How much does SEO cost?

How much does SEO cost?

Marcus Miller on July 7, 2017 at 11:19 am

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How much does SEO cost?
How much does SEO cost? It’s the proverbial, “How long is a piece of string?” question. And if you think about it, this is not without good reason. SEO is not as easy to nail down as, say, sending out a direct mail campaign to 100 recipients. In some ways, it is not always as easy to measure, as many marketing activities may impact organic search traffic.

The cost of SEO is also directly related to the potential rewards. Ranking nationally for a highly prized keyword that may be £10 per click in AdWords will have far more costs associated with it than ranking for a locally oriented keyword. But even on a local level, there can be huge variability — and whether you want to rank in a state, county, city, town or micro-area like a borough or village will influence how difficult this will be. This, of course, influences the price of SEO for your unique situation.

In this post, I am going to look briefly at the benefits of organic search via SEO to better frame the question, how much does SEO cost? My goal here is to help you make an educated decision regarding how much you should be investing and how you measure results.

Whether you are a local business, small business, national business or even international business, I hope this guide will help you determine what your investment should look in organic search.

SEO prices: What determines cost?
SEO pricing has to consider the following variables:

Situation. Where are you currently?
Objectives. Where do you want to be?
Timeline. How fast do you want to improve?
Only by looking at these three elements can any agency calculate how much SEO should cost for your business.

Let’s consider the following example:

A local business site currently ranks in the 12th position for their main target keyword (and variations thereof).
Competitors on first page have more links and higher authority metrics.
Competitors have invested more in local SEO.
With this information, some metrics can be determined:

An approximate amount of links
An idea of how much work is needed on the local SEO front
A rough timeline to achieve this
By analyzing a client’s current situation, understanding their objectives and determining the required timeline, we can calculate a price. There are lots of variables here, and we don’t always know what our competitors are doing, but an attempt should be made to calculate the level of work required and subsequent price.

And of course, the industry will in part determine costs. If you make $100 from a new customer, you can expect to pay less than if a customer is worth several thousand dollars. The marketplace, to some extent, regulates price (assuming the work is done properly). It is all about return on investment.

The last variable is maintenance and keeping your flag flying once visibility has been achieved. SEO is a moving target. You step up your game, and the competition does the same. It’s tough, and the best approaches need to be tailored to the unique situation and goals of the business.

This is why simple SEO KPIs like keyword rankings are not enough, and a more considered approach to measuring SEO success is almost always required to track progress.

High-quality SEO vs. cheap and nasty
Which brings us to the other key variable here: quality. A little story here may help illustrate the qualitative issues that still abound in the SEO industry.

This week, a local PPC client of ours called us up and detailed a sales call they had received from a local SEO firm. This firm was trying to sell them SEO and detailed the process that they would use to build backlinks. The gist of this process was to find relevant websites that had expired, buy those sites, and then place content on them that links to the target site.

This is essentially a PBN (Private Blog Network), a network of sites that is under the control of a single entity (in this case, the SEO company) and used to artificially build links. This approach has many names: link farm, link network, blog network and so on. This is what Google would classify as a link scheme, and it’s something they have been targeting with manual penalties and algorithmic adjustments since 2014.

Thing is, this client was sold. They wanted it. After all, it sounded too good to be true. But when things sound too good to be true, they often are. Really, alarm bells should have been ringing when this supposed SEO company was doing speculative telesales. But that is a whole other story.

The point here is that there are services in the UK that offer SEO for £50 ($65) per quarter. Or £15 a month. Realistically, what kind of marketing can be done for £15 a month? These services are either doing nothing or utilizing owned networks of sites to add links.

At best, they are largely ineffective. At worst, you could end up with a penalty or some form of negative equity. Cheap, yes. Nasty, most definitely. If you are building a long-term business, you don’t want to focus on these bottom-of-the-barrel strategies.

The takeaway here is that you are responsible for what is done in your name. If you employ a cheap SEO company and don’t do the research, then this will be very much your problem when things don’t work (or you are penalized).

If you are building a business, you need to play by the rules of the biggest marketing platform out there. And the rules are not always terribly clear. But think in terms of value and common sense, and you won’t fall foul of the thousands of frankly unethical, back-street SEO companies out there.

It is not all bad news, though. There are over 5 million small businesses in the UK and around 30 million in the US, and the majority of these have really poor SEO. So, the barrier to entry here is often not terribly steep. Just remember the four variables of situation, objectives, speed and quality.

Enough already! How much does SEO Cost?
Caveats aside. The following is based on our experience and the studies we have been able to plunder to get some data.

SEO prices in the US

There is more data out there regarding SEO prices in the US than in the UK. Moz published the results of a survey on SEO providers that included pricing, and it showed a huge range of monthly pricing. These prices are not specific to small businesses, but still, they give us an idea.

Survey Question: For those clients you service with ongoing/multi-month contracts, what is the average client’s monthly billing?

10% — less than $500
27% — $500-1,000
29% — $1,000-2,500
20% — $2,500-5,000
15% — $5,000-10,000
There is a lot of variation out there, but the majority of businesses are spending less than $5,000 per month on SEO in the US based on this survey. Forty percent of these people are spending less than $1,000, which is where the truly small businesses and startups often lie. Remember, these prices likely map to the level of difficulty and scope of the project. Those paying less than $500 per month are probably local businesses!

SEO prices in the UK

There is no study as such, but being at the helm of an SEO and PPC agency and having worked with thousands of businesses over the years, I do have some insight into what pricing looks like.

