Colonial Pipeline Attack: Enhance Your Website Security

On Friday, May 7th, the Colonial Pipeline Company was forced to shut down the nation’s largest pipeline after their computer systems were hacked. The company found that the cyberattack involved ransomware, which is a type of malware that encrypts networks and blocks access until a ransom is paid to restore entry to the system. In response to the threat, Colonial had to temporarily shut down their network, cutting off supply to thousands of gas stations stretching from Texas to New Jersey.

Colonial Pipeline Company supplies nearly 45% of the gasoline supplied to the East Coast. While the pipeline had most of its systems operating just days after the cyberattack, the incident resulted in consumer panic, gas shortage, and the highest fuel prices we’ve seen in over 6 years. Fuel shortages remain as spooked drivers continue to swarm gas pumps across the East Coast. 

Pre-pandemic gas prices peaked at $2.60. On Wednesday, May 12, a resident of Richmond reported seeing fuel priced at $6.99 a gallon, showing that gas stations are taking advantage of the pipeline disruption and the rise in consumer demand. As of Monday, May 17, the average national gas price was $3.04 despite the pipeline restoring service. This hints at the lasting effect the disruption could have on the United States economy. 

Businesses Experience Increased Risk of Cyberthreats

The truth is, cyberattacks can happen to anyone. In fact, since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercrime is up around 600%. Hackers pose as representatives from trusted organizations to gain unauthorized entry to computer networks via malicious links or email attachments. The recent pipeline threat has left business owners wondering how they can protect themselves against such phishing attacks. 

How The Marcom Group Can Help

A hacked website can leave your important data vulnerable. You could experience a significant drop in traffic and even lose access to your website. At The Marcom Group, we understand how crucial website security is for each of our clients, especially in these uncertain times. This is why we offer premium website hosting with WordPress Security and Maintenance.  

With WordPress Security, we can help prevent hacks from happening in the first place. Our security monitoring services thwart potential cyberattacks by scanning for viruses, malware, blocked IP addresses, unauthorized admin access and login attempts, as well as other suspicious threats. Files and other content are scanned for backdoors, trojans, and malicious code that could devastate your website. We monitor your website in real-time and address critical problems promptly. If your website does happen to get hacked on our watch, we will fix it at no additional charge. 

As part of our maintenance services, we consistently monitor disk space and scan for out-of-date plugins, themes, and WordPress versions. We keep WordPress and the related WordPress plugins up-to-date. If a plugin becomes incompatible, we’ll find an updated one ASAP. If an incompatible plugin breaks the website, you can count on our experienced team to fix it. We know that a high-quality website that functions reliably is the best way to ensure customer satisfaction. That’s why we’ll do everything we can to keep your website secure and operational 24/7. 

Protect Your Website Today

Don’t leave your business’ website vulnerable to cybercriminals who will take advantage of your confidential data and potentially even your customer’s.

12 Hidden Obstacles to Online Lead Generation

If you’re like most of the business owners who initially turn to us for help, you’re dealing with two obstacles. The first is that your website isn’t actually creating any sales opportunities for you. And the second is that you don’t have any idea why that might be.

This issue is far more common than you might think. Everyone wants a website that will help them win new customers and create revenue, but most business owners don’t actually know how to build a workable sales funnel. That’s our specialty, of course. 

What we often discover in working with new clients is that the first step to generating leads is actually removing the obstacles that get in the way. In other words, before you can do the right things, you have to stop doing the wrong ones.

In today’s post, we want to take you through a dozen of the most obvious and common errors we see when evaluating client sites. Here are some quick reasons your website might not be selling the way you want it to.

1. Your Website Has No Traffic

If no one is coming to your website and seeing your content, then you can’t be surprised that leads aren’t pouring in. While the relationship between web traffic and sales opportunities isn’t always as straightforward as business owners think, you do need one to get the other. 

If you don’t have sufficient interest in your website to generate traffic, it might be time to look at search engine optimization, internet advertising, email marketing, and other tactics that draw visitors in.

