Merchant Maverick’s Awards for Best Small Business Software

Best small business software

For most small business owners, it’s a jungle out there. Danger lurks around every corner, predators seem to be silently stalking your every movement, and – in the immortal words of Jethro Tull – the rivers are full of crocodile nasties. Let’s face it, when it comes to start-ups and small businesses the statistics are grim. According to one recent study, the failure rate of retail establishments after four years is over 50%, and businesses in the service industry usually meet the same fate. Sadly, restaurants tend to do even worse, and the majority are forced to close their doors before a decade has passed.

There are many reasons why businesses eventually fail – bad locations, limited staff, a poor economic climate, etc. But experts are beginning to agree that most failed businesses (no matter what industry they belong to) have one, very important factor in common: inexperience on the part of the owners/managers. It’s all very well to follow your dreams, but man does not live on dreams alone. For most of us, a little thing called money is required if we want to eat, access our electricity, wash our clothes, keep our children shod, etc. That’s right, money. It’s what you get when you run a business that brings in more revenue than it puts out. That sounds so simple: spend less than you make. But the reality is that pulling in a profit takes knowledge, skill, and access to the proper tools. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve opened up a cat-grooming boutique or finally launched that grilled-cheese food truck you’ve always wanted – if you don’t know what you’re doing when you set out, and/or don’t bother to learn as you go, you might as well throw your seed money down the storm drain.

Fortunately, at Merchant Maverick (MM), we understand how hard it can be to start a business – let alone to keep one going for more than a year or two. You shouldn’t have to do everything by yourself – keeping up with inventory, payment processing, invoicing, shipping, point of sale, website design and the like is nearly impossible without the right equipment (good ol’ pen and paper just doesn’t cut it anymore). The good news? Advances in software and cloud technology have resulted in some pretty impressive small business tools. Even better news? The writers and reviewers at MM have invested thousands of hours researching, testing, and rating small business services/software. In other words, we know our stuff. Running a business is a tremendous burden, but the heavy lifting has already been done – we’ve done if for you – and all you need do is benefit from our years of experience.

Each company below has undergone a rigorous evaluation by an experienced MM reviewer. We scoured websites, read help articles, and browsed through user forums. We talked to customer service and saw for ourselves how responsive they were. And most importantly, we tested the actual software or service ourselves. The following are our reviewers’ top small business software picks for merchant services/payment processing as well as for mobile payments, shopping carts, point of sale, accounting, inventory management, invoicing, booking, email marketing, CRM, project management, loyalty rewards, and website building.

So, without further ado, let the awards ceremony for the best small business software begin!

Merchant Account Providers

Winner: Dharma Merchant Services

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Dharma Merchant Services is one of our all-time favorite companies, period, here at Merchant Maverick. Defined by exceptional customer support, low-cost hardware, excellent industry connection, and reasonable negotiation-free rates and fees, Dharma is an ideal option for small businesses with in-person sales. It distinguishes itself from the competition by using only interchange-plus pricing and charging no early termination fees or monthly minimums. There are no annual fees, no application fees, and no pesky PCI compliance fees to deal with either. In addition, this company dedicates 50% of its net profits to charity. Dharma is basically a paragon of integrity, honesty, and respect, and it’s worth its weight in gold in this sometimes unscrupulous industry,

There is one small catch: businesses must process at least $10K per month to use Dharma Merchant Services. Businesses with smaller revenue streams are directed instead to Flint Mobile (see review below).

Dharma offers amazing in-house customer support during business hours (8:00am – 5:00pm Pacific Time). If you need support outside this time frame, you will be directed elsewhere, depending on the severity of your issue and what processor you’re using.

To read more about Dharma Merchant Services, see our full review here.

Runner-Up: CDGcommerce

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Boasting a great reputation and a low monthly base fee (which includes access to Quantum gateway), CDG Commerce is a budget friendly alternative to Dharma Merchant Services, especially for low-volume merchants or web-based businesses. CDG was established in 1998, and has had plenty of time to cultivate a reputation for honesty and excellence. In fact, customer complaints are nearly non-existent, which is a miracle in itself after nearly 20 years in business. Like Dharma, CDG offers interchange-plus pricing, does not charge an early termination fee, and has no gateway setup fees or PCI compliance fees.

CDG Commerce charges only $10 per month in base fees; beyond that, you can pick and choose which additional services you want to pay for. This is a great system, as it ensures that you won’t be stuck buying things you neither want, nor need.

CDG offers live chat, email, and phone support 24/7. In our experience, support staff is helpful, knowledgeable, and scrupulously honest.

Click here to read our full review of CDGcommerce.

Mobile Payments

Winner: Flint Mobile

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Flint Mobile is our overall top pick for mobile, based primarily on its speed, ease of use, reliability, and price point. To start off, it doesn’t offer a swiper – not a free one, not a paid one, just no reader whatsoever. You can either key in card numbers or simply use your phone’s camera to scan numbers instead. That in and of itself significantly reduces the cost for setting up your account. Flint therefore has the ability to offer lower rates, which is exactly what they do. And with a ridiculously low rate for processing debit alongside a very fair credit rate, they’re nearly impossible to beat.

Flint has only two rates:

  • Debit transactions: 1.95%
  • Credit transactions: 2.95%

Yep, that’s it. It doesn’t get more complicated than that at any point: there are no per transaction fees, no non-qualified fees, and no surcharges of any kind. Flint Mobile runs transactions at a much faster speed than other similar apps, and while it might take a couple tries to get your scanning settings set up the way you like, Flint makes customization an easy and intuitive process. Our one complaint is that they do not provide any means for printing a paper receipt.

One very important thing to mention about Flint Mobile is that, even with the EMV liability shift (effective October 1st, 2015), users have no need to upgrade hardware. The camera scan will continue to work as it always has, with no change to liability. Currently it’s the only mobile processor we’re aware of that will securely process chip cards with no hardware upgrade.

This app can’t replace a full-feature tablet POS, but it comes with a number of amazing features (integrated QR coupons, invoicing, customizable receipts, etc.) and executes service flawlessly. If you’re looking for a sensible, surefire way to accept payments and grow your clientele, you can’t go wrong with Flint Mobile.

If you’d like more information about Flint Mobile, check out our full review.

Runner-Up: Payline Data

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Payline Data is mostly a standard merchant account provider, but it has a good mobile solution and low-volume fee structure. Extra services are offered as-needed, so you only have to pay for what you need. There are two pricing models (to accommodate both low and high volume merchants):

Simple (Under $5,000 per month)

  • $5 monthly fee
  • Interchange + 0.50%
  • $0.10 per transaction

Pro (Over $5,000 per month)

  • $20 monthly fee
  • Interchange + 0.20%
  • $0.10 per transaction

We really appreciate the number of customer service and support outlets Payline provides, and it has an extensive knowledge base and FAQ for self-service support, which is quite nice.

Payline Data delivers on any businesses essential needs, and has managed to maintain positive reviews and a spotless reputation since 2009 – which is no small task in the credit card processing industry. In general, it’s a great pick for mobile processing for small businesses everywhere.

Find out more about Payline Data by reading our full review here.

Shopping Carts

Winner: Shopify

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Shopify is unique in that it can be used as a physical POS or an online shopping cart or both at once. This inherent flexibility gives it a clear edge over other shopping carts, and its low price point make it well within the reach for small businesses, even those with strained budgets. Shopify is the industry standard for shopping cart software, and for good reason. There are never any limits to the number of products you can sell, which is nice, though there aren’t many limits to the software in general.

All Shopify plans come with a full 14-day (no credit card required) trial. There are no setup or cancellation fees. Plans range from $14/month to $179/month with rates ranging from 2.9% + 30¢ to 2.4% + 30¢. You can pay on a month-to-month basis, but you’ll receive a 10% discount if you choose to pay for one year up front (a 20% discount is offered for those who sign a two-year contract). We’re not terribly fond of Shopify’s transaction fees, unfortunately, although they do get waived if you use Shopify as your credit card processor.

Shopify is eminently user friendly, and the cart is easy to set up and easy to manage. In our experience, the software works flawlessly from the point of view of both the customer and the merchant, and it is one of the most feature-rich carts available. It is accessible for online mavens, but it is also well within the reach of newcomers and amateurs. Shopify offers a number of apps, some of which are free and some of which may cost a small fee. You can check out Shopify’s App Store to browse offerings.

Customer support is available via phone, email, and live chat, but there are other great self-help resources as well, including a support center, Knowledge Base, a discussion forum, and a Shopify “Experts” page where you can find experienced professionals in design, marketing, development, and photography.

For more information, click here to read our full review of Shopify.

Runner-Up: Ecwid

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Ecwid, the “go anywhere, sell anything, no manual required” shopping cart, is designed for small eCommerce businesses, as well as for individual sellers and start-ups. We’re big fans of Ecwid, and there are two main reasons why. Firstly, it is extremely ubiquitous, and capable of integrating with nearly every existing website, from social media platforms to blogs. Secondly, it is so reasonably priced, compared to its competitors, that you would be foolish not to take it out for spin. Unlike most shopping carts, there is no typical “free trial period” for Ecwid. Instead, you can simply try out the Free Plan (the obvious advantage to doing this is that your services won’t be cancelled after your trial period ends).

Ecwid offers unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth, and no transaction fees on every subscription level, even the free plan. Paid plans range from $15/month to $99/month. Personal support by email and online chat are only available at higher subscription levels.

Like Shopify, Ecwid gives you the option to use the software as a physical POS. However, this function is really best suited for online-only business owners who want the option of having a mobile or “pop up shop” operation, but aren’t trying to maintain a physical storefront at all times.

In general, Ecwid is a solid product with great, user-friendly elements. It’s not the best solution for high-volume sales, but most companies out there (especially startups and very small businesses) will be fully satisfied with its features and ease of use.

Read our full review of Ecwid to learn more.

POS Software

Winner: ShopKeep

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ShopKeep is one of the best software solutions we’ve ever encountered at Merchant Maverick. This simple, elegant, and visually-appealing cloud-based POS has carved out a solid niche catering to small-business food and beverage sellers. For a very low monthly cost, ShopKeep can help you manage your inventory, customers, employees, as well as record transactions and offer a variety of reporting options (for analyzing all this data).

ShopKeep does not require you to sign a contract. It is a pay-as-you-go, monthly subscription service. There are no extra maintenance fees, and what’s more impressive, tech support is 100% included in the monthly charge. The actual pricing system is beautifully simple as well: $49/month/register.

Other than it’s extremely reasonable price point, ShopKeep’s biggest selling point is its ease-of-use. There is very little learning curve involved, and even the most technologically deficient should have no problem learning the ins and outs of this software in a matter of days (or hours, more likely).

Customer support is fantastic, and unlimited email, live chat, or phone is included in the monthly price. The support page on the company website is also fantastic, and offers comprehensive articles and video tutorials on every aspect of the software.

Read our full review of ShopKeep if you’d like more details.

Runner-Up: SalesVu

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SalesVu is a perfect POS for the average small business, offering a robust feature set at a competitive price. eCommerce options are built right into the software, so you can design your own site from the back office without ever having to pay for (and integrate) Shopify or hire an expensive third party designer. Integrated eCommerce also ensures that communications between the web store and the brick and mortar store are smooth and seamless.

Prices range from $25/month to $150/month, depending on how many features you need (things like time tracking, accounting, etc. are a bit extra). Basically, SalesVu can be as affordable as you need it to be. Additionally, when you open an account with SalesVu you get a free credit card reader, which is a nice benefit (for some small business owners, an iPad and a credit card reader may be all you need).

Customer service is good, but the primary strengths of this software are found in its intuitive interface and broad flexibility. It is so much more than just a mobile cash register. With SalesVu, you can monitor inventory, create detailed reports, design custom discounts and promotions, maintain an active customer database, and manage employees – and you can do all these things anywhere you have a Wi-Fi connection. Opening an account with SalesVu gets you a free credit card reader, which is a nice benefit. For some business owners, an iPad and a credit card reader may be all you need.

SalesVu integrates with SalesVu Easy Accounting, Quickbooks, Facebook, and Zapper.

You can check out our full review of SalesVu for more information.

Accounting Software

Winner: Xero

best small business accounting software

It’s not hard to see why Xero takes the prize for best small business accounting software. It is mobile, cloud-based, easy-to-use, and extremely comprehensible for the small business owner who is handling finances on his/her own (click here for a full list of features). While it can be more expensive long-term than something like QuickBooks Pro, small business owners – especially those who aren’t accountants by nature or profession – are more likely to enjoy using a simple, intuitive program like Xero.

There are multiple pricing plans available, ranging from $9/month to $70/month (these prices include updates as they are released, usually every 3-6 weeks). Small companies with limited invoicing needs would have to look far and wide for a similarly robust accounting/payroll package that trumps Xero’s $9/month price tag. And happily, you don’t have to sign a contract with Xero; plans are paid by the month and you can basically cancel the service at any time. Xero offers a 25% discount for non-profits and a 15% discount on your total bill if you subscribe for multiple businesses. If you do feel comfortable making a commitment and signing up for a 6 month subscription, you’ll get a 30% discount.

There are only a few minor problems with Xero, one of which is slow customer support response times. Customer service is offered 24/7, year-round, but some customers have complained of long response times, cut-and-paste answers to questions, and reps who don’t seem to actually know how to use the software. This would be a much bigger deal if Xero was complex or had a steep learning, curve, but it’s not as alarming considering the software’s general simplicity and ease of use. Furthermore, many customers praise Xero’s level of customer service, and the wait times are comparable to those of other accounting software programs.

One real perk of using Xero is that it integrates with over 400 other applications which can facilitate nearly every aspect of business operation, including inventory management, CRM, and POS (some of these are only available to certain countries; in the U.S., there are about 350 Xero integrations available). 

Read our full review of Xero here.

Runner-Up: QuickBooks Pro

Best small business accounting software

Intuit’s QuickBooks Pro is a robust, feature-rich accounting solution, perfect in many ways for small business (to see a full list of features, click here). It is locally installed software, which results in lower per-year costs and more features than your typical cloud-based software, so if you’re willing to deal with a pretty steep learning curve at the beginning (especially difficult for people who have no previous accounting background), then QB Pro can be an excellent way to save money in your accounting budget. Though it lacks the convenience of a cloud based solution – you don’t get automatic, routine updates or instant access to new features – it is a very viable accounting solution for companies with complex bookkeeping needs.

QuickBooks Pro’s list price is $299.95. This might seem a bit high compared to something like Xero, but keep in mind that QB Pro requires a one-time purchase and does not use a subscription model — and it is nearly always available at a discount. While there’s no free trial available, Intuit does back QB Pro with a 60-day guarantee; if you return the program for any reason within 60 days, you can get a full refund. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, the purchase price does not include updates, nor do you get full tech support or bank feeds. It’s also worth noting that customer service tends to be slow.

One comment we’ve noticed often on user reviews is that, while people aren’t particularly enthusiastic about QB Pro, it works and does what it’s supposed to do; many claim that it’s the best accounting program available. While that’s far from a resounding recommendation, it’s also true that despite its drawbacks, for many businesses, QB Pro is more than adequate. And whether you love it or hate it, QuickBooks Pro is often the best option for the money.

Read our full review of QB Pro here.

Inventory Management Software

Winner: Stitch Labs

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Stitch, the flagship product of Stitch Labs, is a cloud-based inventory management solution with tons of functionality, myriad useful integrations, and fantastic customer service. Designed to combine inventory, billing, accounting, shipping, and eCommerce features with your choice of 3rd party integrations, Stitch is the do-it-all, full service inventory solution. As the name would suggest, it is intended to be the thread that holds the backend of your company firmly together. Really, its only flaw is that is designed exclusively for American companies. International businesses will have to look elsewhere. 

Price plans range from $29/month to $449/month, not bad considering how many features this software brings to the table. What’s more, Stitch is easy to use, even for the uninitiated. The UI is clean, understated, and intuitive. Within a few minutes of signing up, you should feel like a pro, able to create products and customer contacts and generate sales orders with ease. It’s easy to pick up on your own just by experimentation, but if you’re queasy about finding your own way around, you can reference one of the many tutorials on each page that take you step-by-step through all the basic tasks.

In general, the customer service department is responsive and helpful. Our questions were promptly answered (never longer than 24 hours, even on the weekend), and ticket creation happened immediately, so we always had a case number to reference and never felt lost in the shuffle. Not surprisingly, the Stitch Labs support team is highly praised all over the web.

Stitch integrates with a large number of other programs and applications, including Amazon, eBay, BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify, and Square, to name just a few. And when you combine an excellent selection of integrations with powerful suite of tools,you’ve got inventory management software that is ideal for small to medium-sized businesses.

You can read more about Stitch Labs in our full review.

Runner-Up: TradeGecko

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TradeGecko, a cloud-based inventory application for small to medium sized businesses, is comparable to Stitch Labs in functionality and number of integrations, but is more geared toward international companies (it still works well for American companies, if you don’t mind a time difference with the support staff).

The design of this software emphasizes collaboration, group workflows, and activity feeds. This means that you can reference sales information, purchase orders, and stock levels at once, and they will all update in real time. TradeGecko is intuitive and easy to use, and has a clean – if spartan – UI which is perfect for a bookkeeping system.

TradeGecko offers a free 14-day trial, no credit card required. Plans range from $49/month to $399/month, though you can get a monthly discount if you commit to paying for a year up-front. The company provides a detailed knowledge base, with step-by-step instructions for performing many tasks, and it also offers 24 hour customer support. On the whole, our support experience was positive, though a few of our tickets took longer than we would have liked to resolve.

Integrations include Shopify, Salesforce, Xero, Magento, Quickbooks Online, Amazon, and WooCommerce (to name a few). All in all, TradeGecko isn’t the cheapest product on the market (which is why it’s the runner up for this category) but it is so intuitive and feature rich that small to medium-sized businesses with a budget to kick around should give it a look.

For more information about TradeGecko, read our full review here.

Invoicing Software

Winner: Freshbooks

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Officially, Freshbooks is a web-based accounting solution, though it is fair to say that it’s best utilized for its incredible invoicing features. This software is tailor made for independent contractors and small, service-based businesses; it is easy to use, has lots of interesting features (including time tracking, reporting, and expenses), and integrates with a huge variety of 3rd party applications.

Pricing, unfortunately, is a bit steep for the target market (small businesses), though there is a free plan which allows you to manage a single client. Paid plan range from $19.95/month to $39.95/month. Customer support is available Monday – Friday, 9am – 6pm EST. In our experience, representatives are remarkably quick to respond to emails (usually within 20 minutes during business hours) and are courteous, helpful, and knowledgeable.

As mentioned above, FreshBooks offers more than 60 integrations and add-ons including  PayPal, Shopify, Basecamp, and Stripe. It is as comprehensive an invoicing solution as you could hope for, especially since it does offer other perks, like reporting.

You can read our full review of FreshBooks here.

Runner-Up: Invoiceable

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Invoiceable is simple, easy to use software that allows you to create professional looking invoices. It’s actually free to all, with no feature limits, though you can opt to pay a one-time fee to remove the company’s branding from your invoices: this is a perk that no other free invoicing program offers. Additionally, unlike many of the other major free invoicing programs, Invoiceable isn’t just a wimpy, scaled-back version of a paid service. You can have as many clients and send as many invoices as you like.

Of course, with a completely free service you’re going to miss certain features that come with a paid subscription. Support, for example, is unreliable and sporadic. Response times can vary between 1-12 days, and sometimes you may not get any response at all. There is also limited sales tax functionality, which means that the software really only works for businesses that charge a single, across the board tax rate, or don’t charge tax at all.

That said, if you are a freelancer or own a very small business with relatively low sales volume, this may be all you need for now. It’s leaps and bounds better than simply typing out your invoices into MS Word or Excel, and it is one of the best free options out there that both allow you to have unlimited clients and actually works in the United States! The interface is basic and intuitive, and while customer service is slow, you probably won’t need it most of the time. If this sounds like a good match for you, we suggest you try it out. You’ve got nothing to lose – after all, it’s free.

Read our full review of Invoiceable here.

CRM Software

Winner: Zoho CRM

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User-friendly, reasonably-priced, and full of useful features, Zoho CRM is our favorite customer relations management software, hands down. It’s not hard to see why we’re such big fans. The “building blocks” which make up the Zoho CRM logo are not there for design purposes alone; these blocks allude to the fact that the Zoho team has developed many other business applications, all capable of working together seamlessly (much like Google Apps). In addition, Zoho has an well-deserved reputation for integrating nicely with a number of 3rd party add-ons, including MailChimp, Unbounce, Google Apps, MS Office, and Quickbooks (see a full list of add-ons and integrations here). In short, Zoho CRM software can adjust to any size business, be whatever you need it to be, and grow with you as your business expands.

You can try Zoho CRM for free with a 15-day trial of their Professional package. After that, pricing breaks down as follows:

  • Entrepreneur: Free, up to 3 users
  • Standard: $12/user/month
  • Professional: $20/user/month
  • Enterprise: $35/user/month

24-hour Mon-Fri telephone support is available to paying customers, though those using their free edition are limited to email support. However, your email questions can be flagged according to urgency, so that important queries do not fall to the wayside.

You would be hard pressed to find a CRM that provides more functionality at a lower cost. Zoho CRM is, without a doubt, the most bang for your buck.

