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Marketing Tips for the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for small businesses everywhere. As business owners are concerned about the health of their families at home and employees at work, many also face impending financial struggles. Sales are taking a hit as brick-and-mortar companies are forced to cease or limit operations and customers become more judicious about spending money. Fortunately, there are some relief efforts underway (which you can learn about through SCORE’s Coronavirus Small Business Resource Hub to help struggling entrepreneurs. Also, there are some marketing strategies you can use to help keep your business on customers’ radar during the coronavirus pandemic.

7 Marketing Tips to Help Small Businesses Weather the COVID-19 Storm

1. Show Compassion and Humanity

Resist the urge to go full-on into “sales” mode. The coronavirus crisis is affecting people everywhere in a very personal way. If you ignore the situation at hand, your brand will appear tone-deaf and unconcerned. Rather than pushing your products and services, consider expressing your heartfelt concern and camaraderie. Then, tactfully sharing how you can still serve your customers’ needs during this time (or after any restrictions on your business have passed).

2. Don’t Let Your Business’s Social Media Presence Slip

While at home, waiting to go back to work after “stay at home” orders are lifted, people will be spending more time than ever on social media. Seize the opportunity this gives you to stay connected and raise awareness of your brand. As we mentioned above, show compassion and humanity in your status updates. Project how you relate to what your followers are going through, share positivity, and focus on how you can serve them to make their lives easier during these difficult times. If you have employees working from home, consider involving them in your posts. That will help to demonstrate the human element of your business and reinforce that your team is doing their part to flatten the curve through social distancing.

3. Freshen Up Your Website

As you experience some downtime, consider cleaning up and updating your website content. Especially pay attention to details that have changed as a result of the coronavirus.

  • Location closures
  • Hours of operation
  • Contact numbers
  • Ordering information
  • Response times

4. Proactively Communicate with Your Customers

Whether it’s by email, phone, social media messaging, or otherwise, reach out to customers to keep them informed about how COVID-19 is affecting your operations. Of course, also make sure you express your hope that they are staying safe and healthy. In all that you do during this time, showing your care and compassion will be critical.

5. Offer Your Services Virtually

If it’s a good fit for your type of business, consider going digital in how you deliver services to your customers. For example, personal trainers, physical therapists, and others are holding client sessions through apps like Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangouts. First, make sure there are no legal restrictions that would prevent you from doing so legitimately.

6. Look for Ways to Do More for Less

Some social media and marketing platforms are offering programs to help business owners that are feeling the financial crunch of COVID-19. For example, Facebook has launched its Facebook Small Business Grants Program, which provides cash grants and ad credits to eligible small businesses. Check with the platforms you use to see if they will offer discounts or deals that can help you keep your marketing efforts going at a lower cost.

7. Reach Out to a SCORE Mentor for Ideas

Realize you don’t have to go it alone during this challenging time! A SCORE mentor can help you through it by offering fresh ideas, providing valuable feedback, and aligning you with resources. Contact us today to talk with a mentor about what you can do to survive and succeed!

3 SEO Tips to Help Your Small Business Stand Out Online


As more and more consumers look online before buying products and services, basic search engine optimization is essential for your business. If you don’t prioritize your company’s visibility in online searches, you could end up at a competitive disadvantage.

According to a consumer survey by BrightLocal, “97% of consumers looked online for local businesses in 2017.”

SEO is a complex and multifaceted discipline, but by following just a few best practices, you can help boost your business’s chances of getting found in searches on Google.

1. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly yet, make it so.

Fifty-seven percent of all online traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. Google has estimated that 9 out of 10 people will leave a website if it isn’t easy to use from their mobile device. So, even if your company has better products and services than your competitors, you could miss out on business opportunities if you don’t have a mobile-ready website.

Mobile-friendliness also affects your website’s ranking in Google searches. Beginning in April 2015, Google began giving mobile-ready websites an edge over sites without mobile support on the search engine results pages.

