Focus on Customer Delight to Connect

October 28th, 2014 by

At InsideOut Solutions, we want to give strong guidance to our own clients about how to consistently and carefully nurture those guests who have come and gone. Just because a guest has paid the bill and left doesn’t mean that the relationship stops there. In fact, it’s quite typical that guests who visit a bed & breakfast or a dude ranch might, in fact, be looking to return. Old-fashioned, outbound marketing focused very much on making the product sale and then leaving the customer in the cold. But inbound marketing at its very core seeks to engage in a relationship, to connect, and then foster that over time. Which is why instead of inbound marketing (which is a fine term in and of itself), InsideOut Solutions’ prefers “connection marketing.” That’s what inbound marketing is all about: connection.

Great. So what’s the point of aiming to delight? Glad you asked.

Customer Delight: Apple Does It Right

Ever heard of a company called Apple? If you have, you can probably name at least two – if not all – of the products they sell. Part of the reason for Apple’s success is that they not only market well, but that they aim for customer delight. In the recent Apple announcement on October 16th, the company shared that its iPad Mini Retina has attained a 100% customer satisfaction rating, besides the iPad product line itself consistently ranking #1 in customer satisfaction. Numbers don’t necessarily mean everything, but this is an indicator that Apple isn’t just doing something right with its product, but is doing something right for its customer. The product could be absolutely amazing in its own right. But without an aim to delight the customer, the product would be useless.

Make your primary goal to delight your guests because that’s what will draw them to you.

Customer Delight: Before, During, and After

Customer delight goes all the way back to “attract” or, for our purposes, “invite.” You start the relationship dialogue when you invite a potential guest to your site. At that moment, you should begin to delight them, even before they’ve booked a room, even before they’ve checked for availability. Now think about what will delight a guest who might choose your bed and breakfast. Is it the fact that your inn is $20/night cheaper than other nearby B&B’s in the area? Maybe. But it’s more likely that what will delight them is the experiences you offer there.

Delight Overarches Inbound Marketing PrinciplesThink about customer delight not as the “final phase” in inbound marketing. Instead, consider it the driving phase of the whole inbound marketing process. Your content, email, and social media marketing efforts should all focus on customer delight. Delight really is the overarching principle that makes inbound marketing so different from outbound marketing. In fact, you wouldn’t go wrong if you knew nothing about inbound marketing, but pursued the single goal of delighting individuals across the board. When inbound marketing is done right and the aim is to delight the customer, that you will not only have repeat and loyal customers, but you’ll also have gained a team of unpaid, word-of-mouth advocates.

Here are some ways to demonstrate how you might delight your guests:

Methods of Customer Delight

Invite them to take a look around: In the lodging industry, beautiful photographs are worth more than just a thousand words. They can be the final factor in gaining a guest. The internet has a provided a level playing field — to some degree — for individuals to engage users at a visual level. A gorgeous collection of photos that show your destination at all seasons of the year, or with beautiful sunrises or sunsets, or any other theme, could very well be the deciding factor. As a site visitor decides to book with you, demonstrate that you intend to delight them by using photos to show them the experience they could have when staying with you.

Woo them with images and rich descriptions of breakfast: I do not mean post smartphone pics of a breakfast. I mean, carefully photograph a full place-setting, capturing the steam rising from freshly prepared food, the glistening of co-mingled syrup and butter atop lightly browned pancakes, and a cold glass of milk or orange juice sitting to the side. Don’t just take a picture of a muffin and a cup of coffee, and tell your potential guests to trust you, that your breakfast is top-notch. I wouldn’t buy that. Neither would they.

And don’t get all weird and formal about your breakfast. “We serve a good breakfast that is complete with all recommended nutritional elements.” Boring. Instead, delight them with terminology that invigorates their senses. Talk about the sizzling of bacon and sausage in the pan, the light and fluffy omelette made fresh, the enticing earthy scent of a hearty, dark roast coffee, or the fresh, fruit that bursts with sugary goodness in the mouth. Enrich the breakfast before the guest has even decided that’s part of the desired experience.

Talk about events unique to your area: This should not be your sole method of delighting individuals, but it is useful to talk about distinctive events that really draw crowds and a lot of buzz to your area. Also, the flip-side of this is to talk about well-kept secrets and local attractions that give character to the area where you’re destination is located. Is there a specialty quilt shop, for instance, that is renowned for the artistry of quilt-making? You might find that you’ll draw in visitors and guests simply by offering them something apart from the “norm.”

Give them a brief, compelling history lesson: One of the interesting aspects of bed and breakfasts, for example, is their often storied history. How the houses came about, who built them, their namesakes, and their gradual expansions often make for interesting lore to individuals who seek out the classic charm associated with those types of destinations. And when you do go about describing the history, try not to make it like reading a history written on parchment in the Middle Ages. Enrich it with human narrative. Make it something interesting to read. Show your friends and ask them what you might do to improve its appeal.

 

Customer Delight: Approach with Care

All this talk about customer delight, but you might wondering how to actually make this practical.

This is where we build on tools and tactics discussed in previous posts: email marketing, content marketing, and social media marketing.

Your website is a great commonplace for prospective guests and returning guests alike. Blog posts are a solid method for generating draw and attention. But the ways I mentioned to delight your guests are best when doled out to individuals you’ve recognized as leads, or to former guests who already subscribe to what you offer.

Email Marketing: While a solid method for “closing the sale,” email marketing is also a method of sending appropriately tailored content to guests who have left your inn. Create new connections with leads, and maintain connections with former guests because it increases the chances of a return visit.

Content Marketing: Think of content marketing as the substance you’re using to invite and delight prospective and former guests.

Social Media Marketing: Put yourself out there. Social media is where a lot of conversations are now taking place. The various channels (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.) are places where people are exchanging ideas, talking about brands and companies, and learning from one another.

As we continue to post on topics relating to connection marketing, we’ll be digging deeper into these various types of marketing and how to use them in the hospitality industry.

