Seems far-fetched and think that we must be joking? Well, it is real and there are optimal times to post on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.  After some solid research, guys at Vitrue came up with some really interesting facts that can be helpful for small to medium size businesses that use social media for improving their business reach. There is a lot of information in their report. But let us break down the important elements that may help better position your social media efforts.

Days when the most number of viewers get on Facebook

Image courtesy: Vitrue

Most interactions happen towards midweek with the peak taking place on Wednesday.

Let’s have a look at the times in which most number of interactions happen on a weekly basis.

most number of interactions happen on a weekly basis

There are few peaks in Facebook interaction throughout a day. The peaks happen somewhere around 11.00AM, 3.00PM and 8.00PM EST and there are few factors that contribute to these peaks.

  • The highest peak at 3.00PM EST coincides with noon/lunchtime PST.
  • 11.00AM EST is 8.00AM PST. So East coast is taking a break presumably while West coast is coming online.
  • 8.00PM spike coincides with East coast dinner time and 5.00PM West Coast checkout time.

This is actually a fascinating breakdown of social media interaction in the United States. More information can be found here at Vitrue (Be warned, you have to part with your email address). But what’s more important is how to use this information for better Social Media campaigns.

How to use this information?
It would be a good idea to share information in the morning. In fact, sharing information in the morning is 65% more effective than any time else judging by the flow of shares, likes and comments. Stats aside, sharing information in the morning makes sense because you’d have your information available for a longer time.

Contrary to what someone would expect, Social Media is not so effective during the weekend. It’s quite an irony also because social interactions are deemed to happen during the weekend but apparently not so online.

The most important takeaways are:
Optimize and schedule your posts to go out during the morning for maximum visibility and engagement.

Schedule posts a few minutes before the top of the hour. Most number of people go on Facebook during the 0-15 minutes of each hour so have your content ready for them to share soon before they get on Facebook. It gives a competitive advantage for your business if they see your posts at the top of the updates stack first thing as they log in.

Facebook interaction is fueled by what you offer to your audience to take away. Make your information juicy so the community managers out there share it with their peers. If possible, offer something back to them as tribute for following you. Simple gestures go a long way in customer engagement and customer satisfaction.

Read more of the Vitrue article here.

Writer's BlockWriting a blog post is one of the most painful things that a small business holder might have to do during their already limited work time. But in the current context small businesses rely heavily on their online presence and on SEO for being visible, blogging becomes an essential tool for staying ahead of the competition.

But with limited time being utilized for 1000 different things, how can somebody write a blog post, much less a great blog post?

Well the trick is simpler than you think! Are we talking about hiring somebody to ghost write? Absolutely not. Ghost writers don’t share the same passion as you do about your business. Writing something on your own is something that can give you immense satisfaction and it can also be a good way for you to identify weaknesses of your business and marketing approach.

OK let’s get down to business. The ideal length of a blog post is about 400-500 words. If you are wondering, this post is already 180 words long. One thing that can help you with blog post writing is writing about something you are passionate about. Take me for example. I specialize in Search Engine Optimization and whatever I write about it comes to me naturally.

Don’t try to write about really complex matters in a blog post. A blog is hardly the best place for something like that. If you have a great subject topic, break it down to manageable bits. You’ll find it easy to write, you are going to find more topics to write about and your audience will love you for an easy to read and easy to remember post.

Try to make your blog posts interesting and to the point. It is always a good idea to try to engage your audience in the first paragraph and build your case from that point on. If you know anything about the inverted pyramid model of news reporting, I’m talking about that.

Also, use a couple of images that you might find for free. Try flickr.com or photos.com. You can find images that you can use for free after giving the owners proper credit for their images.

Another important thing you can do is linking back to your older posts. This works for you in several ways.

  1. You give value to blog posts that you’ve written already and get an opportunity to re-index them.
  2. Gives you an opportunity to direct viewers to your old posts that could be related in subject matter and beneficial to the reader.
  3. Those content thieves will be pushed hard to steal your content with their content scrapers.

 

So these are a few things that you can try when you are confronted with writing something for your blog. The best blog posts that I’ve written came off within 60-90 minutes like this one which has taken me about 66 minutes now.  So get cracking and share your experiences with the world (me included).

 

Image Courtesy – PhotoSteve101

With Google’s Matt Cutts admitting that Google is using website speed as a minor ranking factor, there had been quite some noise about page speed among the web design community. Now with the latest stats positively showing the page speed as not so significant as many believed it to be, can it actually affect a website negatively?

Not considering any SEO implications, page speed is an extremely important web usability element. Consider the following example originally published on Master New Media .

Gaze plots from two different users: The blue dots indicate where users looked (one fixation per dot).
  • Screen 1 – The first test participant in the top gaze plot fixated a few times within the big empty color block before the content downloaded, then spent the remaining time looking at the rest of the page. This user never looked at the big promotional space after it had rendered.
  • Screen 2- The second user (bottom gaze plot) happened to be looking away from the screen during the eight seconds when the promotional content downloaded. Thus, the first time he looked at the page he saw it as intended, complete with the entire promo.