£50-£150 per month — low-end SEO (or low competition)
£150-£300 per month — mid-range small business SEO
£300-£500 per month — more competitive mid-range SEO
£500-£1,000 per month — high-end small business SEO (usually a national business)
£1,000-£2,000 per month — high-quality for competitive industries
£2,000 upwards per month — high-value businesses with content-led SEO approach. Typically a national or multi location business.
In practice, what we see is that the general street-level SEO companies tend to work from £300 upwards. Then there are some online small business SEO providers that work from around £50 to £150 per month. It is hard to know what some of these actually do to add value.

What should you be spending?

The prices above are all relative, though. If you are a small but national business in a competitive space, then you are going to need to pay more for SEO than a small business in a local space. Think e-commerce online store versus a local plumber. The size of your market and potential profit will to some extent dictate what you should be spending to be in the running.

So, what should you pay? How do you determine the value of SEO? The only true answer to this question lies in your business and current situation. If profits are big, expect more competition. If profit is low, then typically, there will be less competition. If you have a long way to go, expect to pay more than if you just need a final push into the top three.

Ensure that your provider explains to you how they calculated which service(s) you need, and avoid the very low end of the marketplace, as the automation required to deliver SEO at $50 per month or some such will often lead to problems down the road.

The project management triangle as it relates to SEO is useful here:

How much does SEO cost
SEO & web design
The above mainly looks at the monthly costs of SEO assuming a well-optimized website is already in place. If that is not the case, you may need to consider the costs to build an SEO-friendly website. Your website is your home online and is central to your SEO efforts. A well-optimized website platform that delivers amazing usability for mobile users is crucial. This can be a big investment, but a website that is not built with search and happy users in mind is an SEO wooden leg.

ROI: Why ‘How much does SEO cost?’ is not the right question
At the end of the day, return on investment (ROI) is what matters. If a lead costs you $20 from paid search, $15 from social ads or $5 from organic search, then organic is a highly valuable channel which offers the best overall return on investment.

Measuring these factors is not always easy but is absolutely essential to understanding what the return is on all your digital marketing activities. And for the many customers we serve at Bowler Hat, SEO and organic search still tend to deliver the best overall ROI. This is true when we look at brand awareness, engagement and across the full spectrum of conversions from lead generation to sales.

I would love to hear what you pay currently and your experience with SEO. You can catch me on Twitter or LinkedIn, and I am always more than happy to natter about SEO, PPC or digital marketing.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

 

White Hat SEO Techniques: It’s Not About Gaming Google

White Hat SEO Techniques: It’s Not About Gaming Google

SEO isn’t about gaming Google. It’s simply about creating content that people want and that satisfies their search intent.
Looking at SEO from this perspective can make it easier to understand and easier to execute white hat SEO techniques. By putting aside the spammy tactics of yesteryear, you can produce and publish customer-focused content without that scammy vibe.
Now let’s talk about how to know what content topics people want.
White Hat SEO Technique #1: Use Keyword Research to Discover Content Demand
A little keyword research can go a long way in helping you understand what your audience wants.
Not only will you find topics that are frequently searched, you’re also likely to stumble on search language they are using that you might not have anticipated. One reason for this–your knowledge and expertise in your industry is deeper than theirs. The language you use is probably industry jargon that your audience doesn’t use. This is a great opportunity for you to find long tail keywords that your audience can understand, and create content that speaks to them.
Creating content using language your customers use is as white hat as it comes. Forget stuffing your content with a single keyword over and over again. This is about meeting customers on their turf, speaking to them naturally and in terms they understand.
White hat do’s:
Do — choose to target keywords that are fairly popular. The ease of ranking for those keywords will depend on the competitive strength of your site. Be realistic in how high of a competition level you can take on and still get results.
• Check out: Find the Best Keyword for your Website
• Try: Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty Tool
Do — include the target keywords in all the right places–URL, title tag, alt images, body content, etc.
• Check out: The 25-Point SEO Checklist You Need to Drive More Traffic
Do — use other keywords that are related to your target keyword within the body of your content.
Example: If you’re writing a post about doing a competitive analysis, you should also include related terms like competitive analysis report or competitive analysis example.
Do — use the target keyword in the anchor text of internal links to the new content.
Black hat don’ts:
Don’t — aim for quantity over quality. With all the searches Google receives every day, you can be certain its algorithms understand synonymous phrases. Instead of repeating the same keyword phrase as often as possible, use like-keywords to reinforce what your content is about.
Now that you know what your audience is searching for, let’s talk about what they want to find.
White Hat SEO Technique #2: Create SEO Content That Answers The Search Intent
You don’t need to be a technical genius to do SEO right. Like most marketing disciplines, a little bit of empathy for the user searching can go a long way to getting results in SEO.
Think from the perspective of the searcher.
• What are they looking for?
• What are the problems they are seeking advice or solutions to?
• Are they looking for advice, or are they looking to buy something?
Search intent tends to fall into one of these categories:
• Learn something
• Find solution to a problem
• Purchase something
When evaluating your list of keyword opportunities, think about whether a person searching that phrase is hoping to learn something, find a solution to a problem, or make a purchase.
The phrase they’ve entered reveals a lot about their intention.
When you create your SEO content be sure to give users what they are looking for. If they are looking for an educational “how to” article, don’t create content that pushes a sale.
White hat do’s
Do — think of your content as a Q & A. The keyword query is the question. Your content is the answer.
Do — be a useful resource by giving the searcher what they want.
Do — be clear in your title tag and meta description about what your content promises.
Black hat don’ts
Don’t — bait and switch the searcher with misleading click-bait titles. Your title should always tie directly to your content. If it doesn’t, the visitor is more likely to bounce, sending Google a signal that your content didn’t serve their search interest. As a result, Google will drop your position in the SERPs like a hot potato.
White Hat SEO Technique #3: Help Google Know What Your Content is About by Getting Votes of Confidence
Google needs to know what your content is about in order to place it in the right SERPs for the right search terms.
One way it does this is through on-page signals–things like the inclusion of keywords in the URL, title, body content, etc.
Another way is through on-site signals–internal links from related pages on your site using anchor text that is descriptive of the content (i.e. it includes the target keyword).
And then there are off-site signals–inbound links from 3rd party trust-worthy sites that have related content linking to your content. A 3rd party citation of your content tells Google that a real, live person who created it thinks your content truly is about “xyz” (aka your keyword).
This is the origin of SEO’s spammy reputation. Bad-actors manipulated off-site signals by fabricating inbound links with things like link farms–clearly not living, breathing humans giving a vote of confidence that the content is indeed about what you claim it to be.
As a result, Google has put great effort into knowing when an inbound link is from a quality, trust-worthy site, versus a fabricated link purely for manipulative gain. The former helps you. The latter hurts you.
So when you hear the term “link building,” forget those old school black hat tactics. The game has changed. When done right, link building can be an extremely powerful way to boost search rankings. As a bonus, it could drive referral traffic too.
The key here is in building relationships and reaching out to bloggers and journalists to let them know about your awesome content. We’ll need to write a whole other post on white hat link building.
But the point is–
If you followed #1, you’ll have content that’s in demand–and the bloggers you reach out to will know their audience enough to know that.
If you followed #2, bloggers will appreciate the resourcefulness of your content and be more likely to cite it when it is relevant and complimentary to the content they are creating.
White hat do’s:
Do — reach out to influencers to let them know about your content, pointing out why it might add value to their content.
Do – personalize your outreach in a genuine, one-on-one way that shows you know the blogger.
Do — be patient. Building mutually beneficial relationships takes time.
Black hat don’ts:
Don’t — send mass emails to influencers with no personalization. It won’t be effective. It won’t get you to the top of Google. And you’ll burn bridges in the process.
Summary of a White Hat SEO Strategy
In sum, you can practice good SEO without feeling like a spammer if you follow white hat SEO strategies. In fact, the more you focus on serving the searcher’s needs, the more you’ll benefit. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.
• The searcher gets what they want–an answer to their search
• Google gets what they want–satisfied searchers (aka happy customers)
• You get what you want–top rankings on Google and “free” organic traffic

