28 Apr 2012

Common Mistakes Made in Ecommerce Site Design


Selling online can open up huge new markets for many businesses. When your store can be open 24/7 and you can reach a global market without the costs of mailings and call centers, it can be a huge boon to your business. But there are plenty of things to consider when designing an ecommerce site. It’s not as simple as throwing up a site and plopping products into a database.
There are tons of mistakes that online retailers make every day, all of them avoidable with a little careful planning. And even if you’re already committing some of these mistakes, most of them are easy enough to fix. Avoiding them will greatly improve the experience of your customers.

Below are some of the most common mistakes that e-commerce sites make, as well as advice on how to avoid or fix them. Take the advice under consideration  when thinking over your current ecommerce site, and make efforts to follow the recommendations outlined here.



1. A lack of detailed product information

When you’re shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, you have the advantage of being able to pick up an item, feel it, look at it from every angle, and read any information on the packaging or labels. Shopping online removes that interaction. Ecommerce sites need to do the best they can to improve upon the in-store shopping experience.
How often have we gone to an online store and found their descriptions to be completely lacking? And if a customer is left wondering about the specifics of a product, they’re more likely to go look for the information elsewhere. And unless your site’s price is significantly lower than your competitors’, they’ll likely just buy from the other site.

What To Do About It

Provide as much product information as you can. Sizes, materials, weight, dimensions, and any other pertinent information depending on what the product is. For example, in an online clothing store, you might include the fabric type, sizes and colours available, a size chart (usually linked from multiple products), the weight or thickness of the item, the cut and fit of the item, care instructions, and comments about the brand or designer. Using descriptive words rather than simply technical terms can have a greater impact on the consumer.
Also see our other article on “how to build a good ecommerce site” particularly the section on “The Value of Content & Marketing”

Examples




























2. Hiding Contact Information

Consumers want to know that they’re dealing with a real company when they hand over their credit card information. They want to know that if they have a problem they’ll be able to talk to a real person and get the help they need. If your site doesn’t provide any contact information, or hides it so the consumer can’t find it easily, they’re less likely to trust your site, and therefore less likely to do business with you.

What To Do About It

Put your contact information in an easy-to-find place on every page of your website. The most obvious places to put your contact information are either in your header, the top of your sidebar, or in your footer. Provide multiple means of contact if possible. A contact form, email address, phone number, and mailing address all add to the level of customer trust. Remember, too, that the more expensive or technical the product you’re selling, the more likely a consumer is going to want more contact information.

Examples




3. An Inadequate Site Search Engine

If a customer knows exactly what they’re looking for, many will opt to use a search engine instead of sifting through categories and filters. You need to make sure that the search feature on your site works well, and preferably has filters for letting customers refine their results.
How often have you searched for a product on a large ecommerce site and been returned with hundreds of applicable results? While the variety of options can be nice, if half of those results are nothing like what you’re looking for, it’s more an inconvenience than anything else. Including a way for customers to filter their search results by category or feature eliminates this problem.

What To Do About It
Ideally, an ecommerce search engine should let users search by keyword and then refine results based on the categories your site includes. 

Examples




4. Poor Customer Service Options

This is similar to the hiding contact information bit above. You need to make it easy for customers to get in touch with you if they have a problem or question. Make it clear what the best way to contact you is if they have a technical question, a sales question, or they want to return an item. Offering a help request form for customers to fill out can instill more confidence than just an email address.

What To Do About It

Use a ticketing system for customer service inquiries, especially if you don’t have a phone number available. Make sure that you post a FAQ that covers common questions customers might have, like what your return policy is or what to do if they need to order parts or replacement items.

Examples


 
5. Tiny Product Images

Since consumers can’t physically handle the products you’re selling before placing an order on your website, you need to do as much as you can to recreate and improve upon that experience. Tiny product images don’t effectively do this.

What To Do About It

Either provide large images right on the product page or allow users to click on an image to zoom in. You want users to be able to view the image as large as is practical on an average monitor. This means an image that is no larger than 1024×768 pixels is a good size to aim for.

Examples



6. Only One Product Image

Unless your product is delivered digitally (and even sometimes if it is), you’ll want to provide multiple images from different angles. An image in each color, of the front, back, and sides, and even detailed shots of specific features can all go a long way toward making a consumer more likely to buy from you.

What To Do About It

This one’s simple: include more images. Four or five images of each product are ideal, offering enough views to allow a consumer to feel comfortable that they know exactly what they’re getting.

Examples



7. Lack of Payment Options

There are plenty of sites out there that only allow users to pay with Visa or MasterCard, or to only pay with a PayPal account. There’s no reason for this anymore. What about the person who has an AmEx and doesn’t have or want a PayPal account? What about the person who doesn’t have a credit card and wants to pay straight from their bank account? You need to provide as many payment solutions as is practical to optimize the number of orders you get.

