If you’re not doing anything illegal, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about from the government. Concerns are running high with the introduction of the Department of Justice’s new “Operation Choke Point” initiative, however, after reports that otherwise legally compliant individuals in “morally questionable” industries are having their bank accounts shut down.
The genesis of this operation was an investigation of the payday loan industry that spanned all of 2011 and 2012. Four Oaks Bank of North Carolina was accused of knowingly processing checking account withdrawals made by payday lenders who were extending credit to customers without proper license and charging interest rates that were well in excess of what the law allows. They also allegedly processed payments for internet gambling and Ponzi schemes.
Four Oaks was the first bank to face a lawsuit under Operation Choke Point, and would eventually settle for $1.2 million without admitting wrongdoing. If the operation were limited to driving illegal and usurious lenders out of business, there would likely be very few complaints with it. However, public concern about the program was raised when an April 2014 article in VICE magazine suggested a link between a rash of unexplained closures of the accounts of porn stars and Operation Choke Point.
Banks don’t give reasons for these closures to the public, of course, so the link was entirely speculative on the part of the VICE writer. But the flames were fanned by op-ed pieces written by prominent bankers William Isaac (former FDIC chairman) and Camden Fine (president of the Independent Community Bankers of America), who both suggested that the DOJ was overreaching and targeting entire industries indiscriminately.
The DOJ has not made any formal declaration about the exact businesses Operation Choke Point is focused on, but speculation rests on a 2011 list of “high risk” industries published by the FDIC. The list contains some industries that are inarguably rife with illegal activity – cable box de-scramblers, drug paraphernalia, and Ponzi schemes, for example. But it also lists industries that do a lot of perfectly legal business – coin dealers, firearms sales, pornography, surveillance equipment and tobacco sales among them.
At this point, the connection between Operation Choke Point and anything except for the Four Oaks lawsuit is pure speculation. So how much cause for concern is there if you own or work for a business that the FDIC has tagged as “high risk”?
The FDIC’s original document from 2011 focuses almost solely on third-party payment processors and “remotely created checks”, which are payment authorizations that bear a signature that isn’t an original copy or do not have a signature at all. This was the primary point of abuse in the Four Oaks case. And while the FDIC was perhaps overly broad in naming some of these industries as “high risk”, it does nothing more than to advise banks to be more diligent in examining the account activity of payment processors associated with merchants who work in these industries. There is also still no direct evidence linking this list with Operation Choke Point.
Merchants who work in these industries will want to verify that their payment processor is reputable and operating entirely above board, but there is no evidence right now to indicate that businesses and individuals who are involved in the industries named by the FDIC need to worry about having their bank accounts shut down.
You could make the case that designing a web application is the easy part of the app creation process; the hard part is actually monetizing it, or earning an income from it. For example, the user interface, or UI, of your web application is one of the most important parts of the application itself. The user interface will be the main area of the application that your users will actively use, so it is important that you ensure it is easily understandable and helps promote other parts of the application that could earn you extra income. Strategies like these can you improve your application and its monetization potential.
# 1: Highlighted Changes
To help ensure that your customers notice when there has been a change since the last time they used or updated the application, it often helps to highlight these differences for them. These changes do not have to be only to the application itself, but simply in its function or purpose; they can even be something as simple as the customer receiving a new message.
# 2: Keyboard Shortcuts
Keyboard shortcuts are a great way to make it easier for your customers to navigate through different parts of the application without having to open a dozen different menus to get what they want. If you decide to incorporate keyboard shortcuts into your user interface, you need to make sure that you either have a shortcut guide or have the keyboard shortcuts written next to the option in the menu.
# 3: Upgrade Options
This aspect of your UI will be used to remind customers that they can get more features by upgrading their accounts on the web application. Including a simple upgrade button in the interface itself that users will see each time they open the application will encourage quite a few free users to upgrade their accounts, simply due to the added convenience factor. Make your upgrade button stand out from the other buttons on the page. Many web application designers will do this by making the button either a yellow or golden color, but the final choice, of course, is entirely up to you.
# 4: Feature Promotion
This point ties in closely with point three. While the free version of your application may be high quality and very useful, it still needs to show the customer all of the other features to which they would have access if they were to upgrade their account. It is best to list the most relevant and appealing features near the upgrade button without taking up a significant amount of room. However, the feature list itself does not really need to stick out, as the upgrade button will attract users’ eyes.
# 5: Color Coding
To make it easier to spot different tools on the user interface, it can often be helpful to color-code the most important features. This will allow users to instantly find what they want after they have used that feature a few times, and it will help them differentiate between all of the different available options when they are a new user. The last thing you want is for a new customer to become overwhelmed by all the different options and just quit using the application you have worked so hard to build.