Whatever form of marketing best fits your goals to delight your prospective, current, and former guests, be sure that you approach everything you do with care. If you don’t care, you’re missing out on the primary ingredient for succeeding in what you do. Gone are the days of cold sales and harsh tactics meant to bully people into buying products. We are in a new era of inbound marketing that is truly customer-centric and it is the customers themselves who have shaped this new era.

If you’d like social media alerts of when we publish our next post, join us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Or, if you have an RSS reader, click to subscribe to our blog.

Currently, InsideOut Solutions offers blogging and email marketing services to help you improve your inbound marketing efforts. Click below to contact us and find out more about these services.

 

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Responsive Design Recently Launched by InsideOut Solutions

October 16th, 2014 by

We continue the trend of redesigning our clients’ sites to improve user experience and enhance their marketability. Part of this process also involves making their sites responsive. Such is the case with our client, Sam Hughes Inn, for whom we provided a modern and responsive design.

Sam Hughes Inn (Tuscon, AZ)

The innkeeper, Susan Banner, explained that she liked the design and color scheme of the site she’d had for nine years and wanted to retain those characteristics as much as possible. Also, as the B&B is within walking distance of the University of Arizona, so she wanted us to be cost-conscious about our approach to the new site since a large portion of her marketing is done by proximity and word-of-mouth. The redesigned site accommodates all of those needs, maintaining the “look and feel” of the former site, while refreshing it with a cutting-edge web design approach. More specifically, we adapted her previous websites to one of our Modern Theme Concept Sites to remain cost-conscious and to provide the best solution for her. The Modern Theme is clean, professional, and well-structured. It lends itself to ease of use and really focuses on accentuating the photographic beauty of the bed & breakfast and its surroundings. Additionally, the responsive design of the site strengthens the website’s versatility across devices. So whether you’re looking at your smartphone, your tablet, or on your desktop, you’ll get a clear-cut, beautiful site to navigate.

Sam Hughes Inn Responsive Design Site Launch

Do You Have a Responsive Design for Your Site?

Many businesses haven’t yet upgraded their website to a responsive design. It takes time and care to do it right. Sam Hughes Inn is now on a better track to engage users from various points of view. Read our June post: Responsive Web Design – Is It Time to Redesign or Upgrade Your Website? and contact us with any questions or to request a quote.

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Another New Responsive Website from InsideOut Solutions Launched

October 10th, 2014 by

No more is responsive website design a subject of speculation. It has become a recognized industry standard for website design that is a hallmark of successful and leading websites.  On October 6th, we launched a new responsive website for the Texas B&B Association that ushered them into a better position to be a leading resource in their industry.

Texas B&B Association Site Launch

Texas B&B Association

InsideOut Solutions has been the host, web designer, and web developer of the Texas B&B Association for over six years. Marketing Director Joe Cloud’s overall desire was to achieve a more contemporary aesthetic, as well as to improve some functional elements of the site.  So we provided a new design and code that achieved Joe’s vision for the site. Also, Designer Beth Edwards gave the Association’s logo a refresh to ensure its consistency with the site’s new look while maintaining the identity and feel of the original logo. In addition, we added social networking buttons to the header and footer, upgraded the site to a responsive design, included a new map to replace a Flash map, removed all Flash from the site, and executed various other upgrades. The result is a visually-appealing design that is well-structured, clean, and loads quickly. The 100% width imagery allows site visitors to enjoy the full beauty of the photos of Texas’ landscape. Further, the site’s responsive design, which Google prefers, provides a consistent user experience and visual quality across a variety of devices.

Texas B&B Association Logo Refresh

Is It Time for You to Get a Responsive Website Design?

The newly launched responsive website for the Texas B&B Association brings it up to speed with web standards and its improved aesthetic enhances its credibility and visual appeal to site visitors. Note that responsive website design is not a passing fad. It has emerged as a relevant technique for designing tasteful and functional websites. Read June’s post: Responsive Web Design – Is It Time to Redesign or Upgrade Your Website? and contact us with any questions or to request a quote.

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New Responsive Website from InsideOut Solutions Launched

October 8th, 2014 by

Client demand for responsive website designs from InsideOut Solutions continues to grow as this revolutionary web development standard takes hold among leading websites.  On October 2nd, we launched a new WordPress-based responsive website for a historic Lansing, Michigan area lodging, dining and event facility that brought a longtime client into this new era of web design and development.

The English Inn (Eaton Rapids, MI)

InsideOut Solutions has been the host of The English Inn, Restaurant & Pub for five years.  Manager Erik Nelson wanted the site’s aesthetic to be streamlined and elegant, and knew he needed to make the user experience better by re-organizing the site navigation to make clearer the inn’s offerings for accommodations, gourmet cuisine, and spectacular event venues for weddings, corporate retreats, family reunions, parties, and other gatherings.

The result is a beautiful new site that is user friendly, clean, and emphasizes the opulence and atmosphere of the Inn and its peaceful countryside setting. Visitors to the new website will note the high quality of the photos, the well-organized navigation menu, the soft flourishes that are consistent with the brand of The English Inn, and the careful treatment of typography. At first glance, you know you’re looking at a high-class, luxurious, and professionally served destination B&B, restaurant and wedding venue. In keeping with the responsive trend preferred by Google, the site adapts its unique “look and feel” across various devices and browsers to improve the visitor experience.

The English Inn Homepage

 

Is It Time for You to Get a Responsive Website Design?

The newly launched responsive website for The English Inn, Restaurant & Pub has given this client a strong platform to ramp up their internet marketing and will prolong the site’s usefulness. Is it time for you to take your website to this next level?  Read June’s post: Responsive Web Design – Is It Time to Redesign or Upgrade Your Website? and contact us with any questions or to request a quote.