What To Do About It

Use a payment service that lets customers pay with each major credit card, and preferably also with an electronic check. Adding a PayPal checkout option increases the choices your customers have, making them more likely to purchase from you. Considering different consumers have different preferences when it comes to making online payments, catering to as many as you can means you’ve expanded your customer base.

Both the Payment Gateway Providers SagePay and Paypoint are integrated with PayPal and offer the option to add a PayPal account through the same checkout/card payment page. This allows customers the option to pay by PayPal (from their bank, credit card or existing funds in PayPal) or by credit or debit card.

Example


8. Not Including Related Products

You’ve probably noticed when you go to a brick and mortar store that they group similar products together, or otherwise make it easy for you to find products that are related to you. They’ll put a battery display in the electronics section, or include mobile phone cases near the mobile phones. The same can be done on your website, and can increase add-on sales for you business.

What To Do About It

Manually choosing related products can also give you a big advantage, since you may see relations that a software program doesn’t (such as coordinating clothing pieces to create an outfit).

Examples



9. Confusing Navigation

There’s nothing worse than trying to find a product on a site with confusing navigation. Or even worse, an online store that doesn’t use categories or otherwise separate their merchandise to make it easier to find a specific type of product. The same goes for sites that have categories with no products in them or with only one or two items. Why even bother with a category?

What To Do About It

Think through your groups & categories and navigation elements carefully before you start putting products. Make sure that every category has at least a few products in it, or else group smaller categories together (or include them in larger, similar categories). Make it easy for customers to look through different categories, get to their shopping cart, and otherwise move around your site.

Examples



 
10. Not Including Shipping Rates

There’s no good reason not to include accurate shipping rates on your site. Include your rates on your site, no matter what.
 
What To Do About It

Most major shipping companies and the USPS offer shipping calculators on their website, and there are plugins or widgets available for most major shopping cart systems to figure shipping charges on your site. Use one. If you can’t use one for some reason, then use a flat shipping rate that’s high enough to cover whatever it is you need to ship. For particularly heavy or large items, you can always include a freight surcharge in the price (just be sure to indicate that’s where the additional cost is going).

Examples




11. Not Including Store Policies

Before a customer buys from you, they’ll likely want to know what your shipping policies, return policies, and other store rules are. And there’s no reason not to post this information in a FAQ or somewhere else on your site. Making your store policies clear upfront can save a lot of headaches later on from customers who are unhappy with an order they’ve placed.

What To Do About It

Use an FAQ or store policies section on your site to spell out exactly what your rules are for different kinds of customer interaction. It’s something that can save you tons of problems down the road.

Examples




12. Not Putting Focus on the Products

The goal of an ecommerce site is to sell products (or, at least, that’s what the goal should be). If your site puts more focus on bells and whistles or the design itself, it’s not achieving that primary goal. Make sure your site displays your products first, and everything else second.

What To Do About It

Think about how products are displayed in brick and mortar stores. While an in-store or window display may show a lot more than just the products for sale, they all contribute to showcasing the products in their most flattering light. Do the same with your website. Make sure that every design element present is doing something to showcase your products in their best possible light.

Examples



27 Apr 2012

How to build a good ecommerce site


There are two main parts to selling online:
1.      Getting people to your site
2.      Selling to them once they get there. 

Both need a combination of technical and marketing skills. So either you need to acquire the skills, or buy someone in to help. 

There are already millions of people on the web — in the UK , the figure is around 20% of the population. These people will shop online if it is easier or cheaper. The question is whether you can put a proposition in front of them which is attractive. If you can, they will buy.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the one thing successful ecommerce sites have in common is that they are well marketed. How you market your commerce site must be foremost in your mind and this means knowing who your customers are and understanding their needs.
The key to business success is to think of the customer. Your online shop will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so the convenience factor will lead to more sales. People will also buy because of the couch potato syndrome. There are no parking problems or rainy days buying online.

First steps
The first question to ask is whether your products and services can be sold from a web site. Probably the best way to assess their suitability for ecommerce is to consider their suitability for mail order — the same motivations and limitations apply. For instance, people use mail order because it is convenient — the same applies in ecommerce. For some companies the weight and price of their products make delivery charges too expensive to consider — the same applies to ecommerce. However, creating and publicising an e-commerce site is much less expensive than publishing and distributing a mail order catalogue.
 
Promotion
Setting up a sales web site is like ordering a new line from BT. Sitting by the phone doesn’t make sales - your prospects need your number first. So web site promotion is the crucial ingredient. If nobody visits, nothing will sell.
There are lots of ways of promoting your web site. The most basic is to make sure that your site address appears on every piece of paper that your business produces. If your web site offers an improved service to existing customers, you must tell them, maybe even through a snail-mail shot.
Ironically, there is some evidence that traditional marketing (advertising, promotion etc.) is more effective at generating online sales than internet-based methods. It’s crucial to integrate the promotion of your web site with the rest of your business.
The most attractive and convenient option for publicising your site is on the web itself. By definition, everyone who sees your publicity is on the Net is a prospect. There are various ways of doing this and not one alone should be relied on. For best results use a combination of methods. Favourites include:
  • Registration with search engines which is like adding your own details to the web business indices, such as Google, MSN and Yahoo! This is relatively straightforward to achieve, but the downside is that you are listed alongside every other Net retailer on the planet.
  • Arranging with non-competing sites to have mutual links — they add a link to your site and you add a link to theirs.
  • Contributing to Newsgroup discussions where you can include link back to your site in your signature.