Read our full review of Zoho CRM here.

Runner-Up: CleverTim

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Clevertim is a cloud-based CRM system with a firm mission: to cater specifically to small businesses. With a surprisingly reasonable price point, a clean, user-friendly UI, and the ability to integrate with 3rd party developers (via an open API), Clevertim may just be as clever as its name suggests. The only chink in Clevertim’s armor is the lack of a mobile app. As it is now, the app functions smoothly on a desktop, but is only so-so on a tablet and virtually nonexistent on a phone.

Clevertim offers a 30 day free trial. After that, plans range from absolutely free to $99/month. You can upgrade, downgrade, or cancel your subscription at any time. Unlike most other CRM systems, Clevertim does not charge on a per-user basis. Instead, each plan has a user limit. There is also  customized pricing available, which allows you to upgrade the number of users allowed in your plan.

Clevertim is relatively new and does not yet have its own dedicated Technical Support team. However, queries can be sent to the company either via web tickets or through the sales email address.

Read our review of Clevertim here.

Booking Software

Winner: BookingBug

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BookingBug can do just about anything you would expect from scheduling software, but still manages to be accessible and intuitive. Many companies claim to be versatile, but this software actually is designed for a wide variety of industries, making it one of the only options out there for B&Bs or bike rental shops, and a better option than most for medium-sized spas and salons. It is a perfect tool for businesses that want to offer combination services while managing limited resources and limited staff (see a full list of features here). It is distinct from other appointment booking software other ways as well: first, it’s designed for serious scalability – which again validates its claim to be “the only real-time distributed booking and reservation system that works for all business types” –  and second, it integrates with a vast number of 3rd-party apps all over the world. This is a company that prides itself on innovation and flexibility.

Plans run from $19.95/month to $69.95/month, or you can scale up to an Enterprise plan, which are priced on an individual basis. Customer service comes free with your account. Like most companies, BookingBug relies heavily on email support, but phone support is available for some of the more expensive plans. We received helpful responses to our email inquiries within hours – always a great sign.

One terrific thing about BookingBug is that it offers your customers the option to make online payments (full or partial, including pre-payment and bulk payments); you can also issue full or partial refunds directly through the site via one of the software’s numerous payment integrations. BookingBug integrates with programs like MailChimp, WordPress, Facebook, and Dropbox as well.

There isn’t much negative feedback about the company online or in user reviews. Granted, some people have complained about issues with their mobile apps, but BookingBug’s receptivity and responsiveness to these issues speaks well about the company’s commitment to customer service.

To read our full review of BookingBug, click here.

Runner Up: Bookeo

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Bookeo is cloud-based booking software with a lot to offer. Not only does it include important booking features, but it provides a surprising variety of marketing solutions, integrates with many payment platforms and third party applications, and boasts excellent security features. This is innovative software as it is, and Bookeo continues to improve with age; significant new feature releases occur every few months, and updates are frequent. The only consistent complaint disappointed reviewers have is with its lack of phone support. (Bookeo relies on email and a store of 300 tutorials for its customer support.)

Bookeo’s pricing differs by product (in other words, by whether you want to book appointments, classes, or tours), but each version offers a 30-day free trial and a 30-day money back guarantee on the first paid month of subscription. Bookeo accounts do not require set-up or processing fees and you don’t have to sign a contract – always a good sign.

One of the best things about Bookeo is that it is user-friendly. Action items and information are intuitive and clearly distinguishable, and the software in general is organized neatly, in a very manageable way. There isn’t much setup support, unfortunately, but the self-help tutorials available are precise, and sufficient enough to help you circumvent most major problems.

Customer service centers on the Bookeo Help Portal, which consists of 300 tutorials and an email support form. There is no phone support, however, and this is the only consistent complaint from disappointed reviewers. You can receive some support via a live chat option on Bookeo’s promotional website.

Read more about Bookeo here, in our full review.

Email Marketing Software

Winner: MailChimp

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At Merchant Maverick, we’re all in agreement that MailChimp is the boss when it comes to email marketing. It’s a mature, time-tested software with reasonable pricing plans, a great selection of features, and tons of integration, and it scales well to just about any size campaign. Better yet, for users with modest needs, MailChimp offers a robust, flat-out generous free plan which lets you have up to 2,000 subscribers and allows you to send up to 12,000 emails per month. There’s only one real catch: if you do your email marketing with the free plan, there will be a small MailChimp badge at the bottom of every email you send out. 

Paid plans come in two basic varieties: send-based (pay as you go) and list-based (monthly). These plans are fairly specific and complex, so if you’d like more details about pricing you should navigate here.

MailChimp is generally very easy to use, and signing up for a MailChimp account is simple; enter a name and email address and you’re on your way. The customer support system is pretty extensive as well, though it lacks telephone support, which is slightly disappointing. However, our experience with them has been good; representatives were courteous and well-informed, and inquiries were answered in anywhere from 20 minutes to 20 hours, depending on urgency. MailChimp’s biggest selling point, however, is that it offers over 500 integrations and add-ons. (These include Google Analytics, Zendesk, SHopify, Magento, and Salesforce).

Check out our full review of MailChimp here.

Runner-Up: AWeber

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AWeber appeals to a smaller niche than MailChimp, but it’s still incredibly easy to use and quite affordable. It comes with some very nice features, especially for businesses which want to send all new subscribers the same series of messages: the autoresponder setup in particular is easy, intuitive, and well explained within the program, and users have a lot of options. 

AWeber offers a free 30-day trial for lists of up to 500 subscribers. After that first month, there is a single list-based pricing plan available. It’s reasonably priced for the most part, but so robust that very small companies may find they are paying for lots of extra features they may not even require. If you don’t need much from your email marketing tool, you might be better off with MailChimp’s generous free plan.

In general, AWeber finds a healthy balance between ease of use and high functionality. Navigation is remarkably intuitive, considering the number of features available. The WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor has some quite impressive characteristics, and recent updates to the software have have managed to significantly improve the email design experience. Additionally, the analytics and reporting capabilities are well above par for an email marketing tool of this type, as are AWeber’s investment in numerous 3rd-party integrations.

Our experiences with customer support have been positive overall. As a rule, we’ve found AWeber’s representatives to be friendly, helpful, and prompt in responding to queries. Response times to our inquiries varied in time between 20 minutes and 6 business hours.

Read our full review of AWeber here.

Project Management Software

Winner: Trello

trello-logo-blue

Trello is a visually-oriented, Kanban-based project management tool that works by allowing users to see and manage their tasks and projects via detailed ‘cards’ which are then pinned onto ‘boards.’ At its most basic level, Trello is an ingenious way to create and organize a set of virtual 3×5 cards without the risk of misplacing them, but it also can also work as a simple task management tool, offering features like file storage and automatic email notifications.

The standard, free version of Trello allows for unlimited boards, users, and attachments (with a 10 MB max per file upload). However, for a fee, Trello also offers two upgraded versions of the software: $3.75/user or $5/user

Trello’s simple, visually-appealing UI makes it incredibly easy to use; there is almost no learning curve involved. A mere five minutes after I signed up I was able to navigate the software quickly, creating cards and boards like a pro. It may be integrated with several 3rd party apps, including Zapier, Google Drive, Box. Dropbox, and OneDrive.

Trello provides email support (via support@trello.com) to all users during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM EST).

Not only is this software reasonably priced, but it is characterized by elegance, simplicity, and user-friendliness. It would be difficult to find a basic project management solution with a more intuitive, visually-appealing design. And in terms of sheer adoptability – of getting your employees to actually use a software-based task management tool – Trello scores extremely high.

You can check out our full review of Trello if you’d like more information.

Runner Up: Basecamp

basecamp-logo

With over 9,000,000 current users, Basecamp is considered the most popular cloud-based project management software system of all time. It is, without doubt, one of the most user-friendly project management programs out there. When it comes down to brass tacks, simplicity is an enormously valuable characteristic, and Basecamp is just that – simple. This is project management software at its most basic and effortless level.

This software is celebrated for its no-frills, no-fuss pricing system. There are no hidden fees and no per-user costs. Plans range from $20/month to $150/month. Features include task tracking, a calendar, email notifications and a daily recap of activities, text documents (basically giant legal pads), and very simple reporting.

Basecamp is known for fast, reliable service. While they don’t provide the level of immediate personal support that you can get from other software companies (read: no phone or live chat support), the folks at Basecamp respond quickly to email requests and offer a large variety of ready-made aids and live training tools.

Basecamp itself is a pretty basic program, but there are a huge number of optional 3rd party applications available if you want or need to increase software’s functionality. You can see a complete list of Basecamp integrations on the official product website

If you have plain, bread-and-butter management requirements, we think you’ll find that Basecamp is a suitable, extremely affordable way to go. One of the best things about Basecamp is the fact that it is designed, updated, and supported by an established parent company. It is a sure bet, in other words.

Read more about Basecamp in our full review.

Shipping Software

Winner: ShipStation

shipstation-logo

ShipStation is a reasonably-priced, web-based shipping solution for eCommerce retailers. Designed to streamline the fulfillment process as much as possible, this software has invested in a huge number of integrations that make it possible for you to sync up your business with the most popular sales channels, shopping carts, payment gateways, and mail carriers.

Pricing plans range from $25/month to $145/month. There’s a free 30-day trial that includes access to all features, with no credit card required. If you’re not satisfied with the product within 90 days, ShipStation offers a full refund, no questions asked.

The user interface can be a bit overwhelming at first, as there multiple options, menus, and sub-menus displayed on most pages. A bit of patience is definitely required when you start out, though you can take advantage of a number of video tutorials, a large knowledge base, and a pretty robust community forum if you run into trouble. Actually, you can have your own personal account manager if you want, and this person will help guide you through the setup phase of your account. Some of the higher paid plans can receive chat support as well. In general, customer support is slightly disappointing, and the responses we received to queries were somewhat boilerplate and indifferent.

One of ShipStation’s biggest selling points is that it integrates with an enormous number of carriers, marketplaces and shopping carts, especially when compared to the competition, including FedEx, UPS, USPS, and Fulfillment by Amazon, as well as Shopify, Etsy, Magento, Square, eBay, etc. The list goes on.

Check out our full review of ShipStation for more information.

Runner-Up: ShipWorks

shipworks-logo

ShipWorks is probably the best shipping software available, though unfortunately it’s a PC-only app (which removes about half of the world’s users) and the learning curve is extremely high. The good news is that this software, which is designed to streamline the order fulfillment process for small to large businesses, has many amazing features you can’t find in other shipping applications. With a few clicks, ShipWorks can download shipping information from an online sales channel, calculate and print postage, generate labels, packing slips, and more. Combine this functionality with integrations for over 40 different mail carriers and eCommerce platforms, and you’ve got a shipping solution that really packs a wallop. Additionally, ShipWorks scales well, in a way that its SaaS competitors don’t.

Cost per month is determined by two different factors: shipment volume and number of licenses. Shipment volume is divided into three tiers:

  • $14.95/month for 0-99 shipments/month
  • $29.95/month for 100-999 shipments/month
  • $49.95/month for 1,000+ shipments/month

The price for shipment volume is then added to your licensing fee to determine the monthly bill. How much you pay for licensing is based on the number of online sales channels you use with ShipWorks.

Our own experiences with ShipWorks support have been positive. Turnaround times on support tickets were 24 hours or less, and we never had trouble reaching anybody on the phone. The Knowledge Base is extensive, and covers everything from setup and configuration to online marketplaces and shipping providers. What’s more, the articles are clearly written and provide plenty of screenshots.

As I mentioned above, ShipWorks integrates with a huge variety of shipping carriers and online marketplaces (including USPS, FedEx, UPS, Magento, Etsy, Shopify, Volusion), but if you happen to use a store that isn’t directly supported by ShipWorks, you can always work with a developer and use the ShipWorks Generic API to create your own integrations.

Click here to read our full review of ShipWorks.

Loyalty Rewards Software

Winner: Sweet Tooth

sweet-tooth-rewards-logo

Sweet Tooth is a prolific loyalty rewards software that currently works with over 3500 merchants worldwide, including Delta, Universal, and Olympus. Sweet Tooth is dedicated to increasing customer engagement, and case studies from many of the clients mentioned above have demonstrated nearly 20% increases in customer lifetime values, sales and repeat purchases. It is complex software with a high learning curve, but in general, the benefits of using a robust loyalty rewards software outweigh the inconvenience of having to learn how to use it! Sweet Tooth is an ideal solution for both eCommerce merchants and merchants who use combined methods of commerce.

Sweet Tooth works best – and is most full featured – when it’s used through Magento, though you can use a lighter, simpler version of Sweet Tooth on BigCommerce or Shopify (this is free for up to 500 customers). Sweet Tooth subscription plans are offered monthly and automatically renew unless cancelled. Plans begin at $49/month, and are broken down by loyalty point transactions and annual revenue generated on Magento. If your activity exceeds the limitations of your plan you will be required to upgrade to the next available plan. You can view the full pricing details for Shopify, BigCommerce and Magento on the Sweet Tooth website.

Customer service is available Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm EST. Overall, our experience with Sweet Tooth has been positive. Everyone we’ve spoken to at the company has been knowledgeable and friendly, and most reviewers on Magento cite the technical support as an essential part of their loyalty program.

Read our full review of Sweet Tooth if you’re interested in learning more.

Runner-Up: Belly

belly-logo

Belly provides a more hassle-free loyalty rewards program than Sweet Tooth, and is ideal for smaller businesses with brick and mortar store fronts (such as bakeries, cafes, grocers, bars, spas, fitness clubs and boutiques). What’s really unique about Belly, though, are its customizeable rewards offerings and “all in one box” setup, which includes an iPad (with stand and combination lock), data reports, a personal support representative, social media integrations, and email marketing tools. Even more significantly, Belly customers get a mobile page for their business on the Belly app, where potential customers can look to find Belly-compatible businesses.

Monthly subscription costs range from $99 – $199, and all contracts run for 12 months. The cost of the iPad, iPad stand, application software, and unlimited rewards cards are included in the subscription costs for the highest plan, but an additional $150 installation fee is charged for lower plans.

Right now there are only a few drawbacks to Belly, most important of which is its steep price. Customer service can be a bit spotty as well, and unfortunately, not enough other businesses currently use it, which doesn’t provide much incentive to customers to get in the Belly network. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an easy, no-worries loyalty program, you can’t go far wrong with Belly.

Read our full review of Belly for more details and information.

Website Building Software

Winner: Wix

 

wix

Wix is our number one choice for web building software, and it’s not difficult to understand why. With its sleek editing interface and multiple selection of apps and integrations, it is an extremely effective do-it-yourself website designer. In addition to being easy to use, Wix provides a great selection of unique and visually appealing templates (there are hundreds to choose from).

The free version of Wix is provided to anyone who signs up, though any website you create under the free plan will be branded with the Wix logo. Paid plans range from $4.08/month to $24.90/month. Wix’s store offers payment processing through a handful of vendors, including PayPal, WebMoney, Skrill, and PayU.

All in all, Wix is intuitive and user-friendly. Within a few hours, you should be able to take a template, mess around for a bit with the editing tools, and build yourself an incredibly fine looking website.

Because Wix allows developers to create and share their own add-ons, other users are given the opportunity to expand and diversify their websites as well. Some of the most popular integrations available include online shop expansions (like the Etsy app), the Wix Hotels premium booking system, live Instagram feeds, website profile systems, and a variety of other site boosting applications

There is one downside to the software: unlike most other website-building services, Wix does not offer 24/7 live-chat or provide an email response system. There is a toll-free number you can call for help with technical issues, but be aware that you could possibly be put on hold for an unspecified amount of time.

Click here to read our full review of Wix.

Runner-Up: Jimdo

Jimdo-Logo

With its reasonable price points and clever, yet simplistic editor, Jimdo has made a mark on the website building industry. Managing to be both straightforward and comprehensive, Jimdo allows users to make custom, professional looking websites. Templates are provided, of course, but you’re not bound to the confines of the template you choose; you have total freedom to edit and can essentially be as hands-on about the design process as you want.

Jimdo plans range from free to $20/month, and all plans come with an HTML5 WYSIWYG web editor, usage of professional-grade templates, social media tools, a mobile device editing view, blogging tools, photo galleries, Google Maps, contact forms, direct video embedding, widget integration, optimized mobile websites, and unlimited bandwidth.

While the only online payment processor currently supported by Jimdo is PayPal, a selection of various real-world payment methods can be activated in a website’s store, including invoicing, payment-in-advance, collection-upon-delivery, local pickup, and local delivery.

This is an easy-to-use service that somehow still manages to astound with the depth of its overall functionality. Some things may be a bit too simple, and Jimdo isn’t sophisticated enough to work as a tool for a professional web designer, but it is perfectly suited – price-wise and in ease-of-use – for small businesses who would otherwise have to hire out their web design services.

Read our full review of Jimdo here.

The post Merchant Maverick’s Awards for Best Small Business Software appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Top 12+ WordPress Styles for BuddyPress Social Networking WordPress plugin

WordPress Themes For BuddyPress

Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. Google+. Instagram.

Social media, social networking an internet-based community building has rapidly become our most powerful types of communication &#8211 personally and professionally. And WordPress includes a pretty sweet method for your social networking-integrated website: Styles. They’re a beautiful option to an costly website design firm because they provide you with versatility when it comes to functionality and design, and it also has amazing Search engine optimization potential.

On the top of this, you receive the support of the huge open-source community with a lot of help and sources to construct stunning website with no coding understanding &#8211 and also you get all this without emptying your wallet!

The most popular WordPress wordpress plugin that seamlessly integrates social network functionality aimed at your website is known as BuddyPress. It really works well on a lot of WordPress styles, but listed here are our top 12+ WordPress Styles for BuddyPress curated in the best marketplaces and sellers online. A few of these guys are premium styles and a number of them have the freedom downloads! 

Disclosure &#8211 this site receives customer referral charges from companies and merchandise pointed out on this web site. All data &amp opinions derive from ShivarWeb staff&#8217s independent research and professional judgement.

Arcade Fundamental

Arcade Basic Theme

Arcade is really a beautiful, minimalist theme with a lot of personalization options&#8230and on top of that it&#8217s free! You are able to change everything relating to this theme &#8211 fonts, layouts, more pages, widgets, size, sidebar, etc. It&#8217s an excellent choice for anybody searching for complete freedom inside a template. It’s not only suitable for BuddyPress, however it utilizes WooCommerce and WPML. Take a look at Arcade Fundamental here.

BuddyBoss

BuddyBoss

BuddyBoss is among the top developers of BuddyPress styles and plugins. Boss 2. is the versatile theme framework. It&#8217s as much as high coding standards it&#8217s responsive it’s simplified admin controls. Additionally, it seamlessly integrates using their plugins. Take a look at BuddyBoss here&#8230

Bounce

Bounce Theme

Bounce was produced particularly with BuddyPress in your mind, also it does a flawless job of meeting any needs can be expected. Fully customizable when it comes to layouts, skins, fonts, and widgets&#8230plus it&#8217s responsive, therefore it&#8217ll look wonderful on any device. Two other awesome features &#8211 it arrives with prices tables/cost boxes and contains a computerized image resizing feature which does wonders for loading speed. Take a look at Bounce here.

Creatif

Creatif Theme

Creatif includes a clean, unique design which will set your website apart. It&#8217s very versatile, using more than 40 shortcodes, 8 page template, several palettes and widget options. Also, it&#8217s had a great contact page built it and it is integrated with Twitter and Flickr. Take a look at Creatif here.

Divogue

Divogue Theme

Divogue is really a fully responsive theme having a seamless installation process. It&#8217s Search engine optimization enhanced, and it has a really attractive webpage having a switch gallery! You are able to personalize the layouts for your preference, altering fonts, colors, sidebars, headers etc. &#8211 therefore the look is going to be distinctively yours. Take a look at Divogue here.

GeneratePress

GeneratePress Theme

GeneratePress is really a professional, clean theme that’s responsive and designed for great speed and Search engine optimization potential&#8230and it&#8217s simple for these potential customers to navigate. Within the Appearance Tab within the Admin area, you’ve free reign to alter from fonts and colours to layouts and widgets. And GeneratePress can also be great since it&#8217s a totally free download! Take a look at GeneratePress here.

Gratitude

Gratitude Theme

Gratitude is certainly among the top chioces of the list. The backend is amazingly simple to navigate, and effective because the others. You&#8217ll get custom widgets along with a shortcode generator along with the personalization options you would like. The gallery choices for videos and pictures is fairly sweet. Also it&#8217s compatible with the major BuddyPress plugins! Take a look at Gratitude here.

Mixed

Mixed Theme

Mixed is really a fully responsive multipurpose WordPress theme that will certainly make heads turn. It arrives with plenty of personalization options like headers, layouts and fonts, and contains dynamic widgets. It&#8217s suitable for BuddyPress and WooCommerce, therefore it&#8217s a fantastic choice should you&#8217ve got a web-based store you need to integrate. Which one also boasts the cost of Free. Take a look at Mixed here.

Safiha

Sahifa Theme

Initially meant for Blogs and News, Sahifa continues to be an excellent choice for practically any web site with BuddyPress integration. We have an awesome admin panel using more than 400 personalization options, and also the drag page builder makes them changes very simple! Sahifa may be the best choice for social networking integration, and could be the very indepth package about this list. Take a look at Sahifa here.