The slideshow occupies 23% of the page and the user who had to endure the download delay spent only 1% of her total viewing time within this space.

In contrast, the user who in effect received instantaneous page rendering (because he didn’t look until it was done), spent 20% of his viewing time within the slideshow area.

So in essence if the page speed has been optimized, the marketing team would have seen some more traction with their well planned advertisement. But in this case, all that effort was spent in vain.

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to website speed is “let the audience be in control”. Remember, it’s the audience who interact with the website and it’s them that matters to you or your client. Every second of delay in website speed is a negative impact on the audience and lead them to realize that they are no longer in control. In such case, you or your clients are going to lose credibility which is not helpful at all.

So it might be a good idea to start looking at page speed. There are many free tools to check speed. We use a Firefox plugin called ‘Yslow’. Google is going one step ahead and offering a Page Speed tool for free http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/

Check out this video from the Google dev team.

 

Twitter is one of the fastest growing social media tools. Loved by millions who use it for its simplicity and shortness, Twitter is a far more effective way to communicate with a peer group than Facebook or any other social media.

Twitter’s simplicity should not be underestimated, the real power is in harnessing ones followers. Hypothetically speaking, if Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) were to retweet one of your tweets about your product to his 6.5 million followers, chances are they in turn would retweet the same to their followers. Before you know it a tweet can go viral and be noticed by millions. If a company were to try to reach an audience say of 6 million TV viewers, they’d have to spend some real money. Twitter is free. Unlike many other social media, Twitter is always on the go, things are constantly changing by the second.

The good news is that it is easily accessible. It’s supported by almost all the smart phones and almost any internet device, so keeping your followers up-to-date is easy.

In some cases, Tweeps, as the Twitter users are known, tend to think out loud through their tweets. In fact there are many well documented instances where brands, famous people, journalists, sports personalities among others found themselves saying things that they shouldn’t be saying in the first place. Therefore it is a good idea to read up on twitter etiquette and establish a companywide protocol for tweeting.

So how can a small company find its way in this tweet-maze? It’s not difficult to start, start with meaningful tweets about your industry. No one is going to care if you just picked up Starbucks for the day, so keep the personal stuff away. First it would help to have a good idea what Twitter is and how to use its many unique features. For example, Twitter hash tags and lists are two of the most important weapons in a good tweep’s armory.

Let’s say that your company rents out party equipment. You could tweet about a new line of Gazebos that just came in and tag the tweet with a #gazebo hashtag. So let’s say a user in Miami is searching Twitter for a Gazebo rental in Miami. The tweet could be something like this: “Nice #party by the Virginia Key Beach #Miami under a nice blazing red #gazebo by www.sample.com”. The hashtag gives the user an opportunity to tap into more interesting tweet streams.

Start off by following people in your industry. Always try to keep the Followers and Following ratio close to each other. It is sometimes suspect if someone is following 5000 people but only has 2 followers. Keep posting meaningful content and you’ll see your follower count rising on its own. Share things about your area of expertise; answer general questions on your field; follow hash tags which have a good focused following; (This however does not necessarily include the trending topics!) and be a good tweep in general.

There are a few tools you can use to increase your presence in the Twittersphere. Start with the Twitter business section. It can give you really nice pointers on what you can do on Twitter to promote your business effectively on Twitter. Read this case study on moxsie available on twitter business section.

Take some time off to think through your twitter strategy. It can help you a lot with taking your brand to the next level of online visibility.

Google's panda update

Google updates its indexing and ranking algorithm quite regularly. In fact, they release about 400 new updates typically every year. Most of them are minor tweaks, but once in a while they release updates that are really huge like the Panda update they rolled out recently (early March 2011).
According to Matt Cutts, the head of the Google Web Spam team, the Panda update is in fact an algorithm update geared at taking down low quality content made specifically to rank well for important keywords. Such pages are often monetized using various advertising platforms getting the publishers millions of dollars in revenues in some cases.

With the Panda update, Google believes that it can deliver better search results for searchers and improve their search experience which had come under fire in various instances for not being consistent. For a long time, Google rankings were good for the first page for a given search query; hence the drive for ranking well in the first page of Google results.

So with the Panda update, Google is trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in a bid to improve their search quality. With low quality content given less value in their search index, Google believes that it can provide better web page results.

The Panda update is a blessing for websites that host valuable content for humans, not robots. Most of the sites that are affected are content farms or sites which contain scraped content from all over the web. With the initial roll out of the Panda update in the US, content networks such as Mahalo, Ezine articles and Wisegeek found themselves in hot water with ranking changes from -70% to -94% in some instances.
At the same time, websites with good user generated content have seen their rankings improve. So what’s the bottom line with the Google Panda update?

Well, if you have good content that is not specifically targeted at search engines, you are probably ok. To make sure, check out your Google Analytics to see whether there has been a dip in traffic from US visitors (as the Panda update is currently for US search results, but soon to be rolled out internationally). If so, you might be a victim of the Panda. Even Google has admitted that their new algorithm is not without faults and if you think that your site is a genuine victim, head over to Google Webmasters Tools and submit a reconsideration request.
If you think that there might be a problem with your website, correct any issues and send a reconsideration request and always remember that SEO is all about improving the value of your site for your visitors, not for search engines.