  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising such as Google Adwords 

  • Email campaigns – however be careful not to spam and ensure everyone one you are sending to has subscribed and has the option to unsubscribe or opt out of your mail-shots.

  • Social Media Marketing – get online at Facebook and twitter and communicate directly with your customers and potential customers 93% of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media, according to Cone, while an overwhelming

  • Employ Search Engine Optimisation professionals to optimise your site content and keywords and provide advice on other areas in which you can improve.

  • Uploading your products to Google Shopping Results



The Value of Content & Marketing
We know you are selling products and this is your main content but don’t rely on this alone. Create other content that engages your users.
Content is still key to any website regardless of the nature of it so don’t only create other content to engage optimise what product content there is already as well. Create “user-centric” product descriptions for example that are designed to speak directly to your customer base. Do keep in mind however that you need to do some market research to gain an indepth knowledge of the exact audience you are targeting. At the same time optimise your descriptions to include keywords which describe your products for search engines.
Here’s an example of a user-centric written product description we found online.


The product description assumes that the reader knows a specific set of jargon: How many non-yoga participants would know what downward-dog means? Or “pipes”, as the “Key Features” section refers to arms? This content drives right to the needs and preferences of a very specific user. She wants warmth (four of the “Key Features” note the thermal quality of the product), convenience (pre-shrunk fabric, easy layering), and motivation for an active lifestyle (she recognizes the yoga jargon and enjoys giving her “pipes some air time”).
A rich understanding of the user has made this product page effective and delightfully specific to both the user and the brand.
While a user-centric consideration of product pages is not the only way to go, it does provide a focused approach that has appeared to be effective for some pretty successful e-commerce players. Consistency in product pages is key, especially when building a brand’s presence; a reliable guide can ease the writing process. The user-centric method does require some primary research, but this lays a sturdy foundation by which to gauge every bit of content on the page according to how it benefits the user.
Your goal should not be to sell products, but to sell benefits.
We cannot talk about user experience without touching on content and social media (SoMe). In order to be profitable, eCommerce retailers need to engage customers with their content and use social media outlets within and outside their own websites.
93% of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media, according to Cone, while an overwhelming 85% believe a company should not only have a presence in but also interact with its consumers via social media.
  • 60% of all online adults use social media.
  • 85% believe a company should not only have a presence in but also interact with its consumers via social media.
  • 56% of users feel a stronger connection with, and feel better served by, companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.
When a website such as Facebook, which just turned 5 years old in February, has an active user base of over 175 million people, it is easy to see the unlimited potential to increase your wallet share simply by giving your customers what they want. Some options are:
  • Give your customer the ability to add your website or product detail pages to websites such as Delicious, StumpleUpon, Digg, Twitter and Facebook.
  • Give them the ability to customize their experience on your website. These experiences can range from customizing the home page as they see fit to uploading their image to go beside their product reviews.
  • Create an RSS feed for your website. If your website has a blog or some other content area that changes regularly, give your customers the option to add it to their favorite RSS reader.
They say, “Content is king,” but if you cannot account for your king’s whereabouts, he needs to be beheaded. Your website’s content is only as relevant as its success. So, test as much as you can. Some tests you can perform to get hard data include:
  • Website and email A/B testing
    Split your promotion views between your customers. 50% see version A, and 50% see version B. You can perform these tests for just about any purpose, but make sure your goals are clear before beginning. Figure out what you are trying to solve, and then move forward with the testing. From changing your website’s navigation to simply testing the style of your promotion’s copy, doing an A/B test will give you the relevant data you need to decide whether to update or remain the same.

  • Polls
    Polls are quick and simple but, depending on your pool of users, can give you mountains of data. To get more people to take your poll, consider giving some kind of incentive to participate. Some polls are fun to take, but if you’re asking, “Which brand of television is better?” and not, “Who’s hotter, Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears?” then you may want to think more carefully about how much the feedback is worth.