2. Your Pages Load Too Slowly

Sometimes it can seem as if you have plenty of visits to your website when in reality no one is viewing your content. How can this happen? If your webpages take a long time (i.e. more than a few seconds) to load, then you might be losing visitors before you ever get the chance to sell.

Slow websites are usually a symptom of underpowered web hosting, coding errors, or issues with improperly formatted content. These kinds of problems are easily detectable with a website audit and should be easy to fix.

3. Your Website Layout Isn’t Mobile-Friendly

Did you know that more than half of all the visitors to most websites are using mobile-ready phones and tablets? If your layout isn’t configured to be compatible with these devices, then users might leave… Or they might not even get the chance to see your content in the first place.

There are plenty of ways to add mobile functionality to an existing business website. The technology is easy and inexpensive and can have a huge impact on your ability to generate sales opportunities online. Why wouldn’t you want half or more of your prospects to be able to see what your company has to offer?

4. Your Pages Have Technical Errors or Broken Links

There are a lot of things that can go wrong on a business website that aren’t apparent to the naked eye. You could have missing pieces of content, outdated plugins, or links that don’t actually go from one page or tool to another. This is especially prevalent on older websites, or those that have been created using DIY tools and templates.

An experienced web design team (using auditing software) can detect these kinds of issues and clean them up very quickly. If you never look for these kinds of problems, though, you might not realize they are preventing website visitors from turning into qualified leads.

5. Your Web Design Hurts Your Credibility

When someone arrives at your website for the first time, they have to make near-instant assumptions about the quality of your products and services. The initial impression they get from your designs and layouts can be all-important.

If you have a color scheme that doesn’t work, outdated low-res images to sell your products and services, or a generally disorganized feel to your content, then that’s going to tell a story that works against you. Remember, a lot of people who come to your website won’t know anything about you except for what they see right in front of them. Make sure it doesn’t convince them to take their time and money elsewhere.

6. There Are Obvious Typos on Your Pages

This can seem like a minor issue on your business website, especially if you spent a lot of money on design and development. What we want you to understand, though, is that no one will share their contact information with you if they don’t trust the credibility of your company. And few things destroy confidence in your professionalism faster than a whole bunch of obvious typos and grammatical errors.

It’s easy and inexpensive to have someone proofread the content on your website. That one investment of time and money can boost your lead generation results in a big way.

7. Your Content Doesn’t Set Your Business Apart

If your business seems like it blends in with all of your competitors, then why should anyone work with you? In other words, if you aren’t offering anything unique then there isn’t any reason to choose the products and services your company offers.

This shouldn’t be an issue in most marketing situations, but we frequently come across websites that have obviously been “inspired” by another more successful business. Being generic, blending in, or copying other business owners is no way to make a name for yourself, and it’s generally not going to help you attract new customers.

8. Potential Customers Don’t Trust You

Sometimes intentional customers won’t trust you even though your design and content are strong. It might be that they’ve been burned in the past or have seen your competitors overhyping their own products and services.

If you suspect that might be the case, then your best bet is to do whatever you can to make your business more trustworthy. That might include showing off verified reviews, pointing out that you are a member of the Better Business Bureau, or even highlighting a money-back guarantee. Any of these can help remove distrust and encourage conversion.

9. What You’re Asking Isn’t Realistic

Imagine for a moment you were trying to sell a mansion on your website. Would you put up some photos and a “buy now” button, or maybe include a downloadable brochure that invited visitors to an open house?

This is a ridiculous example, but it points to a bigger issue. What you ask for as a next-step working version of your website needs to be reasonable and realistic. If you ask visitors to give up too much, too soon, then you’re bound to be disappointed by the results.

10. There Isn’t an Obvious Conversion Option for Customers to Follow

In order for your website to generate leads, you’re going to have to ask visitors to take a step that goes beyond simply reading your content. You might want them to sign up for a webinar, download a buyer’s guide, schedule a phone call, or do something else. The specifics aren’t as important as the need to be clear in your invitation.

If website visitors can’t tell what they should do to let you know they are interested, then you can’t be surprised when they don’t ever follow up. And if they don’t follow-up, you aren’t creating any new sales.