Salutation

Salutation Theme

Should you had a high-content website, Salutation is perfect for you! It&#8217s fully responsive, and effective enough to handle a lot of content. It features a clean design and it is quite intuitive, which makes it an excellent experience for the users!  The drag page builder makes personalization super easy, and it’ll look wonderful on any device! Take a look at Salutation here.

Social Magazine

SocialMagazine Theme

The grid layout of Social Magazine causes it to be unique and visually appealing, and is effective for regularly updated websites. It&#8217s integrated well with social networking platforms, and it has plenty of layout and design options. I adore that one is free of charge? Take a look at SocialMagazine here.

Tienda Fundamental

TiendaBasic Theme

Tienda Fundamental was initially created for be considered a WooCommerce storefront, however it&#8217s suitable for BuddyPress &#8211 also it&#8217s beautiful design causes it to be work thinking about. It’s plenty of unique design options, and it has a clear fresh believe that will impress users. Should you&#8217re searching for any safe investment with great return, try Tienda &#8211 it’s wonderful features also it&#8217s free. Take a look at Tienda Basic here.

Razor

Razor Theme

The initial, eye-catching homepage is among Razor&#8217s finest features. It&#8217s responsive, so with the different custom web design changes you are making, it’ll look awesome on any device. Design manager is incredible, and also the personalization is unlimited with this particular theme! Take a look at Razor here.

Conclusion

Making use of the WordPress realm of styles is a terrific way to gain better publicity as well as construct your audience. Also it won’t have a huge chunk from your budget! Make certain to make use of styles rich in coding standards , and don’t forget that the good theme is definitely flexible and utilizes other plugins. You could browse around for other styles that won’t be clearly for the field of great interest but could transform easily in to the website you’ll need having a couple of plugins and custom code.

Best of luck! Tell me for those who have any suggestions within the comments!

The publish Top 12+ WordPress Styles for BuddyPress Social Networking WordPress plugin made an appearance first on ShivarWeb.

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Should Have WordPress Plugins: The 8 Essential (Free!) Plugins

Must Have WordPress Plugins

In lots of ways, plugins really are a killer feature for implementing WordPress. They are able to add nearly any imaginable functionality to WordPress &#8211 from ecommerce to social media to dancing unicorns. But do you know the truly should have WordPress plugins?

There is a balance. Since typically the most popular and needed features get put into core WordPress, WordPress already includes a lot of functionality as they are.

And typically of thumb, the less plugins you’ve, the greater. Plugins add lots of overhead for your installation, and could be a continue performance. Always use WordPress’ core features or by hand add snippet towards the functions.php file rather of adding another wordpress plugin. For this reason any publish which has greater than 8 “essential” plugins isn’t really helping things.

That stated, you will find 8 should have plugins for WordPress that offer functionality that just about every site that really wants to grow traffic will require in certain form or fashion.

Disclosure &#8211 this site receives customer referral charges from companies and merchandise pointed out on this web site. All data &amp opinions derive from ShivarWeb staff&#8217s independent research and professional judgement.

Essential WordPress Plugins

These types of indexed by kind of wordpress plugin, and so the specific wordpress plugin I personally use for your role.

An Anti-Junk e-mail WordPress plugin (Akismet)

Akismet Anti Spam Plugin

Akismet is definitely an anti-junk e-mail wordpress plugin for WordPress. If you were on the web for a short while, you will know junk e-mail is really a absurd problem. Akismet is important, particularly if you accept comments, forms or any kind of user generated content in your website. It comes down bundled with each and every install of WordPress. All that you should activate it’s an API key in the Akismet website.

The API key enables the wordpress plugin to complete 2 things. First, it will help Akismet filter all of the incoming junk e-mail according to its database of junk e-mail signals. Additionally, it enables your website to talk about new information with Akismet to assist it identify more signals and filter junk e-mail more proficiently. It&#8217s free for any personal blog. If you work with it commercially, it&#8217s just $5/mo.

Get your Akismet API key here.

An Analytics WordPress plugin (Google Analytics fo WordPress by Yoast)

Google Analytics by Yoast

Google Analytics is really a free enterprise level analytics package provided by Google for just about any website. It is simple to implement google’s Analytics code with no wordpress plugin. However, google’s Analytics for WordPress wordpress plugin is important for any couple of reasons.

  • It can make establishing Google Analytics straightforward
  • It unlocks all kind of features for Google Analytics which are difficult to set up place consistently with no wordpress plugin (ie, event tracking on links)
  • It make applying the most recent form of Analytics seamless

Go on Google Analytics for WordPress here.

A Hyperlink Maintenance WordPress plugin (Redirection)

Redirection

Redirection is a straightforward, but effective wordpress plugin that permanently redirects a Hyperlink to another URL. It’s essential because with time, your links in your site and to your website can change. Once they change, users and check engines obtain a 404 Not Found page, that is a real drag for anybody.

With Redirection, you are able to go ahead and take old URL and permanently 301 redirect it to a different URL. It will help preserve consumer experience and internet search engine signals.

On Redirection here.

A Discussing WordPress plugin (SumoMe)

SumoMe

Even though the creator of WordPress used to share buttons the “mullets from the Internet”, the now ubiquitous share buttons are crucial to get traffic and visibility. WordPress doesn’t come bundled using the functionality. While it’s easy to install share buttons by hand with no wordpress plugin, it’s tiresome, simple to break when systems change their code, and doesn’t permit you to concentrate on stuff that matter.

However , 98% of share button plugins (particularly the ones within the WordPress repository) are awful &#8211 really awful.

I personally use and recommend SumoMe. It comes down as both an easy JavaScript snippet or like a WordPress wordpress plugin.

It’s a lot of options simple to use and does everything you simply desire a discussing wordpress plugin to complete (such things as size lower appropriately on mobile, etc). SumoMe also has a suite of promoting tools which go beyond just share buttons to be able to try out other interesting things (again free of charge).

If you would like an alternative choice to compare, the Digg Digg wordpress plugin is a great choice too. It’s really owned and maintained by Buffer, a social networking management company.

Another alternative is WordPress.com’s (the commercial located side of WordPress) Share that you could install on any WordPress site via JetPack.

On SumoMe here&#8230

A Burglar WordPress plugin (VaultPress / JetPack)

WordPress is among the (otherwise the) most broadly used cms on the web. Which makes it a significant target for online hackers. Should you keep WordPress updated and follow fundamental safety measures, it’s a safe and secure cms. But you may make it also safer having a security wordpress plugin.

It’s kind of like going from locking your home door to installing an alarm system. It can make your site not as likely (though still not possible) to obtain hacked.

There’s a couple of good options that take proper care of all of the suggested measures to “harden WordPress”. For any located security wordpress plugin, I personally use the safety features included in the JetPack wordpress plugin for WordPress.

I accustomed to use iThemes Security &#8211  one from the earliest and many used self-located solutions. But my website speed endured as attacks on my small site rose with my website traffic. Eventually, I desired a located solution off my website &#8211 which&#8217s what helped me opt for the safety features included in JetPack. It&#8217s already synced w/ my backup solution (see next point), therefore it&#8217s simple to use and price the cash.

If your internet site is small, iThemes Security is okay. It’s also wise to take a look at WordFence.

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NB: Keep in mind that security (much like for your household) goes past installing a wordpress plugin and thinking it’s “secure.” Additionally, it means using good passwords, only installing trustworthy plugins, along with other security protocols.

A Backup WordPress plugin (VaultPress)

VaultPress

Sooner or later, whether through user error, hack, data center disaster or perhaps a bad developer &#8211 you’ll most likely lose your site. It isn’t a certainty, but it’s likely enough that it is essential you prepare.

And absolutely nothing can help you prepare and reassurance just like a backup wordpress plugin. To backup and reinstate your website, you’ll need your site’s database as well as your site’s files. This can be done by hand. But you probably know this, whatever you do by hand on the regular interval is going to be procrastinated.

There’s a midway point where one can by hand download your files by FTP and depend on iThemes Security to instantly backup your database.

With this wordpress plugin, I personally use VaultPress that is a premium wordpress plugin by WordPress.com/Automattic. It’s seamless, simple, and automatic. They include storage and something-click restore. For bigger sites, it’s worth every cent.

In my smaller sized sites, I personally use either BackWPUp or WordPress Backup to Dropbox.

Both are really simple to use with choices to backup files and database. WordPress Backup to Dropbox also solves the storage issue should you not would like your backups inside your email (and definitely don’t just put backups in your hosting server).

A Search engine optimization WordPress plugin (WordPress Search engine optimization)

Yoast SEO

WordPress is among the most Search engine optimization-friendly cms as they are. It will however have ample room for improvement and personalization.

That’s why is WordPress Search engine optimization by Team Yoast so essential. The wordpress plugin goes past just easy title tag and meta descriptions to fixing lots of technical Search engine optimization issues and integrating really leading edge Search engine optimization features straight into WordPress.

Go find out about WordPress Search engine optimization by Yoast here…

Use my WordPress Search engine optimization by Yoast beginner’s setup guide here&#8230

A Caching WordPress plugin (WordPress Super Cache)

WP Super Cache

WordPress is rather lean and fast as they are. However, once you begin adding posts, images, plugins, styles and anything else &#8211 website speed can rapidly become a problem, no matter hosting. And each business owner will explain that speed is crucial online.

WordPress Super Cache is among the original and many popular “caching” plugins for WordPress. It makes a static HTML form of webpages requested by users so your server doesn’t need to do work “creating” each page in the database each and every time it’s requested. The idea will get complicated, however the short story is you need WordPress Super Cache&#8230especially for your day your site will get featured on CNN or something like that.

It’s easy to use. It’s owned and maintained by WordPress.com/Automattic (also known as it features a business design to help keep it updated). It will what it really states it’ll do. It is also utilized by a few of the largest blogs on the web.

Some (really, a great deal) of individuals argue for Total Cache. It’s solid, while offering lots of functionality&#8230but an excessive amount of for me. Functionality is just good as far as possible used, and WordPress Super Cache wins with that count.

On WordPress Super Cache here…

If you prefer a couple of additional features and performance &#8211 I&#8217d still recommend against Total Cache. Rather, I&#8217ve began using WordPress Fastest Cache. It&#8217s fast, amazing and it has a lot more advanced features than Super Cache with no overwhelming clutter and instability of Total Cache.

See Fastest Cache here.

That’s all of the essential WordPress plugins you will find. The kind of site you’ve will dictate the rest of the plugins you’ll need. And don’t forget, with regard to security, speed and ease, keep plugins towards the minimum.

Now, like a writer, there is a couple of other plugins which i use within a couple of cases. Their safety, free and do stuff that I enjoy profile.

Non-Essential Plugins I Really Like

I recieve a lot of emails about different plugins I personally use. Here’s a summary of my personal favorite non-essential plugins which i use on this website.

JetPack

JetPack

Despite the fact that WordPress is free of charge open-source software, there are plenty of benefits of being a member of an “ecosystem.” That’s, apps and services that work seamlessly together. WordPress.com and Automattic produced JetPack, that is as an umbrella wordpress plugin that enables a self-located WordPress web site to access most of the services and apps running around the WordPress.com ecosystem.

There are many detractors of JetPack. It is also certainly not needed. However, it will have lots of simple to use functionality that you could unveil as you desire. It isn’t essential, however i like it.

Past the default, I’ve Stats, Related Posts, Subscriptions, Security, and VaultPress enabled.

NB: JetPack comes with a frustrating practice of instantly activating modules. Keep close track of it.

Find out more about JetPack here&#8230.

Compress JPEG &amp PNG images

Compress JPG and PNG

Images are awesome &#8211 but they may also slow lower your website. Each time someone navigates to some website, they need to request and download the pictures around the page. The smaller sized quality that you could help make your images, the greater.

There&#8217s a lot of options available to &#8220losslessly compress&#8221 (within the jargon) your images. This wordpress plugin is undoubtedly the very best when it comes to quality, volume of reduction and usefulness.

Get Compress JPEG &amp PNG Images here&#8230

Fast Secure Contact Page

Fast Secure Contact Form

Contact forms. For that user, they appear so simple. But when you’ve ever attempted to apply one, they may be stealthily tricky. I’m keen on Fast Secure Contact Page due to its set of features depth and flexibility. It isn’t the lovliest wordpress plugin on the planet, however it consistently will get the task done.

If you would like something super simple, the contact page within Jetpack is solid.

Find out more about Fast Secure Contact Form here&#8230

Display Widgets

Display Widgets

Display Widgets enables you to definitely define when and where to exhibit certain widgets. Simple, but super handy.

JetPack lately added a module known as “Visibility” that does something much the same. I still such as the super-specific control that Display Widgets provides.

Find out more about Display Widgets here&#8230

Schema Creator by Raven

Schema Creator

Schema is really a “markup to enhance the display of search engine results, which makes it simpler that people find the correct Web pages” searching engines. Anybody in Search engine optimization recognizes that it’s effective and it has significant benefits.

It is also a discomfort to apply. Schema Creator by Raven enables you to definitely easily add the most typical Schemas towards the appropriate posts in WordPress.

Find out more about Schema Creator here&#8230

Simple Publish Series with Search engine optimization

Simple Post Series with SEO

Simple Publish Series enables you to definitely easily produce a box for users to travel through a number of blogs.

Writing a blog series (that is backwards chronological order) can be difficult to navigate. This wordpress plugin adds a table of contents for users (and check engines!) to navigate.

NB: This wordpress plugin is not positively updated. It’s quite simple wordpress plugin but still works together with new versions of WordPress. Knowing of the positively new version, tell me.

Find out more about Simple Publish Series here&#8230

Rather Easy CSV

Really Simple CSV

Sometimes I have to bulk upload enough detailed information online to WordPress. This wordpress plugin is when I take action.

Whether I’m rewriting countless titles or adding a large number of new pages, Rather Easy CSV is when Sometimes smart, easy within WordPress.

Find out more about Rather Easy CSV here&#8230

Syntax Highlighter Evolved for WordPress

Syntax Highlighter for WordPress

Syntax Highlighter enables me to include code to some publish&#8230without getting it execute. It’s ideal for showing types of HTML, CSS, PHP or JavaScript without ruining the page.

On Syntax Highlighter Evolved for WordPress here&#8230

WordPress.com Popular Posts

WordPressDotCom Popular Posts

A higher number of my visitors completely new visitors each month. I love to profile my most widely used posts within the sidebar.

Apparently , this can be a very resource intensive operation. It is also something a wordpress plugin will require use of analytics to. This wordpress plugin taps into JetPack’s analytics system and efficiently generates a summary of popular posts display within the sidebar.

NB: This wordpress plugin is not positively updated. It’s quite simple wordpress plugin but still works together with new versions of WordPress. Knowing of the positively new version, tell me.

On WordPress.com Popular Posts here&#8230.

Next Steps

Should you not possess the should have WordPress plugins installed, I suggest heading to your Plugins section and becoming all of them downloaded and configured.

When finding new plugins with specific functionality, filter all of them with these questions:

  • What’s the core functionality you’ll need?
  • Can perform do this within WordPress or having a snippet of code?
  • Can you accomplish that functionality having a wordpress plugin that’s already installed?
  • May be the functionality you would like better standalone or included in a far more comprehensive wordpress plugin?

Once you’ve found some potential plugins:

  • Could they be well-maintained? How are may be the wordpress plugin supported?
  • Are you able to check it out?
  • How would be the reviews insightful?
  • Would be the ratings insightful?
  • Could it be on the WordPress wordpress plugin repository? Why or why don’t you?
  • What exactly are common difficulties with the wordpress plugin?
  • Could it be suitable for your present wordpress plugin set?
  • Have you ever compared it to alternatives?

Once you’ve installed it:

  • Is the site performance still good?
  • Did any features or design break?

Have some fun building your website! For those who have any comments or feedback, please leave them below. If it is two months after publish date &#8211 tell me via contact page and I’ll by hand combine it with your comments ought to.

The publish Should Have WordPress Plugins: The 8 Essential (Free!) Plugins made an appearance first on ShivarWeb.

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YouTube Optimization: Help Guide To Channels, Videos & Strategy

YouTube Optimization

YouTube is among the Internet’s largest platforms. It is also a fascinating hybrid platform &#8211 YouTube is concurrently among the Internet’s largest social systems, among the Internet’s largest search engines like google (by queries processed), and also the largest video hosting platform.

YouTube’s hybrid nature provides versatility it creates some confusion around guidelines, getting began, and optimizing your funnel for discovery, engagement and business goals.

I’ve had the ability to will work on client channels, my very own effective hobby channels and I’m focusing on a YouTube technique for the brand new ShivarWeb funnel. Here’s my help guide to YouTube optimization &#8211 for the videos and funnel according to my experience and curation of the greatest YouTube sources on the web. First I&#8217ll cover goals, concepts &amp benchmarks. I Then&#8217ll tackle all of the nitty-gritty details.

Goals, Concepts &amp Benchmarks

Goals

Like every online marketing strategy, you need to begin with defining your objectives as well as your audience. Before you decide to optimize anything, you need to consider what you are optimizing for and what you ought to justify your money and time.

What exactly are you attempting to do? Sell ads according to pageviews? Build awareness for the product? Build a crowd for the brand online? Complement your online marketing strategy in your website? Complement sales &amp support?

If you’re business attempting to drive sales, bear in mind that YouTube typically constitutes a poor direct response platform. Read Phil Nottingham’s excellent Business KPIs for YouTube. Whoever you hire your YouTube goals are &#8211 it’s important to define what they’re and just how you’ll measure them. Also take a look at my help guide to YouTube Analytics here.

Once you determine what your objectives are, decide who you need to achieve. Consider what they’re typically doing online. Consider the way they might research anything they are attempting to solve.

What’s your target viewer searching for? Entertainment? Something to talk about? A how-to steer? If you’re attempting to develop a YouTube audience &#8211 which kind of content can you ideally have?

If you’re searching for the best practices on the kinds of happy to create, YouTube’s Brand playbook includes a great search for “hygiene” (everyday) content, “hub” (periodic), and “hero” (infrequent standout) content.

Concepts

YouTube traffic sources are as diverse, or even more diverse, than visitors to your personal website. Many new funnel proprietors search for the chance to obtain traffic from Google and YouTube Search. They focus solely on internet search engine optimization (Search engine optimization) for YouTube.

But that’s only some of the chance. In my most effective funnel, most traffic originates from YouTube Related videos and website embeds. Engagement, relevance and relationships drive individuals traffic sources.

Traffic Sources in YouTube Analytics

It’s remember this that YouTube optimization has lots of feedback loops happening simultaneously. Your ultimate goal ought to be to concentrate on the greatest impact bit of optimization to obtain the greatest impact feedback loop moving.

That stated, additionally to understanding YouTube traffic sources, you need to understand the idea of engagement. Around the YouTube platform, engagement continues to be the main factor for YouTube Search and YouTube Related videos since 2012.

YouTube really wants to keep viewers online. Which means your main optimization needs to be aligned with YouTube’s goals. You need to concentrate on helping people discover relevant videos, watch individuals videos for extended after which click to locate more videos.

Which means you need to consider optimization as not only getting the best title. You need to plan and convey videos which are consistent with what individuals are searching for. Your scripts and production needs to encourage continuous watching. As well as your content needs to encourage viewers to look at much more videos.

For instance, since Watch Time is really a primary (otherwise the) factor for calculating engagement, some channels have enhanced only for that factor and built huge followings online. The very best funnel online &#8211 PewDiePie &#8211 used Watch Time almost solely to visit from yet another gaming funnel towards the greatest funnel online.

Keep the ideas, production and tactics centered on YouTube’s goals and lots of bits of your feedback loop will fall under place, which you’ll then bend to satisfy your personal business goals.

Benchmarking

Compensated media specialists and Search engine optimization specialists use benchmarking and competitive analysis to enhance campaigns. Pre-qualifying content and reverse engineering competitors ideas are crucial areas of any effective content strategy.

Before creating a strategy and optimizing your videos and funnel &#8211 study from your competition.

What exactly are they doing on their own funnel? What playlists internet site? What channels will they feature? How can they write their descriptions? What keywords internet site? What sort of like ratios will they get? What exactly are their average views? What related videos play after their videos? What exactly are they succeeding? What exactly are they doing poorly?

Make use of this help guide to scrape your competition keywords. Use this Chrome extension to rapidly pull video and funnel data when you are exploring.

Now that you’ve got some goals, concepts and benchmarks in your mind, let’s take a look at specific products in your funnel and videos that you could focus on.

Optimizing Your Funnel

Establishing your funnel isn’t necessary to have videos &#8211 but it’s essential for a lengthy-term technique to build a crowd. Your funnel page is similar aimed at your website homepage.

Much like your website, although most visitors won’t enter with the homepage, it’s where they’ll go to discover exactly what you are. And it is where coming back visitors goes to find out more and subscribe.

If you’re a Google account holder, you are able to generate a funnel at YouTube.com/account → Overview.

Nearly everything regarding your funnel could be edited either on the homepage by hovering or beneath your Dashboard → Funnel.

Here’s an introduction to where you can edit your funnel features &#8211

YouTube Channel Edit

Funnel Name is easy, but additionally consider as well as your subject in case your brand isn’t self-explanatory.

