Friday, 30 September 2016

15 Things You Need in Place for Creating Your Personal Brand

When you think about it, a personal brand is one of the most useful things you can build.


It's powerful. It's valuable. It's killer.


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But it also takes a considerable amount of work. As I've built my personal brand over the past few years, I've discovered that one's personal brand doesn't merely grow when you achieve some level of business success.


Instead, you have to work hard at it.


Building a personal brand is almost like building a business. You have to identify your target clients, discover the best marketing methods, and relentlessly work to deliver what they want.


But the results? Worth it!


As you build your brand, it becomes much easier to connect with prospective clients, close deals, and grow the opportunities that weren't possible when you started.


To get to that point, you've got to start with the right foundation.


Seventy-seven percent of B2B buyers said they speak with a salesperson only after they've performed independent research online.


More than 50% of decision-makers have eliminated a vendor from consideration based on information they found online.


With this many eyes watching, it pays to build your personal brand in the most effective way.


I've had success with growing my personal brand because of careful planning. I had things ready to go before I started promoting myself.


Here are the things you'll need to have in place as you work to develop your personal brand.


1. Head shots


I am immensely thankful that we've moved beyond the Glamour Shots era. Still, the people who used those portraits throughout their professional lives had the right idea.


(kind of…)


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When you start to promote your personal brand, you want to be easily recognizable, and you want people to take you seriously. I have a number of professional head shots and photos that I use across my online properties for consistency.


As my appearance changes (and, yes, I do age…or mature), my head shots get updated.


Take pictures that represent the personality you're trying to portray, and use those images across all your social channels, websites, gravatar accounts, and author bios.


2. Your focus


Entrepreneurs working to build a personal brand typically want to be known as experts in something. When you're creating your personal brand, you need to identify that one thing that's your passion and area of expertise.



Understanding your focus and your vision helps lay the groundwork for the rest of the steps you need to take to create and launch your personal brand.


3. Your elevator pitch


Let's say you and I meet in an elevator. I strike up a conversation that quickly leads to your work. You've got about 30 seconds to explain what you do.


Can you condense your job or brand down into a short pitch that's clear and gets the point across?


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This pitch isn't just for personal connection opportunities. The same brief statement can be utilized throughout social channels and online bios to help followers and prospects best understand who you are and what you bring to the table.


Write up what you do and what makes you valuable, and don't be afraid to make it detailed. Once you have the information down, start trimming.


Keep trimming until you get it down to a strong, impacting statement.


4. Know your USP


Your unique selling proposition (USP) goes hand in hand with your elevator pitch. This is what sets you apart from others in your industry or specialization. If there are 2,000 other entrepreneurs offering the same service, why should your prospective customers choose you?


Why should your audience pay attention to you?


What is your unique value they won't find with anyone else?


Your USP should be a succinct, single-sentence statement of who you are, your greatest strength, and the major benefit your audience will derive from it.


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USPs typically fall into 3 categories:


Quality – It's about superior materials or ingredients, craftsmanship, or proprietary manufacturing. Think “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” from Papa Johns.


Price – Price isn't the best USP, but it can work if you offer the best prices, low rate guarantees, price matching, bulk discounts, or unique special offers.


Service – This can be unquestioned returns, satisfaction guarantees, or extended services to delight customers. Think Tom's Shoes's practice of giving shoes to the needy.


This is a critical component for branding. You'll use this to craft your pitch, and it will be prevalent in virtually all of your marketing messages and outreach.


5. A defined audience


Defining your area of expertise is only part of the journey. You have to know to whom you're catering. Building a brand is useless unless you're targeting the right people.


You have to define your audience so that any content you create is relevant, your marketing turns heads, and you can eventually monetize your brand.


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Think of it like a game of darts. You score if you hit the board, but you score higher if you hit dead center. Without a target, you're just throwing darts blindly.


When you know your audience, you can:



  • create highly valuable content specific to their needs

  • generate offers that will provide solutions to their greatest problems

  • create brand advocates who will embrace your message and help spread it for you

  • identify the best ways to engage your audience

  • identify places to find them


Defining your audience takes time and research, but without a clearly defined audience, you'll never grow your brand.


6. A student mindset


You have to maintain the mindset of a perpetual learner, no matter how much experience you gain in your field. Change happens fast, so adopt the “I am a student and always need to learn” attitude.


Tune in, listen, and stay up-to-date with industry trends.


If you fail to stay relevant, people will stop paying attention to you.


It never hurts to learn new things, develop new skills, and expand your knowledge. Everything you learn is an opportunity to pass something new to your audience and provide more value.


7. Create a marketing strategy


Before you launch your personal brand, you need a strategy that details how you'll promote yourself. While it doesn't need to be as robust as a marketing strategy for a major brand, it's still a good idea to create a documented marketing plan you can follow.


This should include (but isn't limited to):



8. A personal brand audit


While you're in the process of creating your personal brand, you likely already have public information available about you.


Before you push the growth of your brand, take the time to audit your online presence. Do extensive searches for your name and identity online.


This can help you manage anything that doesn't mesh with your brand image as well as show opportunities for your branding campaign once you get started.


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This isn't a one-time audit, either. Schedule routine reviews of your personal brand to monitor how you appear on the web.


9. Create a personal website


A website isn't just a place to toot your own horn.


You certainly want to show off your expertise and the work you've done. You also want to make sure you control as much real estate around your brand as possible.


A branded website is another source of content that will show up at the top of the search results when people search for information about you.


Having a website ensures that you stay in control of the top search results rather than allowing third-party sites to shape your online image.


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10. Define your story


The strongest personal brands are carried by a potent narrative. The people most interested in following you or working with you will want to know your story.


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If you specialize in more than one area or have a series of things you're passionate about, a narrative becomes even more important.


It's a unified theme that ties everything together.


Think about some of the most well-known personal brands like Mark Cuban, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, or Richard Branson.


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In every case, the stories are well known and the narratives lend tremendous weight to these people's brands, ultimately defining how we see them.


What's your story?