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Close with Email Marketing: From Lead to Guest

October 7th, 2014 by

Over the past few posts, we’ve been discussing how the right content invites visitors to your site where you can then connect with them to turn them into leads. Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing methodology indicates that closing is where a lead is transformed into a customer. In the case of B&B Inns, this is where a lead is transformed in a guest. From inbound marketing’s tool chest, email marketing is a prime tool to help you achieve this transformation.

Transform a Lead into a Guest

Close with Email Marketing

Did he just say email marketing? He did. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about financially supporting the deposed Prince of Nigeria. Also, I’m not talking about herbs that make you feel stronger and younger. I’m not talking about cheaper pharmacy medication. I’m sure you’ve seen any or all of those emails, and if you’ve got a good email client, they’ve probably been pocketed in your “junk” or “spam” folder. And rightly so. Most of those types of emails are striving to get you to click through to a dangerous site to gain private information or to download some malware.

When I say email marketing, I’m actually referring to targeted, intentional emails meant to educate, help, and entertain the leads that submitted contact forms (during the “convert,” or as we’re calling it, “connect,” phase). Chances are, if you’ve ever submitted a contact form via a landing page that you’ve received this type of email.

In my previous post on conversion, I explained segmentation of contact lists. You get a bunch of email contacts, and you break them up into logical groups so that you can follow up with uniquely tailored, relevant content to each group. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool like Highrise or an email marketing tool like Constant Contact can help with this process.

But now we go a bit deeper with just exactly how you tailor email marketing to nurture those leads and turn them into guests at your Inn.

Match the Interest

Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised to learn that this often goes unnoticed in the world of email marketing, even though those who send it to you might try to convince you that it’s relevant. Which is why I consider a lot of email marketing I receive to be spam.

For instance, let’s have individuals Joe and Jane Smith. Joe and Jane are interested in getting away to a B&B Inn where there are lots of local attractions, as well as good food and wine to be had. Whilst Joe is at work, Jane decides to do some “shopping.” She has already visited several B&B websites, but followed you on Twitter when she saw you post some great photos of your breakfasts. When she clicked through to your site, she was presented with a landing page that offered a free recipe book for download, and so she submitted her contact info and downloaded it. Now gone from a site visitor to a lead, she has already cooked one of the meals, and both she and Joe were so delighted that she planned to cook another very soon. You then use your CRM to segment Joe and Jane into a “food” category for your email marketing campaign. But then you also place them in “beer” because you find that there are often times a correlation between individuals seeking fine food and craft beer. So, you follow up with emails to them about food and about local craft breweries, home-brewing recipes, etc. After a few weeks and no decision yet on where they’ll stay, Jane begins to get annoyed at the beer-oriented emails. She really likes the emails about the food, but feels put off by the emails about the beer and doesn’t like them cluttering her inbox. She begins to place your emails in her junk folder and continues her search for the right B&B Inn for her and her husband.

So, what went wrong?

Notice that Jane as a site visitor converted to a lead when she submitted the contact form through the free recipe book download page. She was obviously interested in things food related, particularly recipes. She was interested in the follow-up emails you tailored to her about food and recipes. But not about beer. That’s where you lost her. You interrupted her with things in her email inbox that were not relevant, interesting, or helpful to her.

How do I avoid this blunder again?

Know Your Audience

Here are some methods for maintaining a successful email marketing strategy:

  • Zero in on the lead’s interest and nurture it: Because Jane was interested in food and recipes, send her emails that offer her additional downloads of recipe books, expert tips on food preparation, and even short e-books that feature photo albums of various dishes. Further zero in on Jane’s particular food interest by using click-through rates (available in tools like Constant Contact) to determine what pieces she found most useful in the emails you sent. This can help you refine how to approach Jane (and other leads like her), and to improve the quality and nature of the content you offer.  You might be thinking at this point: Gee, seems like I’m offering up a lot with little return. Transform that thinking into this: Gee, I’m working hard at building a relationship with a potential guest and a potential advocate through email marketing.

NOTE: Click-through rate is basically the percentage of the number of times your email registered a click through compared to how many times it was opened. For instance, if 60 contacts opened the email and 6 contacts clicked through, your click-through rate is 10%.

Relevant Email Marketing

  • Don’t flood the lead’s inbox with email: Marketing with email doesn’t mean sending email to a group of contacts every day. To the contrary, it’s all about timing. For instance, any more than once a week is probably too much, especially for your target buyers. By watching click-through rates, bounce rates, etc., you can quickly determine the best timing and frequency for sending emails. By analyzing with actual data, you can learn when your target buyer is more likely to open an email and also when that buyer is also likely to click through.
  • Mix it up: Don’t be all business. If all you’re sending are email specials with only footnote sections about your target buyers’ interests, you’re not likely to earn any guests. Preserve specials for once a month, or in the case of inns, perhaps seasonal. Announce local events in e-newsletters, but don’t bombard the lead with tons of email every month about special events. Remember to marry up these ideas with the content of interest to your lead, and also timing the email with when they’re liking to either open it or click-through.
  • Don’t guess at the lead’s other, unexpressed interests: In Jane’s case, you guessed that she might also be interested beer. But that was wrong. She gave you no indication based on her visit that she was interested in anything other than food. For your target buyer, always go with what you know about them. Remember that, if you were talking to the individual in person, you wouldn’t bring up beer in the middle of a conversation about food. That’s neither tasteful nor helpful, and represents poor conversation etiquette. Treat your email marketing as if it were a real-time conversation with the individual. Focus on talking only about what that lead’s interests.
  • Offer content that will shape a positive perception of your B&B Inn: Suppose you threw together a bunch of recipes in a MS Excel spreadsheet, didn’t format it, set it to be downloaded, and then invited a lead to click-through to it. What percentage of success would you guess you’d have in transforming that lead into a guest? Approximately zero. Because there is now high quality content to be found on the internet, you must take care about the quality of the content you offer. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the lead just wants something. If a lead has gone as far as giving you their contact information to gain a piece of downloadable content, it is highly unlikely that the same lead is just interested in downloading any old content. Strive for quality and usefulness to get the best results from the content and information you offer in your email marketing. Contact us for more information about the content creation services we offer.
  • Don’t cast your pearls before swine: Have you been sending emails for months to one or more contacts, but with zero opens? The answer to this problem is simple. Stop sending the email. It’s a waste of time and is unlikely to net any results. It’s possible that down the road you could come back and re-market to that individual(s). But for now, stop sending the emails because it’s going to skew your view of your email marketing campaign’s success.