Funnel Header has specific design needs. Make certain you follow YouTube&#8217s Funnel Art recommendations &#8211 and also you&#8217ll would also like an uncluttered design that appears good on any device.

Funnel Icon ought to be set to fit your other branding. Follow YouTube’s recommendations to make certain it really works well across devices.

Funnel Links ought to be set aimed at your website and relevant social profiles.

Funnel Navigation ought to be set to personalize the sections in your funnel page. Once that’s enabled, refresh your funnel page, and check out the brand new layouts that you could personalize.

Funnel Sections ought to be attempted while you add new content. Remember that you’re attempting to drive watch some time and retention for coming back visitors and subscriptions for brand new visitors.

Funnel Trailer ought to be short, simple video pitch regarding your funnel.

Funnel Description is under About. It may be as much as 1000 figures.

To create Funnel Settings changes, navigate for your Dashboard → Funnel → Advanced

Here you are able to improve your Funnel Name. It’s also wise to take a look at those to make certain YouTube understands your funnel.

Channel Settings

Funnel Keywords ought to be broad keywords that describe your funnel. According to my testing, the limit is 100 figures, including spaces. Use YouTube Suggest and Keyword Planner to estimate the largest, most accurate target keywords that you could pursue. Remember that you could monitor your competitors’ funnel keyword by visiting their homepage, and examine Source and searching for that meta keywords field.

Linking your funnel to some website benefits your website as well as your funnel. Adding your Google Analytics UA code enables you to definitely pull Funnel-level (not video level) data straight into Google Analytics. Make sure to separate the visitors to not skew your site data. For video level data, it’s important to use YouTube Analytics.

Under Branding, make sure to set a watermark. For those who have a higher-quality video, place it because the Funnel Ad under Featured Content.

Optimizing Your Videos

Although your funnel is essential, optimizing your videos would be the primary chance and goal online. Here’s would be the products that you could edit within YouTube to improve visibility and engagement.

But don’t forget, no trick or tactic that you simply make online can overcome poor production or poor content. Before you decide to upload and “optimize” your videos &#8211 they should be enhanced during and before production so that they are engaging of and in themselves.

Meta Data

Meta Information is the data that you simply provide concerning the video. A video’s meta data helps YouTube index and understand your video’s content for search and recommended videos. In aggregate, meta information is the main element in how YouTube determines your video’s relevance.

When you optimize your video’s meta data, it ought to acquire a feedback loop &#8211

  • It will provide more search traffic since YouTube can suit your video with relevant searches
  • It’ll improve your overall click-through rate since users could be more prone to judge your video’s relevance

The elevated click-throughs and views increases engagement, that will increase both rankings searching and can help make your videos appear in Related videos.

Online, meta data consists of your video’s Title, Description and Tags.

YouTube Meta Data

Aside &#8211 before you begin optimizing your meta data, ensure you possess a general knowledge of what keywords you need to target online. Read this guide to learn more there. The simplest method is by using YouTube Suggest (or scale out that research with KeywordTool.io), complement it with Pay Per Click Keyword Planner, and produce that along with searching at the kinds of videos that demonstrate track of your research.

Titles

You video title is, well, your title. Writing a highly effective title is definitely an art.

  • align with searcher&#8217s intent &#8211 if people trying to find “safety razors” are searching for videos on how to make use of safety razors, your title should reflect that.
  • allow it to be clickable &#8211 it must seem sensible for humans so don’t keyword stuff keep in mind that your title can also be utilized in Related results as well as on other social media platforms.
  • allow it to be obvious lead with keywords, not brand &#8211 highlight what viewers need to see, not what you would like these to see.
  • choose detail and descriptiveness &#8211 “clickbait” or cryptic headlines can hurt your search visibility as well as your engagement by getting in viewers who immediately look away.

Descriptions

Like titles, descriptions need to serve an account balance. They have to help provide context for YouTube, it must serve the humans who’re studying it &#8211 meaning supplying links along with a concise overview.

Concentrate on the first couple of sentences for similar effect to meta descriptions. Write them as an ad to lure the press. Don&#8217t lead users off-site because which will affect that core metric: watch time.

Based on YouTube, your description should &#8211

  • precisely describe the recording in a couple of sentences
  • describe your funnel and connect to the funnel page &#8211 this will incorporate a &#8220recurring keyword tagline with several search driven keywords&#8221
  • drive viewers a subscription (or any other CTA)
  • connect to various other episodes
  • make use of all your 5000 figures (~1000 words)
  • make use of a template inside your upload defaults that will help you to rapidly edit for every video

Furthermore, your description keyword focus should align using the title and tags. It ought to give a broader summary of the recording (enough for somebody to know the gist from the video without really watching it).

To obtain some best practice templates &#8211 read this guide which guide both from REELSEO.

Tags

Tags are keywords that YouTube uses to know your videos’ relevance and context. They’re also known as your videos’ keywords. Like a technical note they’re really utilized in the meta keywords field (something which has become irrelevant across all of those other Internet). And like Funnel Keywords, you can try all of them with View Source and/or scrape all of them with a relevant video&#8217s URL.

Tags Keywords

Your tagging ought to be just like a 3 level pyramid &#8211 use some broad keywords that pertains to every video in your funnel (as well as your funnel) use some focused keywords that affect that video&#8217s category or playlist use some keywords that pertains to that video alone.

For instance, if you’re uploading a do it yourself tutorial video, you may have: Flapper Substitute, Flapper Valve, Dripping Toilet, Toilet, Plumbing, DIY, Do It Yourself. Note how individuals move from specific to broad.

Together you&#8217ll possess a &#8220theme&#8221 where one can discern virtually just what the video is all about in the keywords alone enter them from video to funnel specific don&#8217t exceed the 120 character limit.

Other Tag Tips &#8211

  • include a mixture of suggested general tags and particular tags that you simply create
  • leverage market and keyword research (check this out guide) to capture the largest relevant “footprint” of searches
  • keep close track of YouTube Analytics to create more keywords in to the fold &#8211 and revise older videos

Thumbnails

Thumbnails would be the static image that turns up across YouTube searching and related. Enhanced thumbnails matter for just one reason &#8211 greater click-through rate.

YouTube Thumbnails

Whenever a potential viewers sees a summary of videos, your thumbnail will help grab their attention and obtain that click. A greater clickthrough rate increases not just views, but additionally engagement, which, again, feeds back to ranking factors.

The critical question about thumbnails is defining precisely what grabs your viewers’ attention. There’s no correct answer with no best practice. But here’s a couple of general pointers.

  • Thumbnails that actually work in Gaming won’t work with Beauty &#8211 and the other way around across all niches. Review your niche for what’s typical.
  • When you begin your funnel, search for points inside your video that could help as a great static image.
  • Use tools like Canva which have thumbnail templates built-in so you aren’t spending time and effort on something which you aren’t sure works well.
  • Make certain it’s in 16:9 aspect ratio and make certain it scales well based on device.
  • Test different formats watching YouTube Analytics to determine the things that work best.

Transcriptions &amp Captioning

YouTube is able to “listen” for your videos to understand sturdy. However, if you’ve ever switched on automatic closed captions &#8211 you will see that YouTube’s automatic transcription isn’t that good.

YouTube Automated Transcript

For those who have invested significant sources inside a video, consider uploading a custom transcription to YouTube. You are able to delegate transcription to some service like SpeechPad or simply use YouTube’s manual transcription tools to type together with your video.

In either case, a custom (accurate) transcription is going to do 3 things &#8211

  1. help YouTube understand your video more, and hopefully rank it much better than competitors it doesn’t understand too.
  2. help make your video readily available to viewers who require closed captioning.
  3. help make your video readily available to worldwide viewers, since a precise transcription can result in better language translation.

Annotations

Annotations are just like hyperlinks in your video &#8211 they offer calls to action, more engagement and context. For those who have an connected website, they are able to drive clicks aimed at your website.

Guidelines for annotations include with them for &#8211

  • Calls to action &#8211 ie, subscribe or watch the following video
  • Clarifications &#8211 ie, publish upload content corrections
  • Context &#8211 ie, linking to some related video or playlist

Annotations are the type of factor that appear awesome like a producer, but are frequently horrible for viewers. When you’re optimizing your videos, you have to take a look at YouTube Analytics to find out effectiveness.

YouTube provides a couple of other ideas to make certain annotations are helpful and never annoying &#8211

  • Avoid annotations across the very the surface of the frame &#8211 this is when your title can have if embedded.
  • Don’t obstruct the particular content.
  • Don’t bombard the viewer. This could feel “spammy.”
  • When appropriate, set annotations to spread out a brand new window when clicked. But be cautious! Don’t take viewers from a relevant video too early or your Watch Time are affected.
  • Annotations in the finish of the video should open within the same window (to help keep that Watch Time running!)

It is also remember this that annotations do not work on mobile. To supply a more uniform experience across devices &#8211 YouTube features “Cards.”

YouTube Cards

These provide similar functionality, but they are perhaps classier and just better for calls to action. Explore using Cards for proactive approach and annotations for clarifications and context.

For after video calls to action &#8211 also consider YouTube’s formerly known “InVideo Programming” including watermarking your video (Dashboard → Funnel → Branding) and managing a Featured Video or Playlist across all of your videos (Dashboard → Funnel → Featured Content).

Playlists

Playlists would be the primary method to organize your videos online. Playlists also form a core a part of your funnel and video optimization. Playlists serve three primary roles for optimizing your YouTube presence.

First, playlists permit you to organize your videos to autoplay together, which drives views, watch some time and engagement for the videos within the playlist.

Second, playlists also aid YouTube understand relevance among various videos helping YouTube make smarter decisions for Related videos.

Third, playlists can rank and gain visibility by themselves. You are able to consider them like category pages in your website. Rely on them to “target” specific search phrases together with your playlist description and title to position both in Google, YouTube Search and YouTube Related.

Use playlists if you have a number of videos that should be viewed so as, or if you have some videos that forms a wider theme.

YouTube Playlists

When establishing the playlist, make sure to write an engaging, detailed and descriptive playlist description and title. For those who have a number of videos, take a look at while using “series playlists options” to define the state playlist for some videos.

Playlists will also be a very good way to maneuver from optimizing your personal funnel to promoting your funnel. Including videos from complementary channels could be initial step to building relationships online (much like guest posting or linking out strategies when promoting an internet site).

Next Steps

That’s all of the optimization features that YouTube offers on their own platform. But don’t forget that optimization goes past utilizing a tool or tactic. It comes down to working out what for you to do and who you need to help.

Determine your objectives, create engaging content, utilize YouTube’s features, track your metrics with YouTube Analytics and improving!

The publish YouTube Optimization: Help Guide To Channels, Videos &#038 Strategy made an appearance first on ShivarWeb.

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10 Good reasons to Use E-mail Marketing Software inside your Restaurant

Email Marketing

E-mail marketing is really a cost-efficient way for restaurants to advertise themselves and keep active in regular patrons. Some companies be put off by e-mail marketing software since they’re scared of annoying their customers with “junk” mail or they believe it’s too tech-y for that average business proprietor to determine. However that today’s consumers really want to get emails from companies they like — indeed, 95% of recipients who sign up for a company&#8217s list finish up finding those emails helpful. Not just are emails welcomed from your customers with open arms, however the software you utilize to transmit them can also be super simple to use.

Should you&#8217re not totally offered around the idea, that&#8217s fine since i&#8217m dirty convincing you yet. Continue reading for some more top reasons to use e-mail marketing for restaurants.

1. Develop a Loyal Subscriber Base

email marketing for customer loyaltyDelivering regular emails for your customers helps promote brand loyalty for your restaurant. When people see your company emblem frequently and receive your newsletters, coupons, news, etc., linked with emotions . feel like a part of your “club.” You are able to further encourage that feeling by delivering exclusive promotions towards the people of the list. It’s victory-win situation.

2. Low Cost of Entry

Free email marketing softwareMost restaurants won’t need to pay greater than $20 or $30/month for e-mail marketing. You can buy plans that ask you for per email you signal, yet others that ask you for a regular monthly fee in line with the size your list. Almost all ESPs (email providers) offer free trials so that you can try out email addresses marketing software prior to committing to some compensated plan, and several providers have 100% free plans (with a few limitations).

If you’re thinking about free e-mail marketing for restaurants, you might like to browse the free plans provided by providers like Benchmark, MailChimp, and SendinBlue.

3. Learn More About Your Customers

email marketing for customer researchE-mail marketing provides your company with helpful metrics concerning the people in your list. You can study such things as the kinds of promotions your clients are most thinking about, or how likely clients are to interact together with your emails according to how old they are, earnings, etc. These metrics give you a more complete marketing profile of the regular restaurant-goers, as well as assist you to measure the prosperity of your e-mail marketing campaign.

4. Increase Traffic for your Restaurant Website

email marketing and website trafficAnother great advantage of e-mail marketing for restaurants is you can distribute links aimed at your website. This can lead to more clicks to your website, enhance your restaurant website’s visibility searching engines, and eventually enable you to get more patrons. Obviously, you don’t wish to connect to just any &#8216ole page of the website — blogs and squeeze pages for marketing discounts are types of good pages to connect to.

Additionally to directing email recipients aimed at your website, you can/should also encourage your individuals to sign up for your list with an opt-in form on your website.

5. Increase Engagement on Social Networkingemail marketing and social media

Social internet marketing is yet another essential kind of internet marketing for restaurants, and something that integrates nicely with e-mail marketing. You may use email marketing to increase your social networking Return on investment, and the other way around. For instance, you are able to encourage list subscribers to talk to your social networking accounts — by placing icons that connect with your social profiles within the footer of all of your emails, or by posting links for your latest Facebook promotion inside your email e-newsletter. As well as, you can put an opt-in on your social media profiles so supporters can join your list.

6. Simple to use

easy-to-use email marketing softwareToday’s e-mail marketing programs allow it to be very fast and simple to setup a free account and begin delivering professional-searching emails. MailChimp and Mad Mimi are specifically simple to get began with. After you have your campaign ready with autoresponders, it will get even simpler, since the emails you signal out are automated.

Some e-mail marketing platforms may also integrate together with your restaurant POS software, which further streamlines and simplifies your marketing tasks. For instance, the ShopKeep POS integrates with MailChimp for e-mail marketing.

7. More Efficient Than Other Kinds of promoting

email marketing resultsFor a lot of companies, e-mail marketing offers a better Return on investment (roi) than other kinds of internet marketing, for example pay-per click campaigns (e.g., Pay Per Click), social internet marketing, or internet affiliate marketing. One study discovered that e-mail marketing was 40 occasions more efficient than Twitter and facebook alone.

8. Gains Momentum Over Time

website traffic increaseE-mail marketing is a kind of advertising that gains momentum with time. As the email list grows, so does the effectiveness of the marketing funnel. Similarly, whenever you consistently send helpful, interesting emails, your subscribers’ degree of engagement grows as time passes.

9. Opens Direct Communication Funnel with Customers

email marketing for restaurantsE-mail marketing doesn’t need to be a 1-way conversation. E-mail marketing software gives your customers an good way to contact you with questions in order to book a reservation. Most ESP’s enables you to setup your bank account to ensure that customers can answer your emails directly, without displaying your own personal current email address.

10. Targeted Marketing Approach

restaurant email marketingE-mail marketing enables for several personalization and personalization in the manner you sell to your prospects. For instance, you can segment your email list into different groups (by neighborhood, for instance) and send different types of emails to every group. You may also arrange it so each recipient is addressed by name and receives personalized offers tailored to their interests. 

Active Campaign is a superb choice if you wish to create different campaigns for various groups. This ESP includes a built-in deals system that allows you to personalize special deals to segments of the address book.

Get Began with E-mail Marketing for Restaurants

With e-mail marketing, restaurants can be cultivated a lively subscriber base to have their tables twelve month-round — all for any really small investment. Now you understand all the good reasons to use e-mail marketing for the restaurant, hopefully you’ll try a few of these ESPs on for size. Like I stated earlier, many have 100%-free plans, and almost all e-mail marketing services offer free trials. Compare the very best-rated e-mail marketing software at-a-glance, and/or shoot us an e-mail if you’re unsure which program might be best for the restaurant and want some assistance selecting.

The publish 10 Good reasons to Use E-mail Marketing Software inside your Restaurant made an appearance first on Merchant Maverick.

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WordPress.com versus. WordPress.org: Which If You Work With?

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org

So you’re exploring beginning an internet site. And you’ve selected WordPress as the software of preference. It forces greater than 25% from the Internet. It’s renowned for its versatility and simplicity of use.

However for anybody not really acquainted with the WordPress world &#8211 there’s an item of confusion. WordPress.com versus. WordPress.org &#8211 which if you work with? What’s the main difference? What’s the very best fit for the website?

There are many excellent posts already &#8211 but here’s a tight summary of what you need to consider prior to getting began.

Concepts &amp Goals

WordPress is the a bit of software that may “power” your site on the server. So rather of uploading files to some server to produce a website, you should use WordPress to produce a “backend” where one can login aimed at your website to produce, edit and manage webpages, blogs, images &#8211 any kind of content.

It’s a “content management system” in web design jargon. WordPress can also be “open-source” &#8211 meaning a residential area maintains it. A for-profit corporation doesn’t purchased it.

The program &amp open-source community live &amp function at WordPress.org &#8211 where anybody can grab a duplicate from the software. It’s also referred to as “self-located WordPress” as you have to supply the server for that software to reside on.

After which there’s WordPress.com. It’s a for-profit company of Automattic and founded by Matt Mullenweg &#8211 among the original developers of WordPress.

WordPress.com is really a service (not only the particular software &amp community) that provides websites/blogs operated by their install of WordPress. You have the information of the website, however, you don’t really own your own personal website.

The renting versus. buying in tangible estate is effective being an example.

WordPress.com = Renting a structure for your living area (also known as your site). Within your budget upgrades, but ultimately everything can be your landlord (WordPress.com). That stated &#8211 your landlord also offers to pay for to help keep everything functional.

WordPress.org = Having a building for your living area. You have everything by yourself hosting space. You need to do anything you want. That stated &#8211 you have the effect of everything.

What exactly performs this distinction between WordPress.com and WordPress.org mean for the project?

Prices / Goals

Lots of people researching WordPress begin to see the “free website at WordPress.com” &#8211 and think that’s the finish from the issue.

But here’s the issue &#8211 it&#8217s “free” for any WordPress.com subdomain (e.g., yourdomain.wordpress.com) without any upgrades with WordPress.com’s legal rights to operate ads in your work.

WordPress.com runs using a method of compensated upgrades for particular features. If you prefer a custom domain rather of the yourdomain.wordpress.com domain &#8211 it is $18/year to join up and point it aimed at your website. Should you already possess a domain somewhere, it is $13/yr to suggest it for your WordPress.com website.

WordPress.com Plans

They provide exactly the same kinds of one-time upgrades for custom web design, etc. WordPress.com also packages these upgrades right into a couple plans &#8211 Pro and Business.

Lengthy story short though &#8211 WordPress.com’s compensated upgrades are costly when compared to self-hosting route. Everything &#8211 from domains to hosting space to serving video &#8211 can be achieved more cheaply than using WordPress.com’s plans.

You can aquire a self-located WordPress website setup on your own for under $100/year &#8211 that’s with domain, quality hosting and limitless options.

But getting nitty-gritty about prices isn’t the point. The purpose on prices is all about what your objectives are and just what you value. If you wish to publish, could care less about specific functionality, and also have budget &#8211 WordPress.com is amazing. It&#8217s fast, sleek, and well-run.

If you wish to build out an internet site where publishing is just a part of your objectives (ie, you need to run ads, personalize your design, etc), then self-hosting makes much more sense.

Consider it like selling food &#8211 in case your goal would be to just sell food, a stall in a farmer’s marketplace is all that’s necessary. In case your goal would be to sell food inside an experience, you actually need a cafe or restaurant.

Prices &amp goals aside, here are a handful of factors which i tell people to check out.

Design / Styles

If you’re running your personal copy of WordPress by yourself server, that you can do anything you like together with your design. WordPress(.org) still runs off “Themes” &#8211 so that you can use free styles from WordPress.org, premium off-the-shelf styles for the industry, or make use of a theme framework to add a lot of design features aimed at your website.

And only way, you could directly access your theme and edit it by any means you would like.

With WordPress.com &#8211 you don’t have immediate access to your website or perhaps your theme. Rather, you need to choose among the option of styles that WordPress.com provides (presently at 373 styles and 182 premium styles).

WordPress.com Themes

WordPress.com provides some personalization, but it’s restricted to you skill through their customizer tool. Should you upgrade, you’ve full CSS editing, however, you can’t add elements for your design.

Functionality / Plugins

Plugins really are a large one of the reasons self-located WordPress is really as popular because it is. Plugins riding time additional functionality aimed at your website like full ecommerce functionality, social media abilities and membership roles.

Plugins also permit you to personalize your website exactly the way you like. You will get deep within the weeds of Search engine optimization with Yoast Search engine optimization you are able to personalize your Analytics with Google Analytics plugins. You are able to run better advertisements &#8211 or Unicornify your site.

Marketing Tags

But beyond plugins, having a self-located site, you can include Javascript, which for a lot of companies is crucial to modern internet marketing. WordPress.com doesn’t allow Google Analytics scripts, Facebook remarketing tags or any kind of social discussing outdoors of WordPress.com’s built-in services.