Adding to the importance of having a mobile-ready site is the rollout of Google’s mobile-first indexing, which began in March 2018. In Google’s own words, “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”

Although mobile-first indexing has not rolled out to all websites yet, Google is encouraging webmasters to make their content mobile-friendly to perform better in mobile search results.

You can check to see if Google considers your site mobile-ready by using Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test. If your site has room for improvement, talk with an experienced web development resource to discuss your options.

2. Establish a business profile (or claim your business listing) on online directories and review sites.

Well-known sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Citysearch, and TripAdvisor, often rank higher than business websites in search results. If you’re listed on them, prospective customers will have an easier time finding you. Also, the links to your website from these sites (“backlinks”) can help improve your website’s ranking in search results.

The benefits of better visibility and backlinks also apply to listings on local directory sites like those provided by your chamber of commerce, tourism bureau, and other organizations.

If you operate your business from a physical location, you’ll also want to make sure you appear on Google My Business. Doing so will help your business show up higher in local search results, including on Google Maps.

Important Note: Wherever you list your business online, make sure your NAP (name, address, phone number) information is consistent. If you’ve moved or changed your name or phone number, you’ll want to update that information on every website that lists your company. Most SEO experts agree that search engines look for uniformity to validate that a business is legitimate. Inconsistency can result in your business information showing up incorrectly—or Google might choose to omit your business from the search engine results page altogether.

3. Have a keyword strategy that goes narrow rather than broad.

Keywords remain critical for helping Google determine what your website pages are about. However, they need context and must appear naturally in content that satisfies what your audience wants to know.

Rather than use keywords that consist of only one or two general words, focus on long-tail keywords that more closely resemble—in your customers’ words— the exact types of products and services your customers are looking for and the area where they hope to find them.

So, say you have a dog training business in Portland, Maine. Rather than using the general keywords of “dog training” or “dog trainers” (which have a tremendous amount of competition in search results), consider using wording that’s reflective of what your customers will be looking for online. For example,

  • Dog trainers in Portland Maine
  • Aggressive dog training Maine
  • Therapy dog training Portland Maine

While these don’t have the same amount of monthly search traffic coming to them as “dog training” and “dog trainers,” they have far fewer businesses competing for them and will better your chances of ranking higher in search results. Also, they will help ensure that the people who do find your website are potential customers for the services you provide.

Brainstorm on your own to determine some relevant keywords, and do some keyword research by using tools like Google Adwords Keyword Planner, SEMRush’s Keyword Research tool, or Moz Keyword Explorer.

Bonus Tip: As you’re deciding which long-tail keywords to use, also consider the increase in voice-activated searches. Think about how people talk, not just how they type!

Where Can You Find More Information About SEO Best Practices?

If you want to learn more about ways you can improve awareness of your business online, consider following SEO and digital marketing blogs like Yoast, Moz, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal. Also, contact SCORE to talk with a mentor who can direct you to reputable SEO specialists in your area, and who can advise you on all aspects of your business’s marketing endeavors.

Does Your Website Need to Be HTTPS?


“HTTPS” (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), those first few letters that you see at the start of many Internet addresses, have gotten a lot of press lately. Recent statistics as of November 2017 indicate that nearly 70 percent of web pages are now using HTTPS.

So, what does this mean for you if your small business website is still HTTP rather than HTTPS? Let’s take a moment to explore what HTTPS is and how it might affect your business.

What does HTTPS do?

HTTPS websites provide more security for users than do HTTP websites. They have an SSL certificate that activates a secure connection from a web server to a browser. HTTPS is especially beneficial on pages where users will be sharing personal identity, credit card, or bank account information.

HTTPS provides multi-layered protection through encryption, authentication, and preservation of data integrity. It prevents users’ information from becoming stolen by hackers or compromised by scammers who try to steal info by tricking users into thinking they’re on your website.

How can switching to HTTPS help your company?

With concerns rampant about data breaches, gaining customer trust is a big deal. When website visitors see HTTPS in your web address, they will feel more confident that your site is a safe place to enter their information.