Close as Marketer, Close as Salesperson

At this point, it should be clear that the email marketing is meant to be both a form of marketing and a form of sales. It’s a form of marketing because it continues to publish resources and knowledge to your lead. It’s a form of sales because it seeks to help the lead make the decision to stay at your Inn.

In the B&B Inn industry, relationships are key. Hospitality overall is a unique service to offer, and B&B’s are set apart from mainstream resorts and hotels because they offer a very individualized, personalized, and tailored experience that larger hoteliers can’t and don’t. The B&B experience begins and ends with relationships. Innkeepers who seek to develop relationships tend to have more success than those who don’t because the target buyer is often interested in a warmer transaction than, say, with a ten-story hotel. Recently, the Chef For Feng blog published a case study demonstrating was the importance of good phone sales skills, particularly with regard to cultivating a relationship.

Your email marketing is about a relationship — it goes back to the conversation I referred to. Engage and talk about what the lead wants to talk about. Answer questions, offer entertaining and informative content, and be available both as a person and as an innkeeper.

Many business feature a marketing department and a sales department. The marketing department furnishes leads to sales. In your role, you are both marketer and salesperson, bringing in the leads, nurturing them, and then closing the sale, which transforms that lead into a guest. Our next post will delve into how you delight your guests, even after they’ve left your inn.

If you’d like social media alerts of when we publish the next post, join us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Or, if you have an RSS reader, click to subscribe to our blog.

Currently, InsideOut Solutions offers blogging and email marketing services to help you improve your inbound marketing efforts. Click below to contact us and find out more about these services.

 

Learn More About Our

Inbound Marketing Services

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Link Building for SEO in 2014: Adding Outreach

September 30th, 2014 by

This article, which deals with link building outreach best practices is the third part of my series on Link Building for SEO in 2014. If you aren’t familiar with link building basics or how to start a campaign I recommend you read:

link building graphic

A core concept for link building for SEO is to earn links from websites that have greater authority for desirable keywords.  Natural editorial links,  earned when a web content writer finds your content and links to it, are great when you can get them, but sometimes you need to take your efforts to the next level.

An example: You have been blogging for awhile and are getting good feedback comments from readers. You aren’t, however, seeing referral links to your posts show up in your web statistics. What now?

Link building outreach efforts can earn you valuable referral links and increase the SEO value of your content at the same time. Rather than hoping your content is found and linked, it requires you to directly contact website owners and bloggers to request a review of your content.

Here are the steps for adding outreach to your link building strategy.

Find Potential Referring Websites to Contact in Your Link Building Outreach

The whole point of building incoming links for SEO is to receive links from websites who have greater authority for targeted keywords, so how do you find them to start your link building outreach efforts?

1. Choose Your Targeted Keyword Phrases

Search!

Use private search functions on Google, Bing and Yahoo to determine who ranks highly for your targeted search terms.

Before you go off and start searching for targeted keyword phrases to see how your website ranks, its important to understand that your personal search results will likely be filtered in search engines based on a variety of factors (web history, search history, your location, etc.).  It’s vitally important to start your search without this “results customization” to see the “raw strength” of your website compares to other for your targeted keyword terms and that starts with your browser.  My recommendation to choose and configure one web browser (either Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome) that will be dedicated to private searching and follow the requirements of the major search engines to keep those searches free of personalized results.

It’s a good idea to read up on what the major search engines require for private searching:

2. Review High-Ranking Website Search Engine Query Results for Your Targeted Keyword Phrases

List the websites that have higher ranking for your targeted keyword terms and review each for their suitability for link building outreach to improve SEO, including:

Site Authors & Bloggers Link to Relevant Content

links in a chain

Make sure a website is worth your precious time before engaging its owner or author for links.

A website will not likely entertain the idea of linking to you, no matter how good your pitch, if it does not already link to other websites with relevant content.  Also Look for contact info for authors/bloggers on the website and in social media; if you can’t find contact info easily, it’s probably not worth your time.

Site Does Not Use “NoFollow” Links

It used to be that all links were considered a “vote” for the content they linked to.  These days, a link with the “nofollow” attribute tells Google to not count the link as a vote.  This link attribute is growing in use and is now widely seen wherever a link is paid for (i.e. banner advertising your website on another site) or the referring website owner/editor may not have full control over the link, such as:

  • “Advertorials”
  • Article directories
  • Blog comments
  • Forum posts and signatures
  • Guest book comments
  • Guest post signatures
  • Press releases
  • Wiki pages (e.g. user-editable pages such Wikipedia)
  • Yahoo! Answers

That’s not to say that all these sources on all websites will be “nofollow” links, but it pays to check before spending your time trying to get your link on there for SEO purposes.  When you’re on a page with a link(s) to external websites pull up the page source code (typically a View selection in your web browser) and look for an example link.  If it looks like this:

<a href=”http://www.examplewebsite.com” rel=”nofollow”>Example Website</a>

then you will know those links are not counted by Google and do not contribute to SEO efforts.  Please note that “nofollow” links may still give big value in terms of the referral visits they bring, so be sure to add these websites to your referring links efforts.

The following can help you narrow down your targeted sites and set their priority if you end up with a long list.

Site Does Not Require Payment for Review or Link

If the website in question only reviews sites that pay for the service then it’s not worth your effort.  The major search engines are constantly looking for sites using paid links and downgrading or eliminating them from search results so that link you buy today may be worthless tomorrow.