11. Your Lead or Purchase Link Doesn’t Work

It’s amazing how often we see this kind of issue pop up. It only makes sense, if you want to generate leads for your website, that you would have working apps or features in place that allow people to share email addresses, download white papers, sign up for appointments, etc. However, lots of marketers never test these tools to ensure that they are working properly.

You need to check and double-check every part of your conversion process. Be sure they all work, and that they’re functional with a variety of browsers and devices. If you don’t, you could be letting sales opportunities slip away without ever realizing it.

12. There Aren’t Any Follow Up Mechanisms in Place

Even when you do have a strong sales funnel in place and don’t have any obvious errors on your website, many prospects simply aren’t going to become leads the first time you ask them. They might want to talk with a spouse or supervisor, for example, before submitting an inquiry or scheduling an appointment.

If you don’t have any follow up mechanisms in place – such as a retargeting an ad campaign or automated email autoresponder series – those opportunities might be lost forever. Make it easy for potential customers to stay in touch, or give them second and third chances to say “yes” to the next step in your sales funnel.

Could Your Website Be Doing More For Your Business?

It used to be enough to have a professional business website that told prospects all about your business and your products. In today’s digital marketing world, though, you need a tool that helps you establish your brand, drawing qualified leads, and generate finished sales. You might even want your website to process orders, automate mundane tasks, and help with recruiting.

5 Low-Cost Ways to Start Planning for a Healthier Economy in 2021

Ecommerce retailers are hard at work trying to make the most of what is certain to be a busy and unique holiday shopping season. But what if your business isn’t dependent on seasonal transactions? Or, what if your company is in a holding pattern due to current economic conditions? How can you prepare for the coming recovery and turnaround?

Believe it or not, this can be a great time for business owners and executives who aren’t currently bringing in as much revenue as they might like. We know that for the short term it is painful, but we’ve also been working with some of our clients to prepare for brighter times ahead. 

Contrary to what a lot of businesspeople think, finding success online isn’t just about spending all of your time and money on internet marketing. Instead, it’s largely a matter of planting small seeds (through consistent effort) and watching them grow over time. It’s the men and women who can think aheadespecially when times are tough—who come out on top.

If history is any guide, a stronger economy is right around the corner. Let’s look at what you can do for little or no expense today to prepare for a healthier market in 2021 and beyond…

1. Tighten Up Your SEO Efforts

A lot of marketers will tell you that they’ve “always meant” to take search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing seriously, but never really had the time. Well, if 2020 has given us anything, it’s a bit of extra space on our schedules. If you aren’t being overwhelmed in other parts of your business, this might be your chance to finally catch up.

This is a great occasion to examine your search strategy. Are you targeting the right terms, keywords, and buyer personas? Is the content you are producing engaging to customers? Have you been getting lots of search traffic, or are you constantly falling behind your competitors?

It doesn’t take a lot of hours to generate an editorial calendar, post some new material to your blog, or have your website audited. Any of these activities can help set you up for bigger success next year. 

2. Develop an Organic Social Media Following

As with search engine optimization, social media marketing is one of those disciplines where business owners and executives are constantly looking for shortcuts and quick fixes. Everyone wants to have tens of thousands of qualified buyers following them on Facebook and Twitter, but you can’t buy that kind of engagement or get it by tweeting the occasional picture of your dog. 

Social media marketing takes a bit of effort and activity, but that’s why this is the perfect time to start taking it seriously. Optimize your profiles, update your contact information, and get familiar with tools that let you schedule your content in advance. Do all of that now, and you’ll have an easier time keeping up with your social activity in just a few minutes a day.

Building an organic social user following is like running a marathon, it takes time. If you get started now while things are slow, you’ll build the kind of following that pays off when the economy is turning around.

3. Follow a Smarter Email Marketing Strategy

You can use email to spread news to your subscribers, generate instant purchases, and stay on the top of buyers’ minds… all while bypassing your competitors. Or, you can annoy the people on your list and waste everyone’s time without generating any revenue.

