Design Flowcharts with Efficiency

Once upon a time, every company or business decision was just a big idea, nothing but a concept somewhere in someone’s head. Usually, these big ideas strike like lightening – without warning. It’s exciting to think of something new, and I’m always eager to implement it as quickly as possible for the benefit of my business.

I’m all about the flowchart, as it provides a way for my company to visualize our future plans. It doesn’t take me long to scribble my ideas on a piece of paper with lines and circles. Making changes requires erasing and redoing, and it’s pretty easy to get frustrated. Time is money, and there’s got to be a better way to get your ideas across then a bunch of messy notes on a whiteboard. You want an impressive, professional looking map of your brilliant plans to correctly convey to your coworkers or clients. There are plenty of advanced programs to help you create complex diagrams, but they’re usually pretty expensive.

Smooth Flowcharter (SFM) is a program that allows you to create webs and flow charts quickly for a fair price. SMF allows you to use both words and drawings to communicate information to your clients and coworkers. The program has a very self-explanatory design, so you don’t even have to read the manual in order to get started. It’s easy to drag shapes from the object palette and place them in your document. Once you’ve added at least two objects, you can begin to connect them, dragging lines from one object to the other.

When you first open SFM, you’ll see the menu area, the palette, the overview window, and a new document. To start, pick an object from the palette on the left and drag it into your document. By clicking on the text inside the object, you are able to edit it. You can enlarge the object by clicking on it and then selecting one of the green points that appears. Simply click and hold onto the point, dragging it to either make the object smaller or larger. When you hold your mouse over an object, port indicators will appear. A port is the section of the object that allows you to either initiate or terminate a link. Just click and drag from one object to another. When your mouse is no longer hovering over an object, the port will hide automatically.

Now that you know how to easily create an organized flow chart, you can finally bring your ideas to life with the confidence that comes from having a professional plan.

Don’t Let Customers Abandon Their Shopping Carts

Imagine you walk into a department store to pick up a gift for a friend’s birthday. You’ve got places to be, so you’re looking for this to be a quick run to the mall. You get to the store, and you easily find two gifts that are perfect for your friend. You’re ready to get out of there, but the line of 20 people in front of you comes between you and your quick exit. While you’re waiting in a seemingly endless line, you decide that you probably don’t need to get your friend two things when one would be just fine, and down goes the first gift. Once you finally reach the cashier, the credit card reader appears to be broken. After four swipes of your card and a hasty panic that you’ve been charged four times, you decide to just give up and leave the store empty-handed. You decide that you’ll just try again tomorrow.

In the world of e-commerce, a scenario like this is all too common. For online businesses, shopping cart abandonment is a serious concern and can often mark the difference between profitability and loss. On a daily basis, customers visit online shopping websites, initiate the checkout process, and leave before actually completing it for any number of reasons; some of these include:

* checkout requires too much personal information

* checkout is too long

* changed mind

* site requires registration before purchase

* site is unstable or unreliable

* high shipping prices

* long delivery times

* checkout process is confusing

Be mindful of these reasons and take another look at your website. Are there any changes that you know that you can make? A good place to start would be taking a look at these four helpful tips:

* Know your abandon rate

o If you have an extremely low abandon rate percentage, it’s not always a good thing. If your abandon rate is any percentage less than 50%, you’ve got a bigger problem. Most likely your customers are having issues with cart adoption, meaning that there aren’t enough customers adding items to their carts. If customers aren’t even adding items to their carts, it can be as much of a problem, if not more, than customers adding to their carts and taking off before checkout.

* Determine when shoppers are abandoning their carts and why

o It’s very important to know when exactly shoppers are leaving their carts. The further they get in the process towards the checkout line, the less likely it is for them to leave. Are they leaving towards the beginning of the process? Maybe they’re getting frustrated waiting for items to be added or pages to load. Does your “Review Your Purchase” page look too much like a confirmation page? Maybe they think they’ve made their purchase too soon. Are they leaving as soon as they hit the payment page? Maybe you need to look into increasing the number of payment options that you offer. You have to find out where your users are getting frustrated, and you can do this with time trials, server calls or restates.