If your business sells products and services online, customers may be more inclined to buy through your site if it’s HTTPS. Conversely, customers may seek other options if they see your site is only HTTP. Most website browsers (including Google Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer) readily identify HTTP sites as insecure with a symbol (an i with a circle around it) in front of the website’s address.

Going HTTPS may also give your website a small boost in its placement in online search results. Studies have shown a slight correlation between HTTPS and websites’ ranking in searches on Google.

How do you convert your website to HTTPS?

The process to migrate a website to HTTPS requires technical know-how, so you might need to enlist the help of a website development professional. As an overview, the steps involved include getting the required SSL/TLS certificates on your web server, deploying them correctly, generating a new sitemap, updating images and links on your site, testing, and fixing any issues.

Next Steps

If your website accepts payments from customers, you should (at a minimum) have HTTPS on the pages of your site that ask for that information.

You most likely won’t need HTTPS for security reasons if your website only collects email addresses to subscribe to your blog or email newsletters. But the trust factor and potential search engine placement benefits still make HTTPS a good idea even if you don’t ask for credit card information through your site.

For help in understanding HTTPS more thoroughly and what it will take to convert your website, contact SCORE for recommendations on expert resources who can assist you.



6 Things Your Customer Expects from Your Business Website


Small businesses that cater to local customers can benefit from a solid web presence. Even if you’re strictly a brick and mortar operation and not selling your products online, customers will expect your website to provide enough information to satisfy their curiosity and compel them to visit your location rather than your competitors’.


Does your small business website have what it takes? Here’s a checklist of the basics to include:


  • Your address, phone number, email address, and a contact form
    Customers expect it to be easy to find out where they can visit you or reach out to you for more information. While that seems like common sense, according to a 2015 SCORE Association report, 27 percent of small businesses surveyed didn’t include a phone number on their websites.


  • Your hours of operation
    Nothing will aggravate customers more than driving out of their way to your location, only to discover your business closed early on that given day. Always post your hours of operation on your website—and update them immediately if you’ve changed your schedule.


  • Photos that are an accurate representation of what you sell or services you provide
    “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and customers will expect your website to give a glimpse of what they’ll see and what they can buy when they visit you. To ensure images are of good quality and reflect your business at its best, consider having a professional photographer take photos of your store/office and products.


  • Content that shares what’s in it for them
    As tempting as it may be to go on and on about how great your business is and how wonderful your products and services are…easy does it. Turn your focus toward your customers. Tell them how they will benefit from visiting you and buying from you. What’s in it for them? Choose wording that makes them the center of attention, for example: “You’ll discover…” and “You’ll get…” versus “We have…” and “We do….”


  • A sense of the customer experience they will have
    Customers care about what they will get, but they also care about how the experience of doing business with you will make them feel. Including customer testimonials on your website can help convey that. Photos and videos can provide an open window to the customer experience, as well.


  • Up-to-date information about what’s new and special sales and deals you’re offering
    This gives customers a reason to visit your website often…and your business location. Always keep this content current. Otherwise, you’ll have unhappy customers when they come to your location expecting a deal that’s no longer available.


  • Links to your social media accounts
    This makes it convenient for (and encourages) your customers to find and connect with you on the social media platforms you have in common.


  • Simplicity
    A website that’s too cluttered with wordy content or that’s difficult to navigate can frustrate visitors and cause them to tune out. Think “user friendly” and don’t overcomplicate your website with pages and content that aren’t going to provide value to your customers. If you’re not sure about what customers care about or whether or not your website is too complicated, don’t guess. Talk to a few customers to find out.


Just like your brick and mortar location, your website is an important piece of real estate for your business. Get the most from it by making sure it’s meeting your customers’ needs and expectations. If you need guidance about website best practices, contact us to talk with one of our SCORE mentors. Our mentors have knowledge and experience in all aspects of marketing and are here to help you grow your business.

3 Ways to Monitor Your Online Business Reputation

People are talking about your business—whether you’re aware of it or not.

According to the 2014 Global Customer Service Barometer by American Express and Ebiquity, people share their experiences with others face to face (54%), through company websites (50%), text messaging (49%), and social networks (46%) and consumer review sites (46%).