 

 

5 Content Marketing Ideas for August 2017

5 Content Marketing Ideas for August 2017

JULY 10, 2017 •

For many businesses, content is marketing, an integral part of nearly all of the company’s promotional activities. While this can be good for a business, helping to create long-term customer relationships, it requires a steady flow of interesting content ideas.

Content marketing is the act of creating, publishing, and distributing content — such as articles, videos, and podcasts — with the specific aim of attracting, engaging, and retaining customers.

In August 2017, your business might write articles or produce videos around back-to-school topics, suggesting travel or leisure activities, in honor of beer, or even to help shoppers achieve their dreams.

1. Back-to-school Articles and Videos

August is prime time for back-to-school shoppers. In fact, in June 2017, Fox Business reported that 2017 back-to-school retail sales might reach $857 billion.

As much as 8 percent of those retail back-to-school dollars will be spent online. In 2016, the National Retail Federation estimated that parents will make back-to-school purchases from an average of three different online stores.

Back-to-school sales are important to many retailers. So why not develop content that helps shoppers make good back-to-school choices?

Back-to-school sales are important to many retailers. So why not develop content that helps shoppers make good back-to-school choices?

Content can influence back-to-school retail sales. Perhaps as many as 50 percent of teenaged students will look on social media and blog sites for back-to-school fashion advice, and parents are likely to visit sites and read product reviews.

In early August, publish helpful and informative back-to-school articles or videos meant to help shoppers make good product choices. Here are a few examples of back-to-school article or video titles to inspire your back-to-school content.

  • “10 Back-to-school Supplies Your Teacher Will Forget”
  • “Do the Clothes Make the Student? 5 Ways Fashion Influence Grades”
  • “Are Old School Backpacks Hurting Kids?”
  • “The College Student’s Guide to Life in a Dorm”

2. Travel and Leisure Suggestions

August is one of the most popular travel months. Folks are apt to take a short break or vacation before kids head back-to-school and routines are established. So it is a good time to publish travel and leisure activity suggestions.

Porto, Portugal is one of the secret cities Mr. Porter recommends for August travel.

Retailer Mr. Porter, which has long been a standout example of a company using content marketing, published eight travel and leisure articles in August 2016. Use Mr. Porter’s examples to come up with your own travel content.

3. International Beer Day: August 4, 2017

First celebrated in August 2008, International Beer Day aims to achieve three goals. It should (a) bring friends together for fellowship and a delicious beer or two, (b) celebrate the folks who brew and serve beer, and (c) bring attention to beer from all nations.

In 2017, pubs and breweries in an estimated 200 cities worldwide will participate. This growing event can be an opportunity for your content marketing.

International Beer Day could be the source of several articles.

International Beer Day could be the source of several articles.

