How To Advertise on Snapchat Effectively

How to Advertise on Snapchat Effectively

The digital marketing landscape is evolving quicker than ever before. While print and more traditional mediums still have their place, those who want to take their platforms need to the next level need to embrace the new digital landscape. And no platforms are more influential to your business than the social media, including Snapchat.

Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter are common social media vehicles to advertise. However, because Snapchat is so new, many businesses don’t know how to or don’t want to, leverage the platform to their advantage. And I think that’s a great mistake on their end.

By explicitly targeting specific demographics and meaningfully engaging with them, Snapchat offers a variety of tangible benefits to growing your business.

Scroll through to learn more about Snapchat itself and how to advertise on Snapchat, one of the most popular social media networks in the world.

Snapchat is now part of the larger Snap Inc.. In addition to their primary product, Snapchat, Snap Inc. will expand its influence in the social media space. Their flagship product, Spectacles, a pair of “smart glasses” that syncs with the user’s Snapchat account and records videos as they go about their business.

One of the core principles of Snapchat is that media recorded, the pictures and messages, are just available temporarily before they need user input. Snapchat was once only meant for peer-to-peer photo sharing through such platforms as “Stories,” but has now introduced “Discover.” The latterly mentioned platform allows brands and media outlets to run ad-supported content through short-form entertainment.

As of this February, Snapchat has around 190 million daily active users who use the platform. Snap Inc., which continues to own and operate Snapchat and is now a public company, is worth an estimated $20 billion. And there’s a good chance the company could exceed $30 billion in worth by 2020.

profitable space to advertise businesses on to see tangible results.

Since going public, Snap Inc. is keen on growing their demographic appeal. This recent choice to go public is promising to those who want to advertise on the platform. It also means those companies can broaden the product and services they push on Snapchat.

“They are eventually going to tap out of these younger age groups and will have to court older demographic groups,” said eMarketer principal analyst Catherine Boyle to Forbes in response to Snapchat’s demographic appeal. “They may not need Facebook-level penetration across every age group, but growth will happen among an older user base.”

Snapchat also is widely aware that their interface isn’t the easiest to use for those who are new to social media.

“The onboarding experience is difficult,” chief strategist of Kuuhubb Tero Kuittinen said of Snapchat’s account sign up to Forbes. “It’s not easy to learn how to use it. If you’re 18, it’s not a big stretch, but if you’re 45, it’s tough to figure out.”

Snapchat is already making stride to making the platform more comfortable to use to those who aren’t social media savvy. And when these older demographics do eventually become more prominent on the platform, Snapchat will gain more traction as a place to not only get news but see new products and consume media.

“Older groups are now more likely to tune in [to Snapchat] for content,” eMarketer analyst Jamie Chung said in an email to Forbes. “The platform has multiple partnerships with television networks for mini-episodes. Meanwhile, the younger groups are less likely to add Snapchat when Instagram Stories can fulfill their broadcasting needs.”

By leveraging Snapchat now, you can get ahead of the crowd and establish a strong presence on the platform.

within the first 15 second of seeing it. Those brands who can capitalize on early engagement will be far more successful than those who need “build up.”

Long-form Video Ads also lend themselves to a higher amount of creativity than most of the platform’s other ad services. Because creators have such a long time to craft an image, a business can introduce storytelling aspects into these ads. Research has shown that brands who can create themes and stories within their ethos have greater longevity and increased product sales.

In the end, Long Form Video ads aren’t for business who aren’t media-focused. But for those who are, there’s no better ad service on Snapchat to convey a story, theme, or concept than by running a well-made Long Form Video ad.

News’ on Snapchat’s main website to do just that.

The blog also regularly highlights general market trends, news, and practices that Snapchat business are using to help grown their efforts.

Snapchat is continuing to grow quarter after quarter. It’s presence and importance is only increasing as it stocks share.

I recommend using Snapchat as a vehicle to tell stories through ads. Unlike its contemporaries like Facebook and Twitter, Snapchat lets you engage with your audience in profound, meaningful ways. You can share your brand with narratives and creative designs, rather than just with clickbait copy.

In the coming years, storytelling will become one of the most potent marketing tools. Snapchat and it’s creative ads do just that: tell stories in pleasing ways that can draw an audience from near and far to your business, brand, etc.. Snap away, tell stories, and reap the benefits from being an engaged, creative “Snapchatter.”