A good ecommerce site
From our experience most people would define a good site as one that makes plenty of sales or at least adds weight to their existing retail store.
So how can we achieve this? The answer is so obvious that it’s painful, and so little practised that it’s agonising. It’s simply that a sales site should sell from the moment that you arrive. You’ve got to answer the question that everyone has in their mind when they get to your site. What’s in it for me?
So sell on benefits. Why should people buy from you? Are your prices the lowest? Is your service the best? Do you have the largest range available? They won’t buy just because the design looks cool, although they might be put off if it’s so bad that you seem incompetent.
Here are some of more tips for a successful ecommerce site.
  • Keep the clicks to a minimum – this is primarily down to your product groups and navigation so bear this in mind when building
  • Start selling as soon as possible when people reach your site.
  • Address people’s concerns. Some people are worried about credit card security, so reassure them. Some won’t ever buy by credit card over the net, so give them an alternative. Provide a physical address and telephone number as this builds confidence and trust.
  • Keep on asking the question, what would I want if I were the buyer?

Costs
Everything comes with a cost tag, and the web is no different, despite what you might have heard. The main cost related issue is don’t scrimp on marketing.
You should be able to have a sales web site developed for you at around £5,000 plus annual costs of less than £1000. The cost of marketing is on top of this, and depends on the target market, type of product and just how far that you want to go. However, it’s a useful rule of thumb that you need to spend more money on marketing than on the technology. If you expect bespoke ecommerce features in your web-shop expect to pay several thousand pounds worth of development costs on top, or develop them at a later date when your shop has started in bringing money to pay for them.

 Instant fortune?
The internet does not provide a shortcut to an instant fortune. However, like many new technical developments, it does present some serious business opportunities.
It won’t be long before having an online sales capability is as ordinary as a fax machine, and it will be unthinkable to be without one. The only question is whether to leap today or play catch-up tomorrow.
This article has been written by Easitill to try and educate our potential and existing customers.
If you wish to discuss any of this any further with us, please contact us on 01604 881881.

26 Apr 2012

Managing Shopping Cart Abandonment

Recent studies indicate that 7 out of 10 online shopping carts are exited before a sale is completed. This abandonment rate seems to be rising, as online shoppers become more comfortable comparing prices and other product or service attributes.
SeeWhy, a website conversion service, reported that shopping cart abandonment rates rose from about 71 percent in mid-2010 to 75 percent by June 2011. These figures are much higher than the rates of about 46 percent that Forrester Research reported in early 2010.
In the past, each cart abandoned was seen as a sure sign that a sale had been lost, but this may not necessarily be the case.

“Shopping cart abandonment is an important part of the normal buying cycle for many customers and for many types of purchase,” wrote Charles Nicholls, founder and chief strategy officer for SeeWhy in a whitepaper on the topic. “This leads to the conclusion that abandonment, rather than being a rejection of the brand’s value proposition, can be a step in the decision process for some buyers and for the majority of purchases. This is visible in the way that some customers will come back multiple times as they consider the purchase, storing items in their shopping carts as ‘wish lists.’”
While it is important to remove barriers to completing the sale — these barriers are often things like price, shipping rates, user experience, trust, or even having to deal with a multi-page checkout — online retailers may also want to reinforce the buying decision, welcome returning customers back, and being patient about all of those abandoned carts.

1. Support the Buying Decision

Encourage the shopper to return and make a purchase with remarketing and emails.
If, as Nicholls suggests, shopping cart abandonment is part of a natural buying cycle as shoppers either take time to consider the purchase or compare prices, then marketers will want to assure shoppers that buying the product and buying it from the marketer's company is a good choice.
There are a few tactics that can help.
Remarketing seeks to show shoppers display advertising after they have left a site or shopping cart. Specifically, a shopper who abandoned a cart may start to see remarketing ads from the store on other sites. Google AdWords, for example, makes remarketing relatively easy. Marketers place a conversion code on key pages, prepare remarketing ads, and those ads are shown across the Google AdWords network, encouraging the shopper to come back.
SeeWhy found that this sort of remarketing boosted eventual conversions by 18 percent.
“This reinforces the need to follow up immediately on abandoned shopping carts since it’s clear that a customer’s interest in making a purchase goes cold fast,” Nicholls wrote.
It may also be a good idea to email cart-abandoning consumers shortly after they leave a site. As an example Bronto Software, an email-marketing platform, found that about 13 percent of leading brands emailed a shopper within three hours of a cart abandonment.
Collecting an email address early in the checkout process means that the retailer may email even an unregistered shopper, asking, as an example, if there was a technical issue.

2. Welcome Returning Shoppers

Show a returning shopper the cart or product front and center.
If a site recognizes that a particular shopper is visiting for a second time, it can be a good idea to show that shopper a larger than usual link to the cart or even place products from the cart directly on the landing page.
SeeWhy estimated that roughly 90 percent of online sales conversions come from shoppers already familiar with a site.

3. Be Patient

Keep abandoned shopping carts active for at least 60 days.
The longer a virtual shopping cart sits empty, the less likely a shopper is to return, reclaim it, and make a purchase. With this in mind, some sites have a tendency to clean up abandoned carts frequently. There's little reason to do this.
Virtual shopping carts do not typically consume much memory and, generally, have little impact on site performance. SeeWhy suggests keeping a cart active for at least 60 days, giving remarketing campaigns and email follow-ups time to work.


