The Best Adjustments Your Business Can Make This Year

As published on ShellyPalmer.com

The post-holiday months see many Americans promise themselves smaller waistlines, bigger bank accounts and more active treadmills. So whether personally you’ve decided to fall in love or cut down on your red meat intake, as a business there’s one “resolution” you can’t afford not to make: building your online presence.

Go to Your Customers

But where are they? They’re on social media; compulsively checking their email; playing games online; reading news on a tablet; getting directions from their smartphones. The short version: they’re online. And they’re online now more than ever, much in part due to mobile devices. Over the past decade, there has been a not-so-gradual shift in media. In 2013, US adults spent more time on digital media than on television for the first time ever.

As consumers and potential customers continue to spend more time online, companies continue to increase their spending on digital advertising. In 2014, companies planned to increase their digital marketing budgets by an average of 27%. That number is sure to increase for 2015. The CMO Council predicts that within the next four years, digital ads will account for 33% of total advertising revenue. This number would nearly mirror television numbers. TV advertising is on par to generate $173.7 billion worldwide in 2014, and that number will increase to $214.7 billion in 2018. In that same four year period, internet advertising is expected to grow from $133 billion to $194.5 billion.

Make sure you’re not left behind, spending all your marketing budget on traditional media when your customers are more likely to be on Facebook than listening to the radio.

What Can You Do?

 

While making sure your physical doorway is welcoming is important, keeping your virtual doorway impeccable is far more critical. Here are some tips to help you diligently maintain your online profile.

  • 1. Make sure you have a mobile-responsive website. Mobile ad spending forecast to increase from $8.4 billion in 2012 to almost $37 billion in 2016 on smartphones and tablets.
  • 2. Be active on social media (that includes listening, not just one-way projecting). Social marketing budgets will double in the next five years.
  • 3. Post relevant content to your social channels. 42% of marketers say Facebook is critical or important to their business.
  • 4. Respond to reviews in a timely manner. 90% of customers say buying decisions are influenced by online reviews.
  • 5. Ensure your contact information is accurate across the web. 85%of consumers use the internet to find local businesses.
  • 6. Monitor your competition — know what they are doing online. Understand how your business and your competitors are perceived by customers.
  • Like any new year’s resolution, building and maintaining your online presence isn’t easy. It takes time, hard work and a conscientious effort. The rewards, however, will be felt in customer satisfaction, revenue growth and customer acquisition. As with anything, if you can’t manage it on your own (and you likely shouldn’t, because you have a business to run), reach out to people in your company, new software and other tools to help you build your online presence.

Redesigned Location Dashboard and Salesperson Information

Just like the title says, we’ve redesigned some of our pages in Business Center. We’re excited, and you should be too! Why? Because these changes were made solely to make selling easier for our partners. These changes are set to go live in less than a week, so hold your breath.

This redesigned location dashboard gives a thorough breakdown of the business’ profile, and provides salesperson contact information at the bottom.  

Business Center Dashboard

If a customer clicks on a product they have yet to purchase, they will be directed to the new in-product marketing landing pages. When a client views a landing page, the hotness rating in the Sales Tool will increase, indicating to your salesperson that the client is interested. That means, if you’re selling our software and one of your customers indicates interest in a product they have not yet purchased, you’ll be alerted. Since you already know they’re looking for a solution, this is the best time to work on that pitch you’ve been practicing in the shower. 

Yesterday we sent out this video to tell our partners about these changes, and now we’re ready to share it with the world! Or at least our blog subscribers. While the changes in our software are the most exciting part, they are closely rivalled by the on-screen capabilities of two of Vendasta’s finest. We’re thinking about entering the video into some festivals.

Product Insider 5

Zomato Acquires Urbanspoon to Forge into North American Market

On January 12, Zomato acquired Urbanspoon for an alleged $60 million. Founded in New Delhi in 2008, Zomato has acquired six local restaurant search companies in the past six months, but taking over Urbanspoon — founded in Seattle in 2006 — is their first US acquisition.

“We felt joining forces with Urbanspoon would be the best way to turbocharge our growth and make our way into the US, Canada and Australia. Without question, this will also help us take significant strides forward in the markets we’ve been sharing with Urbanspoon so far – the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland,” said Zomato founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal on a Zomato blog post.

