8 Tips For a Better Site Navigation

Your site navigation is one of the most important features of your storefront and overlooking any aspect of it can be catastrophic to your business. If you want to sell more, your customers need to be able to find what they want with ease. Any good store design begins and ends with a positive user experience, which always relies heavily on the simplicity of your navigation.

There are far too many online stores that spend a great deal of time on designing large, beautiful site images, only to offer a sub-par and confusing navigation structure. You can design the most beautiful and effective landing pages for your products, but it won’t matter if customers can’t find them.

With this in mind, here are our top recommendations for improving how people navigate your online store:

1. Simple & Apparent Navigation

Though it seems obvious to say, your navigation must be simple to use, easy to find, and consistent through all pages. Users have to learn how to use every new website they visit, so making your navigation structure the same throughout your site will make it easier for them to understand. Navigation menus should never interfere with other site functionality.

2. Top-Level Menu Items

The pages/categories that are at the top of your navigation structure must be intuitive and obvious. Each of these must be on the same level of importance. Don’t place categories in the top level that make more sense to be subcategories of another category. Your store should be structured like a tree, with the most important branches supporting smaller branches.

3. Clickable Categories

Everything in your navigation menu should be clickable. If you have a category with 3 sub-categories under it, customers should still be able to click to a page for the master category, even if that page only has a short category description and links to the sub categories.

4. Number of 1st and 2nd Level Items

It’s important to limit the number of 1st and 2nd level items in your navigation structure. If there too many, the category will feel too heavy and may be best served by splitting it up.

5. Obvious Labels

Terms that are used in your navigation must be easy to understand and not overlap. If the customer is confused by what category they should look in to find a particular item, then your category labels should be made clearer.

6. Featured Product Display

You can implement a featured product display within a “megamenu”-style navigation to show a good example of what kind of products will be found within a category, and possibly get your customers to the most popular products faster.

7. Intuitive Breadcrumbs

Make sure to include a useful breadcrumb trail on every page on your site to show your current location in the site structure so that users to navigate easily to parent pages. If you have a page that exists in more than one parent category, consider displaying two different breadcrumb paths so that users have a choice when navigating backward through the site structure.

8. Single Navigation Menu

Whenever possible, your site navigation should not compete with any other menus so that users do not get confused. If you have a navigation menu that spans the top of the page, do not have a competing menu on a left sidebar, or another menu on top for items of lesser importance.

Drive More Business With Pokémon Go

So you’ve heard all of the buzz about the new Pokémon Go app, or you’ve seen all of the people staring at their phone screens and promptly running towards non-existing objects. However, not all of us were born in the 90’s and grew up with Pokémon to know just how big this phenomenon is. So we are here to fill you in on all the fun and offer you ways to capitalize on this movement and benefit your business without too much time and/or money.

What is Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is a mobile application that allows users to interact in virtual reality. The ultimate goal of the game is to catch Pokémon while using an interactive map to find the characters. Currently, these maps and locations are set by the creators of the app and cannot be changed. The game has three major features (1) hunting for Pokémon, (2) visiting Pokéstops and (3) gym battling.

How does the game work?

Hunting for Pokémon. Once users have downloaded the app, the main goal is to catch Pokémon. In order to catch them, you have to hunt for them by walking around. They can appear anywhere from on your couch, to on the bench at the park down the street.

Hunting Pokemon

Hunting Pokemon

Visiting Pokéstops. In order to catch Pokémon, you need to have Pokéballs. You toss these balls at the characters in order to catch and secure them. Pokéstops are places users can go and get more Pokéballs. These places are static and the locations are set by the creators.

Visiting Pokestops

Visiting Pokestops

Gym Battling. At level 5 of the game, you choose a team and begin battling at gyms. Gyms are locations in the game that are typically matched with real-world landmarks and larger locations. At these locations, users can battle their Pokémon against other users Pokémon.

Pokemon Gyms

Pokemon Gyms

How Can My Business Benefit From it?