WordPress.com Stats

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Around the switch-side, WordPress.com users also don’t need to bother about security or speed plugins. You do not need to bother about keeping plugins updated &#8211 or with online hackers targeting your installation.

Other Notes &amp Factors

One great factor about self-located WordPress and WordPress.com is they are generally WordPress-based.

This means that you are able to migrate content a lot more easily that you could originating from Blogger, Weebly, Wix or the other located website builder services. For those who have nothing but plenty of ideas, beginning having a free* WordPress.com account isn’t a bad choice whatsoever.

For that route, keep your lengthy-term goals close at hands. If you wish to build something you own &#8211 you’ll need a custom domain first of all. Any links, shares, etc &#8211 or “brand equity” that you will get for any yourdomain.wordpress.com would go to WordPress.com &#8211 not you.

Whenever you do migrate your articles, make certain that you simply keep your same URLs or implement redirects to assist Googlebot find and re-index your articles.

Around the flipside &#8211 if you’re using blogging platforms.net but end up jealous of WordPress.com’s services and community, you are able to consider installing the JetPack wordpress plugin.

JetPack for WordPress

JetPack is really a free wordpress plugin for self-located WordPress websites that attracts in several features normally meant solely for WordPress.com users. It’s a terrific way to obtain the best of all possible worlds, though JetPack isn’t for everybody.

Next Steps

If you’re truly buying a project &#8211 personal, business or else, you need to just setup yourself-located website with WordPress. You&#8217ll have more versatility at lower costs (even though you pay a little more for backups and security checks). I authored helpful tips for setup WordPress on your own.

If you’re focused exclusively on publishing, and wish the flexibility of WordPress but need anything else handled for you personally &#8211 go with WordPress.com. Note &#8211 that is why many big brands run their blog.brandname.com subdomain using blogging platforms.org. In either case &#8211 pay for any custom domain.

If you’re managing a hobby or small personal project with zero budget, then go ahead and get began with WordPress.com. Consider adding a custom domain and moving to some self-located site because it grows.

The publish WordPress.com versus. WordPress.org: Which If You Work With? made an appearance first on ShivarWeb.

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Beginner’s Guide To Advertising on Instagram Effectively

How To Advertise On Instagram

Instagram provides an active, visually striking social media community ideal for building your brand awareness. With the help of its parent company, Facebook, you can take advantage of incredible reach to talk directly to your target demographic with minimal networking efforts. Plus, take advantage of a powerful advertising engine to build single image, video and slideshow campaigns within minutes.

During this guide, we’ll walk you through the basic steps of creating an effective Instagram ad campaign to impress, engage, and expand your target audience. Enjoy!

Why Instagram

Instagram is, at its core, a mobile photo-sharing app. The initial goal of the service was to let users snap pictures on their smartphones and share them with others either privately or publicly. Today, it also supports videos up to one minute in length. If you decide to advertise on Instagram, you can choose either medium – photo or video – to spread your message.

As a social networking site, Instagram thrives on word of mouth – friends sharing content with friends, colleagues with colleagues, and so on. That makes the service perfect for spreading your message, since you can accrue a sort snow-ball effect directly contained to your target audience.

Despite being launched in 2010, Instagram has also already amassed over 600 million active users. That ranks Instagram as the seventh most popular social networking site in the world, making it a vibrant ecosystem within which to spread brand awareness.

At the top of the list, meanwhile, is Facebook, with nearly 1.9 billion active users, who acquired Instagram in 2012. The combined user data of both services makes it easier to target individuals more likely to react positively to your ad campaign.

Facebook capitalizes on this advantage by tightly integrating the advertising capabilities of both services into a single advertising platform.

The goal for most advertisers is to create a viral advertising campaign, and Instagram is the perfect vehicle to get that done.

How to Get Started Advertising on Instagram

To advertise on Instagram, you don’t necessarily need to set up an Instagram account. However, we’d recommend you do so, since by immersing yourself in the Instagram ecosystem, you’ll obtain a better idea of what works and what doesn’t, and how people interact. That knowledge, in turn, will help you create more effective Instagram ads.

For example, Instagram is a “mobile-first” ad platform. Ads need to have a certain feel to work well. Additionally, even though Instagram has been evolving in everyday use, people still expect certain types of content on Instagram over traditional direct response ads.

While you don’t need an Instagram account, though, you must set up a Facebook page for your business. Doing so shouldn’t cause any headaches, since Facebook has streamlined the process to only take a few minutes.

You first need to visit Facebook’s business site and click the “create a page” button.

Afterwards, you’ll be asked to select the type of page you want to create. Options include:

  • Local Business or Place
  • Company, Organization or Institution
  • Brand or Product
  • Artist, Band or Public Figure
  • Entertainment
  • Cause or Community

Selecting one option will lead to several more, like picking a business category (i.e., apparel, bar, tour agency) or product category (i.e., app, furniture, jewelry). You’ll also need to input your business, brand or product name.

After that you page appears online and active, although to attract an audience and effectively advertise you’ll need to spruce things up. These include adding a cover image, profile picture, and short page description. Plus, you’ll need to set a username to appear in your page’s URL, which will help customers remember how to get to your page.

We won’t touch on all the tips for creating an attractive Facebook business page here, since this article focuses on Instagram advertising.

Ads Manager vs Power Editor

Before you get started, it’s also helpful to have a general understanding of Facebook’s two advertising tools, Ads Manager and Power Editor.

Ads Manager stands as Facebook’s basic advertising campaign tool. It’s much simpler than Power Editor, which provides capabilities to create multiple campaigns, ad sets and ads. Power Editor also offers more advanced campaign tracking features than Ads Manager.

A good general rule of thumb is that if you’re new to advertising, or have relatively simply advertising needs and are working with small budget, go with Ads Manager. If you’re an experienced advertiser working with multiple brands or campaigns, pick Power Editor.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus mainly on Ads Manager. In part, that’s because if you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re new to advertising. Also, you need to set up your payment method through Ads Manager before rolling out a campaign via Power Editor, anyway.

Define Your Advertising Objective

With your Facebook page created, you can turn your attention towards your Instagram ad campaign.

First, you need to define your objective. Facebook categorizes advertising objectives as follows: awareness, consideration, and conversion.

The best way to think about these three objectives is as the path a potential customer follows. First, a potential customer must be aware of your brand. Only then can they seriously consider it. And, only after considering it will they decide to make a purchase, becoming an actual customer (conversion).

For each principal objective, Facebook defines several sub-objectives:

Objective Sub-Objective Description
Awareness Brand Awareness Increase general awareness of your brand
Local Awareness Promote your business to people geographically close
Reach Show your ad to as many people as possible
Consideration Traffic Send more people to another destination (like your ecommerce platform)
Engagement Promote engagement with your business (comments, shares, likes, etc.)
App Installs Send people to the app store
Video Views Promote videos to improve brand awareness
Lead Generation Collective contact information for people interested in your brand, services, product, etc.
Conversion Conversions Get people to take actions like making purchases
Product Catalog Sales Create adds that automatically display products from your product catalog
Store Visits Promote visits to nearby physical store locations

Since you’ll be using Facebook/Instagram to drive your campaign, its useful to think about advertising in their terms. During the ad creation flow that Ads Manager uses, you’ll be asked to select the objective that best applies to you.

Also, these terms that are used generally in online advertising. Knowing the lingo and the theory will help you generate more effective Instagram ad campaigns and improve them over time.

Define Your Target Audience

As mentioned, a huge advantage of using Instagram – or any social media service for that matter – to boost your business, brand or product reach lies in the user data accrued by the platform. Instagram and Facebook knows the sex, age and geographic location of their user base.

They also have extensive knowledge of their interests based on shares, likes, and page views.

Having a clear understanding of who it is that you want to sell to will help you leverage that knowledge. During the ad creation process, based on the objective you define, you’ll also have a chance to select attributes of your target audience.

Doing so improves reach by maximizing your advertising budget to only target those most likely to pay attention to your advertisement and take meaningful action, whether that means liking or sharing your ad, clicking through to visit your website, or initiating a conversion.

So, spend some time thinking about your target demographic, and spend some time researching them online. Take plenty of notes, which, ideally, will lead to a dossier that you can evolve alongside your business.

Create Your Campaign in Ads Manager

Armed with an understanding of your campaign objective and target demographic, you’re ready to create an actual ad.

Facebook Ads Manager segments the process into four stages, each with their own page, or stage:

  • Campaign: set ad objective
  • Ad Account: set currency and time zone
  • Ad Sets: define basic elements, like target audience, placements and budget
  • Ads: create your ad

Note that if you start the ad creation process from Instagram’s business advertising page, you’ll be redirected to Ads Manager on the Facebook site as soon as you click “Create.”

Next, we’ll digest each of the four Ads Manager stages so you can effectively use the process to your advantage.

Ads Manager Campaign Stage

At the top of the Campaign page, input the name of your campaign. Your customer base won’t see this name, as its purely for your management needs. However, it helps to make the title as descriptive as possible so you that if you wind up creating multiple campaigns, you won’t lose sight of what they are.

Next, pick your primary campaign objective. These are the same objectives we discussed earlier. You can only pick one, and each choice has consequences on the third stage of the process, Ad Sets.

Facebook Ads Manager

Don’t worry about getting stuck on this part. You’ll have the chance to change your objective at any time during the ad creation process, by clicking on the “Objective” link found in the Ad Manager’s left margin, under the “Campaign” header.

Once you’ve made your pick, scroll down and click the button that reads, “Create Ad Account.”

Ads Manager Ad Account Stage

The Ad Account page doesn’t require much thought. There are a few basic location fields you’ll need to set, and you’ll be asked to select a currency type.

Don’t rush through it though. Location information will be important if you’re trying to market based on geographic location. Currency impacts the type of payment options available to you, and you can only change your preferred currency once every 60 days, and if your campaign balance is zero.

Make your selections and click “Continue.”

Ad Manager Ad Set Stage

The Ad Set page lets you set elements related to your ad campaign. Elements in this page are broadly called “ad sets.” Which elements are available in the set depends on the objective you’ve defined for your campaign.

Here’s a general look at the ad sets for each objective.

Objective Ad Set
Brand Awareness Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
Local Awareness Page
Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
Reach Page
Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
Traffic Traffic
Offer
Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
Engagement Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
App Installs App
Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
Video Views Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedules
Lead Generation Page
Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
Conversions Conversions
Offer
Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
Product Catalog Sales Products
Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule
Store Visits Audience
Placements
Budget & Schedule

One of the key elements that each ad set includes is “Placements.” Placements is where you tell Facebook on what platforms you want to advertise. For this article, that at least includes Instagram.

Facebook Ad Placements

To make sure Instagram makes it into your ad campaign, scroll down to the Placements header on the Ad Set Page and selected “Edit Placements.” By default, Instagram should be selected.

If not, click the radio box associated with Instagram and make sure Instagram Feed is selected.

There’s also an option for Instagram Stories. Stories let users post photo/video slideshows that expire after 24 hours. If you advertise a lot, stories are a good way to make sure your content doesn’t overwhelm the feeds of Instagram users.

No matter what objective you’ve defined for your campaign, you should be able to advertise on the Instagram feed. Not all objectives let you choose Instagram Stories, though.

The Ad Set page happens to be where you’ll define your target demographic, too. All ad sets include the “Audience” element to perform this function.

Facebook Custom Audience

Spend some time playing around with the Ad Sets page before moving on by changing objectives and returning to it. Familiarizing yourself with settings based on objective will help you maximize the effectiveness of your Instagram campaign.

You’ll need to give each ad set a name at the top of the page, too. As with the ad campaign name, make sure that its specific and means something to you. The ad set name shows up in various reports later, and a descriptive name can help you analyze advertising data more quickly.

Ads Manager Ad Stage

With your objective and ad sets defined, it’s time to build your ad. This step is completed on the final Ads Manager page, the Ads page.

At the top of the page, you’ll select the type of ad you want.

AdsManager Ads SelectFormat

The types of ad campaigns are straightforward in their descriptions, although there are a few things you’ll want to be aware of:

  • Single Image Instagram Ad: lets you display up to six single image ads at no extra cost
  • Single Video Instagram Ad: lets you create a single video ad campaign
  • Carousel: lets you create an ad with two or more scrollable images/videos
  • Slideshow: lets you create a looping ad with up to ten images
  • Canvas: combine images and videos to create an immersive story about your brand. This ad format isn’t supported on Instagram feeds, so we won’t discuss it further here.

Since its key to creating an effective Instagram campaign, we’ll cover both required and ideal specifications for images and videos next, before returning to look more closely at creating ads of each type.

Image Requirements for an Instagram Campaign

The Ad Manager tool indicates that the recommended image size for ads is 1200 x 628 pixels. However, this applies only to Facebook. Instagram ad campaigns have different requirements that aren’t always fully detailed on the Ads page.

In general, you should go with a 1:1 images for Instagram ad campaigns, with a recommended image size of 1080 x 1080 pixels.

Instagram was popularized in part thanks to its distinctive square-image format. While landscape images are now supported, square images remain vogue because show up better on mobile devices than landscape images.

You can find exact specifications to design and optimize your ad campaign for Instagram in Facebook’s Ad Guide. These specifications are even listed by objective and platform.

Spend some time reviewing this guide to get an idea of what kind of image requirements your campaign will be restricted by. Having this information in hand will help you substantially if you plan on designing your own images or hiring a freelancer.

That said, here are the recommended specifications for effective photos in Instagram ads:

  • Recommended Image Ratio: 1:1
  • Recommend Image Size: 1080 x 1080 pixels
  • Recommended Caption Length: 125 characters (text only)

Another key restriction you need to be concerned with is that both Instagram restricts how much text an image used in advertisements can contain. Typically, the requirement is that no more than 20% of your image should be composed of text. Ads with too much text may result in decreased distribution, or even no distribution at all.

To help you determine if your image may result in decreased distribution, Facebook provides a tool with which to gauge text content in your images.

Video Requirements for an Instagram Campaign

There’s also a significant length difference for videos used in Instagram ads versus those used in Facebook ads. While Facebook video ads can range up to 120 minutes, Instagram videos can only be 60 seconds long.

Here are the recommended specifications for videos used in Instagram ads, as detailed in the Ad Guide:

  • Recommended Aspect Ratio: 1:1
  • Maximum Length: 60 seconds
  • Recommended Format: .mp4 (full list of supported formats)
  • Audio: Stereo ACC audio compression, 128kbps+ preferred
  • Recommended Caption Length: 125 characters (2,200 max)

Again, familiarize yourself with the requirements outlined in the Ad Guide before logging long hours developing video ad content or paying somebody else to do so.

Single Image and Single Video Ads

The process for creating single image and single video ads is similar on the Ad page, so we’ll examine the process in tandem.

Load Content

Content for single image and single video campaigns is loaded immediately following the campaign-type selection. When selecting images or video for an ad campaign, you’re given the option of picking content already associated with your Facebook page or loading content from your hard drive.

*Make sure you understand the law & licensing rules of commercial photo use.

For images, Facebook also supplies free stock photos courtesy of Shutterstock. You can search the Shutterstock library by keyword to find images most suited to your ad campaign.

AdsManager Stock Image Library

Most images in the Shutterstock library are landscape photographs. The Ads Management tool lets you automatically crop images to a 1:1 ratio to create the more visually effective Instagram ads. Auto-cropping can be performed by clicking on the “crop” icon found on the lower-right side of any loaded image.

Ads Manager Crop Image

There are no stock videos available, so you’ll need to create your own, hire a freelancer, or purchase a stock video directly through Shutterstock Footage or another website.

After you load your video, you can select a video thumbnail automatically generated by Ads Management. Be sure and choose an impactful thumbnail image like an action shot. This will increase the chance people watch.

You can also let Facebook automatically add captions to your video. In addition to using their speech-to-text capabilities to create captions, Facebook will review them for accuracy. Captions are a great way to enhance your video ad by letting people watch it without sound, including deaf people.

Alternatively, you can load you own captions using an SRT file.

Personalize and Preview Content

With your content loaded, it’s time to personalize your ad. Personalization options for single photo and single video ads are found at the bottom of the Ads page, and are identical for either type of campaign.

The first thing you need to do is make your Facebook page and Instagram account settings. You don’t need an Instagram account, though, since you can select your Facebook page to represented your business on Instagram.

Once make these two selections, you can preview your Instagram ad on the right side of the page by selecting “Instagram Feed” from the drop-down menu.

Ads Manager Personalize Ad

For single image ads, you can scroll through previews for however many photographs you selected for the ad (up to six). Single video ads only let you upload one video, so there’s only one preview – although the preview pane will show your video being played.

Above the Instagram ad, your Facebook page name and the words, “sponsored by” are displayed. Users will be able to click on that name to visit your Facebook page, which is why it important to make sure you’ve got a page optimized for your desired customer base and full of useful content.

Back on the left side of the Ad page are a few personalization options you won’t want to overlook. These include a text box to add a caption about your brand, business, or product, and a place to a URL link for your website (if you have one).

*Be sure to set your URL with UTM parameters so that you can track traffic effectively in Google Analytics.

Additionally, you can define a headline and website description, although these don’t appear in Instagram feed ads, just Facebook.

The final crucial personalization element is a call-to-action button. Facebook features a range of buttons to choose from. Be sure and pick one that fits your brand and matches the action you want people to take. For example, if you run a tour company, a “Book Now” call-to-action button makes sense. If you’re marketing an app, go with “Download.”

Carousel Ads

Carousel ads feature multiple images or videos, and let viewers manually scroll through them. They’re ideal for creating interactive ads that tell a visual story about your brand or product.

Load Content

Unlike with single image and single video campaigns, Carousel content is loaded near the bottom of the Ads page.

To load content, find the “Cards” header. Choose either the “Image” or “Video/Slideshow” button, and then click the “Select Image” or “Select Video” button.

You’ll need to load content for however many cards (or slides) your carousel includes. By default, that’s three, but you can have up to eight, or as few as two.

Ads Manager Carousel Cards

Content can come from either your Facebook page’s image library, or your hard drive. Unlike with single video ads, there’s not option to add a Shutterstock photo.

Personalize and Preview Content

Each card enhanced with a separate headline, description, URL, and call-to-action button.

Another useful option to maximize your Instagram campaign’s effectiveness lets you automatically show the best performing cards first.

As with single image and video campaigns, you’ll also need to set Instagram account before you can preview what it looks like on an Instagram Feed. Again though, you can pick your Facebook page as a proxy for an Instagram account.

These settings are made just above the “Cards” section. You’ll know your Instagram account settings are configured correctly because the preview pane for “Instagram Feed” on the right will display a preview of your Instagram Carousel ad.

Slideshow Ad Campaign

Slideshows are a bit like Carousel ads, except that they’re automated and can only use images. They’re ideal for telling an engaging story about your brand through photographs. As such, done properly, slideshow ads are perhaps the most effective Instagram advertising campaign.

Load Content

Slideshows can include up to ten images, which are loaded by clicking the “+” sign below the “Slideshow” header. Doing so opens a work pane.

Ads Manager Slide Show Create

Each image will display for one second during the slideshow by default. You can change the display time if you’d like by using the “Image Duration” drop down. The max delay available is five seconds, so the maximum length a slideshow can run for is 50 seconds.

If you can, go with shorter durations, though. The average person has an eight-second attention span, so there’s a good chance most viewers won’t make through a 50-second slideshow.

You can also a select an aspect ratio to apply to the entire slideshow. Remember that Instagram ad campaigns work best with 1:1 images, so we’d recommend you choose that as your aspect ratio.

A third option lets you add a fade effect to image transitions. This can help catch the eye of your audience, but some find it disruptive and off-putting if you’re using more than two or three images.

The slideshow work panel also has a “Music” tab. Use this to spruce your slideshow ad campaign with a prerecord track supplied by Facebook, or upload your own file. Be sure and only use music you have rights to use, or Facebook might penalize you for a DMCA violation.

Personalize and Preview Content

Once your slideshow has been created, you can personalize the ad further down the Ad page. Options available are identical to those for single image and video campaigns. Definite inclusions for an effective ad are the text box, website URL, and call-to-action button.

Once again, other options, like headline and news feed description, don’t display on Instagram ads. Use them only if you’re also launching a Facebook ad campaign.

To preview your slideshow, as with other ad types you first need to make sure you’ve connected your Instagram account, or assigned your Facebook page as a proxy. Once done, your slideshow will display on the right side of the page.

Launch and Monitor Your Campaign

Once your content has been loaded and personalized, you’re ready to launch your ad.

You can click the “Review Order” button first if you want to go over things one more time. When you’re ready to proceed, click the green “Place Order” button.

Launched, you can monitor the performance of your ad campaign through Ads Manager. Doing so will help you gauge its effectiveness, which in turn will help you create better campaigns later. Ads Manager also lets you compare the performances of multiple campaigns against one another.

With Ads reporting, you can customize the way data displays. That will let you focus on the data you deem most vital to your business’s success, such as shares or conversion rates.

Ads Manager even generates a “relevancy score” for ads once your ad has reached at least 500 impressions. The relevancy score is a measure of how well your target audience perceives your ad. The score is rated 1-10 (10 being good) and is based on activity like positive feedback.

A full accounting of the reporting options available via Ads Manger (and Power Editor, for that matter), would require an article of its own. We encourage you to become an expert in the reports and metrics that are tracked, since they’re key to improving your advertising performance on Instagram.