Consider the Pareto principle, commonly known as the 80-20 rule: 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. While these figures may differ somewhat from one company to another, experienced business owners can testify that repeat customers are responsible for the bulk of their success.
So how can you acquire more of these high-converting customers? This article examines 7 practical techniques you can implement right away in your own online business:
Make Use of Social Applications to Build Brand Awareness
Out of sight, out of mind. In a world where countless distractions and competitors are vying for the affections of your customers, social applications offer a powerful solution for positioning your brand. Use social media platforms to actively engage your customers, letting them know there’s a real person behind the logo. You can also use e-mail newsletters to great advantage by creating helpful content and keeping customers posted about upcoming sales. Including incentives such as product coupons within your newsletters will encourage your customers to stay subscribed. Make use of RSS widgets on your website and invite customers to subscribe to your blog.
Make Sure Your Company Policies Validate and Protect the Customer
Having overly rigid policies in place can be a business hazard. Many customers simply won’t buy from a company with a no-returns policy. This is especially true online, where customers can’t actually see or touch a product until it’s delivered to them. Be as flexible as possible.
Offer Incentives at Every Opportunity
Let your customers know you value their business by rewarding them. You might offer an incentive, such as a gift certificate, to a customer who refers you to a friend. Besides creating a positive experience for existing customers, this has the added benefit of drawing in new clients and promoting your brand by word-of-mouth.
Another great way to offer incentives is to have a savings program in place for your most loyal buyers. By rewarding good business, your customers will view a sales transaction as an investment rather than an expense.
Make Your Website Approachable
Approachability is a key factor in building trust. Make it easy for customers who visit your website to contact you, and be available for questions for as many hours of the day as possible. Respond quickly and personally to e-mails rather than using an autoresponder. Besides an e-mail address, your website contact page should include your phone number and a business address. Consider using a live chat application on your website to address immediate problems.
Having a comprehensive FAQ section and an About Us section on your website can also be very helpful in alleviating the concerns of first-time buyers. Simply being open with your customers will establish your reputation as a professional, and new visitors will feel safer knowing you’re not some kind of fly-by-night scam.
Keep in Touch Year-Round
Don’t just send chocolates on holidays. Get in touch with your customers on a regular basis – ask them if they’re happy with their latest purchase. Don’t underestimate the power of small talk. The more you engage your customers, the more quickly you will build a trust relationship while getting to know a lot about them in the process. Simply listening to your customers will open up opportunities to make them feel valued and win their loyalty. This might come in the form of a wedding or a graduation, for which you might send a letter or a gift. Get creative.
Be Willing to Negotiate With Difficult Customers
Handle customer complaints as soon as they arise. Be prepared to be flexible in providing solutions, even if this means bending the rules of your regular policies. If a customer posts a negative review online, you can harness this to your advantage by responding promptly and politely and resolving the issue as reasonably as possible. Other customers will trust you more if they see that you’re willing to work with buyers to ensure they’re satisfied with your product or service. In this way, uncalled-for negative reviews can become a positive marketing tool.
Poll Your Customers
There’s no better way to do market research than to go directly to your customers and ask them how you can improve your product or service. One of the simplest ways to do this is by adding a poll application to your sales page. Simple checkout polls are less hassle for the customer than a lengthy survey sent several days after a purchase requiring them to fill out a lot of personal details. With a quick poll, you might simply ask how a customer’s experience was and how you might improve on it the next time around. You should also follow up with your customers a day or so after their purchase to make certain they’re satisfied with their product.
By taking advantage of every opportunity to strengthen relationships with existing customers and to win the trust of new ones, you’ll be able to position yourself as the go-to guy for your product or service.
There are many ways to drive traffic towards your e-commerce website. Search engine optimization can move your site closer to the top of the search results, pulling in droves of interested visitors. Social media can generate buzz for your brand and a good email list can help keep prospects informed and interested. None of these techniques are worth much, however, if they don’t convert into a sale.
When you’re first starting out, it’s a common error to focus on traffic rather than on leads and sales. True, traffic is the lifeblood of any online enterprise — but only if you can establish a good conversion rate. These tips will help your enterprise to turn clicks into real sales.
Every successful enterprise starts with a solid and effective plan. The same goes for Web-based enterprises. Determine what you’re offering, how you’ll deliver it and what makes your business outstanding. Think about the elements your site will need to communicate with your visitors and what they’ll need in order to make a purchase. The better your focus at the beginning, the less patchy, fragmented or confusing your site will be.
If your site is already up and running, the first item on your checklist should be your page load times. If there’s one thing that will send prospective customers fleeing, it’s a page that takes too long to load completely. Even a fraction of a second can be enough to cause your visitors to disengage. By streamlining your design and getting rid of any extraneous elements, you can shorten load times and make certain that you’re not keeping your customers waiting.