It’s up to you to take the initiative to make this virtual reality game worthwhile for your business and be among the first to benefit from the latest trend. Here’s a three-step process your company can use to make the most out of Pokémon Go.

  1. Check for nearby Pokéstops or Gyms. As stated before, the location of Pokéstops, gyms and Pokémon are set by the creators on a static location map. You might be lucky enough to be at or near one of those locations. You’ll want to know this because you can use it in step three to bring the customers to you. Google Maps has some user-created Pokémon Go Maps for your reference (here is an example of the Las Vegas map), but the easiest way to know is to download the game yourself and look at your surrounding area .
  2. Bring the Pokémon to you. Although you can’t change the maps to manipulate the location of Pokémon, Pokéstops or gyms, you can drop what’s called a “Lure” to attract more Pokémon to your respective area. Lures are purchased in the in-game store and can cost as little as $1.19 per hour. Where there are Pokémon, there are Pokémon hunters which can drive a surplus of foot traffic to your store.
  3. Create a Pokémon promotion. Promotion implementation is going to be an integral part in this strategy. Use social media platforms to market the fact that you have a just dropped a lure, or you that you have a Pokéstop or Gym nearby. Using this tactic to get people in your location won’t be enough; once you have them, keep them with offers and promotions. For example, create a deal where everyone level 5 and up gets a discount on a product. You can also offer free giveaways to Pokémon hunters if they complete a small task such as post on their social media account about a Pokémon they found in your store or write a yelp review about your business.

Pokémon Go did the work by creating the app, now all you have to do is (1) check for gyms or Pokéstops near you, (2) fill your store with Pokémon and (3) offer a promotion or giveaway event. They did the hard stuff, so sit back, relax and reap the rewards. Who knew a simple game could have so much influence or not only its users, but on businesses alike?

How will you compete with Amazon Prime Day?

While Amazon is preparing for its largest digital shopping event since the company’s launch, you should be preparing for yours as well. On July 12th Amazon will be offering over 100,000 deals to an estimated 54 million Amazon Prime account users. Countdown deals for Prime Day begin today, July 5th and last through the end of the event. Last year, Prime Day’s ripple effect increased web sales an average of 20%.

Now is not the time to be shy. It’s time to plan for your biggest and most unique sales event yet. Amazon has already started, so let’s get your strategy together and begin execution.

There are many strategies that can be used to maximize your online store this week. Here are a few to consider as you get started…

Free Shipping deals. The most popular feature of Amazon Prime is free 2-day shipping on all orders. If you have a Prime account, you don’t have to worry about the cost of shipping or time to ship. You already know what it costs and how long it will take to get to you, which makes shopping easier. Make shopping from you just as easy with a free shipping deal to compete directly with Amazon.

Feature your sales. Be sure your promotions are featured in obvious ways on your web page. High-quality banners with captivating graphics tend to have the best results. You want to draw attention to your promotion in the best way possible. Make sure your banners are not cluttered with too much information. You also want to be sure the banner aligns with the message of your promotion. Keep it consistent and don’t forget to add the banner to all relevant pages.

Make it easy. The average human attention span in 2015 was an all-time low of about 8.25 seconds. If people can’t find something in that amount of time, they tend to lose interest. Categorization is key. If your potential customers expect a sale on your website, give them an easy to find sale. Don’t make your customers scroll through hundreds of items before finding what they are looking for. Giving customers an easy path to make a purchase is the best option here. This can be done by distinctively categorizing your sale items.

Make it unique. What about your website makes consumers want to purchase your products before seeking any other company? If you can’t quickly answer that question, it’s time to re-evaluate, get creative and do your research. Determine what prominent factors differentiate you and from the rest. Is your site easier to use? Are you environmentally friendly? Are your products one of a kind? These are just a few examples, but you can use these types of qualities to your advantage if you make them known to your audience. Give them a reason to choose you.