* One page or multi-page checkout?

o Many companies are ditching their old, multi-page checkouts and switching to a checkout that is just one page. Ideally, having both would be the best bet. For guest shoppers and users who aren’t quite computer saavy, the different pages with billing information, payment information, and review and confirmation of the order are great for making the process less overwhelming. For returning customers, a one-page, one step checkout is preferable. It’s important to offer each user the checkout format that they are most likely to complete. You have to think about what’s right for your customers.

* Offer a guest checkout

o If you feature a guest checkout, it’s likely that up to a quarter of your customers will choose it. The main reasons for this have to do with passwords and speed.

The Twitter Series: All About Twitter Security

Every now and then, you hear about a Twitter hijacking. Even President Obama has confirmed that his Twitter account has been hijacked before, which resulted in the immediate shutdown of his account and an investigation by the Twitter team. According to Twitter, the accounts were hijacked using the company’s internal support tools. Basically, someone hacked into the tools that Twitter’s support team uses to help people who had forgotten their passwords or needed to edit their email address. Twitter immediately took the support tools offline. Even though the big stories like this all revolve around high profile celebrities, Twitter security is a real issue, even for the average twitterer. Want to know more about Twitter security? Here are some answers that may interest you.

* What exactly do hackers do when they break into Twitter accounts?

Typically, hackers take over Twitter accounts in order to post links to spam or viruses. Obviously, fraud is an issue as well. Followers tend to trust the people that they’re following, so any messages encouraging users to buy into a scam or to believe false information is a danger. For instance, a hacker could tweet about a fraudulent charity and post the link, asking followers to contribute. False rumors about companies and stocks can also have terrible results.

* What can you do to protect your Twitter account?

Protect your Twitter credentials – Be vigilant and be on the lookout for suspicious Twitter activity. If someone’s links or postings or suspect, go with your gut feeling. Users can install client side security tools that ensure that they are giving their information to the genuine Twitter site only. Also, control and keep tabs on your Twitter information. Any application or website that comes with an automatic posting capability poses more of a threat.

* Is there anything else you should look out for?

“Twitter-squatting” occurs when the names of people or organizations are registered by fraudsters. It’s safest to make sure a person or brand name is registered fairly quickly in order to ensure that no one else can register first. The “Trending Topics” sidebar on the right of the Twitter homepage also poses a threat. A hacker could tweet multiple different sentences using the same keyword, and have a malicious link connected to that keyword when it shows up in the “Trending Topics” section.

The Twitter Series: How the Bigwigs Use Twitter to Beef Up Their Business

In the past, powerhouse companies have had the marketing aspect of their businesses covered from top to bottom. Radio, television, print, online, and in-store advertisements have paved the way for their success. With so many people spending so much of their time on social networking sites, lately, these companies have had even more ground to cover, but they’re certainly showing us all how it’s done. From Starbucks to Dell to the Gap, all of these companies have taken to the social media sites of the worldwide web to get the word out about their stores – and their great deals and sales. Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, and Twitter – they’ve got all the bases covered, and they know where the people are.

When it comes to content, these businesses are using every resource they can get their hands on. Youtube is filled with advertisements, news clips, and educational or instructional videos. On Facebook, customers can become fans of their favorite businesses. Twitter allows the businesses to give their customers live updates on everything ranging from free giveaways to guest appearances to special deals. What unites all of these networks is their ability to allow customers to provide feedback and feel like they are personally connected to their favorite stores, restaurants, or shops. The companies know that this seemingly personally connection is the key to success. It’s more than just the companies reaching out because the customers are reaching out, too. Every time they write on Starbucks’ facebook page or respond to Apple’s tweets, they are providing useful information to the companies that they support. A customer can ask a question about a store via Twitter and receive a response right on the same page less than ten minutes later, and that is a powerful thing.