11. Build on Feedback


Even when we look into a mirror, it's not easy to define ourselves and understand who we are. It's just not that easy to form an objective opinion of ourselves.


Use the feedback from others you know to build the framework for your personal brand. Ask people you trust, e.g., colleagues, friends, family and co-workers, to describe you with just a few adjectives. You can also ask additional questions like:



  • What do you think I'm good at?

  • What do you think my weaknesses are?

  • What are my greatest strengths?


12. Define your goals


Why are you developing this personal brand? Is it to create a solid image to help you land a better position in your career? Do you want to create a more trustworthy and authoritative persona to land clients?


Creating goals can help you shape your personal brand and the direction of your promotion and marketing. Aside from your major goals, you should also define smaller, more readily attainable goals.


Where do you want to be in 6 months? In a year? What are your traffic goals for your brand website?


When you create goals, break them down into smaller milestones, and create a roadmap you can follow from launch to achieve those goals.


13. Create a personal style guide


Brands often use style guides to define the appearance of their logos, fonts, and colors to represent themselves and their products/sevices. This may even include employee dress code.


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Everything you do contributes to your personal brand. Create a personal style guide similar to what the brands use. This way you have a consistent representation of your personal brand.


This should include the way you dress, carry yourself, behave with others, and even write and respond to emails.


14. Create a content strategy


Even though I mentioned creating a marketing strategy already, I feel it's important to list this on its own. Not everyone will create an overall marketing strategy or social media plan. At the very least, you should create a content marketing strategy.


Much of your branding will revolve around content.


You'll use content to build authority and show your expertise. You'll create guest posts to generate referral traffic and links. You might create short videos to share your ideas.


A content strategy can help you maintain a consistent schedule and generate the right topics for your audience as well as give you the greatest chance of growing your personal brand.


Moz has created a terrific content strategy framework you can use to plan your own.


15. Perform a competitive evaluation


Personal brand building isn't a popularity contest, but it does pay to know where you stand in the crowd.


Occasionally, you can collect some data, e.g., from Google trends, that will display the general query interest around your personal brand.


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You want to know some of the key metrics around your brand so you can pivot and act accordingly.


This data is from Buzzsumo.


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In the early stages of building your personal brand, you may or may not be selling anything. Regardless of your approach to monetization, you have competitors. They'll fall into two categories:



  • Direct competitors, competing for your audience's money

  • Indirect competitors, competing for your audience's attention


Once you've identified your audience, you need to take stock of the industry and find out who is turning the heads of your audience and what they're using to keep them engaged.


You don't want to mimic your competitors. That's bad. Remember, you want to be unique.


A competitive evaluation will give you the insight to take whatever your competitors are doing and do it 10 times better so you can capture and hold the attention of your audience.


Conclusion


Your personal brand is how the world will see you. For that reason, you need to polish your brand and give it a strong start, out of the gate. Starting with an unpolished and uninteresting brand is only going to hurt your efforts.


Including these elements in the launch of your brand will connect you with the right people. Those people will begin to identify you with a specific industry or area of expertise. As you share information and build rapport, you'll be well on your way to becoming a trusted authority in your niche.


It won't take long before the right opportunities will present themselves, and your branding efforts will begin to pay dividends.


Have you started building and promoting your personal brand? Which elements do you think are most important for making you stand out in your industry?




Wednesday, 28 September 2016

20 Fascinating Topics That Every New Blog Should Tackle

When you know your stuff, writing a blog is easy, right?


Uh. Not necessarily.


I'd say that I'm pretty familiar with digital marketing. But when it comes to blogging, I still face challenges.


The challenge isn't my lack of knowledge; it's translating that knowledge into readable content-content helpful to you and other marketers.


Maybe you've faced the same challenge.


For some reason, conveying stuff you know inside and out is a lot trickier than it appears. Writing is difficult enough, but continually coming up with topics that would boost your online marketing efforts seems downright impossible.


In the old days, maintaining a business blog was more about appeasing search engine algorithms than appealing to actual humans. Back then, cramming posts full of keywords was the top priority.


Today, for a business blog to produce results, it has to appeal to humans first and search engines second. In fact, SEO and UX are basically one and the same.


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Gone are the days of blathering on ad nauseam about anything your heart desires.


Content marketing via blogging is one of the best ways to increase the online visibility of a brand. These days, though, the posts you create must be engaging, informative, interesting, and generally high in quality to get you anywhere.


Contrary to what you may have heard, quantity does not exceed quality here. Even so, coming up with fascinating topics for a blog is often difficult for business owners. Here are 20 topics and ideas to get you off to a great start.


1. Write a long-form post


In the business world, getting straight to the point is generally the way to go. Quick, snappy blog posts have a time and a place, but your blog will suffer if that's all you ever do.


Regardless of your niche, there are surely topics you could cover that require more than 400-500 words. Brainstorm topics that demand extensive, in-depth coverage, and then create long-form blog posts about them. The exhaustive nature of such posts will make them fascinating to anyone who is thirsty about the topic.


You may be aware that long-form blog posts-over 2,000-3,000 words-will rank higher, get more shares, and earn more links.


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This is the kind of traction you need to gain with your blog.


2. Be a reporter


Even if journalism was never your forte, pretend otherwise by reporting back to your audience about important events in your industry. Ideally, these should be events you have attended yourself.


There are, of course, differences between journalistic writing and blog writing. However, in today's content-driven world, there is also a lot of overlap.


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For example, write a blog about your experience at a recent trade show. At the event, take notes about the things you see and the people with whom you interact. Take photos, and include them in your post. Include your own insights to make the piece more personal.


3. Comment about a popular post


Part of maintaining an interesting blog is staying in the loop about happenings in your niche and industry. You should already be keeping up with blogs in that sphere. When a particularly interesting one pops up, write a post about it.


Doing this accomplishes a few things. First, it lets you engage with the community while delivering your take on the original post. Second, it gives you the opportunity to link back to the original post, which might result in a link in return. You'll gain exposure and, potentially, some backlinks!