Tailor to your audience. For Prime Day, Amazon is targeting all of its users that have memberships to the site. Who are you targeting? Once you have figured this out, you can better tailor your sales and promotions to this audience. Take a look at the characteristics and demographics of your website’s audience. Looking at your history of product sales wouldn’t hurt either. If you know who is buying what product, you can use this as a foundation for determining what products will be featured as well as what your advertisements will look like.

Preparing for a major online shopping event is not an easy task. It takes a strategic plan, careful execution and examination to get promising results. From featuring your sales in innovative ways to ensuring that you have catered to your particular audience, VenturaU offers professional assistance customized to your needs. Contact us today to see how we can help you compete on Prime Day and beyond.

All About Platform Migration

Are you unhappy with your current e-commerce platform and thinking about moving to another platform?  If so, there are a few things to take into consideration before you decide to plunge in and make the move.

Design Considerations

Today’s e-commerce platforms are built on templates and depending on the platform changing those templates to fit your current site’s design may be difficult and you may need to make design changes to the site to fit the new template on the platform you are moving to. A move to a new platform can also give you the impetus and opportunity to update the current design of your site, so this could be a good thing.

Product and Category Migration

This is probably the biggest challenges you will face if you decide to migrate your site from one platform to another, particularly if you have thousands of products, complex product options, and a complex category and subcategory system for your products on your current platform. If a product migration doesn’t go smoothly it can be an absolute nightmare and take many, many hours to fix it and get it correct. Imagine thousands of items and hundreds of categories that don’t match up with your current store, and then imagine going through every one of them to figure out what issues need to be fixed.

Customizations

If the platform you are on now allows for you to add custom variables, has a flexible database that lets you add custom attributes to your products, and lets you write code to take advantage of those variables and database attributes, you need to be aware that the platform you move to may not allow you to customize your site in this way. The advantage of the new platforms is they are easier to operate and run, allowing more non-tech savvy people to open online businesses. To achieve this simplicity they lock down the database and prevent you from writing code and logic to customize your site, basically, what you get is what you get with these platforms.  This is a big consideration if you currently take advantage of the customization that your current platform allows.  If you want to keep those customizations make sure the new platform supports what you need.

Customer Reviews

Many of today’s e-commerce platforms have built in review systems.  If you are using a third party review system on your current site, it may be difficult to migrate those reviews over to the new platform.  In many cases the third party review systems have more features than the simple ones the platforms have implemented.  If you want to keep your third party reviews there will most likely be extra costs associated to have those moved to the new platform.

URLS

The likelihood that the URL structure on the platform you are migrating to having the exact same structure of your current site is extremely low.  Most likely during migration your product and category pages will have different URLs than what they currently are.  This means you will need to 301 redirect the old URLs to the new pages; otherwise you will lose any SEO link juice that those old pages had.

DNS

The final step to a platform migration is to update your DNS so the new site can go live.  DNS stands for Domain Name System. This system is used to point to the server that your website lives on.  If you change platform, you are changing servers.  So you will need to point your domain name to the new server.  For the most part this is a pretty simple step, and the platform you are migrating to will have instructions on how to point your domain name to their servers, but if you aren’t familiar with changing your DNS settings it can seem a bit daunting.  There are a few things to be aware of though. The main thing is you need to aware of with this is whether you will be changing your mail server or keeping it where it is. A wrong setting can prevent your web site from working or prevent you from receiving or sending your email.

 

With careful planning and expert advice, migrating to a new e-commerce platform does not have to be difficult, and a professional design and marketing firm can help ease the transition and assist you in avoiding any pitfalls that come along.

4 Steps to Advertising on Twitter Effectively

Interested in advertising on Twitter but intimidated by all of the options available to you and unsure where to start? Fear not – setting up advertising on Twitter is fast, simple, and can be completed in 4 easy steps:

Step 1: Select Your Campaign Objective

Go to Twitter Ads to get started. The below screenshot will be what you see first:

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You have a few different options for campaigns on Twitter – it all depends on what your end goal is. As you can see below, all you have to do is choose one of the campaign objectives and you’ll be directed to the next screen.