Your articles, posts, or videos might:

  • Describe International Beer Day and how to celebrate,
  • Cover the history of brewing,
  • Discuss beer, for example, what’s the difference between a lager and an ale?

4. Aspirational Articles

If you look the word “aspirational” up in a dictionary, you’ll find definitions like “having a desire to achieve social prestige and material success.” One might also say that aspirations are goals, ambitions, or even dreams.

Many content marketers have reported success with content that lets folks dream. Writing in his book, “Content Inc.,” Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, recommends focusing some of your content on aspirations.

“More and more, I find that the best Content Inc. programs revolve around aspirations, not needs. I’ve been guilty of telling marketers to ‘focus on customer pain points’ since, well, forever. Focusing on pain points gets you to the front door.”

“To get to the heart of your customers’ needs, you have to focus on what they want to be and help them get where they really want to go.”

REI's detail guide to planning for a trail run can help readers achieve a goal, like aspiring to run races.

REI’s detail guide to planning for a trail run can help readers achieve a goal, like aspiring to run races.

Aspirational articles should still be practical and useful. Here are a few examples.

5. Videos for Top Products

Product content can be part of your content marketing plan, too. In August, pick your top 10 products and produce an informative video that showcases the item.

If you need an example, check out West Elm’s Crosby Mid-century Sofa. The product detail page includes a YouTube video that describes the sofa, explaining options and helping shoppers connect with the product.

11 New Social Networks for 2017

11 New Social Networks for 2017

JULY 24, 2017 •

Exploring new social networks can help you find ways to talk with your customers or team members and discover new places to promote your brand. It will also help you keep up to date on how people are choosing to communicate with each other.

Here is a list of new social networks. There are apps for video chatting, communicating in virtual reality, meeting interesting people, talking with your followers, building your team, social shopping, and communicating with your favorite baseball players.

Mastodon

Mastodon.

Mastodon is a free, open-source social network that’s a decentralized alternative to commercial platforms. It’s similar to Twitter, but with a more community-based structure. Mastodon features chronological timelines, 500 characters per post, public timelines, short videos, open API for apps and services, no ads, and no tracking. Anyone can run her own Mastodon instance and participate in the social network seamlessly.

Amazon Spark

Amazon Spark.

Spark is Amazon’s new social feature to improve product discovery and social shopping. Users are encouraged to post photos of their favorite products, which others react to with comments and “smiles.” The feed-style interface is similar to Instagram. Amazon Spark is available in the Amazon App for iPhone.

Mottle

Mottle.

Mottle is a place for spur-of-the-moment conversations with interesting people. Click on a user to start an audio call, and talk for as long as you like. At the end of the call, you’ll both be asked to rate each other. The higher your score, the higher your tier and the better your access to other people.

Airtime

Airtime.

Airtime is an app for social video and sharing in real time. Watch videos and listen to music together while chatting. With the signal button, your contacts are just a tap away. Pull people together when you’ve got something to say or show. Airtime is backed by Google Ventures.

FreshTeam

FreshTeam.

FreshTeam is a messaging app for teams. You see your team on a map, have group calls, and do other amazing things not possible with texts or email. Subscribe for $9.99 per month to set FreshTeam Places for your office, customer sites, and more. Get alerts when team members are at nearby Places. Your subscription also includes unlimited group calling.

YouTube Community

YouTube Community.

The new Community tab on your YouTube channel gives you a new, simple way to engage with your viewers and express yourself beyond video. Now you can share text, live videos, images, animated GIFs, and more — giving you easier, lightweight ways to engage with your followers, between uploads, in real time. Viewers are able to see your posts in the subscriptions feed on their phones. They can also opt into getting a notification any time you post.

Who’s In

Who’s In.

From Microsoft, Who’s In is a new social networking app for iMessage that helps users plan group events. Activities are divided into different categories, such as “Eat and Drink” and “Visit an Attraction” — or you can create your own. Find activities with Bing, suggest times to meet, then sit back as your friends vote for the best option.

Workplace

Workplace.

Workplace by Facebook is a social network to connect your whole organization with familiar tools. Groups help you make decisions quickly and keep your team on the same page. Live video lets you broadcast to your entire business from the camera in your pocket. Multi-company groups let you collaborate with people from any other business that uses Workplace. News feed shows you the most important things across your business as they happen. Standard plan is free. Premium pricing starts at $1 per active user.

Facebook Spaces

Facebook Spaces.

Facebook Spaces is a new social network to use with the Oculus Rift virtual reality system. Go live from VR, and your friends can follow along on Facebook in real time. Make and receive Messenger video calls with friends even if they’re not in VR. Draw 3D objects and express your creativity on a new level. Create memories of your moments in VR, take selfies, and share them with your Facebook followers.

Cabana

Cabana.

Cabana is Tumblr’s new app for social video. Video chat with up to five others, and watch videos while you chat. Cabana is targeted as a fun app for friends, but it’s easy to imagine practical uses for sharing video with peers and prospects.

Infield Chatter

Infield Chatter.

Infield Chatter is a social network for professional baseball. Share photos, videos, and stories not only with other fans of Major League Baseball but also with the players themselves. Follow and chat with your favorite MLB players and get to know them beyond their baseball stats. View the “Players” channel in the Discover tab for a stream of MLB player-only content.

SEO: Design for People, Develop for Bots

SEO: Design for People, Develop for Bots

One of the frequent reasons given for ignoring search engine optimization is this: “We’re not selling to bots, we’re selling to people.” This argument highlights an ignorance of the role that SEO plays in modern digital marketing and development, an ignorance that is unfortunately difficult to dissuade.