Facebook covers all the basics, here.

Next Steps & Additional Resources

Launching an Instagram ad campaign will help you grow your brand by letting you take advantage of one of the most popular, dynamic social network ecosystems available today. Instagram receives its fair share of active online consumers, covering a broad range of vital demographics.

However, approaching the task without proper planning and knowledge of the options and tools available will most likely result in your campaign falling flat.

Don’t let yourself get too intimidated, though. As we’ve shown, at its core, Facebook’s primary ad campaign tool, Ads Manager, benefits from a beautifully streamlined design. That design lets you focus on selecting relevant images and videos best designed to market your product or services.

Here are additional resources that have been highlighted in the weekly ShivarWeb newsletter –

  • Getting Started with Instagram Ads
  • 20 Instagram Ads Best Practices That Will Make You an Outstanding Marketer
  • I Spent Two Years Botting on Instagram — Here’s What I Learned

Here are additional resources on PPC advertising –

  • How To Advertise Your Website Online Effectively in 5 Steps
  • How To Improve Your Online Advertising Campaigns
  • Alternative PPC Ad Networks To Find New Audiences for Advertisers

Good luck!

 

The post Beginner’s Guide To Advertising on Instagram Effectively appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Shopify vs Square

shopify-vs-square
Square is probably the most comprehensive free mPOS app out there. It was really the first company to make card processing widely available to everyone using just a free card reader and a smartphone.

Shopify launched in 2006 as e-commerce software. Like Square and mobile payments, Shopify has made selling online much easier for merchants, especially those who are just starting out with their business.

Not only that, both companies have since branched out considerably. Square now offers a comprehensive suite of business products for merchants who want to sell in store, online, and on-the-go. And Shopify has branched out from e-commerce with a powerful POS system and its own payments service, so merchants don’t need to have a merchant account.

The result is that two services that started off catering to very different audiences now have very similar offerings. Square and Shopify both have powerful POS apps targeted for iPads, a mobile solution, and multiple e-commerce options. Both give you tools you need to run a brick-and-mortar shop beyond just a POS app. 

Their card processing rates are also identical, with a couple of important caveats. The first of these is that Square and its POS app, Square Register, are completely free, while Shopify will charge you a baseline monthly fee, plus the credit card fees, plus additional fees for add-ons. The second of these caveats is that if you opt for higher-priced packages, you can also get lower processing rates.

Square is still the better option for merchants who only process credit card payments sporadically (such as artists who vend at conventions and art shows), because there’s no monthly fee. If your e-commerce site only gets a little traffic and your sales are infrequent, you’re better off using Square as well. But if your online sales are good enough to justify the added cost, Shopify has some very nice features and stunning themes for your store.

So what if you sell online and in-store, or on the go? The answer isn’t quite as clear-cut.

As a merchant, which one should you choose? Which service is the better value? Which has the best features? That depends largely on your own particular situation. Read on for a detailed comparison and find out which service comes out on top in the Shopify vs. Square debate.

Products and Services:

Winner: Shopify

Bear with me, but there’s a LOT to discuss here. Let’s look at each of the core offerings — POS app, payment processing, and e-Commerce, and see how they stack up individually.

POS App

Shopify’s POS used to be strictly for iOS, but as of January 2016, the app is now available for Android smartphones and tablets, too. Square, too, supports your choice of Android and iOS devices. However, to make the best use of either app, you need an iPad, as many of the best features are only available there. You’ll also find that you can use the app on any number of devices without needing to pay for additional license fees (but you won’t be able to differentiate among employees without paying for that feature).

Shopify POS Features:

  • Accept all forms of payment: Credit card, debit card, cash, check, and other customized payment methods — even Bitcoin.*
  • Split tender: This is useful and you can actually accept more than just 2 payment forms on a transaction.
  • Discounts: Apply discounts on individual items or on the whole order, by percentage or dollar amount.
  • Store credit: The only fault with the store credit option is that there’s really no accountability in it. You can simply mark a payment as paid via store credit, with no need for proof of it at all. Still, this is a useful feature.
  • Reporting: Track sales, compare how products are selling, monitor traffic to your store, customer data, and more. With the higher-tiered plans you can even built custom reports. Data can be exported to CSV, as well.
  • Item limits: The limit on the number of items you can include in Shopify POS depends on which device you’re running the app from. Also note that you can choose to hide or delete items depending on what you need. However, your Shopify store can have unlimited items and you don’t need to sync them all with your POS unless you want to. (It’s worth noting that you can’t actually make updates to items in Shopify POS, only through the browser interface.)
  • Item variants: Set different colors/styles/pricing for your various items.
  • Syncing: Shopify automatically syncs inventory and product information across all your sales channels.
  • Email/print receipts: Send digital receipts, or if you have an iPad and Shopify’s retail package, print them out.
  • Inventory: Shopify’s inventory features are pretty impressive. In addition to tracking your stock levels across every channel where you sell, you can print barcodes, manage products you order from suppliers and automatically update inventory counts, and more. You won’t get low-stock alerts without an add-on, though.
  • Employee accounts: In a retail setup, knowing who is ringing up sales is especially important. With Shopify’s retail package, you can assign individual staff PINs, track register shifts and sales, and more.
  • Invoicing: Shopify actually has a simple form you can fill out to auto-generate an invoice. You can email it to customers, save it, or print it out.
  • Full/partial refunds: Issue a refund or issue store credit.
  • Gift cards (iPad only): You can only get gift cards if you opt for the Standard plan or higher. However, you can sell physical and digital gift cards.
  • Offline capabilities: You can’t log in during an outage, but if you are already logged in you can still accept payments other than credit cards. This is very limited functionality, but it could get you through an outage mostly fine.
  • Auth-capture: You can pre-authorize a transaction for 7 days in Shopify, which isn’t the longest period of time we’ve seen, but absolutely workable if you need this feature.
  • Tax rate calculation: Shopify will auto-detect your tax rate based on your store’s location (if using the POS), or based on your shipping zones for eCommerce. Shopify doesn’t calculate tax for international orders. However, Shopify does generate tax reports for you if you have Shopify Standard or higher. You can also set up tax overrides for entire collections of products or individual products (or product variants, such as digital books vs print editions). Just remember to confirm that Shopify’s tax rate is correct when you get started.
  • Loyalty programs: This is not a native feature to Shopify. If you want a loyalty program, you’ll have to start looking at apps in the Shopify ecosystem and find one that works for you. There’s at least 1 free program, but the more advanced systems will cost you more.

*Shopify POS lets you connect external terminals and third-party payment providers, which may cost you more. 

Square Register Features: 

  • Accept credit card payments: You can also log cash and check transactions, but this feature isn’t nearly as robust as Shopify’s.
  • Split Tender: Accept cash and card, or cash and check, or check and card.
  • Discounts: Apply discounts on individual items or on the whole order, by percentage or dollar amount.
  • Reporting: Square’s reporting features are pretty solid, but they’re not quite on the same level as Shopify’s. Still, Square’s reporting will cover all the basics and does have some advanced filters so you can customize the data.
  • Item variants: Set different colors/styles/pricing for your various items.Square prefers to call these “price points” and you can track them in inventory. You can also add item modifiers, which are add-ons that don’t affect your inventory counts, though restaurants are far more likely to use this feature than retail shops.
  • Syncing: Square’s inventory feature will automatically sync across your online store and Square Register, and you can view it in the online dashboard.
  • Low-stock alerts: Square will send you daily email alerts for low- or out-of-stock products. Being able to get a daily alert is very useful for busy merchants, especially because Square lets you set the threshold for low-stock alerts.
  • Email/SMS/print receipts: Send digital receipts via email or SMS, or if you have an iPad, print them.
  • Inventory: Square has a solid free inventory management system, but you can also integrate with Stitch Labs and other inventory services.
  • Employee accounts:You can use Square on any number of devices, but if you want employee accounts, multiple permissions, and timekeeping, you’ll need to sign up for Square’s employee management ($5 per employee per month)
  • Invoicing: Send invoices from within Square Register or online.
  • Full/partial refunds: Pretty self explanatory here.
  • Gift cards: No subscription required, no redemption fees. Just pay the cost of the cards themselves, and load them up on demand. Note these are physical cards only, but you can use them online.
  • Offline capabilities: Square’s Offline Mode is actually one of the most powerful I’ve seen. You can still process credit cards during an outage, and they’ll go through so long as you connect to the Internet within 72 hours. The caveat, of course, is that you’re assuming responsibility for any transactions that don’t go through.
  • Tax features: You can disable or enable tax collection with Square, and set price to include tax, or have it added on separately. As with Shopify, you can enable or disable tax on specific items. However, there’s no auto-detect feature, so you need to manually look up your applicable tax rates.
  • Loyalty programs: For $25/month you can add a punch-based customer loyalty program. All consumers have to do is opt for a digital receipt. You can set the purchase requirements to earn a reward (Which could be a free item or a discount). It’s not the most advanced system, but it’s still pretty flexible.

Square also has a host of features/subscription services targeting restaurants and other service-based companies, none of which you’ll find in Shopify. This includes kitchen ticket printing, adding tip (by percentage or dollar amount), appointment booking, delivery services, and much more.

All in all, though, the two POS systems are about evenly matched. Shopify is more robust in most areas, such as its support for many payment methods and store credit, whereas Square shines with the simple things, like supporting SMS receipts as well as email, low-stock alerts, and its offline mode.

Card Processing

Shopify and Square are both aggregators — that means, when you sign up to process payments through either of them, you don’t get your own merchant account; your transactions are simply lumped in with everyone else’s. Shopify actually processes through Stripe Payments.

Aggregating is what has lead to the common complaints you get about Square holding funds or terminating accounts at random. Shopify generally appears to be more stable, which is good given that Stripe also has a reputation for funding holds and account terminations. However, I was still able to find a few complaints about account holds — I wouldn’t say Shopify is immune, but it does a lot better on the stability front. Most of those holds happen when merchants suddenly fall within Shopify’s requirements for 1099-K reporting.

We’ll look at specific processing rates later on, but for now, here’s what you need to know:

Shopify will let you use its Payments service at no extra charge beyond your swipe fees and monthly service charges. If you choose to use a third-party gateway (PayPal, Braintree, your own merchant account, etc.), you’ll be charged an extra 0.5-2% transaction fee. Note that you get a choice of more than 70 gateways, which is quite impressive. There’s no charge at all for accepting cash, check, or alternative payment methods (such as Bitcoin) using the POS app.

Square will lock you into using its service for payments. You’ll pay standard rates for credit card processing, and nothing for accepting cash and check. However, you can’t set up any other alternative payment methods and log them using Square (unless you want to mark them as cash/check).

Shopify has the advantage in terms of sheer versatility. I like that you can process through a third party and even connect terminals and PIN pads (allowing you to get interchange rates for debit, if your processor offers them), but a 2% transaction fee is high, especially for a small merchant. However, if you don’t need all the bells and whistles, Square is a solid option for payments. You’re covered for all the basics and you know exactly what you’re going to pay for each transaction, every time.

Both Shopify and Square now have APIs that allow you to build payment processing into your own apps as well.

eCommerce

Shopify started as an eCommerce product, and it’s stayed true to that idea with robust shopping cart software and an easy-to-use design that even newbies to selling online can handle. Features include:

  • Hosted site: Shopify provides hosting for your site with unlimited bandwidth and unlimited products.
  • Domains: Use your shopify hosted domain only, purchase a domain through Shopify and set up a redirect, use an existing domain with a redirect, or buy your own domain and set up the redirect. There are a lot of options.
  • Buy buttons: Even if you don’t have shopping cart software set up on a site, you can use Shopify’s buy buttons to enable purchases on the web, or in an app, or via email with the Buy Button feature.
  • Sell on social media: With Shopify you can set up a store directly on Facebook, and also sell on Twitter and Pinterest.
  • Abandoned cart recovery: Millennials are especially guilty of cart abandonment but with this feature, you can win them back. Only available for Shopify Standard and up.
  • Store migration: Making a switch? Use one of Shopify’s third-party add-ons to migrate your store from eBay, Amazon, and Magento without having to manually upload all of your products.
  • Import/export via CSV: Add your products to your store using Shopify’s CSV template.
  • Automatic data sync: Inventory is automatically updated and synced across all your sales channels, including your POS and social media.
  • Reporting: We’ve mentioned this already, but it bears repeating that you get some solid reporting features and can separate data by sales channel.
  • Order management: Shopify has some comprehensive order management tools that work in the app as well as through the dashboard. You can also get integrations to help with it.
  • Third-party integrations: There are a LOT of integrations out there for Shopify (just check out the app store). Some are free, some will cost you. But in addition to your standard accounting, inventory, and order management integrations, you can opt for a Fulfillment by Amazon integration and recurring billing/layaway services.
  • Discounted postage rates: Postage can be one of the biggest expenses for online shop owners, but if you print your postage through Shopify, you can get a discount. The higher-tiered packages give bigger discounts.
  • Many themes: Design-wise, Shopify gives you a huge selection of store themes and you can even customize them further if you have programming knowledge.

Square’s eCommerce support initially felt more like an after-thought. It was very limited, but lately the company has really expanded its offerings, which makes me happy.

  • Hosted site: Square will give you a webstore on its own domain. This feature is pretty limited, but it’s a great starter site and there’s no monthly cost.
  • Domains: You can also integrate your store with Weebly, Bigcommerce, or Ecwid. 
  • Import/export via CSV: Get your online store loaded up quickly, or update your inventory counts en masse. Also helpful for migrating stores.
  • Automatic data sync: Inventory is automatically updated and synced across your online store and the Register POS.
  • Reporting: All of your data is available and can be downloaded from the Square dashboard.
  • Third-party integrations: Square’s list of integrations includes some robust inventory and order management tools. There’s a custom API you can use to create your own.
  • Order management: You can manage your orders through Square’s online dashboard, but not in the app. Integrations can extend the functionality.

Shopify offers far more eCommerce features, but it’ll be interesting to see what Square does in the future. It’s also worth mentioning that if you opt to integrate your existing site with Square, you’re going to get the benefits of whatever shopping cart software you choose, so even if Square lacks a feature you need, you might be able to get it another way.

Compatible Hardware:

Winner: Shopify

Both Square and Shopify offer a range of hardware options, from free credit card readers to full-fledged retail kits with everything you need for a conventional register setup.

At the very least, you’re going to need a card reader to use with your smartphone or tablet. You have a couple different options there:

Shopify Card Reader Options:

  • Magstripe reader: Free
  • EMV/NFC reader: $129 (retail: $149)
  • Lightning magstripe reader: $99 (includes charging capabilities)
  • Third party terminals and PIN pads: $199 and up

Square Card Reader Options: 

  • Magstripe reader: Free
  • EMV/Magstripe reader: $29
  • EMV/NFC reader: $49 (includes free magstripe reader)
  • EMV/NFC reader with PIN pad: $129 (iOS only)

That’s just for the basic setup for smartphones or tablet. If you happen to have an iPad, you can take advantage of both services’ more advanced features (such as receipt printing), but you’ll need more hardware. Both provide ready-to-go retail bundles that you can use to set up your register.

Shopify Retail Kit

A bundled, ready-to-go retail kit from (excluding your tablet) costs $779. That includes:

  • iPad stand (retail price $129)
  • Bluetooth receipt printer ($399)
  • 16-inch cash drawer ($139)
  • EMV/NFC card reader ($139).

You can also purchase each piece of hard hardware separately, but buying the bundle will save you about $25. Other available hardware includes:

  • Barcode reader ($229/$399)
  • Barcode dock ($79)
  • Barcode printer ($119)
  • EMV/NFC reader dock ($39)
  • Cash drawers ($139-$349)

Square Retail Kit 

Square offers a few options for retail kits that range from $486 to $659, depending on your tablet (it even offers kits for select Android tablets. The iPad Air kit, which is $659, includes the following:

  • Square stand ($99)
  • USB receipt printer ($299)
  • Bundle of receipt paper ($49)
  • 16-inch cash drawer ($229).

Note that doesn’t include an EMV-compliant card reader (the Square Stand has a basic built-in magstripe reader), which will add $29 to $129 to the cost, depending on which EMV reader you want. You can add an iPad Air for $399, as well.

Something worth noting is that Square does not officially support bar code printers, whereas Shopify does. Some Square users have had luck with a Dymo printer, but there’s absolutely no guarantee.

Other available hardware includes:

  • Barcode scanner ($199)
  • EMV/NFC reader dock ($29)

Square actually offers a selection of both wireless and Ethernet-based receipt printers, as well as a kitchen receipt printer, and multiple cash drawers. With Shopify, there’s only one receipt printer but you do get multiple cash drawers.

It really comes down to your person needs. I like that Shopify’s kit includes an EMV card reader by default, because it is very important for businesses to transition over to accepting the new chip cards. It’s a nice thought that Square includes receipt paper, but I think an EMV reader is a lot more important.

Fees and Rates:

Winner: Square

At first glance, Shopify and Square appear to have identical pricing: 2.7% for swiped transactions and 2.9% + $0.15 for online transactions. Simple, right?

However, that doesn’t account for Shopify’s monthly fee or its retail add-on package, or the transaction fees if you choose another payment processor. Depending on which features you need, the cost of Shopify can really start to add up over time, especially with add-ons. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you should look closely at your budget and projected sales to see if you can justify the expense.

Square Fees

Square will charge you $0 in monthly fees, PCI compliance, etc. You will pay nothing beyond the credit card transaction fees unless you opt for one of the add-on services (appointment booking, email marketing, employee time management/payroll). It really, really is that simple.

  • Credit card fees: 2.7% swiped, 3.5% + $0.15?? keyed, 2.9% + $0.30 eCommerce.

Shopify Fees

There are four Shopify plans. As you can expect, with higher-tiered plans, you get a greater number of features. Check out the Shopify pricing page for a full breakdown of features:

Shopify Lite ($9/month) 

  • Facebook store
  • Buy buttons
  • Shopify POS
  • Invoicing
  • 24/7 support
  • Credit card rates: 2..7% swiped, 2.9% + $0.30 eCommerce

Shopify Basic ($29/month)

  • 2 staff accounts
  • 24/7 support
  • Online store + blog
  • Discount codes
  • Fraud analysis
  • Sell on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest
  • Credit card rates: 2..7% swiped, 2.9% + $0.30 eCommerce

Shopify Standard ($79/month)

  • Everything in Shopify Basic
  • 5 staff accounts
  • Professional reports
  • Gift cards
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Credit card rates: 2.6% + $0.30 per online and 2.4% for swiped transactions,

Shopify Advanced: $299/month

  • Everything in Shopify Standard
  • 15 staff accounts
  • Advanced report builder
  • Real-time carrier shipping
  • Credit card rates: 2.4% + $0.30 for online/2.2% swiped.

The plan I really want to draw your attention to is Shopify Lite. If you are just starting out, this is the most affordable option, and you can still sell online via Facebook or your own site (or even Tumblr). If you find that Shopify is right for you, you can upgrade to the Basic or Standard plans. If that’s still too much of an expense, or you want a hosted eCommerce site without paying for it, you’re better off with Square.

For large businesses, there’s Shopify Plus, which is the company’s enterprise solution with custom pricing based on your volume and features.

Shopify Retail Package 

If you want to track staff shifts and run a proper register setup with receipt printers and other hardware on your Shopify POS, it won’t come cheap. You need the Retail Package, which will give you individual PINs for your staffers and allow you to use hardware and integrations for $40/month.

This is where it’s worth doing the math. Square doesn’t charge you for using add-on hardware. But it will charge you for employee management (timekeeping and staff IDs). That’s $5/employee monthly, so if you have more than 8 employees, Shopify winds up being the better value, if we’re just counting the retail package, not the monthly fee.

Shopify Transaction Fees

We’ve already covered what you’ll pay if you use Shopify payments to process credit cards. (Note: there’s no fee at all for cash, check, or alternative payment methods). But what if you already have a credit card processor and just need an eCommerce solution and mobile processing? Shopify will let you do that!

It’ll just cost you.

Let’s say you’ve got a great interchange-plus plan where you’re actually getting the very low debit interchange rates. You’ve got a PIN pad so your customers can process cards as debit.

First of all, you need to have the Retail package — so that’s $40 plus whatever Shopify plan you have. You’ll pay your credit card processor whatever they normally charge, and then an additional percentage to Shopify.

  • Shopify Basic: 2%
  • Shopify Standard: 1%
  • Shopify Advanced: 0.5%

So that’s a lot to consider. I highly encourage you to do the math and figure out where the best deal lies for you!

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

Winner: Tie

Square has no contracts what so ever. Everything is pay-as-you-go, with all of its add-ons on a monthly subscription. You can even try each service out for 30 days, no charge.

Shopify is a monthly service. You can pay for an annual package and save some money per-month, but otherwise there are no contracts or obligations. You can get a 14-day trial, no credit card required.

Either way, there’s no long-term commitment, which is a serious advantage.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

Winner: Tie

Overall, Square and Shopify are both very transparent as far as their sales and advertising go. There’s no hidden fees, no contracts, no sneaky auto-renewal clauses. I like the resources that both companies put out — blog posts on topics that merchants should be aware of, and tips for helping their businesses thrive. This is important, especially when serving small businesses. We live in the information age, and yes, content is king. You should absolutely expect this out of any service you use — especially in the payments space. Educated merchants make for better customers.