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The “Set up your campaign” screen is where you’ll enter the name of your new campaign. For the purpose of this article, we’ll go with “Website Clicks”:

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You can either choose to have your ad begin running immediately and continuously or you can set a start & end date. This all depends on your budget and what you are comfortable spending.

Step 2: Select Your Target Audience

On the next screen, begin by selecting the age, gender, and location of the people you want to advertise to. You can even narrow it down further by targeting what languages they speak, what device they are most likely be scrolling through Twitter on, what events they’re attending, and even the TV shows or networks they’re watching. You can also create ‘Tailored Audiences’ where you can target a demographic using their email addresses or even their Twitter IDs.

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As magical as it is having all of these customizable fields at your fingertips, try not to target too many people at once. If you target too broad of an audience with one campaign, you won’t have any idea what worked and what didn’t because it was all jumbled together. The best way to advertise effectively is to just choose one very specific group of people for each campaign and analyze the results afterwards so you know which audience is most likely to respond to your ads the next time around.

Step 3: Set Your Budget

The next step is selecting a budget that you’re comfortable with but that will also yield the desired results. You’ll need to set a daily maximum spend for your campaign (which resets at midnight) and we recommend also setting a maximum budget for the entire life of the campaign. This just means that Twitter will stop running the ads the second your campaign reaches this number.

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You’ll notice the “Advanced Options” drop-down menu underneath the “Set a total budget” field. There are 3 choices available to you in this menu: Automatic bid, target cost & maximum bid. This is referring to the fact that each time one of your ads is eligible to be shown on Twitter, it goes up against the other eligible ads (aka your competitors) and an auction takes place. If your bid isn’t high enough to beat the other advertisers, your ads will not appear as often as your competitors’.

Advertising with the automatic bid option means Twitter will optimize each of your ads for the lowest amount possible while staying within your budget. There isn’t a lot of control with this option and there’s a good chance you could get out-bid each time.

With the target cost option, you give Twitter a target cost (ex: $3 per link click) and they will typically stay within 20% of this target while trying to win you the auction. What’s great about this option is that it’s flexible enough that you have a greater chance of winning auctions against other bidders. Plus, Twitter will even tell you what other advertisers are bidding at so you’re not just taking a shot in the dark.

The maximum bid option is similar to the target cost option, but it has less flexibility. For this option, you set a maximum bid (ex.: $2 per link click) and Twitter will never exceed that number in the bidding process and you usually end up paying less. Twitter will also tell you what other advertisers are bidding for this option as well.

Ultimately, it depends on what your budget is and what you’re comfortable spending, but we recommend either the maximum bid or the target cost option. You may be inclined to go with the cheapest option, but if it is less likely to achieve your advertising goals right from the start is it really worth it?

Step 4: Choose Your Creative

You’re almost done – you’re at the finish line! Now you get to choose what image your audience will see and what message you want to put out there. This will depend on what your goal is, but for now let’s stick with our “Website Clicks” objective. You can choose to promote a previous Tweet or create a new one – we recommend always creating new content to keep potential customers interested.

As you can see from the example below, you can either use a “Website Card” (that just means an image with your message and a call to action) or you can just send a message with a call to action.

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We recommend always using an image in your ad – it’s the same cost as just a normal Tweet and has twice the impact. Below is an example of how your ad will appear to your customers:

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These ads will appear mostly at the top of user timelines, but also at the top of relevant search results and user profiles (only select user profiles that fit the targeting parameters).

That’s it! You’ve done it. You’ve officially set up your first advertising campaign on Twitter. Be sure to utilize Twitter’s handy Analytics tool to keep an eye on the results so you are continually creating effective advertising campaigns.