While multimedia elements such as audio and video can add value to your site, they can also be distracting and irritating. Media should not play automatically or obscure other elements when it launches. If the first thing your visitors have to do when they visit your site is close down an intrusive video or animation, they won’t be well disposed towards buying from you.
Next, examine your site’s overall usability. Your color, font and background choices can affect readability — ditch any low-contrast color schemes, distracting patterns or tiny typefaces. Interestingly, using a larger font size has been shown to improve conversion rates in many cases.
There should be a smooth path from your landing page to the point where a customer can place an order. If you make the process of buying your products too complicated, many people will be discouraged before they ever get as far as your checkout. Include clear pricing for every item and make sure there are easy-to-follow links to different products or sections. You should always include a site map — this is helpful to humans and also to the web crawlers that index your site for search engines like Google.
If you have a lot of different items for sale, don’t try to cram them all onto the first page. Catalog them and make sure that you have a fast, effective search system. Don’t limit the results per page too stringently — consider making the default 75 or 100 items rather than 10 or 20. You could even use an endless scroll, since most people are happier to scroll down the page than they are to click link after link to find the item they want. Just make sure that your automated scrolling element isn’t knocking navigation links off the bottom of the screen.
This final point can never be stressed too much: Registration should always be optional. Trying to force your customers to set up an account for no real reason can seriously damage your sales. Studies have shown that even if a prospective customer has selected their items and is ready to pay, telling them they have to register an account to complete their transaction will cause almost one-third of them to abandon their purchases. Only ask for the minimum amount of information you need to provide your customers with the items they want and reassure them that their privacy will be respected. Offer the opportunity to set up an account if they wish but always give them the option to check out without registering.
Instead, provide social media integration for your visitors. Giving people an easy way to link their Google Plus or Facebook accounts with your site is a more productive way of creating connections than adding an unnecessary registration step.
By keeping websites simple and avoiding common pitfalls such as unnecessary registration, Web-based businesses can avoid losing valuable sales. This article aims to address that problem by offering some helpful advice for those new to Internet marketing and e-commerce. It outlines some general ways in which conversion rates can be improved by making the sales process easier for customers to navigate.
In the world of social media, one of the biggest keys to success is effectively establishing a rapport with followers, friends, and, ultimately, customers. In many circumstances, one of the best ways to do this is to connect with these groups in a conversational, social tone that makes them feel more like they’re having a conversation with a friend than being sold too. That casual, informal tone can do wonders for establishing strong social media connections, but it can also backfire if social media operators aren’t careful to be mindful of what they’re saying and how they say it.
One of the most dangerous situations this can arise from is when social media posts or messages contain a negative tone or connotation. Sometimes the subtlest negativity is enough to cause a problem, even if intentions are good. It might seem like a good idea to make a backhanded comment about a competitor or go on a minor rant about the deficiencies of their products or services, but the reality is that doing so offers almost no upside and has the potential to not only cost a business social media followers, but also to damage their brand image and reputation.
First of all, social media users aren’t stupid, and if they see a company making negative comments or being condescending in regards to a competitor, they’re going to immediately see the bias that exists and discount the comments based on it. So even if the poorly chosen tone doesn’t have any negative consequences, it isn’t going to work either. Secondly, by taking a negative or condescending tone, a business risks turning off its existing social media following and it isn’t unheard of for otherwise loyal followers to voice their displeasure, creating a backlash.
The fact is that people just generally don’t like negativity. For the same reason that independent voters regularly indicate that they find political attack ads to be distasteful and off-putting, consumers don’t like it when businesses take the low road. It’s highly important for employees tasked with operating social media profiles to remember that when they post they speak for the company. Offhand negative comments that might seem harmless in a normal context can have unexpected consequences when delivered on behalf of a business. Diplomacy rules when it comes to speaking on behalf of a company in the social media environment.
So when posting for business purposes, it’s important to remember that a snarky remark about a competitor likely has no upside potential whatsoever, but could have significant negative consequences. There is nothing worse than having social media users turning on the company they follow, and putting out that fire is often embarrassing and difficult. So instead of attempting to pump up a business by putting down the competition, companies should focus on the quality of their own products or services and let that quality speak for itself. Not only will it result in a stronger, more loyal following, but it eliminates the dangers that negative social media tone can invite, and that kind of risk mitigation can be invaluable in a world where appearances are everything.
You’ve heard of that poser who manages to get all the girls by lying, cheating, and hitting on everything with a skirt. You may even laugh at his antics, when you see them portrayed by the character named Barnie on “How I Met Your Mother.” Other times he makes you cringe at his calculating and impersonal techniques to improve his conquest numbers. Whether you love him or hate him, he has some valuable lessons to offer online marketers. Today’s social marketing world depends on authenticity and personal branding, but it also can make use of some techniques that players have used for centuries to reel in the goods.