Both are doing very well on the social media front as well, with active Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages, as well as dedicated Twitter support channels (@SqSupport and @ShopifySupport, respectively).

This is exactly what we like to see. You know exactly what you’re paying for, you know all of the terms, and you know what you’re getting. Best of all, you can move on whenever you’re ready.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

Winner: Shopify

Shopify is the clear winner in this category. No matter what Shopify plan you have, you get 24/7 access to the support team, which is astounding. Not only that, but the support team’s overall reputation is quite good, with timely responses and helpful answers. I also like that Shopify’s knowledge base is incredibly detailed. You should be able to get answers to a lot of the questions you’ll have without having to get anyone on the line. You can also get email, live chat, and phone support. There’s a community forum, and Shopify will even help pair you with experts who will help you complete your project. This is a convenient way to get up and running if you have more capital but not a lot of time or know-how — expect to pay for these experts’ time and insights.

Square…well, if you check out our Square review, you’ll see what others have said. While the company has made major strides to improve, it’s far from perfect. That said, Square’s knowledgebase is astounding. As with Shopify, unless you’re dealing with a complex, account-specific problem, you’ll be able to find an answer without having to contact one. You can get phone support, but you’ll have to get a code first. Otherwise, it’s email only to contact Square directly. It’s also interesting to note that Square just added a user forum where merchants can connect. I expect to see this feature take off soon.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Winner: Shopify

Square’s complaints fall into two categories, mostly: account holds/terminations and bad customer support. The issues are related, too: merchants find out their accounts have been shut down or funds are being held until additional verification is required, and run into a brick wall when it comes to support and getting the matter resolved. We’ve seen an overall improvement on this front, but these are no minor concerns. (Another concern we’ve seen a lot of recently is faulty EMV hardware, but Square is generally good about replacing it.)

The complaints about Shopify are far different. One of the biggest complaints is that you can’t get a hosted payment page — any time customers complete a purchase they’re directed to checkout.shopify.com, which may drive off some potential buyers, who are understandably wary. Another common complaint is the difficulty of learning Shopify’s programming language, Liquid. If you want to make code-level tweaks to your site you are much better off hiring a Shopify expert. Something else that comes up quite often is that many of the apps and integrations available through Shopify aren’t free. This isn’t surprising, but it can be understandably frustrating for merchants, especially those who are just starting out.

We have found a few complaints about Shopify holding merchants funds, but nowhere near on the scale of Square or even Stripe, through which Shopify processes payments.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

Winner: Shopify

Most of the positive chatter you will find about Square comes from the Reviews page, or big news publications (linked to on said page). From general user chatter, merchants love how easy it is to get started, the fact that all of the core features are free, and the overall ease of use. The fact that it offers an EMV reader for just $29 is amazing when most hardware runs upward of $100 is nice, especially for merchants who are just starting out, and the offline mode can be very useful.

With Shopify, people also rave about the ease of use. The fact that you have so many gorgeous themes to choose from with your online store is a major advantage. The rates are competitive (especially if you use Shopify Payments), and with the higher-tiered plans you get some really great features especially. But even the basic plans have everything you need.

Final Verdict:

Winner: Shopify

It’s difficult to say unequivocally that Shopify or Square is better than the other. Shopify does have many more advantages than Square — more robust POS app and eCommerce features, round-the-clock customer service, and less of a reputation for holds. But that doesn’t mean that Square isn’t a good choice for some merchants. Especially for new merchants, Square makes a LOT of sense.

Let’s look at a few key factors that will influence your decision:

Cost: Square is by far the less expensive service, especially if you are just starting out. If your online sales or in-person credit card payments are infrequent, Square’s pay-as-you-go plan with no monthly fee is ideal. As your cash flow improves, and business steadies, it makes more sense to invest the cash in tools that will make managing your business easier (and less time-consuming!).

Features: Square Register is easily the most robust free mPOS app out there. But that’s among free apps. Shopify isn’t free, and when you look at the feature sets, it’s pretty clear why. You’ll get more features suited to growing eCommerce and retail businesses than you would with Square. If you are doing steady business, you should absolutely consider upgrading if the features work for you.

Add-Ons and Integrations: How do you run your business? Do you print barcodes for every product? If not, the fact that Shopify supports barcode printers and scanners is probably irrelevant to you. But what other services do you use for your business? Both Shopify and Square offer a custom API that you can use to integrate if you have the technical know-how, but if you don’t, which one has a greater selection of ready-to-go integrations that suit your business? Keep in mind that Shopify’s app store is full of a huge selection of free and paid integrations that can do everything from help you migrate your inventory from eBay to Shopify to setting up layaway plans.

Level of Support: Hands-down, you will get better customer support from Shopify than Square. You can contact them 24/7 by email, phone, and live chat, whereas Square only offers email and phone (during limited hours and only with a code). Both have community forums and pretty respectable knowledge bases, so most of the basic technical questions may not ever require contacting a support person. It also bears mentioning that Shopify allows you to connect with experts who can get you set up, or take your business to the next level. If having someone you can reach at any time with questions is of the utmost importance to you, then Shopify is the obvious solution. If you’re the go-it-alone type, Square should do you just fine.

I hope this has helped you understand some of the big differences between Shopify and Square! They look quite similar at first glance, but when you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find they both have so much to offer. You absolutely need to consider costs when making the choice, but keep in mind your long-term goals and the features you are most interested in pursuing.

Have experience with either or both of these services? We’d love to hear from you, too! Leave a comment! And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us!

The post Shopify vs Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Square VS Vend

Square-vs-Vend
Finding a robust POS app that is also affordable is basically like ordering a really delicious cupcake with just the right amount of icing. Finding one that has mobile support and an integrated eCommerce store? Well, that’s akin to the holy grail for new and small business owners.

Vend is something a bit unconventional in the POS space. Its POS app is entirely browser-based, powered by HTML. That means you can run it on both Windows and Mac computers — as well as iPads! Everything is stored in the cloud, meaning you can access your information everywhere. There’s also an integrated eCommerce store, and integrated payments.

Square is best known for its mobile payments app, which lets anyone accept credit card payments with just a smartphone and card reader. But the real advantage to Square is a powerful, completely free POS app — and an entire ecosystem of business products that can help entrepreneurs exceed. Everything is stored in the cloud, as well. And did we mention you can sell on Square’s marketplace or through pretty much any other shopping cart software, too?

All of this sounds great, right? Good.

Vend will charge you a monthly fee for its POS. There are multiple subscriptions depending on what features you need. You have a limited selection of payment processors (at least for retail setups) with no transaction fees, and a simple, but functional, eCommerce setup (if you opt for the mid-tier plan).

Square is entirely pay-as-you-go. The POS is free — you pay only the processing fees, plus a monthly fee for whatever a la carte services you choose to add on. eCommerce support is entirely free beyond processing fees — you can use Square’s hosted solution or integrate with something else.

Both services have all three core offerings: a retail setup with a solid POS, mobile capabilities, and eCommerce setups. But as you’ll see, both have different core strengths. I highly encourage you to think about where most of your business comes from and evaluate which features are most important. Then crunch the numbers and look for the most cost-effective strategy.

Read on to see how Square and Vend match up on core features, extra services, cost, support, and more!

Products and Services:

Winner: Tie

Square and Vend are both omni-channel commerce solutions. They’re integrated so well that you can sell pretty much anywhere and keep all of your sales data and inventory in one centralized dashboard. Let’s take a look at how each of the 3 sides of Square’s products (the POS app, payments, and eCommerce solutions) match up. We’ll also take a look at the integrations and extra services available.

POS App

Sometimes I am genuinely shocked that Square doesn’t charge at all for its POS app (and a bit disappointed that it won’t let you use the app with a different payment gateway). It is without question the most robust free mobile POS (mPOS) out there. While it’s definitely friendly to both iPhones and Android devices, you get the most functionality out of an iPad. This is especially important in a retail setup.

Vend’s core offering is its POS — it’s taken the easy path toward integrating payments and eCommerce as well. So its app really is the biggest draw. Here’s the thing, though: I have a hard time really calling Vend “mobile friendly.” Since the POS is primarily browser-based, it runs on Windows and Mac computers. There is also an iPad-exclusive POS app — no Android, not even iPhone. That said, you can absolutely make do with an iPad as your mobile solution for pop-up shops or booths at events. I just don’t think Vend is really designed with mobile as a priority.

Square POS App Features:

  • Unlimited registers and up to 75 locations: Note: if you want to track individual employees, you’ll need to add the employee management subscription. But if you don’t need that individual data, this feature is free.
  • User permissions: This is fully customizable — you determine the role and what features they can use. But you have to be using Square’s Employee Management system. Otherwise, it’s all default.
  • Credit card payments: Accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express at 1 flat rate.
  • Transaction records: Record cash and check as well as accepting cards. This still allows you to take advantage of the customer database and loyalty program features.
  • Split tender: Accept cash and card in one transaction.
  • Inventory: Square’s inventory feature is basic, but it does allow you to keep track of stock levels in-store and online. Square will send you low-stock alerts and let you set your own threshold for them. Square also integrates with Stitch Labs for more comprehensive inventory support.
  • Import/Export via CSV: Populate your online and retail stores with products in one go.
  • Product Variants and Add-Ons: Technically, Square calls variants “price points” — but the point is the app supports them. You can also add item modifiers, which are essentially add-ons.
  • Email/SMS/print receipts: Your choice (and your customers’, too).
  • Full and partial refunds: Self-explanatory.
  • Gift cards: Order your own custom designs. There’s no redemption fees or activation fees. You only pay processing fees if the gift card is purchased on a card.
  • Offline mode: Square’s offline mode is pretty unique. Most “offline” functions for POS apps allow you to accept cash only — no cards. But with Square you can swipe a card as normal, and as long as you reconnect to the net within 72 hours, the transaction will go through. The caveat is that you eat the cost of any declined transactions.
  • Sales tax and tip: Square’s sales tax feature is basic, but very functional. Toggle sales tax collection on or off and set multiple rates as necessary, if you are selling in multiple locations or move around. You can also enable tips, which is something Vend does not support.
  • Loyalty program: Square’s loyalty program (add-on for $25/month per location) works by giving either free items or percentage discounts. The system is tied to the customer’s mobile number.
  • Reporting: Square won’t give you the advanced reporting of a full-scale POS but it does pretty well in this category.
  • Customer-facing display: This is a beta feature, but one that puts Square closer to full-fledged POS systems.
  • Customer database: Square’s customer database isn’t quite as advanced as you’ll find with more expensive CRM software, but it’s definitely worth looking into, and it’s improving all the time. In addition to the loyalty program, there’s a feedback feature and custom segmentation, and it links directly with Square’s email marketing service (starts at $15/month).
  • Special Offers: Send automated email campaigns linked from your customer database if you use Square’s email marketing.

Vend POS App Features:

  • Sell through one or multiple outlets: While multi-outlet support will cost you more (a point we’ll come back to), you can get a boatload of features that will make managing each location easier.
  • User Permissions: You can choose from pre-set roles with limited customization, but this is an entirely free service.
  • Accept Credit Card Payments: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express through one of Vend’s partners. You can also use non-integrated solutions through another payment processor if you choose.
  • Record cash payments: No check support, though.
  • Split tender: Accept cash and card.
  • Inventory: Vend has options to help you manage your stock orders in the dashboard as well.
  • Import/Export via CSV: Vend allows barcode printing, too.
  • Product variants: The POS technically supports 3 types of products: Standard, Variant, and Composite. Standard products are individual items with no other versions. Variants are products such as clothing, which come in different colors and sizes. Vend’s system allows you to create 3 modifiers per item. Composite products are those assembled from your inventory into a grouping — such as gift baskets. You cannot have separate inventory for composite products; it’s based on inventory for your other products.
  • Parked sales: This lets you save ticket in the POS and pull it up later, which is useful.
  • Price Books: You can create different price books for different stores, or for promotions, or for loyalty customers, or for whatever other reason you want. In Square, the best way to accomplish this is by setting individual item modifiers, so Vend is definitely far more functional.
  • Full and partial refunds: Self-explanatory. You can also do exchanges, a feature not available with Square.
  • Email or customizable print receipts: Your choice.
  • Store credit: This is a new feature, still in beta, but I would expect to see it roll out to everyone soon. Unlike Shopify, which lets you issue store credit but doesn’t have a proper way to track it, Vend’s store credit feature lets you keep track of it in your customer database. Currently this feature integrates with Xero, but not QuickBooks Online.
  • Gift cards: Gift cards work in store and online, but you can’t order them from Vend the way you can with many others (including Square).
  • Offline mode: Vend has an offline feature — but like Shopify and many other POS systems, it really only lets you accept cash payments and record sales. No credit card sales. In addition, you have to be signed in before the outage, and in offline mode has limited features. That said, it will get you through an outage mostly OK if you can survive on cash alone.
  • Sales tax: There’s no tip feature in Vend at all. However, its sales tax features are pretty advanced. You can set a single tax rate for everything, or create groups of tax rates. You can also set tax by location. The one flaw I see in the system is that creating tax rates doesn’t apply them to any existing products in your store. If you’ve already loaded products into your store, you’ll need to open up those products and modify the tax settings.
  • Loyalty program: Vend’s loyalty program is very simple, based on a dollars-for-dollars system. Spend so much and earn so many dollars to spend.
  • Reporting: Vend has some pretty advanced reporting — you can generate pre-populated reports or create your own custom ones.
  • Layaway program: This is included at no charge, with no integration required.
  • Customer-facing screen: A useful feature available at no-extra charge. You can only have one register linked to a display, but you can link multiple displays to one register.
  • Customer database: Obviously the database is good for having a loyalty program, With Vend, it’s possible to segment databases by groups and even create different price books for them (such as rewarding particularly loyal customers with special offers). Vend’s API can link it to another CRM if you want. Note that Vend doesn’t have its own email marketing service; you have to integrate with another.

While Square’s app is incredibly robust for an mPOS, it’s still not quite quite on par with a full-fledged POS like Vend. You’ll get an incredible array of features, but if you are looking for some highly advanced, retail-specific capabilities — like store credit and layaway, you should look more toward Vend. Of course, Square also supports more service-based companies with many of its features, notably restaurants. And you get a lot of integrated services in a single place (email marketing, loyalty program, even timekeeping and payroll). They’ll cost you more than just the processing fees, obviously, but the convenience of everything being consolidated in one place, with a single log-in and no need to bother with importing/exporting data, certainly can’t be overlooked.

eCommerce

As my fellow writer, Jordan, noted in her review, Vend’s eCommerce offering is basic. It was something added later, and so it’s not as refined as the POS system. You get everything you need to run a web store in tandem with your retail setup, but it’s not feature rich by any stretch. Here’s what you get:

  • Free hosting
  • Free domain (or bring your own)
  • Multiple responsive themes to choose from
  • HTML and CSS support
  • Integrate with Shopify’s eCommerce store for greater functionality (and higher cost)
  • Inventory sync across retail and online stores
  • Customer accounts (can be linked to customer profiles in database)
  • Sales and promotions through Vend price books
  • Social media integrations
  • Integrated reporting features
  • Flexible shipping
  • Customizable tax settings
  • Pay Later (to support ACH or in-store cash payments)

There are some drawbacks, however. The eCommerce system isn’t particularly friendly to dropshipping, and there’s no integrated blogging system or email marketing (but you can get email CRM with an integration). You can’t support individual promo codes, either. Inventory is based on a single outlet, and you can’t change the outlet later. The system also doesn’t support partial payments using gift cards — the entire balance must be paid using the gift card.

But honestly? Square’s eCommerce feature isn’t amazingly complex, either. Unless you choose to integrate another shopping cart), you sell through Square’s marketplace (which gives you a hosted domain and URL, and not much else). The store designs you can choose from are responsive but there isn’t a lot of customizability. Square’s features include:

  • Free hosting
  • Free domain (or bring your own)
  • Multiple responsive themes to choose from
  • Choice of responsive templates
  • Support for digital and physical products (this is one of the biggest differentiators from Square)
  • In-store pickup available
  • Integrated reporting
  • Customizable tax settings

If you want more advanced features, or even just your own domain, you can integrate with Weebly, BigCommerce, or Ecwid or play around with Square’s API for a custom solution — but that’s only if you’re comfortable playing around with such things. Again, there’s no blog at all, and shipping options are somewhat limited — but you can enhance the options using an add-on such as ShipStation.

I think it’s important to remember that unlike a service such as Shopify, which was always meant to help people sell online, both Vend and Square started off serving different markets — Vend is a POS system for retailers, while Square’s core feature has always been mobile payments. It’s not surprising that both of these are lacking in eCommerce options. However, I look forward to seeing what both of these services introduce next as omni-channel commerce becomes more important.

Payments

I appreciate the simplicity of Square’s payments system. But no matter what kind of volume you do, you pay the same flat rate — 2.75% for swiped cards, 2.9% + $0.30 for eCommerce. There’s no reduction in fees until you hit a very high volume — much higher than would qualify most merchants for a solid interchange-plus plan. The good news is you don’t have to deal with any sort of tiered pricing or qualified cards, all of which can be frustrating for merchants. You even process American Express at 2.75%. You can’t use any other payment processor with the app. But at the same time, it’s worth noting that you don’t pay for the POS at all — and you don’t have to pay for a more advanced eCommerce option unless you want to.

Vend decided, rather than try to implement its own branded solution like Shopify or ShopKeep, to simply partner with some other payments providers. Vend is an international product, and so there are other solutions available in other countries, but in the U.S., if you want an integrated processing solution in-store, your options are PayPal and Vantiv Integrated Payments (formerly Mercury).

The biggest problem with this is that PayPal is about the same price as Square (2.7% per swipe, 2.9% + $0.30 for eCommerce), on top of Vend’s monthly fee. And Mercury/Vantiv Integrated, while not the worst company out there, has a record of spotty customer service and hidden fees and expensive contracts, and Vantiv tends to have a liquidated damages provision in its contracts.

However, there is a silver lining,of sorts. You can choose a non-integrated processing solution and use whatever merchant service provider you want. The one draw back to this is you’ll have to enter the transaction amount in your terminal and process it, then complete the transaction in Vend separately. It adds an extra step that not everyone wants to deal with. However, that said, it could easily be worth the trouble if you opt for a processor like Helcim, which will give you interchange-plus AND debit card rates for processing.

You can also choose from a variety of gateways (including Authorize.net) and connect your account to process eCommerce transactions. It’s a bit sad that Vend has disabled Authorize.net as a gateway option for the POS, but you can at least use it online so you can use virtually any payment processor.

None of these options is a terrible choice. When you want mobile processing, Square’s rates are absolutely competitive — as I’ve said, PayPal is very similar, and so are many other mobile options. I like that Vend will also give you special discounts once you clear $10,000 a month with PayPal. I also like that Vend doesn’t charge you any sort of transaction fees for using a non-integrated solution. Plus, with PayPal will let you start processing almost right away.

All I can say is, run the numbers. If you’re leaning toward Vend, talk to some of our top-rated processors and request a quote from Mercury. Don’t overlook PayPal, either. It might not be interchange plus, but there are some benefits: an affordable EMV reader, instant access to funds, and even a truly mobile option (PayPal Here) if you absolutely need to be able to use smartphones to process cards, not tablets. Plus, with the PayPal debit card, you can access your funds anywhere without needing to transfer them to your bank.

If you’re leaning toward Square, you have an advantage in that you pay no monthly fees, just card processing rates, That is, unless you opt for a monthly add-on service (like Employee Management). You can also get set up pretty much right away.

Compatible Hardware:

Winner: Tie

If you’re going to process credit cards, you need some sort of register setup, right? I like that both Vend and Square give you some flexibility in that department.

Vend Hardware

With Vend, you have a few choices for what platform to run your POS on:

  • Windows Computer: Requires Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10 or Microsoft Surface Pro and Google Chrome.
  • Mac Computer: Requires Mac OSX Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, or El Capitan and Google Chrome
  • iPad: Requires iOS 8 or later. Download the app from the iTunes store.

All the hardware is sold via POSportal.com, which doesn’t offer any laptops but does have iPads available.

Vend’s hardware kit consists of the bare bones: a cash drawer and a USB receipt printer, plus a cable. If you opt for the tablet package, you also get a tablet stand and an upgrade to an Ethernet receipt printer.

The upside to this is that Vend’s hardware kits are fairly affordable (starting at just over $300 for Mac or PC, for $500 for the tablet version). You can also pick and choose your own hardware and build a custom package that includes a thermal label printer, a barcode reader and dock, and more. In all, that’s not too bad.

You’re probably noticing there’s one big thing missing: card readers. That’s because it entirely depends on who you choose for processing. PayPal has just a single EMV-compatible reader (chip and PIN) available for $149, that also supports NFC. Mercury offers a choice of EMV-compatible wired and wireless terminals, as will any non-integrated processing service you choose. Costs will vary, so be sure to shop around.

And if you already have some hardware, it might be compatible with Vend, no new purchase required! You can check whether your hardware is compatible here.