What can you do to keep customers from abandoning your shopping cart? 
Here are some quick tips to help you out.


  1. Give your customers multiple payment options—The more payment options you offer, the more customers you can accommodate. Accept all the major types of credit and debit cards & PayPal.
  2. Ensure your shipping rates are free or low—Did you know high shipping rates are one of the top causes of shopping cart abandonment? By offering your customers low rates they choose the one that’s right for their budget.
  3. Offer a money-back guarantee—Online shoppers are always a little skeptical when making a purchase from a new company. By offering a money-back guarantee (and posting it prominently on your website), you can help ease their concerns by showing them they have nothing to lose.
  4. Be available to answer questions—Make sure to post your phone number and email address prominently on your website so that if a customer has a question or concern when checking out, they can contact you to solve their problem. You may even wish to add a live chat feature to your website for better online customer service.
  5. Include reviews and ratings of your products—Many customers abandon their shopping cart because they want to do some more research before they finalize their purchase. By including more product information on your website in the form of reviews and ratings, your website becomes a better resource, keeping customers from leaving your site and possibly never coming back.
  6. Track your visitors’ actions—Use a website analytics to monitor the actions of your customers. If you notice there’s a particular spot in the checkout process that causes you to lose customers, examine it closely to see how you can correct it.

25 Apr 2012

How to Use Multimedia for Business Marketing

By Lauren Folino and Michelle V. Rafter of inc.com 

Your guide to using photo sharing, video, podcasts, mobile marketing, and other types of multimedia to broaden your company's reach and introduce new marketing techniques.

Multimedia, such as mobile marketing, livecasting and podcasting, photo, video and file sharing, can spread the word about your company and help build brand awareness in a very unique and powerful way. This particular type of social media also has the ability to go viral quickly. Hottrix, the Las Vegas, Nevada-based iPhone app creator, became one example of a breakthrough success story when their iBeer app, which simulates chugging a mug of beer on the iPhone, became one of the most-downloaded apps in 2008, and again in 2009.

However, your company's chances of going viral are left more to fate than skill, but that's no reason to discount the importance of multimedia for your business. The ability of these technologies to facilitate communication between your small business and employees, your customers and potential customers, is tremendous, says Keith Nissen, principle analyst at the Scottsdale, Arizona-based market intelligence firm, In-Stat. 

"When you think about [multimedia platforms] and what that's all about, it's about being able to communicate mass marketing messages to the device of choice on demand," says Nissen. "I think what's more interesting is how these tools can be used in conjunction with other multimedia tools to support the business--the marketing, the sales and promotion of their products and services. To me, that, for a small business, is probably more important than internal communication."

Here's a look at some of the most effective ways to leverage media, such as photos, podcasts, videos, and other types of mobile marketing.

How to Use Multimedia For Business Marketing: Sharing Photos With Your Online Community.

Several online communities exist for the purpose of uploading and sharing photos over the Web, and many small businesses have learned to take advantage of these services to market their products. Here are the most common photo sharing marketing strategies.

1.    Offer real-time incentives. Twitter's TweetPhoto will automatically enable you to publish photos to your Twitter and Facebook accounts for free via mobile and Web platforms. Who needs 140 characters to describe your business when a picture is worth 1,000 words? Tweet pictures of discounted and new items or offer exclusive incentives.

2.    Join like-minded communities. At no cost, Yahoo!-operated Flickr provides a useful platform for photo management and sharing. "The first thing that I tell people is that Flickr is not just a photo storage place," says Matt McGee, independent online marketing consultant of the Tri-Cities, Washington-based, Small Business Search Marketing. "It's a very active community centered around Flickr groups." For example, a pet-lovers group may get a kick out of the clothing and toys created by a boutique pet store.

3.    Drive traffic to your website. Pink Cake Box, a gourmet cake shop located in Denville, New Jersey, began using Flickr in 2006 to build brand identity. Co-owner Jesse Heap says that Pink Cake Box's website receives about 300,000 unique users each month, and roughly 10 percent of those visitors are from Flickr, where the company posts photos of interesting or extreme cakes.
Dig Deeper: Process Old Photos to Digital Format

How to Use Multimedia For Business Marketing: Hosting Videos and Webcasting.

Sharing videos over the Web is another great resource for small businesses in establishing a social media presence, particularly because of how many people are tuning in. According to a November 2009 survey released by comScore, a digital marketing research firm headquartered in Reston, Virginia, Google's many video sites accounted for 12.2 billion videos viewed that month, including YouTube, which accounted for nearly 99 percent of the total.