Let’s take a look at how Starbucks uses Twitter. First off, it’s got a concise profile with a link to its website – a definite must. It’s also got its logo right there on its page so big that you can’t miss it. And then there’s the content. Customers post all types of things, including questions as to what ingredients are in the whipped cream, how much a shot of soy costs, and how late the stores are open. Comments include enthused exclamations about how fabulous the coffee is and the other products that customers are getting. Starbucks’ response to this is to promptly answer every single question AND offer its followers exclusive deals and coupons available only through Twitter. What does all of this mean? That there are about a million thrilled Starbucks fan addicted to its Twitter updates. These big businesses really know what they’re doing when it comes to using Twitter to benefit the company.

The Twitter Series: Let Twitter Boost Your Business

At first glance, Twitter is a social networking site that became overwhelmingly popular incomprehensibly quickly. With hundreds of thousands of users and the benefits of real-time communication, Twitter grows more and more in its uses and its applications every day. Among Twitter’s many advantages, its ability to boost your business is a huge plus. It presents the very valuable opportunity to put out postings that could potentially be seen by thousands of your fellow twitterers. Having trouble seeing the many chances you have to capitalize on Twitter’s success? Just look at the statistics:

New data from comScore indicates that Twitter grew in popularity over 700% from February 2008, the month when it first reached 10 million users. The number of worldwide users grew over 5 million shortly after that. In the U.S. alone, visitors climbed over 1000% in a year’s time. Adding to Twitter’s reputation as a great resource for business, its age demographic proves that it’s attracting the audience that you’re seeking. The two largest age demographics are the 45-54 crowd and the 25-34 crowd. Now that you’re sure that Twitter makes for a solid time investment, you’ve got to know the exact means necessary to benefit from it.

The searches that dominate Twitter are the same that would take over any search engine, meaning that entertainment news is always at the top of the list. In the right column of your Twitter homepage, you’ll find a “Trending Topics” sections, which provides a list of the top of users’ top searches. Although this aspect is similar to the searches on other search engines, the benefits of real time conversations allow you to know what Twitter users are interested in at any given time. That said, you have to remember your use of Twitter is about leads, clients, and customers. Go ahead and type the service or product you provide in the search box. You’ll be surprised to see how many people are inquiring about so many different things. The best thing that you can do is to make a personal connection with people related to your industry. Make sure that they all know that there’s a real person with real, useful information behind that Twitter name and profile. Identify one niche of your industry that you can fit into and share retweets, information, and links related to your business to let everyone know you’re truly a specialist at what you do.

The Twitter Series: Blog and Tweet in Perfect Harmony

It’s no surprise that the average blogging twitterer would rather attract droves of blog readers than twittering followers. Darren Rouse, founder of TwiTip and ProBlogger whose audiences are comprised mainly of twitterers and of bloggers, respectively, found that even the Twitter users understand the value of increasing the number of blog readers. This result isn’t surprising since it’s fairly clear that writing and managing a blog is a bit more extensive of a job than writing a 140 character Twitter entry. However, this does not mean that there aren’t separate, valuable advantages to both forms of communication. Just look at the benefits of having an increased number of blog readers:

* They require more effort and more time to maintain.

* They provide more information and thus are more extensive and detailed.

* Blogs were popular, are popular, and will most likely remain popular.

* The more readers you have, the more likely you are to be linked to on Twitter.

Now for the advantages of having a lot of Twitter followers:

* More followers means more interest in what you’re offering

* The real-time conversation element adds a more personal connection.

With all of these advantages in tow, it’s nice to know that you don’t have to choose between the two. Users of a blog and of Twitter know that it’s easy to use them hand-in-hand. In fact, they can even help each other. The first key is writing valuable, useful content on your blog that Twitter users will want as a link. Do the same on Twitter with concise and informative posts. Include a prominent link on your blog so that people can follow you on Twitter. Incorporating the enlarged Twitter logo on your blog will appeal to readers and bring them to follow your tweets. Link to valuable content from others when you tweet, as well. If Twitterers enjoy the information that you link to, you’ll gain followers of your own. Also, feel free to mention your blog on Twitter from time to time, as long as you don’t shove it down anybody’s throat.

