’t see the signs of security on a site, they’re more likely to navigate away without entering information. According to HubSpot research, up to 85% of website visitors will not continue browsing if a site is not secure.

How Does SSL Work?

Elegant in its simplicity, SSL establishes an encrypted link between a web server and a browser (such as an ecommerce website and browser), or between two servers (such as an application with personal identifiable information). This link ensures that all data transferred between the web server and browser or between two systems remains private and integral – preventing criminals from reading and modifying any transferred information, such as credit card numbers, other financial information, names, addresses and comparable personal details.

To be able to do this requires an SSL Certificate. SSL Certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to an organization’s details. An SSL Certificate typically contains the domain name, as well as domain and company name; company address, city, state and country. It also will contain the expiration date of the Certificate and details of the Certification Authority responsible for the issuance of the Certificate.

During the process of creating an SSL Certificate, the web designer is prompted to answer a series of questions about the identity of the website and company. The web server then creates two cryptographic keys: a Private Key and a Public Key. The latter is placed into a Certificate Signing Request, which is submitted during the SSL Certificate application process. The Certification Authority then validates the details and issues a SSL Certificate. The web server then matches the issued SSL Certificate to the Private Key. The web server will then be able to establish an encrypted link between the website and customers’ web browsers.

When a certificate is successfully installed on a server, the application protocol (also known as HTTP) will change to HTTPs, where the ‘S’ stands for ‘secure.’ Depending on the type of certificate purchased and which browser is used, the browser will show a padlock or green bar on a website that has an SSL Certificate installed.

When a browser connects to a secure site, it retrieves the site’s SSL Certificate and check that it:

 Has not expired

 Has been issued by a Certification Authority the browser trusts

 That it is being used by the website for which it has been issued

If the SSL Certificate fails on any one of these checks, the browser will display a warning to the website visitor that the site is not secured by SSL.

How to get free SSL, Google Chrome SSL Warning, Google Blocking HTTP in July, Orlando SEO

SSL certificates are available online at a variety of annual fees, depending upon the CA and level of validation/protection desired.

One such CA, Let’s Encrypt, has issued more than 50 million active certificates at no cost – that is, for FREE– to further Let’s Encrypt commitment to encrypting the entire web. While web developers implement SSL themselves, professional web development companies (such as Virtual Stacks Systems) include it as part of their service offerings.

Google Sets an SSL Ultimatum Chrome Will Enforce It

With all the emphasis on personal information security, some business owners and decision-makers may think that SSL is only necessary for ecommerce websites. However, websites that have pages with a search box and/or forms for visitors to fill out and submit – such as to receive an ebook or whitepaper for lead generation purposes – are being strongly motivated by Google to enable SSL across the entire site.

Do I Need SSL Certificate, Get SSL, HTTPS Certificate, Chrome SSL Warning in Chrome

As of October 2017, version 62 Chrome began labeling HTTP pages as insecure if users can input any data which applies to any page with a search box. The browser shows the ‘Not secure’ warning when users type data into the HTTP sites. The expanded warnings for HTTP pages are intended to add pressure on site owners to acquire the necessary certificates and set up HTTPS on their web servers. The clock is ticking, as this July, Google will label all non-SSL websites insecure with the dreaded 'Not secure' warning in red, and although everything in SEO is debatable, no one can debate that the worst thing for your SEO is a website no one can visit! 

SSL Improves SEO – Plus the Take-home Message

Enabling SSL across the entire website provides an additional advantage: it’s good for SEO. According to Google Webmaster Trends Analysts Zineb Ait Bahajji and Gary Illyes, SSL is part of Google’s search ranking algorithm. In addition, Google has publicly stated that two websites that are otherwise equal in search results, if one has SSL enabled it may receive a rank boost to outweigh the other – providing a clear benefit to enabling SSL on your website and across all content. In fact, SEMrush.com lists SSL as one of the top 10 ranking factors in its 2017 ranking factor study.

CAs recognize and promote the SEO benefit as well. For example, the Enterprise EV SSL/TLS Certificate offered by SSL.com lists “Improves Search Engine Rankings” as a feature – and, of course, an incentive to purchase this premium security level.

To recap, SSL provides secure data transfer for online transactions to protect consumers and businesses, helps prevent existing or potential customers from falling victim to phishing schemes, prevents red flags from being raised about your website and boosts SEO. To ensure the best win-win scenario for your business, our web development team at Virtual Stacks Systems can answer your questions about SSL. Contact us to learn what we have to offer.

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What is Internal Linking, and How Does it Help SEO?


What is Internal Linking? How Does it Help SEO?

Search engine optimization has become a necessity for businesses trying to rank high in Google, and other search engines like Bing, and Yahoo, but many business owners still don’t realize all of the aspects that go into improving these rankings. One of the largest factors that is often overlooked in SEO is the practice of internal linking.

What is Internal Linking?

Internal linking is, essentially, when you connect one page of your site to another page on the same site as a reference, like we did in the first paragraph of this post. This confers the authority of what you are writing about upon your own site, rather than sending potential customers to a competitor.

For example, if you own a farmers’ supply store, your website could include a page about what’s better for growing: store-bought soil (which you sell) or home-made compost. You can use “home-made compost,” as a branch off to a list on your site – “The Top 10 Things You Can Put in Your Compost.” From there, you can link back to your store where you sell composters.

This creates a spider-web effect. Each link can draw visitors in further and further. As long as you have a strong web, you can realistically keep capturing their attention with other pages that would interest them, and eventually convert their traffic into a sale or a lead to be cultivated into a customer. To do this, you will want to incorporate strong anchor text.

What is Anchor Text?