Webcasting is essentially broadcasting a video or media file over the Internet using streaming media technology, which can be distributed to many simultaneous viewers at once. Done the right way, webcasts, also called video podcasts, vblogs, videocasting or Web shows, can be effective promotional tools. "It's a cool opportunity to take people behind the scenes of a business," says Dina Kaplan, co-founder and COO of blip.tv, a four-year-old Internet TV network. Her network airs video podcasts from hundreds of companies as diverse as the New York City Ballet to the crafter website Etsy, which broadcasts online classes. "It's been interesting to watch, especially in the last year, how many businesses have created Web shows to promote their product or gain exposure for principals," Kaplan says.

Shooting a video for YouTube or starting a more elaborate webcast essentially takes four basic ingredients: equipment, a theme, an online home and marketing.

1.    The equipment. Very small businesses can buy a webcam or camcorder, wireless microphone and simple video editing equipment such as Sony's Vegas Movie Studio or Final Cut Pro 7. However, a webcam limits you to filming yourself sitting in front of a computer, and that's not very exciting, says Peter Brusso, an Anaheim, California, podcasting producer and technology marketing consultant. Instead, invest in a camcorder, preferably a "three-chip" camera that uses three computer chips to separate colors, which results in a higher quality picture, Brusso says.

2.    Hire someone. If you have a bigger budget, hire a professional. Prices run from $1,000 to $15,000, according to podcast industry sources. Employment attorney Helene Wasserman created a video podcast called Employer Helpcast two years ago to market her work as a partner with Ford & Harrison LLP, a Los Angeles law firm. Wasserman uses Brusso's company to produce video podcasts and pays $2,500 for segments that run anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. It's worth the money, she says. "If you're trying to market yourself as having a very professional business, you want to put your best foot forward," she says.

3.    The show. You could have the best-looking video around, but it wouldn't matter if you didn't do something that was interesting and consistent, says blip.tv's Kaplan. For webcasts, stick to a regular broadcast schedule, whether that's once a day, week or month. And keep shows short. "Your aptitude for sitting in your uncomfortable office chair atrophies after about six minutes," she says. Be personable, says Kaplan, who advises podcasters to stick to the old news adage to show, not tell. If you run a retail business, walk around the store, and talk about new merchandise. "Talk to a customer. If you have a hardware store, show them the new hammer on sale," she says.

4.    Hosting and marketing. Once you've got a video in the can, upload it for free on YouTube where it can be viewed by anyone. Webcasts can also be uploaded to free or paid hosting sites such as blip.tv, iTunes or Libsyn. Where a podcast is hosted isn't as important as spreading the word that it's there. Wasserman's podcasts appear on blip.tv and iTunes and cover workplace issues such as job sharing, corporate culture and managing a multi-generational workforce. Wasserman points prospective viewers to the podcast from her website and blog and by including a tagline promoting the show in her email signature. Wasserman also uses a free service that puts word-for-word transcripts of her video podcasts on the Web, where they can be searched by Google and other search engines. More people find her podcast through search engines than by visiting blip.tv or her website, and the traffic had led to speaking engagements and new work, she says. "It's the wave of the future. For anyone who wants to use 21st century technologies, this is the way to go."
Dig Deeper: Can Video Help Searchers Find You?

How to Use Multimedia For Business Marketing: 4 Good Reasons to Go Through the Trouble of Creating a Video.

1.    Show how to use your product. With a slogan as simple as "Broadcast Yourself," many YouTube users are doing just that, especially when it comes to showing how their products or services can be used. "There are countless small business owners posting how-to videos on YouTube," says McGee. "[For instance,] here's how to use the product; here's how to interact with people in our service industry."    

2.    Extend your client base. In December 2007, John Tuggle, a slide and blues guitar instructor based in Decatur, Georgia, began posting videos on YouTube teaching people how to play guitar because he wasn't generating enough interest in his hometown. By February 2008, interest in his lessens grew so much that he created LearningGuitarNow.com where visitors contacted him regularly for private lessons via Skype at the rate of $25 for 30 minutes. "I just kept [talking to people] and kept putting more out, and figuring out what people wanted. Last year I pulled in almost $100,000 from the website," said Tuggle.

3.    Entertain your customers. It is quite easy to post a video simply for visitors' enjoyment. For instance, Vimeo, a video hosting site that aims to be a "community of creative people who are passionate about sharing the videos they make," features a 'Videos we like' tab. For a small business owner, posting a video for entertainment purposes stands to generate many views, which in turn may spark interest in the company and possibly lead to the purchase of products or services.

4.    Provide a unique service. LiveCast, with headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, enables live video streaming directly from a cell phone, mobile Internet device, or Mac or PC, to anyone connected to the Web. For Gordon Cooper, photographer and founder of Perfect Wedding magazine, live broadcasting gives his business a unique capability. "I can have all the guests at the wedding even if they're not at the wedding," says Cooper. "Guest can still experience the live ceremony [from wherever they are]." Cooper is able to charge an additional $250 for this service.
Dig Deeper: Marketing Your Business on YouTube

How to Use Multimedia For Business Marketing: Podcasting

Podcasts have become such a popular marketing tool for sole proprietors and small businesses that a small army of professional producers is out there waiting to help. Here are 9 essential steps a company needs to get started:

1.    Do some homework. The best way to learn about podcasting is to listen to podcasts, says Peter Brusso, an Anaheim, California, podcasting producer and technology marketing consultant. Visit directories such as RSS Player or Libsyn and look for podcasts with a similar style or subject to you want to create, Brusso says.