 

 

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How To Advertise On Pinterest Effectively

How to Advertise on Pinterest Effectively

Pinterest was launched in 2010 and has grown to at least 200 monthly active users in 2017. The social sharing platform is designed to help people discover information on the internet. Therefore, just creating an account on Pinterest can draw viewers to your brand.

Pinning content from your own website puts it in front of a new audience. Even pinning other people’s content can draw followers to your Pinterest account. You can get more data from your account. Optimizing the SEO of your Pinterest boards can boost their organic search rankings in Google. All of these strategies are free.

The platform began experimenting with monetizing certain pins in 2014, initiating an effective way for companies to advertise. Nowadays, advertisers can create Promoted Pins, which show up alongside all of the other pins on the page. In this image, you can see that the pin that says “Get 500% more traffic” indicates that it’s promoted by Pinterest in the description below it:

In this case, Pinterest is using its platform to advertise tips for businesses. It’s always encouraging to see a company using its own advertising services. That’s one way to know that the system works.

What Is Pinterest?

First, let’s discuss Pinterest and how it works. Some people say that Pinterest is a social network. Others refer to it as a search engine. Through Pinterest, you create a profile and then “pin” visual content onto different “boards.”

It’s like a collection of virtual bulletin boards. Instead of cutting out paper images from magazines, though, you save images that you find on the internet. You can write a description or include a link with those images so that you can refer back to the website from which they came.

You can create several boards and label them however you’d like. Most people set up boards for different categories. For example, you might have boards that are labeled:

  • Home décor
  • Fun summer activities
  • Dessert recipes
  • Knitting and crochet
  • Boho style

If you’re looking for inspiration for a project, a shopping venture or content that falls in line with your interests, you can search for it on Pinterest. Your search results appear as visual pins with short descriptions underneath them. This is what came up when we searched for “watercolor tutorials”:

To find out more about each search result, you can click on it. From here, you can see the full description, the URL from which the image came, when it was published and any comments that other users have left.

Here’s where things get social. You can leave a comment or ask a question. You can also follow the original poster’s account. Therefore, simply pinning items that interest you can drive traffic back to your Pinterest page and potentially to your website.

Emarketer says that there are 2 billion monthly searches on Pinterest. The platform drives about 5 percent of referral traffic to websites.

When you log onto Pinterest, you’ll see your feed, which shows the pins that the platform thinks that you’ll be interested in. You might see pins from people you follow or a combination of content that you might care about, based on other items that you’ve pinned.

However, Pinterest prefers to show content from trusted sources in users’ feeds. Therefore, if you’re using Pinterest for your business without advertising, you need to make sure that you pin high-quality content and that your pins are receiving engagement in the form of click-throughs, saves and comments.

Why Pinterest Advertising Works

While Facebook is the largest social media platform, Pinterest is competitive with Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Twitter, according to Pew Research. Twenty-six percent of all American adults use Pinterest, and most of them are women. Pinterest reports that 40 percent of people who actively pin have a household income of at least $100K. If you sell products targeted toward women who want to shop, you’re in the right place.

Here are some other statistics about Pinterest users and their purchasing power:

  • Millenials use Pinterest as much as Instagram.
  • People who use Pinterest are ready to make a purchase.
  • 93% of active pinners use the platform to plan future purchases.
  • 73% of pinners say that brand content makes the platform more useful.
  • 61% of pinners have bought something after viewing a promoted pin.
  • 75% of saved pins are initiated by businesses.
  • People who use Pinterest spend 29% more on retail than non-users.

People search the platform for information that they can use to fuel upcoming purchases for things like home renovations, weddings, parties, vacations or having a baby. This is the place where people are looking for new information, ideas and brands. If you can provide these new ideas, you can make connections with a new audience.

Pinterest advertising looks natural. It fits into place with the other pins in your feed, and it doesn’t detract from or interrupt the user experience. Promoting your pins puts you in front of a receptive audience who is looking for products and ideas that will help them make their next move.

Types Of Pinterest Advertising

There are several types of Pinterest ads, including:

  • Promoted pins
  • Promoted video pins
  • One-tap pins
  • Promoted app pins
  • Cinematic pins

Promoted pins look just like a regular pin, except that they have the word “Promoted” at the bottom of the pin. Businesses pay Pinterest to give these priority over non-promoted pins. Once someone saves your promoted pin, it’s considered an organic find, and that person will no longer see the word “Promoted.” Other people who follow these pinners may find and save these pins, bringing you added traffic for free.