Currently, Zomato operates in more than 20 countries across the globe, and now counts more than 330,000 listed restaurants in Canada, Brazil, Ireland and other countries. Last year, Urbanspoon boasted an audience of 30 million unique visitors monthly, and Zomato is said to have posted similar numbers. This acquisition, then, should give Zomato a running head start to claiming the North American market.

This infographic, also posted on the Zomato blog, illustrates what kind of audience growth $60 million can buy.

zomato infographic

 

What’s Next?

A fight.

Zomato’s CEO and founder is ready to go head-to-head with review giant Yelp. “We’re going to be picking [a fight] with Yelp. In the market they have dominated for so long. After all, like Mark Twain famously said, it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” said Goyal on a Zomato blog post.

zomato yelp

Zomato versus Yelp could prove to be a very worth battle. The acquisition will more than double Zomato’s traffic from 35 million monthly visits to 80 million, which will begin to close on Yelp’s own statistic of 139 million.

 

 

 

 

 

Google+ is More Than it Seems

The average Google search engine user takes a number of the results they see for granted. They assume Google+ is just another Google bid to compete with Facebook, and don’t realize how much value it adds to their search results. But for both businesses and consumers, the value can be enormous. The Google+ platform has gone through a number of iterations in the past few years with the search giant seeking to find the one account to rule them all! Now their consolidation is complete, and it is easier than ever to “Google My Business.” Well, not my business, but you and your clients’ businesses. And Vendasta is here to help all along the way.

Google+ has a (relatively) new dashboard, that brings together Search, Maps, Google+ Business Places, Insights, Reviews, Hangouts and even Analytics and AdWords into a single clean interface.

G+ 1

Why do your clients need a presence on Google+? The simple answer is that Google loves Google. They promote their own organic and interactive search results to be higher in Google results. Or in the case of most Google+ information — right at the top of your search results!
You need to ensure that your client’s information is correct on Google+ and beyond.

With their search for mastery over the search engine world, Google now has 75% of the search engine share, though according to Business Insider, this could drop more in the coming years. So what is better than Google? Bringing Google together with everything else! This is where Vendasta can help. Vendasta allows for integration with every aspect of how Google promotes a business to the world. From one platform you can push out information to many of the services that Google offers, as well as the other major social and listing sites, all at the same time.

We allow you to build an audience and connect with them by responding to reviews, and managing all your social posting from a single dashboard.

image

Many of the top factors negatively affecting a businesses search results in 2014 involved incorrect or missing listing NAP (name, address, phone number) data. Vendasta can help you ensure your NAP data is accurate on Google+ and across the board.
G+3

Regardless of their attempts at simplification, it can sometimes be difficult to keep straight what each Google service does for you and where its information appears to the public. If you don’t have time to sort through all of the information, Vendasta has a digital agency that is available to do the work of getting Google+ set up for your business clients, posting relevant information to their followers on your behalf, and responding to reviews in cognito. Vendasta can be a Manager for a business’ Google reputation, allowing them to get the most out of their Google+ account.
However you do it, make the most of Google+ by ensuring information is accurate and up to date, and actively engaging followers through your posts and reviews.

That One Bad Apple…

The old saying that “one bad apple spoils the bunch” is a truism, and remains surprisingly relevant in the age of online reputation management.

Even if your business has consistently good service, people’s negative experiences – however rare – have a way of bubbling up on review websites. Just a handful of one-star reviews can drag your review score down into the muck of average. And it can take dozens of five-star reviews just to bring you back to where you started.

The key, then, is to head off these negative reviews before they happen.

Vendasta’s Reputation Intelligence product uses trending cloud technology to track which words are coming up most frequently in online reviews about your business. For example, in the case of restaurants, the trending cloud can track which menu items are generating the most positive reviews. If people are raving about your lamb burger in five-star reviews, you might want to put it on special. If your kitchen just can’t seem to pull off that lobster bisque everyone is complaining about, you might want to drop it from the menu before it racks up any more one-star reviews.

In rare cases, the names of individual employees come up in the trending cloud. And when they do, you’d better pay attention.