2.    Decide on a topic. Podcasts could focus on a company's products or services, an industry or on management or professional issues. Whatever the topic, make sure it's related to a company's business in some way, says Sallie Goetsch, proprietor of The Podcast Asylum, a northern California podcast producer and consultant.

3.    Gather your tools. Producing a podcast requires:
•    A microphone, digital audio recorder or USB headset to record podcast episodes
•    Computer with sound card and high-speed Internet connection
•    Audio recording and editing software, either licensed software or free open-source programs such as Audacity.

4.    Be natural. When it's time to record a podcast, organize talking points, but don't use a script. "People don't like being sold. The more from the heart the better," Brusso says.

5.    Build a backlog. Before going live, build up a catalog of a dozen or more episodes. Coming up with ideas is easy, Brusso says. They can spring from talking to customers, going to conventions, reading trade magazines, or following current events.

6.    Be consistent. Length, professional quality, and subject matter of a company's podcast are important but not as much as on-air consistency. Whether it's once a day, once a week or once a month, pick a schedule and stick to it. Podcasts are like radio or TV shows: audiences expect a schedule. Disappoint them and they might not come around again, Brusso says.

7.    Not a D-I-Y type? Hire a pro. Professional producers can handle the technical aspects of starting or creating a podcast. Goetsch and partners Priscilla Rice and Michele Molitor, for example, offer a small-business podcast starter package for $1,100 that covers scripting and recording three to four podcasts plus lots of extras, including finding a hosting service, setting up a podcast blog and submitting broadcasts to podcast directories. Brusso, who works with lawyers and other sole proprietors, charges $1,000 for an hour-long podcast with similar extras. But it doesn't have to be expensive. According to Goetsch, a small businessperson could do everything themselves with an existing computer, $20 headset, free software for audio editing and creating a podcast, and host it on their existing website.

8.    Find your podcast a home. Companies can physically host a podcast anywhere, including with the service they use for their website. What really matters is getting the word out that it's there. For maximum exposure, list podcasts on directories such as PodcastAlley.com, Podcast411, Podanza or TalkShoe.

9.    Forget about making money, at least not directly. Some podcasts collect revenue from advertising that podcast directories put on their sites. But that shouldn't be why a company does it. Podcasts should be part of a company's overall marketing strategy, Brusso says. "To get yourself known, you have to blog, optimize your Website for search engines and podcast," he says. "If you do all three the results are phenomenal."
Dig Deeper: 10 Tips to Better Podcasting

How to Use Multimedia For Business Marketing: Mobile Marketing

There are 4.1 billion cellular connections worldwide, and with the prevalence of smart phones, the concept of browsing the Web from a mobile phone has gone mainstream. Consider this: Mobile phone carriers are sitting atop a trove of data – not just your name, address, and, of course, phone number but also credit card information, who your friends are, and where you're located at this very moment. Even with privacy regulations, more of this information will become available to marketers as phones are used more like little PCs, creating opportunities for highly targeted ads and other marketing breakthroughs.

Here's what you need to know to get started.

•    How exactly do I advertise on a mobile phone? The most common type of mobile ad is a display ad served on a Web page called up on a cell phone's screen. The ads are created for the site's mobile format and may not be the same as the ads you would see if you were browsing the site on a PC. Ads are priced on a Cost Per Mille, or CPM, basis – the price you pay for the ad to be seen 1,000 times.

•    How do I buy mobile ads? Most advertisers work with mobile-ad networks, which bring together advertisers and websites that are frequently viewed by phone. Some of the larger players, which are owned by the likes of Google (AdMob), AOL (Third Screen Media) and Apple (Quattro Wireless), will act as full-service marketing shops. They handle the entire process, including technology, the creative content of mobile ads, and the ads' placement.

•    What do mobile ads cost? The cost of mobile ads varies due to the different types of ads, and different cell phone platforms. For instance, AdMob, one of the main mobile-ad networks, currently charges CPMs of $12 to $14 for iPhone banner ads.

•    What about text messaging? One option is to buy or rent a short code, a five- or six-digit phone number from which you can send and receive text messages. One common way to use a short code is to publish it on a billboard or in a print ad ("Text 51234 for more information") that encourages customers to enter a contest or participate in a poll.

•    What does a short code cost? Cellit Mobile Marketing, in Chicago, and Movo, in Florida, sell short codes for $500 to $1,000 per month, plus a one-time setup fee of a few thousand dollars and a charge of 4 cents to 7 cents for each text message. You can also rent a code for as little as $225 per month. Keep in mind that technological standards vary. Nearly every phone on the market is equipped to send and receive texts, but some systems won't let you embed complex graphics or photographs.