4. Share your secrets


No, I'm not telling you to give away all your secrets. Rather, connect more deeply with your audience by giving them information about your business practices and processes “from the horse's mouth.”


It's all about transparency and authenticity, and it resonates strongly with readers. People enjoy feeling like they are privy to special knowledge.


I do this as often as possible, e.g., by updating my audience on the $100,000 challenge, showing all the relevant data, metrics, and revenue numbers, and sharing the lessons I'm learning from my experiment.


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Maybe it's time to pull back the curtain, and share your secrets in a blog post.


5. Round up industry experts


Establish relationships with key players within your industry through persistent social media activity. Once they've gotten to know you, invite thought leaders in your niche to share their views regarding a specific topic.


Compile all their contributions-with their permission, of course-and create a roundup blog post with them. Include links to each person's blog because they might return the favor.


6. Make an infographic


You probably have plenty of facts and statistics about your niche and industry at your disposal. Put relevant ones together, and use them to create an eye-catching infographic to share on your blog.


If necessary, hire someone to create it for you. Include it in a new blog post, and then provide commentary about the facts and statistics within the body of the post. Encourage sharing by providing an easy link for people to use.


7. Look at both sides of an issue


Posts covering the pros and cons of a particular issue, product, or service tend to be received very well, and they are usually a breeze to put together. Brainstorm and write down issues that tend to have significant advantages and disadvantages.


During the course of researching this kind of piece, you will become even more knowledgeable about your niche. In the post itself, speak directly to your audience. Ask them for their take on the issue. Through their contributions, you can develop even more fascinating fodder for your blog.


8. Go behind the scenes


Blog posts about your actual business should be kept to a minimum as they tend to be pretty yawn-worthy. From time to time, though, go ahead and give readers a glimpse of what makes your company tick.


Reserve these posts for behind-the-scenes topics your audience will actually care about. For example, share what your company does to prepare for a big trade show, or introduce a new employee who you suspect will be a real game-changer for the company.


9. Explain how to do something


How-to articles and blogs tend to do well because people overwhelmingly turn to the Internet for advice and instructions on accomplishing various things. If you can incorporate one of your products into a how-to post, all the better.


For example, perhaps there's a special way to use one of your products few people know about, or maybe there's a process people should follow to make the most of it.


Be as thorough as possible in your post. Explain it as meticulously as you can. Include videos and photos to drive home your point and to ensure people bookmark and share your article.


10. Interview people


Yep, I'm asking you to be a journalist again. Remember those thought leaders and industry experts from a previous tip? Interview one of them to create a full-fledged blog post about your niche or industry.


Thankfully, you don't have to be in the same room as your interviewee to talk to them. Come up with a list of questions your audience would be curious about, and email it instead. You could also post the questions via Twitter or another social media channel.


11. Make an FAQ post


Since you're already actively engaged with your niche and industry on social media-you are, right?-you can easily keep your finger on the pulse of what people are saying. More importantly, you can quickly figure out what they are asking.


Scour social media for questions from everyday people regarding your niche. Compile a frequently asked questions post to address them. You might even include links to questions on sites like Twitter and Facebook to gain a little link juice too.


12. Give readers the hard truth


I don't care what niche or industry you cover. There are sure to be at least a few elephants in the room or subjects that people are generally afraid to broach. As long as you have something useful to say, go ahead and have at it.


Controversial posts shouldn't be the bread and butter of your blog, but they can certainly stir up interest under the right circumstances. Tell it like it is in your blog from time to time to really wow your audience.


13. Share a case study


Blogs that explain how everyday people make use of a company's products or service can be pretty engaging. However, resist the temptation to make something up. Wait until you have something truly special to share, and then share it.


Ideally, you should get permission from the client or customer to feature them, and include their input in the case study too. While the piece will obviously be promotional to some extent, write it in a factual, journalistic way to avoid alienating your audience.


14. Start a series or a regular feature


Some topics are so extensive that they can't be covered adequately in a single post-not even a long-form one. When you run across one of these, consider breaking it up into a series for your readers. Create cliffhangers at the end of each one to keep them coming back for more.


You could also come up with a weekly or monthly feature for your blog. For example, you could highlight happenings regarding your niche in social media every Monday, or you could feature a new product or service every month.


15. Make a really long listicle


By now, we're all familiar with the standard listicle, which typically contains 5-10 related points. This has been done so much that people don't get very excited about it anymore.


Improve on the concept by coming up with a really long listicle that pertains to your niche. But do so only if the topic at hand is deep enough to warrant it, or you will end up with a bunch of similar-sounding points.


16. Stir controversy


Think of some common views or beliefs regarding your niche. You are sure to disagree with at least a few of them, so write posts expressing your viewpoints, challenging the accepted opinions.


Doing this will likely invite controversy, so be sure to write these posts in a tactful way. Don't attack others. Instead, explain why you think the status quo has it all wrong, and challenge readers to convince you otherwise.


17. Debunk some myths


What are some common misconceptions or myths regarding your industry or niche? Compile a list, and then use it to create a really fascinating post for your audience.


Make sure you back up your claims, though. Otherwise, readers will lose their interest when they realize they're reading the rants of someone who really doesn't know what they're talking about. Approach writing such an article with the intention of providing as much useful and usable information as possible.


18. Share customer success stories


With any luck, satisfied customers will occasionally contact you to express their appreciation. When this happens, ask them if you can feature their comments in a blog post for your business.


In this type of post, begin by describing the problem the customer was facing. Describe the product or service they used, and then explain how they were able to solve their issue by using it. If possible, include additional comments from the actual client to make the post especially engaging.


19. Perform research to delve deeper


At a certain point, you will exhaust the resources regarding facts and statistics concerning your niche. Avoid becoming repetitive, and conduct your own research.


This could mean something as simple as posting an online survey for your existing readers and sharing the results. However, you might even want to hire a market research firm for assistance. If you can present brand-new facts and information to the world, your blog will be better, and you will have a lot more to go on.