Don’t Forget Check Your Own Readers’ Comments

Sometimes a reader who leaves a comment on your blog post is also a writer for a blog or other website and a potential source of links.  If they have engaged you by leaving a comment on your blog post, chances are they will be open to linking to you.

Next Up: How to Earn Links with Your Link Building Outreach Efforts

My next post in this series will present best practices for engaging website owners and bloggers to get their attention and earn those links.  Contact us if you want help in getting your link building strategy off the ground.  We offer consultations and ongoing services for link building outreach and other SEO-related services.

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Password Security in the Age of the Hacker

September 29th, 2014 by

Passwords: they are the “keys” of the internet. Most individuals find themselves using at least one password at some point in their internet exploration from day to day. Everything from email accounts to forums to purchases require passwords.

The Truth About Passwords

Password Key

Truthfully, that’s a good thing. Passwords help ensure that the individual who needs to see information or send information should be the individual that is meant to. But the problem is that, as with houses, less scrupulous individuals (we’ll call them hackers) want to break in and steal what doesn’t belong to them. So they work tirelessly at either figuring out how to get that key.

Over the past couple of years, large companies like eBay and Adobe have experienced hacking of very sensitive user and customer information. This is obviously problematic from a trust standpoint, but also for customer identity protection. The silver lining – if there is one – of these major hacks is that light was shed on poor password practices. For instance, data from the Adobe hack revealed that the 9th most popular password for users was “photoshop,” one of the tools Adobe offers. And what was the most popular password used? “123456”. With weak passwords like those, a hacker’s job becomes much easier.

All this doom and gloom might leave you feeling a bit hopeless, but there are ways you can help protect yourself.

Best Practices for Password Security

We recommend these best practices for password security as they are both practical and necessary:

Avoid Using Words in Your Password

Password Weak“Well, geez, how else do I go about making a password?”

Simple; use numbers and letters. So instead of using “mypassword” consider using something like “1m56y589pa43ss”. The reason behind this is pretty simple: hackers use dictionary programs that run constantly, fishing for whole words used in password fields. Thus, a whole word like “my” or “password” in a user’s password instantly makes it an easy target for hacking. Try to avoid replacing letters with a number that looks ‘similar’ to it. For example, don’t replace ‘e’ with ‘3’ or don’t replace ‘a’ with ‘4’. These replacements are very common and make password guessing trivial.

Generate Strong Passwords

“That’s easy to say, but how do I accomplish this?”

Using a ‘password generator’ is the best way to accomplish this. A lot of password storage apps (as discussed below) offer fantastic password generating tools built right into the app. These make setting up very strong passwords a breeze.

There are also a handful of password generator websites that can accomplish this same task. However, be sure the website is from a trusted source. It’s best to verify that the website is encrypted (aka using “https”). Here are a couple of trusted sources to get you started:

“But how do I remember these more complicated, stronger passwords?”

Store Passwords in a Trusted App

“Oh, no, here we go: a sales pitch for some kind of expensive app.”

Well, yes, some apps for password storage are expensive ($25 – $50) others are cheap, or even free. The benefit of an app in the first place is having something accessible so you don’t have to remember the more complicated passwords (i.e. 1m56y589pa43ss). Instead, when you need a password, it’s simply a matter of copying it from the app and pasting it in the password field in your browser, email app, etc. Do your research about which app might be best for you. If you only have a couple of passwords you need to store, choose a free version, so long as it is secure and its reviews are good. If you have multiple passwords to juggle, consider making the investment in one of the more expensive apps and determine whether the desktop version of the app and smart phone version can be synced so that you can access your passwords at your computer, as well as on-the-go.

While we don’t want to push any specific app on anyone, we do highly recommend 1Password. We use this internally for all the password security, management and storage needs at InsideOut. It has been one of our most trusted and highly used apps over the years.

Here are a couple of good leads to get you researching what app might be best for your password security needs:

Change Your Passwords Every 3 Months

Password Changes Every 3 MonthsWhat’s the best way to keep a burglar from getting into your house if he steals one of your house keys? Change the locks. The same is true with your password security. Yes, we recognize that it sounds laborious to change passwords every 3 months. The better question is: do you spend the time to do that or to dig yourself out of the morass of identity theft? The internet can be a fun place to interact with others, purchase goods, and find entertainment. And since passwords are part of the internet landscape, it’s probably best to keep that landscape shifting so that hackers don’t have even the inkling of a chance to gain access to your otherwise private and secured information.

Transmit Passwords Only Via Secure Channels

Think email is a secure way to transmit a password? Think again. If you absolutely have to transmit a password to another individual, do so with programs that use strong encryption methods. For instance, Dropbox is a trusted method of transmitting information that users often want kept private or confidential. Email, text messages, and social media messaging systems are not considered private or secure means of transmitting any type of password information. We recognize, however, that often times you have to send a password with email or text message. If this is the case, we highly recommend that the password be changed immediately upon gaining access to a system. Using the ‘password recovery’ feature of a website or changing the password from the user profile page is the best place to start. Remember, use a strong password each time you change it!

Erase Your Storage When You Sell a Device

A not often thought of security measure is wiping all the data off of a computer hard drive or overwriting information on a smart phone. When you sell these items, remember that the data is still there even after a simple “erase.” Software exists that can pull information off of hard drives or phones that was otherwise considered “deleted” or “erased.” Some security companies like Avast indicates that there is no full-proof way to prevent “erased” information from being retrieved from a phone. The only best way is to destroy hard drive of the old device rather than selling it for reuse. This, however, is probably not considered the most popular method since individuals tend to sell old devices to help invest in newer versions. For computers, there are similar sites with excellent guidance on how to scrub a hard drive clean:

The Bottom Line About Password Security

Protect yourself and be smart. It is not smart to use names, words, anything recognizable as a word in a password. It is not smart to use a series of sequential numbers or keystrokes such as “123456” or “asdfjkl;”. We have listed methods we feel are solid in terms of protecting yourself when you use and manage passwords. Perhaps there is no foolproof method for password security given that a lot of hackers make it their day job to steal what doesn’t belong to them. But that doesn’t mean you leave the door to the house open, and you certainly don’t leave copies of the key lying around. Do your best to protect yourself and think ahead of the hackers, staying one step ahead of them so that the information you consider to be private remains that way.