•    How do I go after my best customers on a mobile phone? Google has expanded into the mobile world in several ways. Now, it allows companies to buy display ads – ads related to content – on the mobile Web. AdMob claims click-through rates on this type of ad of up to 3 percent, which is quite high. The company charges a cost-per-click (CPC) fee of 25 cents to 30 cents.
Dig Deeper: 6 Services to Help You With Mobile Marketing

How to Use Multimedia For Business Marketing: 3 Tips for Making Your Mobile Campaign Successful

1.    Determine your goals. Who is your target audience? How will they benefit from your message? Do you hope to generate revenue, generate interest, generate traffic to your website, or all three? Define your goals and set benchmarks for what a successful campaign would look like.

2.    Choose your message. Your message should have a clear call to action. According to mobile marketing firm Punchkick Interactive, "over 90 percent of texts from SMS messaging campaigns are read by recipients, generating average response rates of 15 to 30 percent or more." With the potential for that kind of penetration, it would help to make sure your campaign is simple, memorable, and factual. One thing every local business should be doing, says James Citron, CEO of mobile video marketing firm Mogreet, is attach keywords to their mobile campaigns that will resonate with customers in order to create brand awareness.

3.    Pair your mobile marketing campaign with other social media. When Casa Del Mar, a luxury beach hotel located in Santa Monica, California, wanted to get the word out about drink specials, they doubled up on social media marketing. The hotel posted messages on Twitter and Facebook saying, "Text CASA to 21534 and enjoy unlimited champagne or Bloodys. FREE." Customers who texted received videos of the weekend brunch spread on their phone and received the beverage of their choice at the hotel. The end result was highly viral, with 250 redemptions.



Resources

Photo Sharing
•    Twitter's TweetPhoto will automatically enable you to publish photos to your Twitter and Facebook accounts for free via mobile and Web platforms.

•    Yahoo!-operated Flickr provides a useful platform for photo management and sharing.

•    Photobucket is a free image hosting site that enables visitors to share photos, videos and slideshows. Plus, you can search through their archives for inspirational or fun photos for your own viewing pleasure.

•    TinyPic is another image hosting site that allows you to share photos and videos for no cost at all. You can easily upload, link, and share your images and videos on MySpace, eBay, blogs, message boards, and a number of other Web-based platforms.

•    Snapfish provides unlimited free photo storage and photo sharing, as well. They also offer a feature called 'Snapshow,' which works as a free multimedia slideshow that brings your photos to life, with customized themes, songs and titles.

•    Shutterfly is an online photo sharing platform that also allows you to share sites, albums and projects for free.
Hosting Videos and Webcasting
•    With the tagline "Broadcast Yourself," YouTube allows users to post video, both ametuer and professional, for anyone to view.

•    Blip.tv's Learning Center links to information about podcasting, equipment, production tips and more.

•    Yahoo's video blogging list is a message board where people interested in video podcasting post questions and trade information.

•    Leesa Barnes, a noted author and expert, provides an informational website with the tagline "Make Selling Fun and Profitable Using a Podcast."

•   iTunes Store, an online digital media store operated by Apple, is the No. 1 music vendor in the United States, however it also provides video and podcast downloads as well.
Podcasting
•    RSS Player Podcast Client for the iPhone and iPod Touch is a unique iPhone app that lets you subscribe to to your favorite podcasts, manage them, and listen to them in a unique and well designed format for the iPhone with tons of cool features.
•    Libsyn is a full-featured service tailored specifically for media self-publishing and podcasting. Price is based on usage, changing monthly if needed.
•    PodcastAlley.com is the best site to find all your Podcasts, podcast feeds, podcast definitions, podcast software and best podcast directory.
•    Podcast411 offers the 411 on podcasts, podcasters and podcasting. It's the place to learn to podcast. They offer how to's on podcasting, a directory of podcasts, and a directory of podcasts.
•    On Podanza you'll find all the best audio podcasts and video podcasts. You can browse the podcast directory or search for your favorite podcast.
•    TalkShoe is a service that enables anyone to easily create, join, or listen to live interactive discussions, conversations, podcasts and audioblogs.
•    PodcastFAQ is a website committed to providing everything you need to know about podcasting, from podcast creators and consumers to businesses.

•    Everything With Podcasting is a website companion to the book How to do Everything with Podcasting by Shel Holtz with Neville Hobson.

•    Podcasting consultant Sallie Goetsch's humorous take on how not to podcast, from her Podcast Asylum site.
Mobile Marketing
•    Google (AdMob), AOL (Third Screen Media) and Apple (Quattro Wireless) will act as full-service marketing shops by handling the entire process, including technology, the creative content of mobile ads, and the ads' placement.
•   Cellit Mobile Marketing and Movo sell short codes for texting campaigns.