It’s all about the Numbers
Players, like Barnie, know that rejection is inevitable in dating as well as in business. You may have to struggle a while to get your first “yes.” But, you definitely increase your chances if you market as many people as possible while trying to make each contact as personal as possible. It’s considered uncouth to solicit every woman in a bar to see who will bite, but the same approach in business is exactly what you need to get results. Persistence in your online marketing venture is bound to reap success even if it can get monotonous or repetitive. The wider you cast your net, the more likely you’ll bring in a big haul.
Create an Attractive Hook
Some days Barnie is a pilot and other days he is a doctor. He has no qualms about making up a story to gain the confidence or sympathy of his intended target. This type of antic can be successful in dating and in business, with the exception that creating enticing stories better be based on some modicum of truth in business or you could end up sued. The technique is still valid, however, in that you want to find the hook that appeals to your target audience and then use that to get them to connect with you on a personal level. This can encompass something as simple as indicating that you love pets and donate money to shelters from every purchase made or that your business was founded to solve some personal problem in your life. The key is to have a story that you can go to when someone wants to know who you are and why they should buy from you.
Get Contact Information
Internet marketers spend a lot of time creating social profiles, tweeting, posting images, and writing blog articles. All of that is great for exposure, but if you don’t focus on the final goal like Barnie, you’ll just end up with a lot of goodnight kisses and little else to show for it. Like Barnie, you got to start with the phone number – in this case, the email address. Email marketing is the first step to close the deal and without it, you’re wasting your time. If you don’t have an email program set up to market all your contacts and you aren’t automating it to be able to service multiple clients at a time, you’re only sabotaging yourself.
Close the Deal
Decide how many contacts it takes to close the deal. A real player might hang around for three dates and if nothing happens, moves on. Likewise, if you’re not getting responses from your email list after a set number of contacts, you need to review your entire game plan. You should be reaping results. You want to build an audience, but the audience needs to be a paying audience otherwise your business will inevitably fold.
If you’re not getting people to buy your services then you need to look at where there might be a mismatch in who you’ve targeted and what you are selling. You might find you need to create a couple of different deals – one for low-income people and another for more high-end customers. It could be that no one is interested in your product or service and it needs to be tweaked. Maybe you are not asking for the sale outright and that is also a factor. If you have a full-blown email responder system in place, you can view which emails get the most attention and click-through rates and that can help you customize your message so that people buy more often. In the end, you will find that you can maintain your authenticity and sell a good product even as you use some of the techniques that have made players like Barnie successful with less noble intentions.
Google’s Hummingbird update has been described as the largest change to Google’s inner workings in years. Driven by the meteoric rise in smartphone use, Hummingbird is designed to better serve people using voice search, and to better understand complex queries.
To do this, Hummingbird shifts the search engine’s focus from keywords and search strings to meaning and context. By taking a semantic approach to searches, Google hopes to match the intent–not just the individual words–of a user’s query with useful websites.
While only Google knows exactly how Hummingbird works, there are three things every site owner and SEO should know about it.
Hummingbird is the Biggest Update to Google Search Since 2010
Since it’s launch in 1997, Google has continuously improved the algorithm it uses to determine which results to display when a user searches for particular keywords. These changes are usually minor and happen almost daily, unnoticed by users or SEOs. With Hummingbird, though, Google replaced their core algorithm entirely.
The last time Google did this was in 2010 when they launched the Caffeine update. While Caffeine was designed to provide search results faster, and to better handle the constant stream of data coming from services like Twitter and Facebook, Hummingbird is designed to change how Google’s search engine understands the web and its users’ queries.
Hummingbird Uses Entities Instead of Keywords
Instead of looking at a search query and trying to match its keywords with those it finds on websites, Hummingbird breaks down queries and website content into “entities,” the meanings of which it then matches using the same technology behind its Knowledge Graph. By matching meanings, Google can more accurately pair a user’s intent with sites likely to satisfy it.
This meaning matching allows Google to know that “closest place” and “nearest location” represent the same thing. In fact, when a user enters the query “where is the closest place to get an oil change,” Hummingbird is able to match meanings so well that Google’s search engine will now return not just a list of sites with the same words, but an answer to the user’s question.
Hummingbird Further Emphasizes a Site’s Authority
For years, Google has been giving higher rankings on its results pages to sites which it considers trusted authorities, but Hummingbird takes this to a whole new level. Because Google is essentially adjusting its vocabulary with every site it analyzes, if the search engine doesn’t trust a site, it’s unlikely to be considered at all.
In order to determine how authoritative a site is for a given topic, Hummingbird relies on a number of different criteria including the age of the site’s domain name, how much information it hosts for the topic, and how many other authoritative sites link to it. Sites which pass Google’s trust tests are not only given preferential treatment, they’re now likely to be the only sites users will see.
Here’s an article from Wired on Hummingbird.