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There’s no question that the business climate is tough right now. Uncertainties about tax rates, government regulations and its debt rating, employee health-care costs and other factors are stifling growth and creating concerns about the future.
Despite those fears -- or perhaps because of them -- many companies are seeking new ways to grow and protect their businesses for the future. To encourage that pioneering attitude, we take you to the classroom with no-cost or low-cost ways to increase sales and profits and transform your business.
1. The Mobile Web
Your company has a solid Web site. That’s great. But how does it look and feel on a mobile device? Unless you’re developing for the mobile Web, you’re missing out on a huge set of potential customers that are using smartphones to let their fingers do the walking. The Yellow Pages may have once been the first stop for most people seeking a product or service, but in the new century it’s Google, and more than half of all Web searches originate from mobile devices. C’mon, folks, the number of mobile devices with access to the Web has exceeded desktops since 2008.
Fear not, though, because the process of mobilizing your Web site doesn’t have to cost more than the average two-year cell phone contract (or last as long). Web services such as those at HostPapa, goMobi and MoFuse offer cost-effective ways to optimize your Web site for mobile devices. For little or no fee, these services modify existing Web sites so they look and work better with smartphones, often with no additional coding.
For developing a mobile site from scratch, sites such as mobi Forge, MobiSitesGalore, Wapple and WireNode offer quick and easy solutions that include hosting, mobile device detection and the ability to show ads. Each of these sites, along with dozens more, offer their own particular points of strength. For instance, MobiSitesGalore offers a drag-and-drop interface and forms tool that can create a mobile presence in just a few minutes. Wapple is a full-service agency that can tailor its services to precisely fit the need.
Buyer beware. Before engaging with any of these services, particularly if it includes hosting, solution providers would do well to spend a minute or two poking around elsewhere. Your first stop might be Woorank.com, which scans and rates Web sites based on visitor traffic patterns, search engine optimization, or SEO, mobility standards compliance and about a million other metrics. Once you’ve narrowed it down, use a free uptime monitor from SiteUptime.com to track prospective sites for a week or two.
2. App Site Engagement
Your next step in developing for the mobile Web might be to try your hand at building apps for Android, iOS or other smartphone platforms. This effort can be as simple as creating an “m” domain, such as the one at m.crn.com, to hiring or contracting coders to build and maintain one or more custom apps.
If you plan to target iPad and/or iPhone, then you’ll have to learn how to play ball with Apple and its App Store. Apple has a fairly stringent approval process for its applications. There are several good tutorial sites, including www.idev101.com, which lists specifics of all the objects and data that Apple requires in addition to the app itself.
iPhone/iPad development is not for the casual programmer. iOS apps are built in Objective c 2.0, a derivative of C that includes a messaging syntax akin to Smalltalk. For about $100 a year, Apple provides the iOS SDK and Xcode, a Mac-hosted integrated development environment for building apps for iPad, iPhone and Mac OS X. Among Objective C’s strengths as an object-oriented language is reflection, the ability of an app to observe itself and change its behavior when executed. Among the App Store’s strengths is its distribution system and wide audience.
With Android overtaking iOS by some measures, Google’s mobile platform represents a huge opportunity for solution providers building apps for the mobile Web. Google has an edge over Apple in a few key ways: its development tools are free, they’re hosted on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows, developers have a nice choice of Java or C/C++, and the Android OS is open source. Plus, the Google market is a bit less stringent than the App Store, but this might be viewed by some as a negative in terms of security.
3. Search Engine Optimization
Once you’ve mobilized your Web site, it’s time to make sure it gets seen. One way to improve your Web presence is to make sure that it appears at (or near) the top of search result lists, and that can be done “organically” (and for free) using search engine optimization, or SEO.
Many SEO techniques can be employed for free by you, your staff or even by software. One simple SEO strategy is to use backlinks. These are links back to your Web site from other sites in your market. Backlinks are seen by search engines as positive votes for you; they’re an indication of how important your Web site is to others in your part of the industry.
To start, Google the names of your suppliers and customers and approach the highest-ranking ones first; they’re the ones that will most quickly boost your ranking. Respectfully request of the admins that backlinks be placed on those sites. Another way to get backlinks from suppliers is on their “where to buy” page. And if they have a blog or other space for comments from customers (of which you are one), be sure to weave a link or two to your Web site as you heap your supplier with praise.
As for customers, some will agree to link to your site from theirs. Offer to provide an information page for their site that contains information about one of their premier suppliers (you) along with one or more links to your site. For customers that have a blog or other comment forum, apply the same strategy as described for suppliers.
To check your ranking and gauge your progress, there are lots of Web-based services that will crawl your Web site and evaluate its ranking. One good example was developed by Internet entrepreneur Michael Wong and can be found at Mike’s Marketing Tools (tinyurl.com/mikesSEO). Simply enter the URL and the search term to be ranked. The result will be the term’s ranking (from 1 to 100) for Google, Yahoo, Bing and AOL search engines, displayed instantly in a new browser window. No registration is required.
For your mobile SEO strategy, you must first realize that the requirements, behavior and activities are different for mobile users than for those searching from the desktop. Keep search terms small and limited to a single word so they’re easy to type on a small keyboard. Keep Web pages to a minimum height and width so they render well regardless of the browser and screen size. Be sure to include location into search-term planning. Test sites using Google Mobile at m.google.com.
NEXT: Spread The Word