Most marketers fail at using email lists effectively for a number of reasons. They stop attracting fresh subscriptions, fail to format their emails correctly for easy loading and mobile compatibility, don’t send relevant info, and mismanage their sending schedules. Even if you’ve made these mistakes in the past, you don’t have to keep repeating them now.

Take advantage of the lull in your business to start segmenting your email lists and develop a schedule that you’ll be able to stick to for the next year. Think about how you can grow your subscriber list and turn it into a source of new leads and sales. It might take a bit of work and planning, but this is an activity that will pay off in a big way later.

4. Improve Your Online Reputation

Improving your online reputation is the business equivalent of getting more sleep. It might not seem crucial until you realize it affects everything else you do throughout the course of a month or year.

When potential buyers hear about your business, they will almost invariably look you up online before setting an appointment or making a purchase. You want them to find positive reviews, powerful testimonials, and stories of the good experiences other customers have had with your company. What you don’t want them to see are complaints, unaddressed issues, or even fake pieces of feedback posted by your competitors.

To establish a strong online reputation, and be able to monitor it, is one of the fastest and most affordable ways to boost your marketing campaigns. This is the perfect time to start looking at what’s been posted about your business on the internet.

5. Get to Know Your Web Analytics

Ultimately, web analytics will tell you almost everything you need to know about the current state of your business and where it’s headed in the future. With the right perspective, you can see where new customers are coming from, what they like, and why they choose to do business with you instead of a competitor.

Of course, if you’ve never installed web analytics on your site, then you are in the dark when it comes to these insights. Even though there are plenty of free options out there, we regularly meet with business owners and executives who have no idea what their numbers look like, or which direction they are headed in. We don’t want you to make the same mistake.

It won’t cost you anything to get good analytics data for your website, and it only takes a little bit of time to start generating custom reports that can give you a lot of important details. Don’t let your business stop growing simply because you haven’t seen the numbers being generated by user visits.

Want to Put Your Business in Position to Fly Next Year?

For a lot of business owners and executives, 2020 has been a difficult year. However, these tough times have given them an opportunity to regroup and be more profitable in the future. If you want to be one of the entrepreneurs who comes out stronger for the experience of the last few months, this is your chance to start planning and preparing.

How to Prepare Your Ecommerce Site for an Unusual 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

In a normal year, this would be the point on the calendar where we would be speaking to our clients about changes, additions, and improvements to their online stores. After all, nearly half of all ecommerce sales are made through the holiday season.

Of course, this is anything but a normal year, and as a consequence, many business owners are scrambling for answers and directions.

If you’re like most of the people we talk to, you’re wondering whether you should be playing offense or defense. You’re looking to save money due to an uncertain economy and take advantage of the marketing opportunities that are just around the corner. How can you walk this tightrope and make smart decisions for 2020?

To help you maximize your profitability this Fall, here are seven tips we think you should follow…

1. Pay Attention to Your Website Audit

Typically, we would begin helping our clients to prepare for the holiday shopping season by auditing their existing website and online store. This involves taking a deep dive into their HTML to look for coding errors, security vulnerabilities, search engine visibility, and technical issues like broken links.

That’s an important starting point in any environment, but especially in the economy we are currently facing. You can’t afford to let simple unseen errors affect your ability to attract customers or engage with them. So, order a website audit today and take the time to go over the results with your web design partner.

2. Upgrade Your Shopping Cart for Upsells

The prevailing wisdom in the world of ecommerce is that customers might be a little more jittery than usual this fall. That means you have to maximize the value of every visit and sale. One good way to do that is by generating upsell opportunities with special offers that appear at the time of checkout.

These kinds of last-minute add-ons and combinations are easy for buyers to say yes to, but they require more than an entry-level shopping cart solution. Why not look at the tools installed in your online store and see if a few simple improvements could help you double your sales volume in the coming months?

3. Develop a Smart PPC Strategy

Should you be increasing your pay-per-click advertising (PPC) budget to attract more buyers in a choppy economy, or pulling back to save money? The best answer might be “both.”