If your promoted pin contains a video, it will appear in search results, news feeds and a “More Like This” section that comes up below a clicked pin and shows similar content. The video will play automatically.

One-tap pins bypass the close-up image and “more details” page that normally shows up when you click on a pin in your feed. When a user clicks on these ads, they go straight to a landing page that you designate. You might think that this is a great way to get your audience in your lap, but some users are surprised by the change in the normal process and click off of your website quickly to get back to Pinterest.

If you are promoting an app, you can use a promoted app ad to get people to install it. The ad will include an app icon and install button so that users don’t have to leave Pinterest to sign up for your app.

Cinematic pins contain animation that moves when a user scrolls. This captures users’ attention and makes them feel like they’re in control without missing the end of the video.

5 Things To Do Before Advertising On Pinterest

Paying to promote pins can be an effective marketing strategy. However, there are a few steps that you should take before you set up your first advertisement on Pinterest.

1. Register For A Business Account

If you haven’t used Pinterest before, you’ll need to create a new account. It’s free to set up, and it takes less than a minute. Start by going to Pinterest’s Business Account page and clicking “Sign Up.”

Enter your email address, password and business name, select your business category from the drop-down menu and click “Create account.”

Follow the next steps, which are self-explanatory. These include selecting your language and country, adding your website URL and picking at least five categories in which you’re interested.

If you already have a Pinterest account, log in and click on Settings. It will say “Business Account Basics” on the top left if it’s a business account. If it’s a personal account, you can convert it to a business account by going to this link.

2. Claim Your Website

When you set up your business account, you should have added your business website URL to your profile. If you didn’t do that yet, go to your settings by clicking on the profile image on the top right when you’re logged into your account. Scroll down until you see the “Claim Website” section.

After you claim your website, you can utilize features such as:

  • Website analytics – Track traffic to pins from your site.
  • Featured logo – Add your profile picture to any content that’s pinned from your site.
  • Early access to tools – Be the first to hear about new business tools that Pinterest rolls out.

To claim your website, you’ll need to either add a bit of code to the <head> section of your website’s index.html file or download a file from Pinterest and upload it to your site’s root directory. After you do that, you can submit your website to Pinterest for review.

3. Install A Conversion Tag

You can add another Pinterest code to every page that you want to track on your website. The code is the same for every page, but you can use it to retarget people who have visited specific pages on your website.

To do this, click on “Ads” on the top left of your account, and then select “Conversion Tracking.”

Choose “Generate Pinterest Tag.” You’ll get code that you can insert between the <head> and </head> elements in the HTML of every page on your website for which you want to track visitors.

4. Upload Your List

If you have amassed a list for your newsletter, you can upload it to Pinterest so that you can target the same users with your Pinterest ads**. Just create a .csv file with the email addresses that you’ve collected over the years. Log into your Pinterest account.

**If you go this route – you need to have your audience’s consent. If you are in the EU, because it’s the law. If you are outside the EU, because you need to be cool, not creepy.

Click on Ads > Audiences.

Then, click on “Create Audience.” Choose “A list of customers that you upload” from the window that appears. Name your audience, and include the date so that you can update it a few months from now.

Pinterest will match up the email addresses from your list with those of its users so that you can show ads to the same people. In the future, you can also create “an actalike audience that behaves similarly to the one you already have.” This will choose people with similar demographics and interests as the people on your email list.

5. Pin Some Content

You can’t promote a pin unless you’ve pinned it publicly. Therefore, if you have created a new Pinterest account in hopes of setting up some ads, you should take some time to create boards and pin content for free before you put money into it.

Make sure that all of your pins contain high-quality images. The visuals are going to grab people’s attention before anything else. Therefore, they need to be top-notch.

Vertical Pins

Pinterest displays images vertically. Therefore, you need to use the correct aspect ratio to get the most out of your pins’ appearance. For years, Pinterest has claimed that a 2:3 aspect ratio is ideal. However, some pinners said that posts with these dimensions didn’t perform well. Some people even created extra-long posts to capture people’s attention.

As of June 2018, however, Pinterest said that those “giraffe pins” may be cropped and won’t show up as frequently in people’s feeds. The ideal aspect ratio is 600 pixels wide by 900 pixels high (720 x 1080 works well too). Square images look good, and they are easy to import from Instagram.