Introducing Gboard: All the Power of Google Right From Your Phone’s Keyboard

Google has done it yet again – they’ve created an ingenious, super convenient, all powerful app. Say hello to Gboard – Google’s newest iPhone keyboard app (sorry Android users, currently it’s only available on iOS at the moment). Gboard takes all the search capabilities Google offers and compresses them into a neat little package that lives in your phone’s keyboard. Search for images, addresses, GIFs, (even emojis!) right from the little Google icon – it’s literally one tap away.

 gboard-2

We’re all familiar with the annoyances of having to switch apps all the time just to accomplish one silly task such as finding the perfect cat GIF to send your best friend. Previously, you would need to exit the texting app, open up Google, search for said GIF, save it, and then go back to the texting app to finally send it. Or what about looking up an address to send to your friend so you can meet up for dinner later? Same story – exit the texting app, open up Google maps, search for the address (and get the wrong one a few times), copy, go back to the texting app, paste, and THEN send. Pain in the butt right? Well, good news – Gboard eliminates all of that nonsense. Now you can find all the cat GIFs & restaurant addresses your little heart desires without ever leaving the texting app.

Simply tap the Google icon (right underneath your camera icon on the left) and enter whatever it is you’re searching for and the results will pop up right in your keyboard underneath the search bar. Think of your keyboard as your new direct portal to Google – convenient, fast, & simple. Think of all the possibilities! Think of all the time you’ll be able to save not having to switch between apps all the time. Plus, Gboard follows you into all of your apps – email, texting, YouTube, etc. It’s never been so easy to search & share information.

On top of all of the magic listed above, Gboard also offers the Swipe function, something iPhone owners previously have been forced to go without. Now you can type out a word in a single swipe instead of having to tap each little letter. But wait, there’s more! You can also search for emojis now instead of swiping right 500 times just to find that stupid little pizza emoji you know your brother loves. Now you can simply search ‘Pizza’ and the pizza emoji will pop up as the first result (to the left of the Predictive suggestions).

gboard-1-small

There are a few cons to this wonderful new app however. For one, there is no Ok Google built into the app so users who are accustomed to using that feature might not be too pleased. Also, if you’re not a big fan of Predictive Text being on then this app might be more of an annoyance than a blessing to you. Unfortunately Gboard only works with the Predictive Text function on and there is no way to shut it off. And the last one has already been touched on – currently it is only available through iOS which is eliminating a large portion of mobile users.

All you have to do to get this wonderful app is open up the App Store and download it. All of the instructions & details on how to set it up are within the app and it even links you to the correct places within your Settings so you don’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to find the right section. Go download it – you know you want to.

Still curious? Here are a few other articles all about Gboard:

How to Create a Promotional Email Campaign

Creating an email promotion doesn’t have to be a difficult task.  If you already have your email marketing list in place and your marketing calendar planned out, you’re halfway there.  Let’s look at what the next steps are to turning on the money faucet for your business.
For this example, let’s pretend you’re promoting a new line of Widgets from Brand X.  It’s Valentine’s Day (a big holiday for Widget sales), and you want to offer 10% Brand X Widgets (for a limited time, while supplies last) with coupon code BRANDX10.  That’s everything we need to begin.
Your email marketing platform (Constant Contact, iContact, Campaigner, Mailchimp, etc.) will have an option to create a new email campaign.  They will most likely allow you to choose from a set of pre-defined email templates.  However, it would be best if you had a custom template that you make and re-use for your emails so that all the correspondence that comes from your business is consistent and your customers know what to expect.
Your email template can be an simple as your business logo and a phone number on top, or you can also include links to your website and customer service hours.  Whatever you choose to include, keep the header short and sweet so that readers can get to the most important content of the email right away.
You may also choose to include a standard footer with links to your website.  This is likely the best place for links and additional information that are not as important as the promotion but necessary for your business (like legalese and disclaimers).
It’s important to note that people have no patience.  They just don’t read an email if you don’t get their attention right away.  We recommend creating one big compelling graphic with your promotion in big bold letters to be included as the very first thing in your email (under the short header, or possibly in place of it).  Use as few words as possible to describe your deal.  Remember that pictures speak louder than words, so don’t cover more than half the image space with text (under 25% would be ideal).
Don’t forget the call-to-action!  Whether it reads “Shop Now” or “Learn More” or even “Donate Today”, customers need to be told what to do next to take action.  You can’t assume they will know that they can click the image to go to your website (which it should absolutely do).
We recommend making this graphic about 600 x 600 pixels wide.  It will be easy to read in all email browsers (desktop and mobile), and you can also use that graphic (or a derivation of it) on social media.  Be sure to make a version of your promotion graphic for inclusion on your homepage as a billboard.  Consistency in marketing is key, and it’s important that your customers know that your email message matches the branding on your site.
To support your fabulous new main image, you’ll need supporting text just below it.  This can be your wordier explanation of your sale or description of the product or products that you’re promoting.
It’s up to you as to whether or not you’d like to promote other items, categories, or brands below this.  In our experience, it’s best to keep emails as short and to the point as possible.  With that said, if you’re running an ongoing promotion like free shipping over a certain amount, or a contest, it may benefit you to include a smaller section below the main promotion with a custom graphic.
Before you schedule the email to be sent, it’s time to test your email.  Send a test to yourself and open it on your desktop, and on your phone.  Make sure all the links work!
A great thing about using a professional email marketing platform is that you can schedule your emails well in advance.  That way, you can setup all your emails ahead of time and not have to scramble at the last minute to get them done.  Good-looking email graphics can take a while and go through a few revisions before you approve, so plan ahead with an email marketing calendar.
And that’s it!  You’ve crafted an effective email marketing campaign.   On the day you send it out, be sure to keep an eye on your site traffic and email campaign reports.

Google Makes Major Shift on Search Results Pages

You may not have noticed it, but Google made a major change to the way it displays search results.  Google recently removed all pay-per-click ads from the right side of it’s search results pages.  After more than ten years of Adwords pay-per-click results taking up both the top 1-3 spots and the entire right column being a long list of ads, this is a significant shift in how Google is going to provide “answers” to search queries.So why did Google remove a major source of revenue on the right column of its search results?  The answer is almost certainly a result of testing and monetization.  Google thinks it can provide a better user experience, and make more money, by using that space more wisely.  But what is going to go there?  To learn where Google is going, you have to be fully immersed in the world of all things Google.  Luckily for you, that’s pretty much all we do. 🙂

Over the past few months, the team at VenturaU (and also Ventura Web Design) has noticed that there are many queries that bring up a special box called a Knowledge Panel on the right with relevant info about your search.  While the knowledge box itself is not new, how it displays specific information about medical searches is very interesting.  Look at the results for “hay fever”:

You can now learn about symptoms and treatments directly on the search results page, without leaving Google.  This content includes information from medical doctors about how common a condition is, whether it’s critical or contagious, typically affected age group(s), and more.  The knowledge box includes tabs for an Overview, Symptoms, and Treatments for that ailment.
The information comes from a variety of sources, including the NIH, CDC, FDA, WHO, and more.  Google has also partnered with organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, Apollo Hospitals, Lumiata, and VoxHealth.  The source of the information in the past was quoted very prominently and the goal of Google was to help you go from Google Search Results to the website with the answer to your query.  As you can see from the search result image above, that “goal” seems to have changed.

Even the knowledge box is styled and looks nothing like any other knowledge boxes.  Google commissioned illustrations from licensed medical illustrators for use here.  The colors and attention-grabbing layout differs greatly from what Google has provided in the past.

This is a major shift in Google’s philosophy.  This layout shows the direction Google is heading: to a more display driven layout, rather than its historically text only layout.  Remember when Google’s single goal was to get you OFF of their website and on to what you’re seeking?  Google is now answering a question without linking away.  But more importantly, Google is now in the content creation business.  This is a major historic shift for the search leader.  Think about that for a moment.  Google is using the power of all the data it has access to, that you no longer have access to via Google Analytics, to guide its own decision making on content creation.