Photo credits JL08

E-commerce WebsitesIt is Thanksgiving Day morning (2010) – Why on earth am I blogging? :)

To our international readers, Thanksgiving day kicks of the season of holiday sales. The Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. Quite a morbid name for a Friday. But the name makes perfect sense – it is the day that retailers turn a profit (black ink on their books) for the year.
BlackFriday sales or BF sales are the big thing for large box stores and large online retailers. Small businesses are usually not a part of the big BF day sales. This year there has been a push to make Saturday the day for Small Businesses to turn a profit for the holiday season.  It has been aptly named “Small Business Saturday”. Then there is Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is the first Monday after Thanksgiving and was primarily the big sales event for online retailers.

The big box stores or big brand online retailers have one thing in common, they have well established brand names. With this comes some well deserved credibility as well. As a shopper, I know that if I order an Xbox 360 with Kinect from Buy.com or Amazon.com – my credit card details are safe and I will end up receiving my super cool Xbox.  That is, if they do not go out of stock.  The big brands remove my online shopping anxiety. Unfortunately if you are a small online store, lack of credibility is the number one factor online shoppers cite as a reason for abandoning their shopping carts.

When I shop at a small business online store, the following comes to mind:

Are these guys legit?
Will they steal my credit card and sell it to the mafia?
Will my Xbox 360 actually make it?
Will it be under warranty?
Will it ship on time?
Can I call these guys?
How long have  they been in business?
What have others said about their experience with this store?
Are they affiliated with any organizations?
What is their return policy?

The questions go on and on. For a small business website, answering the above can be a daunting task.

Here is a quick check list of items to help build Online Credibility

1) Toll- Free Number
Yes a toll-free number(TFN) makes a huge difference. I know almost all cellphone plans and some land line plans offer free minutes and calling a regular number is no big deal. Apart from the obvious statistics of domestic land line users,  TFN numbers (preferably the 1800 ones)  give the business a professional look.  Keep in mind, international callers cannot dial toll-free numbers, so do keep the regular phone number listed on the contact us page or even on the footer of your site.

2) Contact Address
When people visit a brick and mortar business – they know it will be still standing a few months later, should they have any problems with their purchase (well maybe not in this economy, my neighborhood Blockbuster is closing down – who would have thought?) When I visit an online store I want to know where are they located?  If you run a home-based online business get a mail box, rather than expose your home address.

3)  Professional Web Design
This point is often glossed over. But it is crucial to have a professional website and e-commerce design. The entire shopping experience must have the same branding and look and feel. Imagine walking through Target and you stroll into the kitchen Isle and it has the Dollar General’s branding all over. Confusing to say the least.  Select a web designer that knows how to either provide a complete custom e-commerce shopping experience or someone that understands third-party e-commerce tools and can integrate them into your site  seamlessly.

4) Industry Affiliations
Display any industry affiliation logos, such as Better Business Bureau or similar reputable organisations.

5) Shipping & Handling Info
A huge pet peeve of online shoppers is lack of shipping information upfront. Let them know the shipping information as soon as they select a product. This can be done very easily by either having a popup question for their shipping zip code or have a mini cart summary on the right hand side with a button to enter their zip code.

6) Privacy Policy
The simplest and most reassuring privacy policy in laymen terms “We will not sell your information to anyone period”

7) General Terms and Conditions
Any additional legal conditions that must be stated up front.

8 ) Return Policy
Publish your return policy it will save you tons of time in responding to emails over and over about return policies.

9) Operating Hours
A no-brainer  –  important for customer service.

10) SSL Certificate
An SSL Certificate is a must have for e-commerce transactions or any other secure information transactions. If you sell more than $5000 per year of merchandise, get a Verisign SSL cert. It costs a lot more money than other SSL certs but the Verisign seal is synonymous with safe online shopping.

11) Testimonials
Testimonials show that others have had great experiences with the store and put users at ease.

12) Product Reviews
Product reviews can help buyers make informed purchase decisions. Amazon is the perfect example of how well it has used reviews to build its business.  If you are confident about your product, you will get glowing reviews from customers. Occasionally you may get negative reviews if any, try to work with the customer to resolve their problems promptly.

13) Credit Card Security
Every online business has a legal and moral obligation to protect customers information, especially credit card information, social security numbers etc. Our advice to small businesses is to never store credit card information on file, either on a database online or offline at an office computer. However secure you may think it is, it is not worth the ultimate headache of admitting to your customers that their data has been hacked. Always pass on credit card details to a bank or merchant provider to process the information using their secure API’s.

14) PCI Compliance
PCI or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is a set of rules & standards outlined to help prevent Credit Card fraud.  Merchants that do small volume transactions do not necessarily have to comply with PCI standards. However we recommend merchants get an website application scanner similar to Trust Guard to ensure their e commerce app is PCI compliant.

This is not a final and absolute list, there maybe other items that help improve online purchase ratios. Let us know what you’ve done to improve credibility online.

photo credits
Duchamp
Larry Tomlinson