In your post, include visual representations of data to help people make sense of it. A simple pie chart or bar graph can make a huge difference.


20. Share a link roundup


As you run across interesting posts, memes, and other content regarding your niche, save them. After accumulating 10 or 20, write a link-roundup post featuring each one.


This is great for a few reasons. First, it forces you to stay up-to-date on your industry news and helps you bring relevant information to your audience. Second, it lets you branch out and opine about all kinds of content. Finally, it may even enhance your link-building strategy, which never hurts.


Conclusion


In a perfect world, none of us would ever have to cope with writer's block.


The ideas would flow freely and continuously. Since that's not the case, use this list of topics and ideas to kick-start your new blog.


When readers visit your new blog and are presented with an array of fascinating posts, they're likelier to engage with it, bookmark it, and keep coming back for more.


And that's exactly what you want to happen.


Have you already covered one of the ideas listed above? Which new ones are you excited to try?




Monday, 26 September 2016

A Process You Can Follow to Become an Influencer in Your Industry

The term influencer is being tossed around a lot these days.


I would even classify it as one of the top 10 buzzwords of 2016.


Influencer marketing is quickly becoming one of the hottest and most effective strategies in existence.


In fact, “59 percent of marketers use influencer engagement campaigns for product launches and content creation.”


This technique gets results because businesses make $6.50 for every dollar invested in influencer marketing, according to a poll of marketing professionals conducted by Tomoson.


But what about when YOU'RE the influencer? You're the one calling the shots.


Becoming an influencer in your industry can have immense benefits.


You can use your experience and credibility to sway the opinion of others, build trust, develop your brand, and so on.


But how exactly does one become an influencer?


While there's no magic recipe and a lot of variables involved, I've found there is a distinct process you can follow.


It definitely takes time to achieve this status, but following the right steps should eventually elevate you to influencer status.


What is an Influencer?


First things first. What do I mean when I say influencer?


Influencer Analysis is dead on with their definition:


“An influencer is an individual who has above-average impact on a specific niche process. Influencers are normal people, who are often connected to key roles of media outlets, consumers groups, industry associations or community tribes.”


In other words, people recognize that you're an expert (or at least highly knowledgeable) in your industry and that you've got a sizable following.


This might include a loyal legion of blog subscribers, social media followers, etc.


Keep in mind you don't need to do it on the macro scale to be an influencer. You don't have to be Taylor Swift or Jay Z.


In fact, there are countless micro-influencers who may not be recognized on the large scale but hold a lot of sway nonetheless.


Some people who come to mind include Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income and Tim Ferriss.


At the core of it all, influencers have authority, and their word is as good as gold.


People recognize the value they bring to the table and are genuinely interested in what they have to say.


I've found that the process of becoming an influencer has five key steps.


Step 1 – Focus on a niche


The first and most important step to becoming an influencer is to focus on what you're passionate about.


You can't be everything to everyone. To gain traction and be recognized as an authority figure, people need to link your name to a particular niche.


Take Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, for example.


He's a blogger, podcaster, speaker, and author who specializes in one specific area: blogging.


His name is synonymous with blogging, and his website is one of the top resources for learning about blogging and how to become a better blogger.


Notice that he doesn't talk about fashion, ice skating, or cooking. His core focus is on blogging. That's it.


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While you don't have to completely pigeonhole yourself, it's important that you pick a particular niche and focus wholeheartedly on it.


You need to eat, sleep, and breathe your niche. This allows you to establish authority in a particular area.


Ideally, in time, people will recognize your expertise and take notice.


They'll want to follow you on whatever outlets you use (e.g., a blog, Twitter, and/or industry publications) and be interested in what you have to say.


Step 2 – Share your knowledge


To make a name for yourself and establish a presence, you need to create plenty of industry-centric content.


This is vital because it's a surefire way to prove that you know your stuff and demonstrate the value you bring.


Fortunately, this has never been easier to do than today.


With a ton of media outlets available, there's no shortage of mediums to choose from.


A good old-fashioned blog is one of the best places to get started, and it provides you with a platform to develop your unique voice.


In fact, “86 percent of influencers also operate at least one blog.” And I feel that launching my own personal blog has been a contributing factor to getting to where I'm at today.


You'll definitely want to be active on social media as well.


Ideally, you'll create and maintain profiles on at least three different networks because this increases your reach and gives you the opportunity to establish a strong brand identity.


It's also great because you can connect with other like-minded people in your industry.


Notice that Darren Rowse has a solid presence on multiple social networks:


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However, a blog and social media are just the tip of the iceberg.


There are countless other mediums you can use to demonstrate your knowledge and boost your “street cred.”


Some options include:



  • Podcasting

  • Creating webinars

  • Creating videos

  • Slideshows

  • Whitepapers

  • Infographics


I'm also a huge proponent of writing a book.


There's something about authorship that can really skyrocket your credibility and make people take notice.


An e-book is nice, but a legitimate printed book is even better.


Just think about it.


If someone lands on your website and sees that you've published a book, they'll probably take you a lot more seriously than they would have otherwise.


Your perceived value can quickly go through the roof this way.


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Legitness!


Finally, there's guest-blogging.


While this strategy got some heat for awhile because of its association with potential Google penalties, it's still incredibly effective, especially for establishing yourself as an influencer.


I attribute a lot of my success to the fact that I made it a point to be featured on publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc.


Guest-blogging is awesome because it kills two birds with one stone. Or six birds. Or more.


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First, you can reach a huge audience basically overnight.


Say the blog or publication you post on has 100,000 readers. You can get your content in front of a large-scale audience and tangibly demonstrate the industry knowledge and expertise you bring to the table.


Second, you can increase your perceived value dramatically. Being associated with other leaders and influencers in your industry elevates your brand equity significantly.


This way, you can piggyback on their success and use it to establish yourself as a viable influencer.


If you're looking for some guidance on the guest-blogging process, I recommend checking out this post from Kissmetrics. It has some super helpful tips.


The bottom line here is that you'll need to put forth plenty of effort, creating a lot of quality content and distributing it across a variety of mediums.