Recently, I was checking in on a luxury car dealership we work with. I was surprised to see two names appearing in the trending cloud. Let’s call them Jim and Randy.

Jim is the service manager, and people just love this guy. He is mentioned in eight reviews, all of which are four and five star. Customers raved about his kind manners, eagerness to please and his expansive knowledge.

Randy, a salesman, is another story altogether. In 10 reviews he is slammed for using high pressure tactics, and making customers feel uncomfortable or downright offended. If these customers could give Randy less than one star, they would.

When you think about it from a reputation standpoint, you’d need five Jims to make up for one Randy.

The fact is that when people write reviews, it’s usually a rant or a rave. Ordinary, humdrum experiences rarely motivate people to take the time to write a review. This is why you don’t find a lot of three-star reviews online.

If a product (or person) in your business is generating a lot of bad reviews, it’s likely time to do some damage control.

Just like that rotten apple, unless you get it out of the mix, it will spoil the bunch.

 

Has Your Business Moved? Avoid These Common Mistakes

Moving your business is hard enough to begin with. Packing up inventory, doing leasehold improvements and spreading the word about your move can easily push your endurance to the brink.

In the shuffle, many small business owners make a handful of mistakes that can severely hamper their business’ online visibility. In fact, most don’t even realize they are making them.

It’s all got to do with something we call your digital shadow.

Sure you’ve moved, but after years in business at your original location, your old address and phone number is still listed on dozens or even hundreds of websites. This digital shadow of incorrect information can frustrate customers who turn up at your old location to find shuttered windows.

Back in the day, if your phone number got listed incorrectly in the local yellow pages one year, you’d find yourself in a spot of serious trouble. Your business could be lost to the world, along with your profits.

These days there are a handful of giant companies (with names like Acxiom and Infogroup) that collect and distribute listings data about businesses large and small. This data is pushed to websites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, 411.com and hundreds of other places you need to be seen (you can find out more about where listings come from here).

When moving your business, or starting a new one, it’s important to avoid these common mistakes:

Doing nothing: If you fail to take any corrective action, your old “zombie” listings could haunt you for years. Customers will be calling the old number, visiting the old address, and possibly concluding you have gone out of business.
Not alerting the major listings distributors: Since all the review and listings sites are getting your address from the same few major listings distributors, you’ve got to let these big boys know. This will help your listings be corrected and updated automatically, no muss no fuss.
Forgetting to update social media pages: Facebook is one of the largest search engine in the world, and many of your customers will go there first to find your address and phone number. This is an easy fix, but not to be overlooked.

Moving your business in the digital age is all about getting the drop on it, lest it get the drop on you.

This is why Vendasta offers a service called Listing Distribution. With this system we can alert the big four listings companies – Neustar/Localeze, Acxiom, Factual and Infogroup – that you’ve moved. From there you can sit back and watch your correct information trickle down to over 300 websites.

It’s a lot like hiring a crew of movers.

Avoiding these common mistakes can save you a lot of headaches, and make your move as easy and organized as possible. So mind your digital shadow, and protect your profits from phantom listings.

 

Vendasta Releases MAST 10X: New Marketing Automation and Sales Transformation Platform for Digital Agencies

SASKATOON, SK, Oct 1, 2014 – Vendasta Technologies, a leading provider of online reputation and presence management tools, today announces the release of a new Marketing Automation and Sales Transformation platform, MAST 10X. The platform is geared toward helping digital agencies sell their solutions to local business with automated marketing campaigns that target, identify and provide local business owners with personalized intel about their own businesses, backed by a suite of online presence solutions.

“The major problem facing digital agencies is their cost of customer acquisition,” says Brendan King, CEO of Vendasta. “We want to solve that problem and help them increase their market share and digital revenue tenfold while dramatically decreasing cost per lead.”

The new platform works hand-in-hand with Vendasta’s reputation and presence management tools, all of which are rebranded and sold by partners who serve the marketing needs of local businesses across North America. All partners need to do is upload their list of digital prospects and begin an automated email campaign to identify sales opportunities.