Look into the history of your PPC campaigns to see if there are clear trends. You certainly don’t want to pull back on your profitable ads, particularly if they are still working in 2020. At the same time, though, you may consider cutting off marginal or speculative ads for a while. In other words, focus on your winners and cut off any ads that aren’t performing for the next few months.

4. Lean into Retargeting Ads

Although we’ve already mentioned PPC strategies, retargeting ads deserves special mention. Since maximizing value per customer (VPC) is likely to be your top priority for the 2020 shopping season, you want to convert as many high-dollar sales as possible. That means giving buyers second and third chances with retargeting.

You don’t want to go crazy and blow through your marketing budget, of course, but consider throwing additional dollars at potential buyers who are looking into your most profitable products. You may be able to turn more of those exposures into sales and lower your ad costs, particularly if you follow the advice given in the last tip.

5. Use Targeted Content to Your Advantage

It’s easy to forget that free content is often more effective than ads when it comes to drawing in traffic and generating conversions. That’s especially true when you plan ahead.

In recent years, our clients have done particularly well by publishing buying guides, online video demonstrations, and customer testimonials. These all reassure visitors that they are making good decisions and will be happy with their purchases. In other words, they reduce the sense of fear that so many customers feel when it comes to checking out, particularly if they aren’t familiar with your products. Why not use these pieces of content to make your store more profitable this Fall?

6. Build Adaptability into Your Online Marketing Plan

No one can really say with any certainty what the next few months will be like. The best any of us can do is to make good plans, search for opportunities to get ahead, and then stay adaptable.

There are a lot of ways you can be flexible with your holiday season ecommerce strategy. You can build two or three sets of promotions and then let week-two-week analytics guide your strategy. You could prepare various ads, landing pages, and email blasts for different scenarios. You could even activate or hide certain parts of your online store, changing prices and promotions on the fly. The more uncertain you feel about the Fall season, the more contingency plans you should have in place.

7. Start Planning Today

It’s possible that our most important piece of advice is to simply get started on your Fall strategy today if you haven’t already. We advise our clients and readers to get an early jump on ecommerce preparations every year, but in 2020 it’s even more crucial.

Savvy business owners and executives are already following the advice we’ve laid out in this article, knowing that they may have to adjust their plans and ideas as they go. That’s going to be almost impossible if you wait until the last minute. It’s much better to spend a few hours putting together an email, social, or ad campaign that you won’t need than it is to find yourself scrambling to create one when you’re desperate to generate online sales.

Need Expert Help with Your Ecommerce Strategy?

It’s never easy to make good online marketing decisions on your own, and the current economic environment hasn’t helped anything. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert in web design, search engine optimization, or pay-per-click advertising to maximize the sales from your ecommerce site. You just have to have a team of experts who are willing to learn about your business and give you the right advice.

ADA Compliance for Websites

The Supreme Court recently shined a light on ADA compliance for online businesses by refusing to hear a case that had previously ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees disabled individuals the right to access not only businesses but also their websites and web-based applications. 

The initial suit was brought against Dominos by Guillermo Robles, a blind man who was unable to order a pizza on the pizza chain’s website because it didn’t have the capability to accommodate him. He claimed this violated the ADA, which states that anyone with a disability should have full access to the goods and services “of any place of public accommodations.” While Dominos argued that this law only applied to physical locations, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it also included the online services offered by the business. 

This ruling could open the door to many other lawsuits against retailers who fail to make their websites accessible. The Supreme Court’s action implies that they are likely to apply ADA standards to web-based services in the future, leaving many business owners concerned about their ADA compliance. 