Years ago, the search engine bots that crawled the world wide web seeking and cataloging all of the information possible were able only to access stark pages made up of plain text and plain HTML links. Those bots fed content into algorithms that valued keyword repetition. Strong SEO therefore meant generating sites with limited and, often, poor user experience.

Rich Experiences

Today’s bots are just a short step behind what humans can access and experience on modern sites full of JavaScript and CSS, multi-device interfaces, synonyms, and contextual meaning. In other words, it’s more necessary than ever to work with SEO professionals as you’re designing and developing sites with rich user experiences.

Search engine bots can crawl and index many experiences today, but there are still some pitfalls that they encounter that cut off the crawl and shut down the ability to rank in natural search. Many of those pitfalls amount to choices made in design or development that could just as easily be made a different way.

For instance, say a link in JavaScript could be coded using three different methods. They all produce the same result for shoppers on the site, but only one is optimal for SEO. In that case, working with SEO costs nothing and gains potential revenue.

I rarely see a site strategy and design that cannot be optimized for natural search performance, short of experiences that rely solely on natural language input or require users to log in before they can proceed past the home page.

A Seat at the Table

In partnership with a digital marketing team committed to creative exploration of options and resources, natural search should be one of your site’s top traffic drivers. That team needs to include players from across the board — strategy, merchandising, branding, user experience, creative, and development. SEO needs to have a seat at the table when they make decisions.

The key is to embrace SEO instead of holding it at arm’s length. When everyone commits to working with SEO, and the SEO professional commits to solving potential challenges creatively rather than dogmatically clinging to every single best practice, the result is a digital experience that customers enjoy and search engines can send natural search traffic to.

In fact, instead of hindering digital experience in the strategy and design stages, SEO can actually help. Keyword data used to optimize for natural search is a simple form of customer research. Think of every search query that someone enters as an expressed desire for products or information.

In fact, instead of hindering digital experience in the strategy and design stages, SEO can actually help.

You can collect data on millions of those desires in a short period of time at no cost, and analyze them in much the same way as other forms of qualitative research. Read more about keyword research as customer research at “SEO: Using Keyword Research to Better Your Business.”

Armed with the rich information that keywords can provide to the customer research landscape, you’ll not only understand your customers better, but you’ll have a tool to use to start to bake in SEO, from the beginning, for stronger natural search performance.

When it’s factored in up front, SEO ceases to be aggravating rework and becomes a valuable part of the way that you design and build digital experiences.

7 tips to stay cyber safe this summer

7 tips to stay cyber safe this summer

Posted: July 21, 2017 by

You’ve probably already seen the back-to-school ads on TV and rolled your eyes a little bit. We’re with you: There’s still plenty of summer left. That’s why we want to remind you about some of the cybersecurity pitfalls you might encounter during the remainder of the summer season.

Whether you’re home with the kids or heading out on vacation, here are some ways you can tighten up your security profile and avoid spending the rest of the summer reclaiming your identity or filing credit card insurance claims.

1. Monitor your children’s Internet habits during summer break.

Without homework and extracurricular activities for young students, summer days and nights are often spent lounging around on a tablet, cell phone, or laptop, browsing the Internet for funny cat videos or swapping faces on social media platforms. Parents may already enforce safe surfing habits during the school year, but with a more lax schedule may come a more lax attitude.

Be sure to set limits for Internet usage, whether that’s hours spent, sites visited, or apps and video games allowed. It’s also important to discuss online predatory behaviors, from cyberbullying to sexual exploitation (with an age-appropriate audience). Don’t just send your kids off to a room to Internet with abandon. Give them the skills (or possibly the parental controls) to navigate the online world safely.

2. Beware of fraudulent hotel booking sites.

Planning a trip to cap off an incredible summer? Make sure you’re using reputable booking sites for travel. A 2015 study by the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that about 15 million hotel bookings are impacted by rogue travel scams each year. Fraudulent websites or call centers often pretend to have an affiliation with certain hotels, when in fact they have none. This can result in being charged for hidden fees, losing rewards points, incorrect accommodations, fake reservations, and more.

The safest way to avoid being scammed is to book directly through a hotel’s website. Use third-party sites as resources to see available options. If you do want to consider a third-party site, call up the hotel directly to inquire if they are, in fact, affiliated. In addition, be wary of sites that urge you to book one of the last remaining rooms or don’t allow you to see a breakdown of fees.

3. Research hotels’ security policies before you book.

According to cybersecurity expert Matt Suiche, hotels are being targeted more frequently by criminals. Guest credit cards are kept on file for room charges and opportunities for additional spending at spas, restaurants, bars, and shops on premise make these properties attractive targets. In April 2017, InterContinental said that 1,200 of its franchise hotels in the United States, including the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, were victims of a three-month cyberattack aimed at stealing customer payment card data. Also this year, 14 Trump hotels were targeted by hackers raiding personal data such as credit card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes, as well as some phone numbers and addresses of hotel customers.

When booking your hotel, you can ask about privacy and security policies in place for protecting customer data. Does the hotel have cybersecurity software? Is data stored in a secure computer/network? Who has access to it? Their policy should cover this information and more.

4. Watch out for public wifi in airports and hotels.

Yes, free wifi is a wonderful thing. How else would you stream Netflix in your hotel room instead of watching the room service menu options on your TV? However, free wifi is also public, which means that any person in the hotel or airport can access that account with (or without) a simple password. Wifi that isn’t password-protected is especially vulnerable. Add thousands of people accessing it daily and you’ve got a recipe for data breach.