This is key for getting your name out there and getting the ball rolling.


Step 3 – Have an opinion


What's one thing that all influencers have in common?


They have their own take on things. They have a voice. They have an opinion.


This is what makes them distinguishable from the masses and what gives them their swagger.


What they aren't is vanilla or lukewarm on topics.


With 1,400 blog posts, 2,460,000 pieces of Facebook content, and 277,000 tweets posted each minute, there's an immense amount of noise on the Internet.


In order to rise above it, you need to be an independent thinker.


Quite frankly, I think it's better to be occasionally offensive or to go against the grain than to be 100% agreeable all the time.


Not that you should go out of your way to stir the pot, but it's okay for your thoughts to deviate from the norm.


People are attracted to those who can think for themselves and have their own views on things.


Whatever industry you're in, hold true to your values, and be sure to have your own opinion.


This is essential for eventually becoming an influencer.


Step 4 – Network, network, network


Once you've established yourself to some extent, you need to make an effort to connect with others.


I've found that one of the best ways to create leverage is to network with other influencers.


Or as Marketing Land puts it,


“To establish yourself as an influencer, you need to interact with influencers.”


But when you're an up-and-comer and still working to establish yourself, you're usually the one who will need to put in the legwork.


Seldom will the heavy hitters reach out to you (at least at first). That's why you'll need to be the one to reach out.


There are two main ways to do this.


One is to connect digitally, and the other is to connect in person.


The first option is usually done via interacting with prominent people on social media and commenting on their blog posts and other content they post.


The goal here is to start a conversation and gradually build rapport. This takes time and can't be done overnight, so you need to be persistent about it.


For example, you might get in the habit of providing insightful comments at the end of an influencer's blog posts that further the conversation.


After three or four times, it's likely they'll take notice of you, and this can open doors for the future.


But how do you know with whom to interact?


If you need some help deciding whom to target, I recommend using Buzzsumo.


The site has a section devoted to tracking down top influencers.


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Just click on “Influencers,” and type in the topic you're interested in.


I'll use “content marketing” as an example.


After entering this as a search term, I got a list of content that received a ridiculously high number of shares. Also listed are the people who wrote these pieces.


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This can be an effective way to find the people you should try to connect with.


The second option is to network in person.


Some ways to do this include:



  • attending industry tradeshows,

  • going to conferences/industry events, and

  • landing public speaking engagements.


Public speaking in particular can be a potent way to make connections because all eyes are on you, and you never know who could be in attendance-it could be a huge influencer who holds a lot of sway.


Step 5 – Engage your audience


Last but not least, you need to keep the conversation going.


Seldom do people want to follow someone who tries to be all high and mighty and acts as if they're too good to interact with their followers.


They want to follow someone who's real, accessible, and approachable.


That's why you need to put in the effort to religiously respond to blog comments, reply to messages on social media, thank people for reading your content, etc.


Here's an example of me responding to a comment on my blog:


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I would also recommend occasionally sharing outstanding content that members of your audience post on social media or commenting on their blogs as well.


That, right there, can be huge for boosting your brand equity and for forming super tight relationships.


The trick is to capitalize on the momentum you generate and to keep the ball rolling.


Conclusion


I'll be honest. Becoming an influencer isn't something that's going to happen overnight.


It takes a lot of hard work, consistent effort, and persistence. Even after you become an influencer, you need to keep your foot on the gas pedal to maintain your status.


Although it's not easy, it's definitely worthwhile.


The great thing about it is that building influence has a snowball effect. While you may only have a minimal amount of influence when first starting out, this grows and grows over time.


After awhile, your influence can become immense without you having to put a lot of extra effort into it.


In other words, the first stages are the most difficult and time-consuming.


But after you establish yourself, you simply need to maintain your status, and the world becomes your proverbial oyster.


What specific things do you hope to achieve by becoming an influencer in your industry?




Friday, 23 September 2016

How Any Small Business Can Compete with the Big Boys Using SEO and Social Media

big small


I get it.


I understand how brutal it can be-trying to market your small business in a world of billion-dollar businesses and multi-million dollar marketing budgets.


You have a limited budget, limited time, limited knowledge, and a limited arsenal of tactics that you can afford to implement.


But the big brands? They can do anything they want, hire as many people as they want, and unleash any tactic they want.


Today's small businesses are forced to compete in an increasingly saturated marketplace.


The competition is fierce, and it has become incredibly difficult to rise above the noise.


Combine this with the massive disparity between a small business's marketing budget and a much larger enterprise's seemingly infinite resources, and it's obvious that the cards are stacked against small businesses.


In fact, finding new customers is one of the top concerns of small business owners, and 66% claim this is the biggest issue they face.


How can small businesses tip the scales in their favor and go head to head with mega juggernauts?


It all boils down to two specific marketing strategies: SEO and social media.


When done correctly, these strategies can help any small business compete with the big boys.


I've been able to help small businesses do exactly that-upset the sumo-wrestler-size businesses in their niche.


It's part of the glory of digital marketing. Anyone can compete. Anyone can succeed.


Even the little guy.


You just have to know how.


Leveling the playing field


The beautiful thing about these two mediums-SEO and social media-is that they are impartial. They show no favoritism.


Google doesn't care what business is offering which product. It's just looking to provide users with the best and most relevant results.


The same goes for social media.


It doesn't matter if it's a brand new startup bootstrapping its marketing or a well established company that's been around for years.


You can still achieve significant exposure as long as you understand the process and how to reach your demographic effectively.


While it is true that there will be inherent difficulty outranking a behemoth like Amazon or Walmart on search engines and you're unlikely to gain the same size of a social media following as a corporate titan, the right know-how definitely makes it possible for small businesses to gain traction.


It's a matter of implementing the right techniques and having an understanding of the processes that are working at the moment.


Small businesses benefit the most from social media


A 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report came up with some interesting findings in terms of who benefited the most from social media.


According to their findings, 90% of respondents agreed social media was important to their businesses.