What to Know about ADA Compliance

Making your website ADA compliant is a smart business move that will not only protect your company but also help you reach more individuals with disabilities who may be interested in your services. Here are some key things you should know about ADA compliance:

  • The ADA extends to Tier I and Tier III organizations. Tier I is any business that is open at least 20 weeks out of the year with at least 15 employees. A Tier III organization applies to the “public accommodation” category, which includes businesses like grocery stores, banks, hospitals, and retailers. 
  • The ADA doesn’t have specific guidelines for websites, but the Supreme Court’s actions suggest that they should have the same level of accessibility as a brick-and-mortar location. This means using various website programming techniques to ensure a website is functional for individuals with disabilities.  
  • The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) is the industry standard for web developers. It consists of guidelines and techniques to ensure websites are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. These guidelines are broken up into three levels to conform to varying degrees of disability.
    • Level A: This is the lowest level of accessibility. It focuses on ways to improve navigation and translation for readers. 
    • Level AA: This level does more to account for multiple disabilities, including providing developers with direction on color contrast and identifying errors. It’s more in line with what has been considered acceptable in past court cases involving ADA compliance.
    • Level AAA: At this level, a website is designed to be accessible to the broadest range of individuals with disabilities using a combination of programming tools and elements.

Why It’s Time to Upgrade Your Web Hosting

Web hosting is an easy topic for business owners to ignore. After all, most don’t really understand how it works, never see the computers where their websites are stored. Also most are easily bored by details like server speeds.

So, rather than get into the technical minutia of different web hosting packages and configurations, today we simply want to remind our clients and readers that it’s time to review your hosting package. In fact, it’s likely that you could benefit from upgrading to a better plan.

Reluctant to spend money on something you don’t quite see the value in? Let’s look at a few things you get with dedicated web hosting…

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The 7 Things Your Business Website Needs to Make Clear

When designing a website, or putting content together, it can be easy to lose the forest for the trees. There are so many apps, design features, and new technologies available to today’s business owners and web designers that they sometimes lose sight of what they really need to accomplish.

Numerous studies have shown that you only have about three seconds or less to impress a first-time visitor to your website. Many of those in our industry point to that figure and remind clients they need to upgrade their web hosting for faster page delivery. That’s a good suggestion, but clarity matters just as much as speed. In other words, your website needs to get certain ideas across to potential customers very quickly.

Which facts or ideas do they need the most? Let’s look at seven things your business website needs to make crystal clear…

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The Biggest Trend Driving Online Marketing in 2019 and Beyond

This is the time of year when business owners (not to mention those of us in the web design community) naturally tend to look ahead and think about what a new year might mean for the world of online marketing. That’s certainly the case now, as we are fielding more questions than ever about what to expect in 2019.

There are never certain answers to these questions, of course, simply because technology moves quickly and no one can predict the future. However, from our point of view it’s easy to see that the biggest trend to pay attention to is the one that is already taking place right in front of our very eyes. In fact, it’s so significant that it’s easy to take the associated changes for granted.

We are talking, in this case, about the shift towards mobile web usage.

No matter where you look people are on their phones and tablets. Statistics back up what our eyes see, with mobile web usage approaching 60% of all Internet traffic in 2018. There’s no reason to think mobile web users won’t make up and even bigger percentage of the online market in coming years.

Smart marketers are taking big steps to adjust. Here are some of the tools we are using to help our clients to be ready for the continued growth of mobile computing in 2019 and beyond…

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How to Write Web Content Like a Pro

Given the choice, nearly any business owner or marketer would prefer to have a professional copywriter craft their web content rather than spending hours and hours on the job themselves. However, not every client who needs web design has the budget for a good writer, and in some industries the huge amount of insider knowledge involved in crafting informative pages makes it faster to write than it would be to bring an outsider up to speed.

If you find yourself in either category it doesn’t mean you have to give up on having great web content. You just need to approach the project the same way a professional would. We talked with an experienced web content writer who has written hundreds of across many industries. Here was his advice…

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How to Make Complex Website Development Projects Simpler

Taking on complex web development projects—websites with hundreds of pages, unique apps, and digitized content—can be daunting. Not only are there the normal technical and creative aspects to get past, but the sheer volume of the work can present logistical challenges. Additionally, big web design jobs usually have multiple personalities involved at the decision-making level.

Given all of these factors, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a lot of complex web development jobs tend to take longer than expected and go well beyond their initial budgets.

That certainly doesn’t have to be the case, though. Today, we want to outline a handful of steps you can take—in conjunction with your web design and development partner—to make complex web design projects simpler, smoother, and more efficient…

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