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Convert with Inbound Marketing

September 24th, 2014 by

So far in our series on inbound marketing, we have discussed why it matters, what tools are involved, and began looking at HubSpot’s inbound marketing methodology. At this point, you might be wondering, “How does a visitor to my website eventually become a guest at my inn?” Well, in my previous post, I explained that the first thing you need to do is attract visitors to your website. From there, the objective is simple: establish contact. When you establish a method for contacting a visitor, he/she becomes a lead.

convert-01So how do you go about turning your visitor into a lead?

Convert Through Action

You can’t have something for nothing. If you want your visitors to leave contact information, offer them something in return. This is a first step in building trust and can be the beginning of a good relationship. Remember that you’re not necessarily trying to get them to just book a room right away (don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely when a visitor does). But in the big picture of your business, that’s the not the point. The point is to give visitors a reason to return to your site to explore it further, and also to reveal why your site might be useful or relevant.

A visitor rarely comes to a website randomly. There is almost always a cause. Maybe it was a blog post. Maybe it was a photo gallery. Maybe a social media post was shared and they wanted to see what your business was about. Perhaps it was part of Cost-Per-Click (CPC) advertising, such as Google AdWords or Bing Ads, or even a referral visit from a link on another website. Whatever the case, something drew that visitor to your site. It’s hard to tell at this point what exactly drew the visitor, but it’s not hard to find out if you offer a chance to connect through your site. For instance, offer a subscription to your blog via RSS feed. Or, perhaps, offer a newsletter subscription, which is an excellent way to gain contact information as a call-to-action.

A Call-To-Action (CTA) is simply a statement on your website that asks or invites the user to take a specific action. For instance, a good CTA might be “Get Our Latest Newsletter” or “Subscribe To Our Blog.” Or, perhaps, “Download Our Recipe Book.” convert-04Clear and appropriately placed CTAs transform a mundane website into an engaging user experience. Without CTAs, a website is as good as a pond with no water flowing through it. Eventually, it stagnates into uselessness.

What happens when a visitor clicks a CTA? They are taken either to the downloadable file you’re offering or to a landing page.

Convert Through Exchange

A landing page is a solid method for obtaining an email address for follow-up communication and to begin to establish a relationship with the visitor, thereby transitioning him/her into a lead. A landing page typically contains your logo, a contact form, and a download button for whatever you’re offering. But the idea isn’t to gain a list of email addresses to spam. Instead, the idea is to have a method to contact individuals and offer more useful pieces of information. For instance, suppose you are an innkeeper and one of your biggest guest draws is your menu. People who are drawn to the food at your inn are also probably interested in all things food. Compiling recipes and making them available as a downloadable e-book is just one example of something to offer. Follow-up with the individual by offering, for instance, seasonal recipe e-books, etc. Think creatively about how to approach the individuals you draw to your website and how to establish contact with them.

Feel free to contact us for help setting up CTAs and landing pages.

Convert Through Your Contact Book

Having a many email contacts is an awesome thing. But managing them can be very troublesome and, honestly, quite time-consuming. Here is the great conflict: knowing how to reach those contacts and managing them in logical groups must be done. So, to have successful conversion into a lead, you must either devote the time to segmenting those contacts into logical groups or paying someone to do it for you.

Why does this have to be done?

It’s important to segment the contacts that you gain through your CTAs because interests vary. Therefore, what one individual might find interesting, another might not. Knowing the difference helps you tailor how to follow-up with each of them.

convert-03For example, let’s say you gain 20 contacts from your CTAs. These 20 contacts all chose to download something or subscribe to something different. But among the 20, there were individuals who seemed to be interested in common subjects, such as wine, food, hiking, fishing, or history. But suppose you didn’t care to segment them. So you end up sending emails to all 20 individuals about a wine tasting even when only a handful were interested. Those who weren’t interested in wine would be more likely to mark your incoming messages as spam and begin to ignore you completely because you were no longer inviting them into information of interest.

There are many tools available for segmenting contacts or for managing contacts. One such tool is Highrise. In it, you can fill out business-card like contact information for your contacts and tag them in categories that can then be used to filter groups of contacts. Such tools are excellent investments if you have several contacts you want to segment.

If you’ve gone to the trouble of gaining your site visitors’ contact information, be sure that as you seek to convert them into leads that you’re continuing to attract them with useful resources and relevant information. Remember that the difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing is that you’re invested in caring about the buyer, not in simply selling to the buyer.

Convert with Care

Think about it. Conversion is simply turning something from one state into another. Remember that conversion is not the same as closing a sale (we’ll get to that in the next post).

For our purposes, conversion is connection. Because inbound marketing is meant to be permissive, there is no other viable method by which you can go on to make a customer out of a lead. Further, there would also be no way to delight a customer. Connection

Consider the following when converting a visitor to a lead:

  • Be willing to give more than you get: This sounds strange and possibly insane. However, it is a strong approach for gaining not only a customer, but also an advocate.
  • Be creative: Take time to think about what to offer those who visit your site. Who is it that you’re trying to convert into a lead? Who is your ideal or target buyer? Look at your competitors’ websites and see what they’re offering in the way of CTAs.
  • Be real: A surefire method for losing website visitors is by manufacturing utterly useless junk for downloads. Don’t inundate your site with flimsy CTAs that are simply meant to get contact information. Visitors will be able to detect the difference. Make the content you provide useful, relevant, and entertaining.