MAST 10X emails are unique, providing personalized information about a local business’s reputation, online listings, social media activity, website responsiveness and more. The system continues to follow up with information that educates the business owner on a variety of digital marketing topics with examples from their own businesses, and sales teams are then given alerts of anyone who indicates interest by interacting with the campaign. Furthermore, the agency can access deeper information about the business’s digital marketing efforts in order to have a meaningful conversation with the sales prospect.

What makes MAST 10X unique is its ability to send businesses detailed information about their online activity from a trusted source (in most cases, an agency and salesperson they’re familiar with). Research shows local businesses prefer email over other types of communication; however, MAST 10X is more than just an email marketing platform. It provides a complete sales tool management system to make sales teams more efficient.

“We’re helping partners discover which of their existing customers and prospects are ready to buy new digital solutions,” King says. “Just because a business has negative reviews and no social presence doesn’t mean they’re a good prospect for reputation management. And while many companies have tried marketing automation before, they often find it’s too complicated and spammy. Vendasta’s solution works out of the box with relevant content for every local business. All you need is a list of phone numbers and email addresses of your current customers, and you’re ready to go.”

Boasting impressive open and click through rates already, the MAST 10X solution is designed to streamline digital agency sales and marketing efforts, to help salespeople focus their energy on the most promising customers and to dramatically decrease cost per lead. For more information, visit www.vendasta.com

About the Company
Vendasta Technologies
 is a leader in digital marketing and brand management solutions for small to mid-sized local businesses, providing white label solutions directly to digital agencies, media companies, newspapers, broadcasters, SEO services, certified marketing representatives, web hosting providers and interactive agencies. Vendasta’s reputation and presence management platform includes Reputation Monitoring, Brand Analytics, Presence Builder, Social Marketing lead generation tools and a Concierge CRM platform to help manage and sell digital products. For more information, visit www.vendasta.com.

MAST 10X Overview Video: https://vendasta-1.wistia.com/medias/9ql8lkhqyp

Using Google Cloud Platform Frees Up Time for Product Development

Since we opened our doors, VendAsta has built its solutions on Google App Engine. What it’s given us over the years has been the ability to focus on the end user solutions without having to worry about the serving hardware infrastructure. It’s allowed us to provide a redundant, reliable and infinitely scaleable solutions that our biggest clients can count on. The following write-up appeared on the Google Cloud Platform Blog, and was drafted by Jason Collins, VendAsta’s chief technical officer.

 

When we founded VendAsta in 2008, we had great ideas about helping millions of small local businesses manage their brands and local reputation. At the same time, we knew that we didn’t want to go through the headache of building our own data center – some of us had done that before at a real estate startup and it was painful. With fortunate timing, Google App Engine launched at the same time we founded VendAsta, and it was an easy decision to use Google’s infrastructure for building and testing applications. As Google added even more features to App Engine and made it a better product, we knew we’d made the right decision.

In fact, our very first lines of code were written on App Engine. We liked not worrying about server redundancy, data replication, peering relationships, power backup, cooling systems, application scaling, or data backups. We could simply focus on the business logic of our applications and what we wanted to deliver to our end users. Focusing on the product got us where we are today – our platform monitors the web for any mention on over 200,000 local businesses, analyzes the social content, and helps them figure out what they need to respond to and take action on. Once a business understands its online reputation, it can take steps to improve it, attracting more customers and increasing revenue.

Large architectural strides can be made when you commit to a platform and align with the platform’s vision. VendAsta has made that decision, and we’re realizing the benefits of using the full Google Cloud Platform feature set. Today, we have about 75 applications running on App Engine and Google Cloud Datastore, including Social Marketing, a tool that helps businesses share content across social channels, and Reputation Management, which shows businesses what customers are saying about them online.

We’re leveraging several other parts of Cloud Platform as well: we use Google BigQuery for structured analysis to perform multi-location analyses for large brands. With BigQuery, we can build data analytics “hypercubes,” using data from thousands of local businesses – like a chain of thousands of car dealerships that wants to compare the reputations of East Coast locations against those on the West Coast. We use BigQuery to analyze the data, then we use Google Cloud SQL to generate the reports that clients need. Our large number of applications are able to communicate reliably with one another using Google Cloud Pub/Sub as an asynchronous messaging system.