So what to do? Use up your mobile data? That’s one (expensive) way to deal with it. What we recommend, for the layperson, is to avoid sites where you need to login, sites with sensitive info (banking, healthcare, etc.), and especially stay away from making purchases over an unsecured connection. If you absolutely need to access sensitive info on this summer trip—perhaps it’s for business rather than pleasure—you’ll want to look into using a virtual private network, or VPN. In fact, if you are traveling for business and staying at a luxury hotel, you might be vulnerable to a spear-phishing campaign called DarkHotel if you use the in-house wifi network. Better get that VPN cracking.

5. Don’t announce to the world that you’ll be away from your house on vacation.

The lead-up to the vacation is almost as good as the vacation itself, no? It’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and jump on Facebook to tell all your friends about your upcoming trip. Problem is, unless you are ruthlessly private about what you share (and social media platforms are constantly updating their policies, making it easier for people to find your information that you didn’t intend to), people who aren’t your friends will see that announcement, too. And really, how well do you know that girl you passed in the hallway in high school 30 years ago?

Discussing your travel plans (specifically the dates you’ll be gone) opens you up to a physical security issue. Criminals are known to watch social media in order to target homes they know will be vacant for robbery. So best to wait until you get back until you start posting those trip photos.

6. Look closely at ATM scanners and gas pumps.

Heading to a concert and need to gas up? Hitting up an ice cream truck at the beach and forgot your cash? Be extra careful when stopping at gas pumps or ATMs, especially those unaffiliated with a bank. ATMs and gas pumps are targets for cybercriminals, who might attach skimmers in order to pilfer bank account or credit card data (and eventually drain those accounts).

Before you swipe your card, give the card reader a good tug. If there’s a skimmer attached, it’ll likely pop right off the top. In addition, take a look around the ATM or gas pump for small cameras (smaller than your typical surveillance camera). They’d be pointing down at the keypad in order to capture your zip code or pin number.

7. Avoid credit card fraud.

Easier said than done, we know. This one is extra tricky when traveling abroad. Pick-pocketers steal wallets or credit cards might be accidentally left behind and lo and behold: someone’s charging $2,537.45 worth of train tickets. While many card companies can track fraud and refund you the charges, the hassle of reporting and waiting, especially when overseas, is probably the last thing you want to deal with while sunning yourself in Phuket.

A few ground rules for traveling with credit cards: don’t take them all. Select one or two with high credit limits and low foreign transaction fees. Make copies of the credit cards you’re bringing with you so you can see the numbers and customer service phone number. Leave one copy with a friend and bring another with you. (Just don’t store it in the same place as your credit cards.) And finally, make sure you alert your credit card company of your travel plans so they don’t freeze your account.

Summer is a time to kick back and enjoy. So don’t spend it on the phone with your bank and the IRS. Take these precautions and you can be sure to end this easy-breezy season on a light and carefree note.

Matching Content to Consumers

Matching Content to Consumers

Artificial intelligence is influencing nearly every aspect of the consumer experience, including how automobiles are bought and sold.

Outsell, a marketing automation/CRM offering designed for auto dealers, for example, recently announced that it has launched a new addition to its AI-driven NeuroMotics platform: Inventory Mover.

The inventory recommendation engine will make it possible to automatically sort through consumers in an auto dealer’s database, identify in-market consumers, predict which cars will appeal to each consumer, and dynamically shows unique live inventory recommendations to each consumer via automated, individualized emails.

Outsell suggested that its clients are experiencing returns from 9 times to 30 times their investment in the platform. With every car sitting unsold, dealers can pay hundreds of dollars in interest (which cuts into their profits), making automated solutions of this nature quite appealing to automotive dealers.

“Inventory Mover significantly enhances a dealer’s ability to move their inventory quicker,” said Bryan Harwood, President of Outsell.

“Outsell not only helps dealers determine who’s in market, but can now match the right inventory that appeals most to individual consumers. Our dealer customers are excited about this new solution — a significant number have already subscribed to it, pre-launch.”

9 Low-Budget Marketing Strategies Every Startup Can Afford

9 Low-Budget Marketing Strategies Every Startup Can Afford

Many cash-strapped startups abandon the “superfluous” investment of marketing. Big mistake, because marketing can actually provide that cash.

Startups face many challenges, but none as precarious or life-threatening as the struggle to remain cash positive. The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) estimates the average cost to start a business to be in the neighborhood of $30,000; and there’s significant variance in this figure, with some businesses starting out for just a few hundred dollars and others requiring upwards of millions.

But, remember: These numbers are only startup costs. In addition, new companies have to pay thousands a month in team salaries, office-leasing fees, raw materials and other ongoing operational costs — all while struggling to secure enough revenue to stay afloat.

Caught in this dire financial balancing act, most entrepreneurs end up abandoning investments they come to view as superfluous, such as marketing and advertising. Yet the cruel irony is that neglecting marketing altogether stifles a business’s growth, leaving it less revenue to collect and forcing it into an even more restrictive budget.

With roughly an estimated 80 percent of entrepreneurs having no idea of how to measure a marketing strategy’s effectiveness, it’s no wonder why marketing is so quick to get the ax.