The interesting thing is that 67% of self-employed individuals and 66% of small business owners were more likely to strongly agree with this statement.


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In terms of the specific advantages, 88% of respondents said the top benefit was increased exposure for their businesses.


Second, at 72%, was increased traffic/subscribers.


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With roughly two-thirds of all small business owners claiming social media was important to their businesses, it's clear that a well run campaign can have a significant impact.


You also have to take into account the possibility for going viral and seeing massive growth in an extremely short period of time.


If you really understand your audience and know how to connect with them on social media, you can not only gain exposure but also earn your audience's loyalty and bring repeat business.


So in theory, a no-name startup can experience wide scale exposure overnight and get a flood of traffic along with off the chart sales.


Killing it at SEO


There's no denying that search engines have forever changed the way we find information and the way businesses approach marketing.


To put some perspective on things, “Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.”


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Wow! That's a lot.


But let's be honest. Small businesses stand little to no chance of outranking colossal companies for broad search terms.


But when small businesses use smart tactics like long-tail keyword phrases, they have a realistic chance to outrank the big boys.


Here's a very simple example.


I entered the keywords “razor blade” on Google-a very broad search term.


As you might expect, the top results were dominated by Amazon:


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Then I entered a more specific and much narrower search term, “best double edged razor blades.”


Here are the results:


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As you can see, much smaller companies are getting the top results, and Amazon is the very last entry on the first page.


Of course, the more specific, long-tail, keywords won't get as many searches as the broad ones. But they can still generate a lot of quality organic traffic.


This allows small SEO-savvy businesses to consistently bring in a stream of leads that are ready to buy.


My hyper-simplistic example by no means demonstrates the full potential of SEO for small businesses. It simply proves that small businesses can in fact compete with their much larger counterparts.


Ideal for small marketing budgets


What's the primary advantage large companies have over small ones? Money.


Of course, they have a plethora of other advantages like more brand equity, a formal marketing department, an HR department, etc.


But when you break it all down, big businesses can easily have hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars to funnel into their marketing campaigns each year.


On the other hand, small startups may be on a shoestring budget, and $50,000 annually may seem like a lot.


Fortunately, legitimate SEO and social media campaigns can be run without a lot of financial backing.


This is especially true when you do everything in-house.


Rather than hiring a high priced marketing agency, small businesses can cut back on their costs significantly by having staff members run their campaigns.


Instead of a financial investment, a time investment can bring about legitimate results.


The point I'm trying to make here is that SEO and social media are both cost-effective marketing channels and can be very affordable if you're willing to put in the time.


In fact, “those who spend at least six hours per week are almost twice as likely to see leads generated as those who spend five or fewer hours.”


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While small companies probably won't have the budget for expensive mediums like TV commercials or paying big-named influencers like Taylor Swift to promote their products, they can almost always afford SEO and social media.


And when they really know what they're doing and stay up-to-date on cutting-edge techniques, there's absolutely no reason why they can't compete with the big boys.


How can I thrive on SEO and social media?


I'll be totally upfront with you.


Seldom can you just launch an SEO or social media campaign and get instant results.


And quite frankly, it's not as easy as it looks.


On paper, it might seem like you simply perform some rudimentary keyword research or post a cool article on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.


Then presto, an influx of traffic floods your site, and your product flies off the shelf.


But that's just not how it works.


To truly reap the benefits of these marketing strategies, you need to develop an in-depth understanding of the process, go through trial and error, and have plenty of patience.


You also need to stay in the know of what's going on and continually make adjustments as new trends unfold.


But nonetheless, you definitely can thrive as long as you “get it” and persevere.


The good thing is, there is an abundance of free resources online that will teach you everything you need to know.


Sites like Moz, HubSpot, Quick Sprout, Social Media Examiner, and Search Engine Journal are just a few that can guide your efforts.


So, let's briefly examine some specific ways you can position your small business to compete with large competitors.


Effective SEO strategies


For starters, it pays to be niche-centric with your approach.


Ideally, your business will cater to a fairly narrow target audience.


Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, you're usually better off focusing on a smaller demographic and being the company that's best capable of meeting their unique needs.


This mainly revolves around using long-tail keywords rather than trying to rank for broad terms.


Let's go back to my example about “razor blades” and “best double edged razor blades.”


While the former keyword phrase would be extremely difficult to rank for, the latter is a realistic possibility.


In fact, small businesses were able to rank for it and bring in a reasonable amount of traffic and leads.


It's also important that you pursue link-building opportunities.


According to Moz, domain-level link features, such as quality of links, trust, domain-level PageRank, etc., were the number one influencing factor on Google algorithm in 2015.


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You can accelerate your SEO campaign exponentially by reaching out to and building relationships with influencers and top publications. If you're able to get links from reputable sites, this can be the catalyst for a spike in your search rankings.


Some other strategies include:



  • Creating valuable content that's based around user intent (e.g., answering common questions and addressing customer pain points)

  • Performing on-site optimization (e.g., incorporating keywords into your URL, headers, meta description, etc.)

  • Optimizing your site for mobile


Potent social media strategies


I love social media because it gives small businesses the opportunity to convey their identities and build highly personalized relationships with their audiences.


You can showcase your swagger and let consumers know why your company is worth doing business with.


It may sound a little cheesy, but I think the most important part of finding success on social media is to be yourself.


I, for example, am building my strategy with the specific goal of reaching MY customers and not worrying about the masses.


This coincides with Seth Godin's concept of building a tribe (a community) around your brand.


Like the old saying goes, “Try to please everyone, and you'll end up pleasing no one.”


Dollar Shave Club is a great example of a brand that embraces being itself.


Their off-kilter, slightly smart-ass marketing messages are unforgettable and definitely appeal to a certain segment of the population.


Saying things like, “Our blades are f**king great” is ballsy. But it's hard to deny that this attitude has been a key contributor to their success.


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Another integral element of a well run social media campaign is to be constantly engaging your audience.


Whether it's retweeting epic content relevant to your niche, responding to comments on your Facebook page, inviting others to connect on LinkedIn, or asking questions to ignite digital discussions, it's important that you're interacting.