An aspect ratio of 600 x 1260 (with 1260 being the height in pixels) won’t be cropped. Anything taller will.

If you’re creating long giraffe pins, make sure that they add value. Infographics and step-by-step tutorials are ideal for these space-hogging pins.

Rich Pins

Creating Rich Pins can help people learn more about your products. Rich pins contain additional information, including:

  • App – Takes viewers to the app store for download
  • Article – Includes a headline, author and story description
  • Product – Includes pricing, availability and purchase location
  • Recipe – Includes title, ingredients, cooking times, serving information and ratings

By adding the metadata directly to the pin, brands can increase engagement. Picture a recipe that contains a gorgeous picture of the food that you’re eating with the recipe itself below it. The pins pull from the metadata on your website.

Creating Rich Pins is a two-step process. First, you must add metadata to the articles, products and recipes on your site. If you have a WordPress site, you can do this easily with a plugin like Yoast. Then, you need to verify your Rich Pins with Pinterest. Once you validate one URL with a Rich Pin on your site, you’re all set. You don’t need to validate all of the URLs with Rich Pins.

Buyable Pins

Pinterest rolled out Buyable Pins in 2015 to make it easier for its audience to shop directly from a pin. These pins list the price in blue and contain a Buy It button so that people can make a purchase right from the app. When someone clicks Buy It, they go directly to the checkout, where they can pay with a credit card or Apple Pay.

If you’re a retailer or sell your own products, you’ll need to have a Shopify store that’s linked with the Pinterest sales channel to take advantage of Buyable Pins. As long as you point a pin’s URL to the product detail page on your Shopify store, it will activate as shoppable.

Pinterest automatically matches your product feed with your pins and generates Buyable Pins for any products that you have already pinned. For any other product, you should create pins from scratch. These can include additional images so that more people can discover your products.

Buyable Pins are similar to Rich Pins in that they display additional information. Rich Pins, however, don’t send you to the checkout when you click on them.

How To Set Up A Pinterest Ad

If you’ve decided to spend money on advertising, you might wonder how to advertise on Pinterest. This is a step-by-step tutorial that teaches you how to do it.

1. Create The Ad

When you’re ready to start advertising, click on the + sign that appears toward the top right, and then select “Create Ad.”

This brings you to your Ads Manager, where you can create your campaign.

2. Set Your Goals

You’ll begin by selecting your campaign objective.

Then, you’ll enter your campaign details. You’ll have to come up with a name for your campaign if it’s new, or you can select an existing campaign from the drop-down menu. You’ll also designate your daily and lifetime budget for the campaign here.

Then, decide on your campaign placement, which includes whether you want to make your ads one-tap. This feature can’t be edited once your campaign starts running.

If you’re creating an app install ad, you will have the option to select whether to optimize the campaign for completed installs or visits to the app download page. Both are charged on a cost-per-click basis. Pinterest also has direct integrations with mobile measurement partners, or MMPs, which help you track the install performance.

Finally, click “Create campaign and continue.”

3. Set Up An Ad Group

An ad group is a set of promoted pins that fall under the same campaign. You can have multiple ad groups for one campaign, which means that you will have a separate budget for your ad groups than you do for the campaign as a whole.

Understanding Ad Groups

Each ad group can have multiple promoted pins within it. You can assign different budgets and targets to each ad group, though. Therefore, you can use ad groups to set up unique budgets for different marketing areas, such as regions, demographics or products. You can also use ad groups to test the design, placement and objectives of your advertisements without building separate campaigns.

For example, you could create separate ad groups with maximum daily budgets to target:

  • Your email list
  • People who have visited related pages on your website
  • Actalike audiences

To keep everything straight, you should name your ad group based on its organizational structure, such as who you’re targeting or what promoted pins are showing up within that group.

4. Create A Target Audience

On the ad group page, you’ll be asked to create a target audience. This helps you get your ads in front of the right people. You can target viewers based on the following criteria:

You’ll need to give this audience a name and description. If you choose to retarget people who have visited your website, you’ll have to create a Pinterest tag to track them. If you choose to target individuals from an email list, you’ll be asked to upload the list.

You’ll be able to further clarify your audience by interests, such as boards and pins that they’ve interacted with in the past, keywords, languages, locations, devices and genders.

5. Create Your Maximum CPC Bid

On the page where you create your ad group, you’ll be asked to set a maximum CPC bid. This is the maximum amount that you want to pay per audience action, whether that’s impressions, clicks, engagement or app download. You won’t be charged the full bid unless it’s necessary to beat out the next-highest bidder.