From the Google perspective, this new direction improves the user experience by providing “quality” answers even faster than before.  Google’s stated mission is to answer the question you have, before you’ve even fully typed the question in to the search box (instant search (link:https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/186645?hl=en).

The knowledge box is a function of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which launched in May 2012.  it’s used both by Google itself to improve search relevancy and also to present the knowledge boxes that provide facts about people, places and things alongside regular results. Google reports it has over 3.5 billion facts, including information about 500 million entities, including movies, museums, bodies of water, music, astronomical objects, buildings, sports, medical ailments, and more.  Similar to how Google uses a link graph to model how pages are interlinked to and which are relevant for searches, it uses the knowledge graph to determine relationships between entities and report facts about them.  If you currently have a knowledge graph card and want that information to change, you need to request a change from Google.  Here is the link for more information on changing knowledge graph cards. (link: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/6325583?hl=en)

There is currently no mechanism to include yourself or your site as part of the Knowledge Graph.  If you run a blog all about movies, there isn’t a way to be listed as a suggested source for information.  Tagging information on your landing pages with rich snippets can be helpful in the long run, though it’s no guarantee of inclusion.  This is where good SEO efforts can help.  Your goal, as a website owner, is to have Google view your site as the leading authority of information on a particular topic.  If Google determines that your topic is popular enough, it may create Knowledge Cards and include a link to your site or information in that card.

In an interview with Search Engine Land, the Google’s Former Head of Search, Amit Singhal, noted that the facts come from publicly available sources like Wikipedia, the CIA World Factbook, and Google Books.  They also license data from other sources.  “Whenever we can get our hands on structured data, we add it,” said Singhal.  This is incredibly important to online store owners, as Google has said for years that structured data is important to being able to categorize product listings and display them in a relevant way.  While knowledge boxes currently lack the ability to take action on most of their listings (you can learn about the Tower of London but there is no option to buy tickets to a tour), that functionality is coming.  Amit recently left Google to pursue philanthropic efforts.  (http://searchengineland.com/amit-singhal-the-head-of-google-search-to-leave…)
To make room for the knowledge box on selected queries, Google removed the ads on the right column.  While this will limit the amount of adspace available and possibly drive up the cost of adwords campaigns, the side and bottom ads never did amount for the majority of click volume.  According to a study of January 2016 desktop paid clicks by position, only 14.6% were from the side and bottom, so the change is not decreasing revenue by any appreciable amount, only ad impressions.
However, it does allow for more Google PLAs (Product Listing Ads) on the right column, which is a benefit for online stores that offer a product feed to Google Shopping.  Also, if users grow to depend on Google being an authority rather than merely a portal, PLAs will be more trusted and therefore effective.  Overall, this is a good move for Google, its users, and those that advertise on it.