To Convert Is to Connect

HubSpot’s inbound marketing methodology calls this phase “Convert.” While that’s good, for our own terminology we’re going to adopt the term “Connect”. That’s what this phase is all about: connection. When you have attracted, or invited, someone to your website, communicating and connecting with them is the first step toward forming a solid relationship. Imagine if you invited guests to take a look at your inn before they decided to lodge there. But once they arrived, you never spoke to them, never got to know them, never made them feel you cared on any level. I expect that in a short time you’d find yourself out of business.

I said it before, “Inbound marketing’s total methodology is meant to be buyer-focused. Caring about what motivates, interests, and inspires your ideal buyer is a good key to attracting them to what you offer to help solve their problem or reduce their pain point.”

Ultimately, the goal of the “Convert”, or as we’ll call it, the “Connect” phase of the inbound marketing methodology is simply this: to prove that you care enough to engage. Join us for the next post in this series, “Close with Inbound Marketing”. If you’d like social media alerts of when we publish the next post, join us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Or, if you have an RSS reader, click to subscribe to our blog.

Currently, InsideOut Solutions offers blogging and email marketing services to help you improve your inbound efforts. Click below to contact us and find out more about these services.

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Attract with Inbound Marketing

September 12th, 2014 by

Thanks for joining us again as we dig deeper into the world of inbound marketing and what it can do for your business as we take a look at the first of the 4 phases that make up inbound marketing’s methodology.

Flower Blooms, Curb Appeal, and Fast Food Logos Have This In Common

If you said “What are things that attract?” then you are right. Flower blooms are colored specifically to attract insects and birds that feed on the sugars of the flower (and also aid in the pollination process). Curb appeal is essential as part of a visually attractive presentation on a neighborhood or street. Instead of seeing tireless cars parked on cement blocks and trash strewn about, one would expect to see beautiful landscaping and a manicured lawn that invites positive attention from passersby. Fast food logos are oriented both in structure and in color to invite your appetite, and, as a result, your patronage. Yellows, oranges, and reds are all very popular appetite-inducing colors, so they become very attractive visual elements when you are hungry.

So it is with inbound marketing. The very first phase of its methodology, according to HubSpot, is attract. That’s not just a rule or an idea. It’s an integral part of how inbound marketing begins to work.

Attract-02

In the first post, Inbound Marketing: Is It Something You Need?, we recalled the cold sales calls of old, which often interrupted dinner and family time. Notice that there was nothing attractive about that scenario. Nothing inviting.

To attract is to invite. You want to invite visitors to your content to help them solve problems of all sizes. This concept is important because attracting visitors isn’t the same as converting them. That’s a different stage down the road. At this point, you want to enter into a relationship with them and invite them to learn more about their problem and about how to solve it. That’s the difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing: with inbound marketing, the visitor is invited to learn more, not have a product immediately shoved in his/her face.

Attract With Content

How do I draw visitors to my site? The answer is simple: awesome content. In the previous post, Inbound Marketing Tools: Reach the Customer, I mentioned the tools of inbound marketing. Those tools are meant for creating content that attracts and engages visitors.

Attract-01

How does a blog, for instance, attract visitors? When you write a blog post, that page is indexed for search engines. SEO, relevancy, regular publication, and other factors determine your visibility in the SERPs (search engine results pages). Frequent posting alone is not enough to increase the visibility of your content. Also, blogs are shareable, and in this age, everyone who is on social media shares either their own or others’ content, including blog posts. If you write repeatedly and in such a way that users find your information useful or helpful or entertaining, they will return for more. It’s likely that, in the end, if you post consistently, you’ll invite attention via the search engines and via social media.

TIP: InsideOut Solutions offers a monthly webinar on blogging to its Clients. Click here to get more information.

Basically, to attract visitors, create content that is honest and engaging. Be real. It’s important during the “attract” phase to gain the trust of your visitors. That means writing what you know about, not what you THINK you know about. Credibility goes a long way toward gaining a solid following of visitors. And the end goal in all of this isn’t necessarily to make those visitors buy whatever you’re selling, rather to provide them a safe place that answers their questions or speaks to their pain points.

Attract Your Ideal Buyer

Focus on Content that Interests the Buyer

Consider what your ideal buyer wants to learn or know more about. If you operate a B&B or an Inn, consider focusing your content on topics such as local events, artisans, regional foods, or seasonal features like foliage or animal migrations. Don’t make every blog post about how awesome and comfy your rooms are. Nothing is less attractive, or boring, than someone talking solely about him/herself.

Writing posts consistently is good, but distributing them via social media is even better. Links from your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages are excellent ways to reach not only your current set of followers/friends, but also to reach beyond. Remember that social media is just that: social. A clever and helpful blog post is more likely to be shared and talked about.

80/20 Rule on Social Media

Not only is social media an excellent place to distribute your blog posts,  it’s also a great method for sharing content and engaging in real conversations with your ideal buyer. Sadly, the temptation for many individuals is to abuse social media to only focus on what they offer. It’s an imbalanced approach.

However, the “80/20 rule” is a widely accepted approach to social media marketing. This simply means you spend 80% of the time posting information that is interesting, educational, or informative for your ideal buyer and 20% of the time posting information that is more sales-oriented, exclusively about the offerings of your B&B or Inn.

Attract-03

Draw in visitors with interesting pieces of content from experts about the things they might care about (like local events, artisans, etc.). For instance, you could use Facebook to refer to an article about a local vineyard. Or you could tweet about an upcoming event. Your content doesn’t need to be 100% original. Do your research and locate trusted sources that create compelling and engaging articles, and then share them. Such content is often referred to as “curated,” which means that it is good, valuable, and reliable information from an expert source.

Care More About Your Buyer Than What You’re Offering

Once you care about what your ideal buyer cares about, you will be speaking their language, meeting them where they’re at, so to speak. Two people who can speak a common language engage in a relationship more quickly than two people who don’t.