In other words, be on the offense.


The great thing about social is that it can actually be used as an outlet for handling certain aspects of customer service.


People love giving their feedback via social channels, which gives you an opportunity to strengthen relationships and quickly fix escalating situations when the feedback happens to be negative.


It's also essential that you're using the right networks.


Each social network has its own demographic and appeals to a different segment of the population. You want to make sure you're spending your time on the networks your core audience is using.


For example, if your target audience is primarily female, Pinterest would be one of your best bets because 81% of Pinterest users are female.


Some other strategies include the following:



  • Use a consistent tone and style to strengthen your brand identity

  • Be authentic

  • Provide genuinely useful and valuable content

  • Use plenty of images (people respond favorably to visuals)

  • Maintain a consistent presence (e.g., don't go MIA for months on end)

  • Curate content as well as create your own

  • Use analytics to measure your results and make the necessary adjustments

  • Consider using tools like HootSuite and Buffer to automate some aspects of your marketing (e.g., scheduling posts ahead of time)


Conclusion


In my opinion, the current day and age is the most exciting ever for small business owners.


While in the past, smaller enterprises almost always had to play second fiddle to huge companies and “pick up the marketing scraps,” these days, it's totally possible for them to compete and even thrive.


Even if you just recently launched a startup and have to watch every penny, you can still get ahead and create massive exposure for your brand.


By getting on board with SEO and social media and understanding the nuts and bolts of these mediums, you can gain traction in your industry and drive quality leads to your site.


Can you think of any other marketing strategies that level the playing field between small and large businesses?




Monday, 19 September 2016

The Only Checklist You Need for Launching Your Startup's Website

Ah, website launches.


Love 'em or hate 'em, they are something every business needs to do.


I've been through a ton of website launches, so it's kind of a ho-hum process now.


But even if I go into a website launch with a nonchalant attitude, something usually happens-something unexpected.



  • In one website launch, the webmaster forgot to turn off the disallow on the robots.txt

  • In another website redesign, the developers forgot to add the subdomain to 200k pages.

  • In another website redesign, the developers accidentally used the wrong footer for all 1.1m pages.


I could go on and on.


Here's the thing-website launches are important. And more often than not, there's something wonky that happens. These wonky surprises can destroy your SEO and cause your entire website to flounder from the start.


Even if you're fairly experienced with the process and have built multiple sites, launching a new website can still be overwhelming and stressful.


There are a lot of components involved in a website launch, and there's a lot of potential for hiccups along the way.


Overlooking even a few subtle elements can have disastrous consequences.


What if there are blatant typos? Or what if your visitors get the dreaded “page not found” error?


It's going to be a poor reflection on your company and could send would-be customers running.


The bottom line is that no one is perfect, and even the top professionals can overlook a few details.


What I've learned from launching multiple sites is that it's crucial to follow a formula that forces me to leave no stone unturned. This way I can cover myself and ensure that the entire process goes off without a hitch.


The best way to accomplish this is to follow a checklist and work your way through it step by step.


Here is the only checklist you need for launching your startup's website.


Layout


First things first. You'll want to cover the basics in terms of web design to ensure your site looks great and is easily navigable.


Visitors should have a seamless experience without needing to think too much about how to get where they need to go.


Here are things to attend to at this stage:



  • Your homepage includes your business's logo.

  • The logo is appealing and professional.

  • Visitors should be aware of the product or service you're selling upon landing on your site.

  • Images are optimally positioned.

  • Images can be viewed on mobile devices.


Compatibility


Today's Internet users access websites from a variety of devices and browsers.


In particular, the use of mobile devices has become increasingly common: 80% of people are using smartphones, and 47% are using tablets.


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That's why it's crucial to avoid fundamental glitches that can create compatibility issues.


Make sure that:



  • your site is compatible with all major browsers, including Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.

  • your site is fully optimized for mobile users. There are multiple ways to create a mobile-friendly site, but responsive web design (RWD) is regarded as one of the most effective techniques.

  • you've optimized cascading style sheets (CSS) across your site.

  • all coding has been done correctly, and there are no glitches that can ruin the user experience.


Functionality


It should go without saying, but users expect a fluid experience.


Any glitches or malfunctions can increase your bounce rate, and it'll be much more difficult to nurture leads.


With 55% of visitors spending fewer than 15 seconds on a website, you need to cover all the bases and optimize your site's functionality to keep your visitors browsing and minimize your bounce rate.


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Make sure that:



  • You've corrected any issues that could potentially slow down your site's load time.

  • There are no broken links.

  • There are no 404 redirects.

  • All internal links point to the intended page.

  • All external links are working correctly and point to authoritative, relevant sites.

  • You're not linking to resources that offer no value.

  • Links open in a new tab. (It can be annoying for users when they lose their place because a separate tab isn't opened after they click on a link).

  • You've set up a favicon icon so that users can easily identify your site when they bookmark it. (This is crucial for proper branding).

  • You've optimized navigation by adding pages either to the top or to the sidebar so that users can quickly find what they're looking for.

  • You've added a search bar to expedite the search.

  • Your site isn't clogged with annoying ads or popups.

  • Popups can be closed with ease.


Site speed


Time is of the essence when your website is loading.


The longer it takes your site to load, the higher your abandonment rate will be. If it takes longer than three seconds to load, you've already lost 40% of your visitors.


That's no good.


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Here are just a few other eye-opening stats. A one-second delay in page load time yields:



  • 11% fewer page views

  • A 16% decrease in customer satisfaction

  • A 7% loss in conversions


That's why I can't stress enough just how crucial it is to check the speed of your site and do whatever it takes to optimize it. Ideally, you'll be able to get your loading time under three seconds.


Here are some specific things to look into:



  • You've checked the speed of your website using the Pingdom Website Speed Test. This will let you know the precise speed and provide you with some performance insights to indicate problem areas.

  • You're using high-quality servers capable of keeping up with heavy website traffic at times.

  • You've enabled browser caching.