The Twitter Series: Build Links with the Help of Twitter

If you’re familiar with the versatility of social media, you know that Twitter is not only at the forefront of communication, but is also an extremely valuable resource. Do a simple search for something, anything, on Twitter. What do you get? Tons of links, news updates, inquiries; there are endless options. With all of the hustle and bustle of Twitter, it can be difficult to use the social network to your advantage. Usage is so widespread and related to so many different topics that you’ve really got to create a place for yourself targeting a specific industry. Remember, it’s not about gaining thousands upon thousands of followers if they’re not interested in what you have to offer. However, if you use Twitter the right way, it’s easy to get the business you’re looking for and the exposure that you need. Now, let’s get down to the business of link building on Twitter.

Generally, links on Twitter are nonfollowed and usually shortened by a shortener. If you’re smart, you can turn a tweet into a link from a highly trusted website. There are many people on Twitter who have a great deal of influence in very specific areas. If I’m promoting search engine optimization, I can quickly search Twitter to find the people who are posting similar ideas and reach out to them outside of Twitter. If I really want to build links with Twitter, it’s all about quality, not quantity. Say I post a search engine optimization article link on Twitter, and ten people re-tweet that posting. This may not seem like a lot, but I’ve got to look closer at these ten people. Upon looking at their profiles, I immediately see that they are all experts in their fields with plenty of overlapping followers interested in the same industry. Overall, it seems that I’ve found a loosely structured community who had shared news about the URL that I chose as a link.

As a result, one of the ten who re-tweeted my post may have linked my URL to his or her popular and reputable website. Thus, I have successfully and influentially built links. The wide world of Twitter can certainly be intimidating, and it’s easy to get distracted from your ultimate, business-driven goal. As long as you stay focused and steer clear of the follower frenzy, (this is NOT about getting as many followers as you can) you’ll be able to focus on creating a niche in your industry and using Twitter to your business advantage.

The Twitter Series: The Best Twitter Search Sites on the Web

If you’re living, breathing, and tweeting in the real world, you’re going to need real-time searches. Google has yet to employ the key of the real-time search, but there are plenty of credible search services willing to scan Twitter and other sites in real time. These search engines will find the latest, most current update from the real-time social web. I’ve spent lots of time looking at a multitude of sites that scan live-updating websites like Twitter and other sources in order to find the very best tools for every topic.

Let’s start by looking at Twitter’s own search service. True, it’s easy to use, shows clear results, and does a fairly good job of allowing the users to see their real-time results while acknowledging that users cannot actually be bothered to read every single real-time tweet as it goes flying by from one to the next. A counter is updated on the top of the page, notifying you that more twitters are constantly coming through in real-time that are related to your search, but you have to click a link to actually see these updates. Twitter Search is also very good at building more advanced queries and allows you to subscribe to an RSS feed to receive search results. However convenient all of these characteristics may prove to be, there’s no doubt that Twitter Search could be more considerably more helpful. Unfortunately, its search results are sorted only on a chronological basis. There is no means to indicate the most popular, most read, or most related tweets. Also, needless to say, Twitter’s search serves Twitter only. There are several services that do a better job than Twitter does, but I’ve narrowed it down to three.

* Twazzup

o Twazzup provides an excellent solution to the relevancy problem. Rather than altering the real-time Twitter search, Twazzup actually adds to them. The results of your search show up in the main column surrounded by, first, related words and hashtags at the top of the page. The expandable “Popular Tweets” sidebar is extremely useful in its display of tweets with your keyword that are most often linked to or retweeted. It also provides photos and popular links. Unfortunately, Twazzup searches only Twitter, (although we can accept this because it is a made-for Twitter service).

* Collecta

o Collecta is a great resource that scans Twitter and other live-updated sites, including main-stream media sites and their blogs, like CNN for example. It has a clean, easy to use interface, and it even lets you run multiple searches at one time. This tool is perfect for monitoring multiple topics every day. Collecta, however, does not have an advanced search builder.