However, here’s the thing: Effective marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Sure, higher-budget marketing strategies might bring more visibility and consistency in their eventual returns, but there are plenty of highly effective — and low-cost — marketing strategies you can use to help your startup grow. Here are nine of them:

1. Referrals

One of the best ways to market is to avoid marketing altogether; instead, create a system that lets your customers do the marketing for you. Consider the fact that people are four times more likely to buy a product when it’s referred to them by a friend.

Despite tech publication reviews, we still trust personal recommendations more than anything else. What’s more, establishing a referral program doesn’t cost much, and depending on how you structure it, might be entirely free. You could offer your current customers a discount on their subscriptions in exchange for referring a new customer, or offer a cash reward, if you’re really invested in this strategy. Just make sure to get word to your customers (possibly using one of the other methods listed below).

2. Press releases and news features

People read the news regularly, and if you have something newsworthy to report, most news outlets will gladly report it for you. Press releases are an inexpensive way to get your brand mentioned in major publications, and possibly pick up some inbound links along the way. If you do all the work yourself, hunting down and emailing journalists, press releases can actually be a free marketing strategy.

Otherwise, you might pay a couple of hundred dollars to have a release syndicated through a service like PR Newswire. If you’re only interested in getting yourself referenced, check out Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to provide tips to journalists just waiting for them.

3. Content marketing 

Content marketing takes many forms, but none require significant investment. The simplest approach is to manage an on-site blog, adding new content a few times a week that informs or entertains your readers in some unique and practical way.

Infographics, videos and podcasts all belong to the content-marketing category as well. Reason? All these content mediums have the power to improve your brand reputation, increase your inbound traffic and complement the multiple other strategies you draw from this list (as you’ll see).

4. SEO

If you’re spending time writing articles for your content-marketing campaign, you might as well invest in improving your search engine optimization (SEO).

New to SEO? It might seem technically complex, but the reality is, with a bit of reading and dedication, you can easily understand the basics. You’ll use online tools like Moz’s Keyword Explorer to identify relevant keywords that could attract high traffic to your site with low competition; you’ll then tweak your site to include those keywords.

You’ll also need to make structural changes, write consistently high-quality content and attract backlinks to your domain. It’s a lot of work, but if you do it yourself, your only cost will be time — which is worth it, because the long-term benefits are enormous.

5. Social media marketing

Social media marketing isn’t something you can do casually, but it is freely available, and it’s something you can master if you invest the time. Start by establishing profiles for your business on major platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Flesh out your profiles; and start syndicating content that your target market would like.

Reach out to individuals, and make sure to stay connected. In time, you could grow an audience of thousands, representing an anchor stream of traffic to your site.

6. Email marketing

Email marketing remains one of the most cost-efficient marketing strategies around, with some sources claiming a return on investment (ROI) of 400 percent or more. As long as you have a good list (organically curated, rather than bought), and a steady but non-invasive stream of outgoing email blasts, you should be able to see a significant return on any time or money you put into it.

7. PPC ads 

Pay-per-click ads can get expensive if you’re targeting high-traffic head keywords, but there are niches and platforms that are friendly even to the most budget-conscious startup entrepreneur. For example, on Facebook, you can pay as little as $1 a day for certain ads (though you’ll probably want to invest a little more than that if you want to see significant results).

8. Personal branding

Personal branding works much like corporate branding, except it’s going to apply to you as an individual. You’ll promote yourself and your expertise across social media, and possibly on a dedicated blog, earning new followers and a separate source of traffic and interest.

The value here is that people tend to trust other people more than corporations, so eventually, you’ll have a separate, powerful outlet you can use to syndicate your content or attract new leads — all without paying a dime.

9. Forums and groups

Don’t underestimate the power of lurking on public forums and social media groups. You might see someone asking a question that you can answer (with your expertise), or catch wind of a local event you can use to promote your business. The more involved you are with your respective communities, including your local neighborhood as well as your broader industry, the more you stand to gain.

Best of all, it usually doesn’t cost anything to become a member of these communities, so you can reap the benefits with nothing more than a few hours of your time.

The takeaway here? If you find yourself struggling with your business’s budget, don’t resort to cutting marketing out of the equation. Instead, find creative ways to build recognition for your brand and products that don’t require significant up-front investment.

Once you establish a stronger stream of consistent revenue, you’ll have more freedom to invest in bigger, more expensive strategies; or you can pour more resources into the top performers from your earlier experiments.

How to Choose a VPN Provider for Your Business

How to Choose a VPN Provider for Your Business

A step-by-step guide to picking a virtual private network that works for you.

In a world where technology is advancing at such a high speed, it becomes hectic to keep up with security. Securing yourself from people trying to access your email, your bank and even your own identity is hard enough. Securing a whole company has become something of a nightmare. Organizations, businesses and individuals continue to lose data because they forgot to update their security measures or used an unsecured network.

Just recently, a ransomware called WannaCry affected over 250,000 machines in over 150 countries. Think you’re safe? Think again.

With increased availability of Wi-Fi access in public places like hotels, airports and coffee shops, it has become convenient for people to work from anywhere, but it’s also more problematic. This is especially the case with businesses that allow employees to work remotely. How secure are their networks? A single mistake by an employee could put the whole company at risk.

So, how do you enjoy the benefits of the internet without compromising your security?

Enter VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology that allows you to use a secure connection between the internet and your computer. It allows you to browse securely and privately from any place of your choice, hiding your actual location and data from malicious websites.

When using a VPN, you can access your email in the UK while your IP shows you are browsing from New York.