  • You're not using an excessive number of images, videos, or other media that could potentially slow down your site.

  • You're not going overboard on plugins. (These can make your site sluggish).

  • You've ensured that above-the-fold content loads quickly. (This should be a priority over below-the-fold because it doesn't matter all that much if below-the-fold content takes a few seconds longer).


This should cover the basics, but you can get a lot more ideas about speeding up your website by checking out this resource.


Content


It's been said time and time again-content is king.


Content is arguably the lifeblood of your website. Any lack of professionalism or mediocre quality will hurt you in the long run.


Providing A+ content is important not only for maximizing average session duration but also for your overall conversion rate.


That's why you need to be borderline obsessive about dotting your i's and crossing your t's in this department.


Make sure that:



  • You've used a light background with dark fonts to make text easily readable.

  • You've thoroughly proofread every landing page, blog post, etc.

  • You've corrected every single spelling and grammatical error.

  • You've created engaging and captivating titles.

  • You've broken up content into digestible chunks by incorporating H1s, H2s, H3s, and bullet points.

  • You haven't used massive blocks of text that are ugly and difficult to read.

  • You've given proper attribution to external sources you've cited.

  • You have plenty of visuals to make your content appealing to the eye. (46% of marketers say photography is critical to their current marketing and storytelling strategies).


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  • Images are high-definition and professional in appearance.

  • You're not infringing upon any copyrights with your images.

  • Images are correctly formatted and can be viewed on any device.

  • You've added videos where appropriate.

  • Videos are correctly formatted and viewable on any device.

  • Downloadable content, such as whitepapers, e-books and slideshows, are working properly.

  • You've added your business's contact information in a visible area.

  • Visitors can find answers to FAQs.

  • Pricing information can be easily found.

  • There are calls to action in relevant locations.

  • You've added social share buttons.

  • You've implemented SEO


Understanding and implementing the fundamentals of on-site SEO is incredibly important.


This is your ticket to getting found in search engines and driving a consistent stream of organic traffic to your site.


When it comes to SEO, a lot of elements need to be covered.



  • You've created an XML sitemap.

  • You've performed keyword research to identify which keyword phrases to target in your content.

  • You have chosen longtail keywords so that you have a legitimate chance of outranking the competition.


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  • You've peppered those keywords throughout your content but without keyword stuffing.

  • You've incorporated targeted keywords into your URL.

  • You've included targeted keywords in your meta description, titles, and headers.

  • You've added relevant tags to your content.

  • Alt tags have been added to images.

  • Tags have been added to videos.

  • URLs are brief and user-friendly. (They're not long and ugly.)

  • Meta descriptions are a maximum of 160 characters. This ensures they're not truncated in search results.

  • Meta descriptions are engaging and summarize what your content is all about.

  • You've set up internal and external links.

  • You've practiced hyperlink optimization where links don't contain your targeted keywords. (Targeted keywords in hyperlinks can result in penalties from Google).


Analytics


Right from the get-go, you need to be diligent about keeping tabs on your traffic.


You want to be able to analyze visitor behavior, ways you are acquiring your traffic, length of time visitors are staying on your site, your bounce rate, and so on.


Doing so is essential for spotting patterns and trends and ultimately making key adjustments to optimize conversions.


That's why I recommend setting up some type of analytics platform when launching your startup's website.


I think that Google Analytics is sufficient for generating the basic data needed for most startups, especially during the initial stages.


However, you may also want to utilize a more comprehensive platform such as Crazy Egg so that you can visually see where your visitors are clicking. One of my companies, Kissmetrics, is another helpful tool for better interpreting your data.


Here are some essential analytics-related steps to cover:



  • You've properly inserted your analytics code into your website.

  • You've checked to make sure that it's set up correctly with no formatting/coding issues.

  • You've set up conversion goals.

  • You've set up e-commerce tracking.

  • You've set up event tracking.

  • You've linked Google Analytics and AdWords if applicable.


Security


Did you know that “the number of U.S. data breaches tracked in 2015 totaled 781?”


According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, “this represents the second highest year on record since the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) began tracking breaches in 2005.”


Website security is no joke, especially for companies in the business sector, health/medical industry, and banking/financial/credit sector because these industries have reported the highest number of data breaches on average.


According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the catalyst for the majority of cyber attacks was hacking.


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It's important to remember that no one is completely exempt from an attack. If it can happen to big name companies like Sony and Target, it can definitely happen to a small startup.


I'm not trying to freak you out, but website security has never been more essential than today.


If your data is ever compromised, it can quickly open a can of worms. It can tarnish your reputation, lead to costly downtime, and even result in costly penalties from the government.


Some specific points you'll want to check off include the following:



  • You're running your site on a secure host.

  • You have a business continuity plan in the event of system downtime.

  • You've made sure that your website is properly backed up in case of data loss.

  • Your site utilizes a secure login system.

  • All passwords are stored in a secure location.

  • You've made it so that users are denied entry after a certain number of login attempts. You can use a WordPress plugin like Login LockDown for this.

  • You haven't shared login information with unwanted third parties.

  • You've instructed team members to not share sensitive information through unprotected channels such as unencrypted email.

  • Login pages are fully encrypted.

  • You've protected your site against Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. This is a common type of attack that hackers use. Although it's nearly impossible to prevent these types of attacks altogether, utilizing a Cloud mitigation provider can help dramatically.

  • You've implemented a secure payment processing system that will protect financial information of your customers.

  • You've created a plan to continually test your website security.


Conclusion


This checklist should serve as a way to foolproof the process of launching your startup's website. By having a systematized sequence of steps to follow, you'll know for sure you're not missing any important details.


Once it's actually time to launch, you can rest easy, knowing your visitors will have the best experience possible.


Your site will load quickly and have plenty of aesthetic appeal; visitors will be able to navigate your site with ease; and security won't be an issue.


When it's all said and done, you can keep visitors on your site longer, efficiently move them through the sales funnel, and, most importantly, maximize your conversion rate.


Which elements do you think are the most important to address when launching a new website?