Planning Your Marketing Calendar

Having a fully planned out marketing calendar for the year is crucial for busy store owners.  You don’t have time during your busy seasons to sit down and come up with a marketing plan for promotions that need to go out on time.  Graphics need to be created, compelling text needs to be written, coupons need to be made and tested, emails need to be crafted, social media posts need to be coordinated – it’s a lot of work if you have a business to run as well.
If you’re not constantly interacting with your customers, they tend to forget about your brand and lose loyalty.  The best change you can make to get caught up on your marketing and stay in touch with your customer base is to first make a marketing calendar.  So where to begin?
If you’re new to making a marketing calendar for your business, a good place to start is by looking at all the calendar holidays.  Here is a free resource with lots of holidays listed:
Most retailers do promotions and sales based on holidays, such as Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and of course Black Friday (in the US).  If you’re an international retailer, you have far more holidays to choose from.
Decide what promotions to run on which holidays.  Emails with a “SALE” or a percentage off your order in the subject line tend to get opened more, so if you can run a sale on a holiday, do so.  The best coupons promotions are ones that run only for a limited time, to create a sense of urgency.
How often do you want to send emails?  Some retailers send marketing emails once a month, and some send them twice a week.  It all depends on your business.  If you are constantly getting new products and selling out of old ones, it’s worth it to email as often as you can.
You could fill an entire year with just holiday promotions, but what about during the off weeks, and what if you don’t have the margins to give discounts all the time?  You can always fill those weeks with specific category, brand, or product promotions.  Do you sell shoes?  Promote a specific brand of shoe.  Do you sell pool products?  Promote your selection of Pool Covers.  Got a great new blender in stock?  Tout the features of it.  Sure, you’re not offering a discount or special deal, but what’s important is that your message is getting out to your customers and you keep their attention so that when they ARE ready to buy, they know where to go.
You’ll need to make a spreadsheet to track your marketing.  For each row, include the following:
Title – A short title of your promotion that can also double as a subject line on emails.
Description – A short description that can be used for the content of your email and social posts for the promotion. You don’t have to include a wall of text that no-one is going to ready anyway!
Send Date – The day you intend to send the promotion
Coupon – Is there a coupon for this promotion?  Include the coupon code here for your reference.
Coupon Valid – Is the coupon valid for a specific set of dates?
Now that you have the structure of the calendar ready, work on filling out the most important holidays and sale days first.  Once those are set, find (or make up) other promotion days to fill in the gaps.
That’s it!  Take a step back and look at what you’ve accomplished.  With your marketing calendar for the year to come in place, you and your marketing team will know exactly what’s coming and be better able to prepare for it.  Some e-commerce platforms allow you to create coupon codes or time-sensitive discounts in advance.  Better to get those setup now rather than at the last minute.  You can always make adjustments later as necessary.

Growing Your Email Marketing List

Deciding to start Email Marketing is a great leap in the right direction.  Chances are, you’re starting off with a small email list of your current clients.  That’s great!  Now let’s look at how you can grow your email marketing list to make your messages heard far and wide.

Growing your email list is a constant struggle.  The average email list loses about 30% of its contacts every year due to unsubscribes, bounces, or spam reports.  This is on top of those who just stop opening your emails out of disinterest or just ignoring their email altogether.  For this reason, it’s important to keep your email list fresh and market to interested consumers often and as soon as possible.
The easiest way to grow your list is by putting a method to signup for it on your website.  There should be a signup button on every page of your website, including the search and checkout pages.  Make the signup link prominent on the home page.  There’s no reason anyone should have to hunt for it.
Further entice customers to signup by giving them a reason to!  People want to know what in it for them, so offering a list of reasons to signup is valuable.  Do you offer up to date product news or news related to your industry?  Do you run contests?  Most importantly, do you offer coupons in email?  (Hint: the answer to all these questions should be YES.)  Most email marketing programs offer an autoresponse to new signups. Offer a one time coupon for new signups, and watch your list (and sales) grow.
If you run an online store, you that customers enter their email addresses at checkout.  This does not imply that they are giving you permission to market to them, unless you specifically ask!  Be sure to add a checkbox (that’s checked by default) that asks if they would like to opt-in to receive special offers and discounts via email.  This will help your list grow while preventing spam reports.
Leverage your social audience to grow your list.  When you send out your regular promotions via email, you can also send out some of those same promotions via social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.).  When you do, be sure to include a link to signup for your newsletter.
A popular way to increase your list size is to run a contest or a survey.  For entering your contest or survey, offer a small coupon or potential prize drawing, and require an email for your list!
When you sell a product online, do you pack it yourself?  Retailers often forget that customers will read everything included in the box.  Send a thank you note that asks them to signup!  You can even include a QR code on your note that takes them directly to your signup form.
Popular email marketing platforms like Constant Contact have an easy way to allow your customers to signup for newsletters via text.  This allows you to include short line on your website that says something like “Text your email to 555555 to signup”.
If you have a physical store, it’s easy to put out a signup sheet, or leave a fishbowl for business cards.And of course, don’t forget to just ask.  If you’re on the phone or face-to-face with a customer, it never hurts to smile and ask for their email address.