Anchor text are the words that are linked to another page. As we all know, web links look like “www.website.com/info.” However, using that verbatim can lose your visitors and pull them away from the post. By using anchor text, anyone can read without being interrupted, and get hooked into another page. Anchor text also sends a clear signal to Google that this page is relevant to search users typing in that phrase.

What Are the SEO Benefits of Internal Linking?

Internal Links SEO, SEO On Page Optimization, Linking Internally for SEO

There are two main benefits to incorporating internal links.

1- The first, and more obvious, is that readers will stay on your site longer. You can add multiple links to increases the likeliness that they will stay on your site, and eventually direct them to take the desired action – such as make a purchase or take the first step in becoming a business lead.

2- The second, and harder to track, is that it will actually increase your ranking, and move you up the search engine ladder. Part of this is because you will be increasing the authority of your site, and so Google’s algorithm will be able to index it better. The other part, is that through implementing strong anchor text, you can hit keywords that people are looking for, and create an index for Google to pull from. With a strong network of internal links, and keyword anchor texts connecting them, people searching for those keywords can find your site more easily through search engines.

Because anchor text and internal links are integral to the building of any website, it’s essential that business owners and decision-makers choose a web design firm that has strong experience in incorporating SEO best practices.

Our dedicated team at Virtual Stacks Systems will identify how to meet your needs and build your site to increase your traffic. We also offer tailored packages for every budget. We welcome you to contact us for more information.

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How to Tell If Your Website Needs a Redesign


How to Tell If Your Website Needs a Redesign

Your website is more than the face of your business online – it is your 24/7 salesperson. So imagine if your salesperson was poorly groomed, lacked the tools and technology to properly represent your company to prospects, and couldn’t answer relevant questions or easily conduct transactions. You’d be looking for a new salesperson, right? Should your website fit this dismal description, consider redesigning it using today’s best practices to generate leads, improve conversion rates and nurture customer relationships.

7 Signs It’s Time for a Website Redesign

Professional Web Design, Website Design, Lake Mary Website Design, Orlando Web Design, Orlando Digital Marketing

1- Your website delivers a poor user experience – User experience (UX) is a critical factor in website design. A site that’s difficult to navigate, has slow load times or is too complex will lose visitors – most likely to your competitors. In fact, 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a website after a bad experience.

Other contributing factors to poor UX include broken links, outdated offers and a layout that isn’t optimized for the latest browsers. Links to pages that no longer exist and weren’t properly redirected is an all-too common offense. Poor shopping cart performance – as well as an overly-complex checkout protocol – on ecommerce sites is a common cause of user discontent.

Because it is sometimes hard to look at your own website objectively, put yourself in the place of your target audience. Identify their buyer personas – which will give you insight into their goals and behaviors – and think of what actions you want them to complete when visiting your site. Also, visit your competitors’ websites to see what features and functionalities they incorporate. If you see your site is lagging, your visitors will likely be fewer and farther between.

2- Your website appears outdated – In extreme cases, the web design in-joke, “1998 called – it wants its website back,” applies. But if you think you’re saving money by holding back on an update, consider the findings of Stanford University’s The Web Credibility Project, which reported that approximately 75% of people judge the credibility of your business based solely on the design of your website. That’s right – refusing to change with the times can actually cost your business in terms of lost customers, reduced sales/market share and an overall poor brand image.

3- Your website is not meeting the objectives of your business – Even if your website appears to be well-designed, it still may not result in the desired conversion rates (the sales funnel/customer journey from website visitor-to-lead-to customer). Review your site quarterly to see if it’s working toward your specific goals (for example, increased traffic, leads, etc.) It may be a matter of improving your landing pages and calls-to-action (CTA), or other conversion paths.

Considering that high conversion rates are desirable, a website that has high bounce rates (the number of visitors who leave your website after viewing just one page) and low conversion rates strongly indicates that a redesign is needed. Also, be sure that your website aligns with your current branding, value proposition and marketing and business strategies, as well as your product/service offerings.  

4- Your website is not ranking well in search engines – But let’s make this clear – we mean Google. The reasons may be numerous, yet interrelated. Perhaps your website wasn’t originally developed with search engine optimization (SEO) as a consideration, which is typical among amateur web designers (your brother-in-law, for example, who 'did it on the side' for you). However, the same often applies to advertising or marketing agencies that offer web design, but don’t specialize in it. Or the SEO that had been built into your website is outdated, as Google constantly changes its algorithms.

If your website was built with Flash, it definitely needs to be redesigned – immediately. Once very popular, Flash is unreadable by Google and other search engines – which means your site’s pages are, for all practical SEO purposes, invisible. Flash also is not supported on such devices as iPhones and iPads.

5-  Your website is not mobile-responsive – Consumers expect a seamless UX on all mobile devices. Period. Otherwise, you’ll lose out on leads and customers. According to Google, 61% of users are highly unlikely to return to a website that doesn’t work well on mobile, with 40% moving on to visit a competitor’s site.

WEB DESIGN

6- Your website’s content is poor quality – The content marketing adage, “Content is King” holds true. Visitors respond favorably to well-written copy and attractive photos and graphics. Landing pages should have a specific focus and CTA.

7- Are you blogging? If your website doesn’t include a blog, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to improve SEO, as Google rewards fresh content on websites with higher rankings! A blog also helps your business connect with readers and customers by giving them worthwhile information about your business and industry – and, in turn, builds customer relationships while helping to establish you as an expert or thought-leader.

Should any of the above situations apply to your website, leave your brother-in-law to his day job. Virtual Stacks Systems provides comprehensive website services that include redesign, website audit, company rebranding, content writing and digital marketing. With more than two decades of experience in the software industry, we know how to develop a successful online strategy. Contact us today to learn more.

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