Month: January 2015

A custom website, designed and constructed from scratch, can be the perfect way to create a unique image and brand for your business, with precisely the features you want to offer site visitors. Unfortunately custom websites are expensive, often costing tens of thousands of dollars or more.

To reduce costs, many companies purchase commercial themes, which can be uploaded to your content management system to create an attractive, feature-rich website. Most themes allow a degree of customization, allowing some control over the website appearance.

However, there are potential problems when using commercial themes.

Themes are often designed to offer as many options and features as possible, thus increasing sales. But at the same time, to keep costs down, the companies that build themes may skimp on development and testing, resulting in features that simply don't work, or are incompatible with other third-party plugins.

Also, in order to support a lot of features and design options, the theme may be made up of many large files, resulting in a site that is very slow to load. I've worked with commercial themes that downloaded over 100 files!

If you decide to use a commercial theme, choose one that has been downloaded many times (this information is generally shown on the developer's website), and has good ratings. Plan on downloading and trying the theme before making a commitment. If you plan on using other plugins on your site, test them with the theme before investing time in completing the entire site.

Unless you have a lot of experience building websites, you may need to hire a professional web designer even if you use a commercial theme, and the cost to install, test, and configure the theme will likely costs more than the theme itself.

You may also choose to take a hybrid approach. Some web design shops use themes as a starting point, and then create a child theme with extensive customization to meet your specific needs.

Note that this website is built using a lightweight, responsive commercial theme from Mojo Marketplace.

Studies show that over 90% of consumers use online reviews before visiting local businesses, but the majority of small business owners don't even monitor their reviews. Your online reputation has a direct impact on your bottom line.

A quick online search for most businesses will turn up a great deal of information… and sometimes that information is very damaging!

Online “rating and review” sites have become common. In addition to general rating sites like Yelp, Google+, and Angie's List, there are sites devoted to rating many different types of businesses, including restaurants, hotels, auto mechanics, doctors, lawyers, and even funeral homes!

Here are several things you should be doing to protect your online reputation:

  1. Provide great service and a great customer experience.  When things go wrong, have a clear procedure for customers to talk to someone in charge and have the issue addressed, and be sure all your employees understand the procedure, and let customers know about it.  The best way to deal with bad online reviews is to solve problems  before a review is ever posted.
  2. Monitor your online reviews and mentions on social sites.  You can check the major review sites (at least once a week), or you can use a service like ReviewPush or Trackur.  You can also sign up for Google Alerts to find new mentions of your business on the web.
  3. Invest in SEO for your website, and create pages on Facebook, Google for Business (Google+), and online directory sites.  Your goal is to make sure that users who search for your business online will find lots of quality, positive mentions which you control.
  4. When you find a bad review, see if the rating site has a way to challenge the rating, or to ask that it be reviewed by the site moderators.  If not, see if there is a way to post a response to the review.  Be sure your reply is calm and professional. Apologize for any problems that may have occurred, and stress the positive aspects of your business.
  5. You may be tempted to threaten legal action, or to actual contact a lawyer.  In the United States, this is fruitless.  The law is clearly on the side of the review sites, which are not responsible for content posted by users.  The operators of the sites understand this, and ignore threats of legal action.

Learn more about the business of online reviews at the Rating and Review Professional Association.

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