So, why is a VPN important for your business? Using a VPN gives you these benefits;

  • Protects your privacy by hiding your real IP address
  • Provides safe access to both public and private Wi-Fi connections
  • Gives you access to geographically censored sites
  • Keeps all your important data private and secure

Paid versus unpaid VPN services

When you are considering which VPN service provider to use for your business, the pay factor should be the most important determinant. It’s not about the money you spend or save, it’s about the quality you’re going for. With VPN, you must pay to protect your data. There is no shortcut to it.

This means that even if you feel that you or your small business does not have a budget for VPN services, you should not use free services — not for a mobile application to use on your phone or tablet or one for your PC.

Most businesses feel like they’re doing just fine without the protection, but the truth is they are really not. So, quickly subscribing to a free VPN provider doesn’t help things. In fact, it could make them worse.

Related: How to Make Money Online in 6 Easy Steps

Traffic logs

A VPN is important for two major things: privacy and security. In order to pick the best VPN service provider, traffic logs should play a big role in your decision. The reason you are thinking of using a VPN in the first place is to ensure that no one collects your data or makes it their business to tamper with your business.

So, make sure to ask what traffic logs the provider keeps. A resourceful VPN provider should have a firm privacy policy and should not, at any time, keep any traffic logs. There are several sites you can use to read reviews on the different providers available and to ultimately select the best.

Your specific needs

Everyone is unique with their needs, and so is every business. Do you want to use a VPN to connect to your home network? If so, then you don’t really need a VPN service provider — you need a VPN router that you can easily connect in your home. You can also consider a simple program that can be operated on your computer.

But, if you need it for secure browsing on a private or public Wi-Fi connection or to achieve anonymity and hide your location, then a VPN service would be necessary.

Look for VPN providers that offer the exactly what you need. For instance, if you are in Japan and need to access a US site that is restricted in your country, a VPN provider with servers in the United States would be most resourceful. Also, note that as a business, you will have many reasons to use a VPN. Take all of them into account when making this important decision.

Related: 5 Perfect ‘Spare-Time’ Online Businesses

Security protocols

What security protocols do each VPN provider use? Some communication protocols are more secure than others, and some VPN providers may not necessarily use the same protocols. You want to choose a provider that uses OpenVPN to connect all of your devices. It is considered one of the most secure.

But, if you want to use a different security protocol on Windows, SSTP should be an ideal choice for your needs as it’s also another highly secure option. You will want to avoid providers that use PPTP(Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol) as it is the most vulnerable of all available protocols.

Data capacity

When selecting your VPN provider, you should also consider the capacity being offered. You don’t want to reach your limit at a time you need the service the most. Look at the details the provider includes on how much data is available with each subscription.

The best VPN service providers offer unlimited capacity, but others have set packages. Conduct detailed research on available providers to ensure you choose the ideal provider that meets your needs.

Conclusion

Before choosing a VPN provider for your business, do your due diligence. You don’t want to end up with a service that steals all your data instead of protecting it. You also don’t want to pay for a service that allows malicious websites to penetrate because their security protocols are not top notch.

Do your research on different providers available and make sure you don’t end up with a fake service provider. Also, just because a VPN provider is not free does not necessarily mean they are trustworthy. Read reviews on available VPN providers from trusted sites and make an informed decision.

Why do you need a disaster recovery plan for your website?

Why do you need a disaster recovery plan for your website?

Have you given any thought to how you would recover if your website went down? What would happen to your business if your webmaster got run over by a bus? How would you keep your website up and running? There are a lot of disasters out there just waiting to happen to your website. Here are a few common ones:

The hard drive on your server decides to go ker-plunk – that’s a technical term for hard drive failure.

Some wise guy hacker hacks into your website and posts unsavory material

Your webmaster gets run over by a herd of rhinoceroses while on vacation in Africa – OK, well, maybe not. But say he just gets mad and walks off the job. Do you know the passwords and how to access and update the site?

 

Maybe you are just switching to a new webmaster and you want a smooth transition. Whatever it is, it is important to have a disaster recovery plan for your website.

The basics of a disaster recovery plan:
Disaster recovery plans vary with each organization, so this isn’t an exhaustive list. But here are some of the basics to help you prepare for the worst:

1. Record your pertinent website information
Be sure that you know your login and password information. This may include some or all of the following:

Login information for email accounts and any additional information such as email groups and email aliases

Content management system login

Hosting control panel login

Domain registrar web address and login

FTP login information

 

You should also have the customer support phone numbers, email and other contact information for your website hosting provider.

2. Perform and save regular backups of your website
Most hosting companies and application service providers back up their server data regularly. However, you should maintain your own backups in case there is an emergency or you need to move to another provider quickly. Many hosting companies offer the ability for you to back up your own website through your hosting control panel, such as Plesk. It is also a good idea to keep copies of all of your files (i.e., images, videos, etc.) as well as the text of your website in an easily accessible location should a need for them arise.

3. Determine an implementation plan for recoverying yoru website
Understanding what you will need to do in case of an emergency will help ensure a smoother recovery. Be sure to keep your backup data and login information accessible, and determine who will be in charge of restoring the backups or uploading the files to your new website.

4. Keep an extra copy of your website data in a safe place
Make sure that you have an extra copy stored off-site in case your main office is inaccessible. This might be in a safe-deposit box in a local bank, or for some small organizations, it may be at a trusted employee’s home. You might even backup the data to an off-site backup service.

Whatever it takes, establish a disaster recovery plan, and protect your website. Disasters happen, but when you have a plan in place, you’ll be better set to recovering quickly and getting your website back in order!