Running our business on the cloud gives us the scalability we need to remain competitive. We have the freedom to seek out more partners who will buy our platform and bring it to their customers, without being concerned about our ability to handle customer requests to onboard thousands or tens of thousands of accounts. And all that time saved by not worrying about our infrastructure has helped us bring more and better product features to the small and medium businesses that rely on VendAsta.

Facebook has 4X the Number of Reviews as Yelp, Google+

VendAsta’s reputation software now pulls in business reviews from Facebook! Did that get you excited? It should have.

This is big news.

We are the first in the online reputation industry to pull in reviews from Facebook, alongside reviews from other top review sites like Yelp and Google+. Businesses can see what their customers (and potential customers) are saying about them all over the web from one central location. And as you can see from the headline, it is becoming increasingly important to manage Facebook reviews.

But Why Does This Matter?

 

In October of 2013, Facebook began quietly tiptoeing into Yelp and Google+ territory by adding reviews to their offering. Since they already have a massive user base — over 1.23 billion monthly active users — Facebook’s jump into reviews is likely to be a swan dive rather than a belly flop.

fbreviews

Business owners should be happy to see Facebook enter the game as well, since people are more likely to use their real identity to post reviews, meaning there will be less anonymous, conspicuous one-star ratings. And since the reviews are already posted on the social network, they are easier to share with friends and family, which people are more likely to trust than anonymous reviews.

With a Bright Local report confirming that over 85% of consumers read reviews for local businesses, up from 76% in 2012, it’s no wonder why Facebook would jump into the review game. While Google+ and Yelp have been battling it out for the marketshare, Facebook has slipped into the game and is quickly becoming a fierce competitor. Currently, Yelp exceeds Google+ on number of reviews and places reviewed, and Yelp tends to have nearly double the number of reviews than Google+ on places where they have the same business listings (PiperJaffray). While the talk of competition is mostly between Google+ and Yelp right now, Facebook has entered the game as a lively competitor, ready to let the others bicker while they take huge bites out of the growing market. In some business categories, Predict-it.com has found that there are four times more Facebook reviews than other sources.

fbreviews4x

Businesses and consumers are already on Facebook, so to use it as a consumer review platform seems intuitive. The average person spends about 15.5 hours a month on Facebook, and many consumers seek out current business information here rather than the company’s website. Consumers are more likely to get quick responses and meaningful interactions from a company’s Facebook page.

Counting is Hard and the (Pre Alpha) Solution

Jason Collins, our CTO, has been burdened with a problem: counting. And not just the kind Big Bird is constantly chirping about. Developers are often tasked with coding pages containing many data points, which can be a lot of information to get to a user quickly. Jason wants to find a way to get accurate data quickly.

In his example, Jason uses VendAsta’s Social Marketing software. The dashboard houses various data points, including the number of reviews a business receives. So we simply have to ask the database, right? When we input the simple command to store a review — review.put( ) — that information is stored in a datastore.

data store 1

The above, of course, is a simplified version. In the world of Google app Engine, that data will be stored in several different datastores, in various geographic locations:

review put various citites

The statement attempts to house the review in all locations, but only waits until it hears from a majority of the datastores in at least two geographic centers. This algorithm is called paxos.

review A

While all the data is not in one datastore, the information will be “eventually consistent.” Datastores are copying all this data trying to bring the system into consistency, so eventually all reviews will be in all data sets. In the case below, reviews A,B and C will ultimately be in each datastore. While it is frequently updating, it is often out of sync as new information is constantly added.

eventual consistency

 

The (pre-alpha) Solution

 

Accurately counting the information by scanning all the datastores is time-consuming and expensive. What Jason has done is found a way to capture a “snapshot” of the data using BigQuery. After the initial snapshot, which has information from all the datastores, then the system will track deltas — how much to add or subtract each hour.

data snapshotOccasionally, it will be necessary to apply a new Snapshot, as the information becomes out of sync. As logic follows, the more frequent the snapshots, the more likely the data is to be accurate.

snapshot 2

Click on the video to see VendAsta CTO Jason Collins presenting his theory to our office — the real thing is even better than the write up.

Counting is Hard

 

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