Even if you aren’t particularly active online, you can bet that customers will share their impressions of—and experiences with—your brand there.

While it might not seem fair, the reality is they’re more apt to share the bad and the ugly than they are the good.

In fact, the American Express and Ebiquity study found consumers are 2 times more likely to share their negative customer service experiences than they are to talk about positive experiences. “On average, consumers tell 8 people about their good experiences (15 in 2012; 9 in 2011), and over twice as many people about their bad experiences (21; 24 in 2012; 16 in 2011).”

Whether positive or negative, online mention of your company affects how others view your business.

That’s why it’s so important to monitor what’s being said about you.

How do you do that?

Here are a few free ways to tap into what people are saying about your brand:

Set Up Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is a tool that enables you to track mentions of you, your business, and your products by simply setting up notification criteria. In Google’s own words, “You can get email notifications any time that Google finds new results on a topic you’re interested in. For example, you could get updates about a product you like, find out when people post content about you on the web, or keep up with news stories.”

Use Social Mention.

Social Mention lets you enter keywords, phrases, names, Twitter handles, etc. and view where they were mentioned in content on social media networks, review sites, blogs, and more. It even assesses whether mentions are “positive,” “neutral,” or “negative.”

Stay Tuned Into Your Social Media Accounts And Blog.

Don’t neglect these things. They are likely to be one of the first places customers will let you know if they have a problem. If you ignore their requests for help or don’t acknowledge their complaints, your business will appear uncaring and apathetic. Social media and blog comments also bring opportunities, making it even more important to keep up with what’s happening there. If you don’t, you could miss out on addressing questions and requests for more information from prospective customers.

 As you strive to build and grow your small business into one customers will respect and trust, don’t underestimate the power that your online reputation holds. Ignoring what people are saying about your brand can do a lot of damage and prevent you from seizing opportunities to interact and generate goodwill. Keep in mind that what happens on the internet stays on the internet—and it’s there for all to see. That’s why it’s worth your time and effort to monitor and manage your online reputation.

Want expert guidance on starting and growing your business? Contact us about our FREE mentoring services!

Boost Revenue by Accepting Credit Cards Online

credit cards

There’s plenty in the process that can lead to confusion – you need to know how to set up your site to accept payments online, which processing fee structures work best for your needs, and how the payment goes from being submitted to making it to your corporate bank account. However, this is something that can be tackled easily, so long as you take the time to figure out what is best for you and your small business. Here are some tips to help you boost your revenue by accepting credit cards online.

What are Merchant Services?

Starting with the basics, your merchant account is very similar to your personal bank account, with the difference being in that your merchant account allows you to accept credit and debit card transactions through your company site. As your company still needs its business checking account in order to receive and spend your funds, it’s unlikely that you will create your own merchant account. Instead, you’ll most likely hire a service provider who will manage your payments and take care of the hassle.

With a payment processing account, you sign a contract that gives the processor the permission needed to receive payments on your company’s behalf. Once you sign your contract, your payment processor will transfer all payments made to your company, minus a pre-determined processing fee. Upon entering into your contractual agreement, your processor will provide you with your company’s unique ID number, which will help them identify your account.

Payment Gateway

If you don’t really know how credit card processing works, when you think of your payment gateway, think of it as the service which will begin the transaction and notify you about the transaction’s approval or denial. The payment gateway is what acts as your website’s credit card machine. So, to put it simply, your gateway is what will allow you to process a transaction, just like you would if the customer’s card was in your hand, ready to swipe.

The payment gateway, which is provided in the form of virtual terminal software by some providers, is accountable for providing you and your customers with any settlement reports needed, for voiding transactions, and initiating refunds. Your company’s gateway processes customer information safely and securely, making sure your customers are protected against identity theft at all times. When you gateway completes address and GPS verification assessments, you’ll likely only contact your gateway with issues, as they remove the necessity to talk with your payment processor.