Inbound marketing’s total methodology is meant to be buyer-focused. Caring about what motivates, interests, and inspires your ideal buyer is a good key to attracting them to what you offer to help solve their problem or reduce their pain point.

Ultimately, the goal of the attract phase of the inbound marketing methodology is simply this: to prove that you care enough to help. Join us for the next post in this series, “Convert with Inbound Marketing”. If you’d like social media alerts of when we publish the next post, join us on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, and Linkedin. Or, if you have an RSS reader, click to subscribe to our blog.

Currently, InsideOut Solutions offers blogging and email marketing services to help you improve your inbound efforts. Click below to contact us and find out more about these services.

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Inbound Marketing Tools: Reach the Customer

September 3rd, 2014 by

So, you’ve determined that inbound marketing is for you, and that it’s an investment that can help you attract new customers and grow your business. Now we move from the “why” to the “how” to learn that it’s the tools of inbound marketing that are practical in reaching those new customers.

The Link Between Making Breakfast and Inbound Marketing

For those of you who offer breakfast as part of your services, consider this scenario: You get up early. You preheat the oven. You get the pans out. The kitchen counter is lined with food to be cooked, ingredients to be fashioned into something good. All of this is meant to become a beautiful, delectable breakfast for your guests. You leave the kitchen in the hopes that all of those things will work together to become that breakfast. But when you return, you find them all precisely where you left them. There is no piping hot bacon or sausage, no golden pancakes, no buttery biscuits, no fluffy omelets. Everything is where you left it. The food and ingredients cannot make themselves. The same is true for inbound marketing: it is not practical or proven until its tools are engaged and applied on a regular basis.

The Tools of Inbound Marketing

Truth be told, you want your site visitors and prospective customers to have a satisfying experience. They’re more likely to return and visit your site longer if they like the content or find it useful. Understanding who you want to visit your site and who you want to target as prospective customers is important to figuring out which tools you pull out of the toolbox. Some might be more helpful than others. Whatever tools for inbound marketing you decide are best, you must give them time and attention.

inboundmarketingtools-02

Websites

If InsideOut Solutions designed your website, you’re already doing well in this area. Whether to have a website these days is no longer even a point of discussion since the world is doing a large portion of its business on the web. Since customers are searching for what they want, it is essential to have a website that shows what you offer. Also, a good website that invites attention is part of what your inbound marketing strategy should include. Remember that you don’t need to go door-to-door or buy expensive time to interrupt people in their car or on their couch. Those same people are using the internet to find what they want on their terms and in their own time. A beautiful, clear, and functional website is a key way to lead them down the path to you.

Blogging

Blogging is a method of adding content to your site. This content is in the form of articles written by you. The benefits of blogging regularly are:

  • Indexed posts: The more you have, the better opportunity you have to get found online. Properly optimized blogs have a tendency to increase your rankings in search engines and, importantly, also widens your visibility in search for keywords.
  • More leads: Draw prospective customers to your site with relevant, smart blog articles and invite them to return by consistently publishing quality information. HubSpot reports that 43% of companies have acquired a customer through a blog. 43% isn’t a number to sneeze at.
  • Increased trust: Once you have valuable content that site visitors want, they’ll come back to you for more. This increases the chances that you’ll turn those visitors into customers, and that you’ll gain advocates for your business. Remember that just because a visitor doesn’t become a customer doesn’t mean they won’t become an advocate.

Social Media Marketing

How to approach this inbound marketing tool is a struggle for some individuals. They might blog a lot, for instance, but fail to ever really distribute the content they create. Blogging is not an if-you-build-it-they-will-come tool. You can write the most prolific blog articles ever, but if you fail to distribute them to an interested audience, they’ll collect internet dust for years. Social Media Marketing is basically using the existing tool of social networking. All the major social media brands (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) are built on networks of people. Call them friends, followers, circles, or whatever you like. But people talk and share and think together on the internet. Smart inbound marketing uses this interconnectedness to achieve a new kind of word-of-mouth marketing. While we won’t explore in depth the advantages of each social media channel in this post, it’s important to note that without proper and timely use of social media marketing, you’ll end up adrift in a vast sea of nameless websites. And your users would likely have better luck finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Landing Pages

Landing pages are self-defining in name and function. Are you wanting to promote something on your website, but not necessarily have the visitor see your main page yet? A landing page is a strong method to accomplish this. Typically, this page is designed to get information from the visitor (usually name, contact info, etc.) and for you to provide something in return (additional information, content, contact, etc.).  The goal should always be, with any content, to establish trust and a bridge of communication. Invite the visitor to learn as much as he/she wishes, and use solid, valid content like landing pages to give them something in return so that they trust you and want to return for more.

Email Marketing

Some may think that email marketing is just another word for spamming. On the contrary, it’s a strategic method of reaching out to and keeping track of individuals who have provided email addresses (at the landing pages, for instance). As with all the other tools, email marketing is all about timing. Coordinated with landing pages, email marketing seeks to provide prospective customers information that they’re seeking. Send emails to them with content that builds trust, meets their needs, and speaks to their pain points. For instance, if you know a lead is constantly reviewing vintage wine selections and you’re sending them craft beer newsletters, you’re not going to invite further interest and your off-topic emails are likely to send them off to a competitor.

Handle With Care

All of these inbound marketing tools are meant to be tailored, handled appropriately and with consideration of your prospects. If you’re only preaching about what you’re selling, you’re not going to build much of a following. Buyers want engagement, learning, trust, and relationships. This is true across all industries. Understand that no one comes out of the gate as an expert with inbound marketing tools. But investing your time in learning about them and using them increases your chances of generating more leads and eventually customers. Join us for the next post in this series, “Attract with Inbound Marketing,” to find out what flower blooms, curb appeal, and fast food logos have in common.

Currently, of the inbound marketing tools, we offer blogging and email marketing services. Click below to contact us and find out more about these services.

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