Square Hardware 

Square is far more flexible as far as hardware is concerned. While it can’t run from desktops or laptops at all, you do have a large range of mobile devices and tablets to choose from:

  • Android: Works with tablets and phones. System requirements vary, check the list of devices with known issues.
  • iOS: Works with iPad, iPhone, iPod. Requires iOS 8 or later, but some hardware may not be compatible with iOS 9, only 9.1.

It’s worth mentioning again that a handful of Square’s features are iPad-only. You can also check the compatibility between your device and specific hardware here.

Square also offers an assortment of hardware bundles, all of which fall in the $500 to $700 range. These include a tablet stand, a receipt printer, and a cash drawer, as well as receipt paper and a free magstripe reader.

That means the EMV-compatible card readers are sold separately. However,you do have a few options:

  • EMV and magstripe reader: $29
  • EMV/NFC (chip and sig): $49 (includes a free magstripe reader)
  • EMV/NFC (chip and PIN): $129 (Note: This isn’t a branded Square reader, but a Miura m010, which supports iOS only).

The Square Stand ($99 or included in some kits) also has a free magstripe reader built in. You can get a dock for your EMV/NFC readers, as well as a bar code scanner. Square doesn’t officially support a label printer, but it says many customers have used a Dymo printer in their setup.

Both Vend and Square give you some very flexible options as far as hardware goes. You have multiple cash drawers and receipt printers, and even card readers. It really depends on what you need. Frankly, though, the low cost of Square’s EMV readers is a big draw — they are the the lowest prices I’ve seen anywhere.

Fees and Rates:

Winner: Square

It’s absolutely essential that your business find a POS and payment solution that fits your budget. There’s no sense in paying for more than you need, or letting yourself be conned into paying much higher credit card processing rates than you have to.

In that sense, Square has the advantage. You don’t pay for the POS, just card transactions. Here’s the basic transaction fees:

  • Swiped transactions: 2.75%
  • Invoice transactions: 2.75%
  • Keyed-in transactions: 3.5% + $0.15
  • eCommerce transactions: 2.9% + $0.30

If you want some of the additional services, here’s what you’ll pay:

  • Gift cards: Per-card cost (starting at $2 per card and dropping as you order more)
  • Appointments: $30 for one person, $50 for 2-5 staff, $90 for unlimited staff.
  • Payroll: $20 monthly subscription + $5 per employee paid (available in limited states)
  • Employee management: $5 per employee
  • Email marketing: $15 per month and up, depending on package

With Vend, you can choose from multiple packages:

Free Plan ($0/month)

  • 10 active products
  • Customers: 1,000
  • Users: 1
  • Community forum support only

Starter Plan ($59/month on yearly plan, $69 billed monthly)

  • Single-outlet support
  • Active products: 500
  • Customers: Unlimited
  • Users: Unlimited
  • Live chat and email support

Advanced ($85/month on yearly plan, $99 billed monthly)

  • Single-outlet support
  • Active products: Unlimited
  • Customers: Unlimited
  • Users: Unlimited
  • eCommerce store
  • Live chat and email support

Multi-Outlet ($169/month on yearly plan, $199 billed monthly)

  • Multiple-outlet support
  • Active products: Unlimited
  • Customers: Unlimited
  • Users: Unlimited
  • eCommerce store
  • Live chat and email support
  • 24/7 phone support

Remember that this is on top of any processing fees you pay. On the one hand, $60-$70/month sounds expensive because Square is free, and Shopify’s basic plan is $29. If you want an eCommerce store, that costs even more.

But that kind of thinking overlooks the fact that Vend gives you unlimited users and hardware integration for free. Shopify will charge you $40/month for those capabilities, and Square will charge you $5 per employee per month.

I like that Vend won’t charge you any transaction fees if you choose a non-integrated solution. If you use Shopify, you can wind up paying an additional 2% per transaction on top of your processor’s fees. And Square won’t let you use anyone else for payment processing at all.

If you use a different eCommerce gateway with Vend, you could wind up paying an additional charge for that. And if you choose an add-on (such as Shopify’s eCommerce integration), you’ll pay more for that, too. The same applies if you choose to integrate Square with another eCommerce provider, like BigCommerce.

This is really a matter of what you can afford vs. what you need. Since Square is entirely pay-as-you-go, it’s a good starting place if this is your first foray into retail. If you definitely need Vend’s capabilities, be sure to shop around and find the most affordable and convenient solution for card processing. Remember that you can use the import/export features both Vend and Square provide to move your data over if you ever decide to switch providers.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

Winner: Square

With Square, there’s no contracts, no monthly fees. You can stop using Square whenever you want with absolutely no penalty. That is a significant advantage. You can also try the add-on services for 30 days completely free.

Vend gives you the option to save some money by paying for a full year in advance. Otherwise, you can go month-to-month and pay more for each package. That’s pretty common for most SaaS (Software as a Service) providers. I recommend starting with the month-to-month plan and see how it works before you invest in Vend for a whole year. There’s a 30-day trial where you can decide if Vend is right for you. You can also try the free plan, although it has very limited offerings.

The other thing you need to consider, though, is who you choose as a processor with Vend. PayPal is entirely pay-as-you-go, so if you stop using Vend, you can stop using PayPal, too, with zero penalties.

The problem is if you choose Vantiv Integrated/Mercury. While if you look at the Vend site, it says that Vantiv offers no-term contracts, that’s not the case across the board. The company does lock some of its vendors into multi-year contracts with ETFs. So even if you can stop using Vend whenever you want, you may still be stuck with a Mercury contract that could be potentially difficult to get out of.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

Winner: Tie

Square has always been well known for its transparency. Clear, flat-rate processing, not hidden fees. There’s no pushy sales people, shady gimmicks or to-good-to-be-true promises. There’s a detailed knowledge base you can search without even needing an account, plus a solid blog with helpful resources for businesses, and social media (Twitter: @Square or @SqSupport, Facebook, LinkedIn).

I like what Square is doing in this department — though there is one niggling issue: account holds and freezes. Square isn’t exactly forthcoming about what causes them, and plenty of merchants are understandably upset. We’ll come back to this point in just a bit, though.

I also like how transparent Vend is. You know exactly what you’re getting and what the fees are. Again, there’s nothing that stinks of too-good-to-be-true. There is a sales force — you can request a consultation and Vend will send someone out to meet with you. However, I can’t find any evidence of Vend’s sales team using sketchy practices or hard selling techniques, which is good news indeed.

You can search Vend’s knowledge base before you sign up, and the blog is also full of great resource for merchants. Vend has a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as a YouTube and even a Pinterest.

The problem of course, is that payments aren’t integrated. PayPal is generally fair and transparent — flat-rate pricing, no shady gimmicks for businesses. You’ll see, if you dig into PayPal user reviews, that it still has an issue with holds and account terminations, but I can’t find any evidence that Vend users are affected by this.

The only “gimmick” I can find that Vend offers is a deal with PayPal that will give you a 50% discount on Vend when you sign up for both. The half-off deal lasts for three months. And if you process more than $10,000 monthly, you also get discounted PayPal rates.

Vantiv Integrated also has its own flaws with transparency (namely disclosure of that ETF). Quite a few complaints about Vantiv, especially recently, focus on merchants being overcharged for processing, which is understandably upsetting.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

Winner: Vend

Square and Vend have both managed to keep their prices down by looking for cost-effective support…which meant neither company offered phone support at all initially. Fortunately, that’s changed, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say either company is completely rocking it in terms of customer service.

Check out any user reviews of Square, and the lack of customer service — especially decent phone support — is one of the most common issues. Square’s knowledge base is extremely detailed so you can solve most problems yourself. There’s also email support, and a new community forum. But to get on the phone, you need a customer code, which some users have had trouble getting (and something people with frozen or terminated accounts can’t get at all). There’s also a dedicated Twitter customer service channel, @SqSupport, and you can reach Square on Facebook as well.

Vend’s free plan doesn’t give you customer support at all — just access to the community forum. For the Basic and Advanced plans, you get access to a very detailed knowledge base, as well as email and live chat support — which is good. I like to see live chat as an option because honestly, waiting on hold and dealing with automated systems really sucks. However, if you really do prefer to talk to an actual person, Vend’s 24/7 phone support is only included in the multi-outlet plan. If you have one of the other paid plans, you can add phone support for $20/month. I don’t like merchants having to pay for customer support at all, but at least you get email and live chat at no added cost.

I do like that both companies have a service that will let you know whether the system is fully operational or whether it has issues. You can check out Vend’s status here, and Square’s here.

Something else worth mentioning is that if you need it, Vend has a lot of other resources to help. There’s Vend U, which is included at no charge with any paid subscription, and gives you a wealth of lessons and resources. If you’d rather pay an expert for their time, you can find Vend’s official list of partners here and look for someone in your area.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Winner: Vend

There are two very consistent complaints with Square:

  1. Its tendency to hold or terminate accounts with no warning and very little room for appeal
  2. Dubious customer support, especially after having your account frozen or terminated.

As far as holds and freezes go, that’s an unfortunate side effect of Square’s business model: it aggregates payments rather than opening individual merchant accounts for every single user. On the one hand, this means you can start processing much sooner, but on the other it means you may find yourself shut down with no warning. Square seems to be doing much better at mitigating the risk over all, and it’s definitely taking strides to improve its customer service, as well. However, if you are in a high-risk industry, I highly encourage you to avoid both Square and PayPal as your processors.

Vend’s complaints are a bit less focused. Some of the issues that come up most often include lack of various features, including limited cash management, or glitches in accounting integrations. Vend is constantly adding new features and rolling out improvements, though. There are also a handful of complaints about the quality of customer support — but these are very, very few and far between.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

Winner: Tie

It shouldn’t be so surprising that Vend and Square have a lot over overlap in the “Good Things” categories — namely, customers like how easy-to-use and intuitive both POS systems are. They are easy to set up and get running. Because everything is stored in the cloud you can access your data everywhere. Just grab your iPad and open up the app to run your reports and check on sales. Beyond that, here’s what else what people like about each:

Square

  • Easy to set up: You can start processing through Square pretty much right away.
  • Truly mobile: Unlike Vend, Square is truly mobile friendly. While the iPad gives you the most functionality, you can still run the system from a smartphone and have all your data in one place.
  • Offline mode: Square’s offline mode is the best one out there. It’s the only one that I know that will still let you process credit cards during an outage. Yes, you accept the risk yourself, but depending on your business it could be a nonissue.
  • Inexpensive: With a free website/shopping cart, a free POS, flat-rate processing and everything else, it’s hard to argue with the value that Square offers. When you throw in all the affordable monthly add-ons… it might not be the most advanced system, but Square has everything most businesses need at a very attractive cost.

Vend

  • Customer Service: You will see the few odd complaints about Vend’s customer service but overall, users really seem to appreciate it. You can get phone support if you want, but otherwise, live chat, email, and the knowledge base should see you through just fine.
  • Affordability: Vend sounds more expensive than Square, but compared to many other cloud solutions or full-fledged POS systems it is very affordable.
  • Feature set: Vend doesn’t have everything everyone could ever want — but it certainly has everything you need, and then some. Even better, the company is always introducing new, more advanced features. Overall many people are happy with everything Vend offers.

Final Verdict:

Winner: Tie 

In this case, it is honestly difficult to point out a clear winner. While Square and Vend have similar offerings, comparing them isn’t a perfect apples-to-apples comparison. Vend is a cloud POS that happens to work on an iPad; Square is a mobile payments app that happens to have a very effective POS that also works on an iPad.

As always, the issue ultimately boils down to what features you need and what you can afford. Vend is a great option for retail environments, but it requires a monthly or yearly subscription, plus you pay processing rates. Square is an excellent mobile solution, and it has everything you need to run a retail register setup as well. You pay only processing rates and the monthly subscription fee for any add-on services you want.

You get comparable options for hardware. Square gives you an online store at no additional cost, while Vend offers one in its mid-tier subscription plan. Both also give you inventory management and a choice of add-ons and integrations to expand the functionality.

If you’re unsure of your budget, you don’t need as many advanced features, or mobile is a genuine concern, Square is a viable option. You only pay per transaction, which is great if you’re just starting out. Just know that Square’s aggregating model isn’t quite as stable as a traditional merchant account.

If you can afford Vend and need the more advanced features it offers (exchanges, store credit, etc.), by all means go for it. You’ll certainly get better customer support, but for the most part everything is so intuitive you should not need much guidance. Make sure you shop around for the best processing option, and consider a non-integrated solution from one of our top-rated merchant account providers if you want the lowest rates and best service. .

I hope this helps you make a decision! Be sure to check out our other iPad POS options as well as our mobile processors.

The post Square VS Vend appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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13+ Best WordPress Styles for Teachers & Professors

WordPress Themes for Teachers &amp Professors

There’s a million and something explanations why teachers, professors, and educators need their very own website &#8211 professional enrichment, student outreach, personal branding/marketing, other great tales. Maybe it’s a site aimed toward your current students, your personal professional portfolio &amp publications, or an accumulation of sources &amp education tips. Whatever direction you’re intending to go, it’s a real no-brainer &#8211 especially since crafting an internet site is really much simpler than it was once!

Styles are among the &#8220killer&#8221 options that come with using WordPress to power your site. Unlike drag website builders , starting with a precise, beautiful template with built-in features. Although some styles include feature overkill (or perhaps a blank slate), there’s an entire world of styles customized for all sorts of website imaginable.

Actually, you will find thousands of &#8220off-the-shelf&#8221 WordPress styles for teachers, professors &amp educators which have stunning design and amazing functionality &#8211 like student forums, social networking integration, squeeze pages for from sources to blogs as well as eCommerce abilities so that you can sell sources, tuitions &amp consultations!

And, better still, WordPress styles are (said to be) open-source &amp GPL licensed which means you get access to a large community of sources and help…which means you’ll not be left dry and high with a design firm. Some need a learning curve, and a few are super-simple, but have the ability to the flexibility for any traveler that wishes an energetic presence online.

Listed here are the 13+ Best WordPress Styles for Teachers, Professors &amp Educators (+2 frameworks) curated from marketplaces and theme sellers online.

Disclosure &#8211 this site receives customer referral charges from companies and merchandise pointed out on this web site. All data &amp opinions derive from ShivarWeb staff&#8217s independent research and professional judgment.

Birch

BirchBirch is really a clean, modern theme having a responsive design &#8211 meaning it’ll look wonderful on any device, from smartphone completely up to and including giant screen. It features a lot of theme options that will help you to help make your website distinctively reflect your talent, passions, and interests. You can everything from an individual bio to recent blogs &amp publications to videos&#8230really anything imaginable. Plus, you are able to personalize all of the elements of design like typography, layout, and color plan to produce the appearance you’re opting for. See more about Birch here.

Creative Blog

CreativeBlogIf you are searching for bold, beautiful and minimal-esque, Creative Blog may be the theme for you personally. It’s responsive, so you can rely that it’ll look wonderful anywhere. Plus, it’s tailored for really are actually excellent content stick out &#8211 an ideal option for an instructor or professor searching to publish regularly. It has video and social networking integration, and you may personalize practically every design element to produce the right look. Take a look at Creative Blog here.

Education Hub

EducationEducation Hub includes a sleek, modern look with a lot of versatility. With this particular responsive theme, you may create squeeze pages for everything from a biography to some portfolio to galleries with audio &amp video &#8211 if you’re able to imagine it, you may create it. You may also personalize all of the little details like color plan, typography, and widgets. It is also increasingly simple to produce a custom subscriber list using the built-in touch form. See more about Education Hub here.

Educator

EducatorPossess a classic, professional design in your mind? Educator is a superb option due to its versatility and options. All of the design options are simple to personalize for your preferences. You may create an internet site as easy as blogs along with a personal/professional biography or as complex as offering video lessons, social networking integration, and client interaction through contact forms. It is also suitable for numerous popular plugins, which could add much more functionality. Take a look at Educator here.

Faculty

FacultyFaculty includes a unique look which will really set your site in addition to the rest &#8211 also it was produced particularly for individuals in academia. It’s an excellent place to begin with an internet site since it looks fabulous being an online CV but has got the functionality to grow into a web-based portal for publications, personal blog, and much more! It’s highly customizable &#8211 and coming to a changes is simple using the drag editor. See more about Faculty here.

Top Quality

HighClassModern &amp sophisticated are a great way to explain Top Quality like a theme. It doesn’t only possess a responsive design, it has a lot of wonderful features as well. You may create amazing squeeze pages using the custom publish options, plus it’s very easy to integrate such things as social networking, commenting, and much more. All of the elements of design are simple to personalize for your preferences &#8211 and also the parallax scrolling effect adds an additional visual flair. See more about Top Quality here.

iCoach

iCoachiCoach includes a clean, professional theme with great versatility &#8211 and it is responsive, so it’ll look wonderful on any device. The drag page editor makes customizing design easy, and all sorts of elements of design like typography, color, etc really are a breeze to sit in your choice. You are able to incorporate from an individual bio/history to some blog to training and services &#8211 really anything that you could consider. Take a look at iCoach &#8211 it’s a totally free download!

Online Tutor

OnlineTutorOnline Tutor utilizes a classic design and it has some good functionality. It’s aimed toward learning tutorials and academic lectures, if you possess a concentrate on supplying live or recorded educational material, this can be the theme for you personally. Additionally, it has choices for great squeeze pages just like a biography, professional publications, your blog &#8211 your imagination is the only limitation here! Additionally, it includes a lead capture form built-in, which means you may even create an email list effortlessly. All of the elements of design could be customized too. See more about Online Tutor here.

Persuasive

PersuasivePersuasive is really a portfolio-focused theme that can serve as the right foundation for just about any teacher, professor, or educator. It’s modern and bold and comes full of some helpful features. You are able to display information much like your professional/personal background, your educational philosophy, class syllabi, and much more. The look elements are customizable for your preference, so that you can easily craft the appearance you’re opting for. You may also add little extra items of functionality like social discussing, commenting, and much more. Take a look at Persuasive here.

RS Card

RSCardRS Card includes a minimalist feel to the professional design &#8211 and contains a lot of useful features making it a flexible choice. You are able to go as fundamental being an online resume of sorts completely to supplying services like consultations and tutoring displayed with cost suggests blog updates and much more. This theme can also be suitable for eCommerce, so it’s very easy to handle your transactions on this page. All of the elements of design are fully customizable, as well as the design is responsive so it’ll look wonderful anywhere. RS Card is unquestionably worth searching into if you would like an exciting-in-one type theme. See more about RS Card here.

The WordPress

TheWPThe WordPress may look simple, but that’s important so excellent! It’s especially versatile should you aren’t afraid to obtain creative. Although you personalize all of the elements of design like layout, typography, color, etc &#8211 but it is also enhanced for eCommerce, solid Search engine optimization, and much more. It is simple to create squeeze pages for practically anything imaginable &#8211 an expert portfolio or bio, latest research &amp breakthroughs, media galleries. And it is quite the value for your money since it’s a totally free download! Browse the WordPress here.

Throne

ThroneThrone is definitely an awesome option for an educator, professor or teacher because it’s targeted at a lot of quality content &#8211 meaning if you wish to publish lectures or educational videos, write opinion pieces, or perhaps publish your past work online, you are able to do with ease. The look is bold and intuitive, and it also will appear great on any device. You may also personalize all of the elements of design to produce the right look. A couple of stand-out features are social networking integration, AdSense optimization, various publish formats, and a simple-embed feature. See more about Throne here.

Titania

TitaniaIf you are searching for any sleek design, Titania is unquestionably that. It’s a multipurpose theme so it’s amazing when it comes to versatility and functionality. You are able to personalize all of the elements of design and make squeeze pages for everything. It is also enhanced to produce online forums for discussions, social media for the site people (or current classes) to make use of, and eCommerce if you are considering offering any type of service or consultation. You actually can perform practically anything with this particular theme! Take a look at Titania here.

Zeyn

ZeynZeyn is yet another multipurpose theme that will you to definitely produce the website you would like like a professor or teacher. You can begin served by the 16 demo designs and personalize for your heart’s content. And establishing and designing your website are really easy using the drag page builder. Although you develop endless squeeze pages for from a bio to blogs, but you may also add beautiful galleries with images and videos that report for your education experience. Take a look at more about Zeyn here.

Genesis Theme Framework

StudioPress ThemesA style framework is really a foundation for styles with consistent, wealthy functionality that enables simple design changes across a variety of styles. Genesis is among the earliest (and many leading edge) theme frameworks in the realm of WordPress. Their framework comes with an immense quantity of well-documented features and “hooks” where one can implement infinite functionality for the website.

StudioPress also offers lots of “plug and play” child styles for Genesis with several child styles that you could install as they are. Take a look at Genesis by StudioPress here.

Elegant Theme Framework

Elegant ThemesLike Genesis by StudioPress, Elegant Styles is really a large, established styles creator using their own theme framework. They likewise have an in-depth theme “club” in which you get limitless use of styles to download, try to swap out when needed. They are a good option for anybody that wishes plenty of choices. Take a look at Elegant Styles here.

Conclusion

Using WordPress Styles is among the best options available for creating an energetic presence online like a teacher, professor or educator! It might be also a great way to grow your professional portfolio. The best of this? It’s all completely controlled on your part! Make certain to make use of styles rich in coding standards, and don’t forget that the good theme is flexible and utilizes other plugins.

If you are thinking about creating an incredible site with WordPress on your own, here are a few detailed guides on how to find a theme, how to setup your site and the way to get began with WordPress.

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