* Scoopler

o Scoopler is more like Twazzup in its display of the real-time results and the tools in the form of sidebars that add to the results. Scoopler searches Twitter and other blogs, such as Digg, and is particularly helpful in picking up items with links. You can also keep three searches pegged to your page that make for quick access.

Make Your Ecommerce Site SEO-Conscious

No matter what your website is about, your ultimate goal is to make it a popular destination for internet users. Your best bet: SEO. Trying to stay conscious of the keys of SEO while building an ecommerce site can prove to be a challenge. Informative, valuable content is certainly a must in the SEO world, but ecommerce sites typically have much less content than other sites. Also, since products on an ecommerce site are generally constantly changing, it can be difficult to get a good place in search results. Fear not, it IS possible to find SEO success with your ecommerce website. There are a few things you can do, starting with website basics, that will help your site ranking.

Keywords, keywords, keywords. Among SEO basics, your choice of keywords is a standard issue that has a huge effect on the ranking of any website. Before you get started, remember the importance of staying organized in the development of your website. You may want to create a spreadsheet that will allow you to keep track of all of the keywords that you choose. For your homepage, start with broad terms and phrases that you think your customer would enter into any search engine’s search bar. If you’re selling books on your website, the obvious choice would be things like “discount books,” “online bookstore,” or “buy books online.” As you look through your webpages, narrow your terms accordingly. Keywords like “fiction books,” “mystery novels,” and “autobiographies,” are obvious choices in narrowing down the genres of your selection. If you can prevent it, don’t use the same keywords on every page of your site, and don’t try to stick in as many keywords as you can on every page. Each page stands on its own when it comes to search engine ranking. Don’t underestimate the importance of the keywords you choose because you’ll be using them in these four places:

* Navigation/Links – As you set up your site navigation, you’ll want to use your keywords in the categories and page names you create. You’ll also want to put your keywords in your URL’s if you can, but do be conscious of the length of your phrases in both cases.
* Breadcrumb Trail – Breadcrumb trails help your site’s visitors see where they’ve been and generally look like this: home > fiction books > mystery novels. Googlebots follow these trails, as well.
* Alt Tags / Image Attributes – The keywords you place here are also indexed to major search engines.

More Tips about Assessing Your Website: Diagnose Your Problems

Today I’ve got more tips about ways to better the traffic to your website by pinpointing the exact issues that are hampering your site.

Again, it’s all about self-diagnosis and understanding your website’s problems. Without knowing the root of the problem, it’s impossible to fix it. Is your website brand new? Is your content informative and interesting enough? Have you broken any of the ethical SEO commandments? You may have to take a step back from your website to truly observe the problems that you’re having. Most importantly though, make sure you actually have a problem before you start changing your website and fixing things. Yes, that fact should be an obvious one, but you will probably be tempted to believe that a decrease in your overall indexed pages means that you have a serious problem. However, Google may have just de-indexed any ineffective or duplicated pages that you might have. If your search traffic hasn’t dropped off, chances are you don’t have a significant search problem. Remember, sometimes change can be good. If you’re still convinced that there is a problem with your website, these tips should help direct you towards any traffic dilemmas that you’re facing.

* Crawl efficiency – it’s one of the keys to getting on the good sign of your friendly search engine crawlers. You’ve got to let them know which pages are the most important for crawling purposes. You want the engines spending their time on the pages that are important to your site rather than the non-productive error and registration pages that take away from your valuable content.

* Be sure to create comprehensive sitemaps for each of your categories by creating a sitemap index file that links your multiple sitemaps and submitting it to Google Webmaster Central. This will give you great insight into how well Google is crawling all of the different aspects of your site. You also gain access to all of the tools and graphs in Webmaster Central sitemap reports. This way you can see how much and which areas of your content is being crawled and how much of that content is being indexed. For example, you might notice that Google is crawling all of your content in one category, but indexing only 25% of it. This will give you a great place to start trying to figure out why.