Processing Payments

You will need your payment gateway in order for your E-commerce system to interface with your payment processor. Your processor is the service provider that remains in communication with the bank which issued the credit card being used for a transaction. When the transaction is submitted through your website, it is moved from the payment gateway to your processor, which then requests the funds from the corresponding bank.

After receiving the request, the bank will then perform credit checks, as well as various fraud checks, before deciding whether to approve the payment or not. Your processor then responds to the gateway, which relays the bank’s decision back to your E-commerce system. Your payment processor handles most of the work in getting the payment to your business account, and in doing so, they take on most of the risk involved with accepting payments through your website. That said, the approval process with a payment processor has been known to be one of the lengthiest processes in getting your company set up with the right tools to accept payments on your website.

Your E-commerce System

In order for you to successfully accept payments online, you need to have an establish way to sell your goods and services on your website. The easiest way of going about this is to create an E-commerce system that directly interacts with your payment gateway.

Now, you may already have a properly functioning E-commerce system, you need to take some time to research the payment gateways that are compatible with your company’s system. While unfortunate, not all payment gateways are set up to work with each type of E-commerce system, so you’ll find that your options are limited to those compatible with your company’s system. However, if you sit down and take the time to research your options, you can save your company thousands of dollars a year in payment processing service fees.

While this isn’t the easiest process in the world, we all want to increase our revenue however we can, and there’s no greater way than to make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy your goods and services. Take into account, that if a provider makes it almost too easy to accept credit cards than the competition, they are likely to charge you an arm and a leg in processing fees. There are plenty of wonderful options available to help you achieve the success you’re currently only dreaming of.

Bradley Derringer is a blogger for TechBreach, giving you the latest on all things tech. 

Market Your Business Online

Begin the New Year by taking a fresh look at your business marketing strategy – how are you positioned  with So Lo Mo?   This cool buzzword stands for  Social Local Mobile, and these 3 marketing trends require your immediate attention.  2013 is the year to engage your brand or service with an interested audience, for free.

Do you have a social media presence for your business?  If not, why not? Social media simplifies a one-to one relationship with your customers.  Facebook is a place to start for your social media engagement.   Build your brand awareness and be part of a conversation.  It is easy to set up, free to use  and customers can locate your business should you lack a website.

If you still don’t have a website, now is the time to launch one and be found.  Head over to wordpress.com and set up a website or a blog for free.  Do you already own your domain name? It costs $13.00 to launch your website with your custom domain name and hosting on wordpress.com is free.  Talk about a no-brainer solution!

Choose a  website theme with a responsive design, which means it adapts to the screen resolution of the device its being viewed on.  Responsive design delivers a great viewing experience whether a tablet, or a smart phone or a PC. There are 59 responsive themes to choose from on wordpress.com. Some are free and some are premium (paid) themes.   Pick one you like (I like Watson from The Theme Foundry) and get started.  In a mobile world your website appearance is critical.  Enable your customers to find you in a flash!

You get the smart device implications, right?   Over 119 million of us are using a smart phone.

There were 17.5 million new smart device activations on December 25th, last December 25th 6.8 million.

Check out smart phone facts:  96% of smart phone users have researched a business or product on their phone;  94% have searched for local information; 70% called local businesses after searching.

Be found or be gone because smart phone users move on if they can’t find an address or phone number.  We all have the attention span of a gnat when we are searching for a solution.    Sprint over to getlisted.org and make sure your business information is available and current.  The search bots will be crawling all over your freshly updated contact details.

Don’t be left out of the conversation.  Get your message right with Social Local and Mobile.  Your customers will thank you with their business. And these 3 tips won’t break your budget.  Do it now!

Time to Update Your Website

Small business owners should take stock of the most basic digital asset: your website

If it has been 2 years or more since you last breathed any life into your website, it is time for an upgrade.

Consider these elements a “must-have” for your business website:

  • Up to date contact information so you can be found quickly .
  • A  customer comment feature, and/or  call to action  that encourages  a dialogue between you and your customers.
  • A mobile optimized site – 61% of local searches on a mobile phone result in a phone call according to Google.

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