6. Select Your Promoted Pin

Now, you can select the pin that you want to promote. You can only choose from items that you’ve publicly pinned. The pin doesn’t have to be one that you have initiated through your own website, although it would probably be a good idea to use an image that you’ve created.

Next, you’ll give the promoted pin a name (optional) and set the URL of the landing page that you want visitors to end up on when they click on it.

Consider the URL carefully. Ideally, you’ll send people who click on your ad to a page dedicated to your Pinterest audience. The landing page should have something to do with the pin that led people to it. If you’ve added Pinterest tag code to your website, you’ll be able to track the success of each promoted pin.

Click “Promote Pin” when you’re finished. The ad will go to Pinterest for review, which can take 24 hours. At this time, add your billing details so that you can pay for your ad once it’s approved.

The Quick Way To Promote A Pin

Pinterest also provides a way to promote your pins in about 10 seconds. Go to your profile and hover over a pin that you want to advertise. Click on the Promote button.

A window will open up where you can add all of the promotional details, including the URL, daily budget, campaign duration, target audience and keywords.

Tips And Tricks For Optimizing Your Pinterest Advertising

Just putting yourself out there isn’t always enough to gain an audience. Instead of wasting your dollars by advertising blindly, follow this advice to get the most out of your budget.

Promote The Best Pins

You might wonder what pins to promote when you advertise on Pinterest. Those with strong visuals do best. Making multiple pins for the same product is a good idea. You can show different angles, styles and descriptions to pull in different customers. Adding your brand name or logo to the image improves credibility.

If you sell products, Pinterest says that photographing them in lifestyle shots is more effective than displaying the product on its own. For example, a fashion pin should show someone wearing the clothing in a real-world setting. Home décor pins do better when they concentrate on the product instead of people. Hair and beauty products get great engagement when the items are displayed against a plain, contrasting background.

Most experts recommend promoting pins that are already doing well. Even though you might figure that boosting a low-performing pin could help it get in front of your audience, promoting a high-performing pin is more likely to give you results. Wouldn’t you want to pay for results as opposed to a lackluster reception to your ad?

When you’re picking a pin in step 3 of the ad creation process, you have the option of choosing from all pins, 30-day most clicked pins or 30-day most saved pins. Use this to your advantage to promote your most engaging content.

Add Text To Your Pins

Even though Pinterest relies on photos, it doesn’t hurt to add a little text to your images. The text overlay should clarify what viewers are looking at without detracting from the design as a whole. The words shouldn’t detract from the aesthetic. A simple overlay works wonderfully.

Make sure that you’re using the description wisely too. A call-to-action helps users stay engaged. You can ask people a question or give an instruction, such as “Learn more” or “Buy now.” You might even try having your call-to-action say, “Pin this for later” to remove the urgent sales quality but encourage people to save your pin.

Consistently Monitor And Analyze Your Ads

It’s hard to predict what’s going to resonate with viewers. Pinterest is a visual platform, and some images may capture more attention than others. When you’re just starting out, test everything, including the:

  • Image
  • Description
  • Call-to-action
  • Keywords
  • Bids
  • Audiences

After doing this consistently for a while, you’ll begin to notice which combinations are more effective.

Focus Your Keywords

Although you’re allowed to include up to 150 keywords with a promoted pin, you don’t have to use all of them. If you’re all over the place, you won’t get many click-throughs. Think about the way that your audience interacts with Pinterest.

The keywords should match the way that your target audience uses the platform (similar to how you “theme” keywords for SEO). Make sure that the keywords are also consistent with the information in the pin and the landing page to which they’re directed.

Because Pinterest is a search engine, keywords are crucial to your pins’ visibility. Create your descriptions the way that you would create meta tags for a web page’s title and description. Using trending keywords earlier in the text will help your pins get noticed.

When you place pinnable images on your website, make sure that you include keywords in the alt text. Your boards should contain long-tail keywords. Use Pinterest Analytics to track which pins get the most impressions and experiment with the keywords that you use.

Add Value

The best practices for advertising on some other platforms involve using a call-to-action to send people to a lead page. However, people who search using Pinterest are looking for information. They might get annoyed if they come across your promoted pin, click on it to investigate it further and reach a page that simply asks them for their email address.

An effective way to use Pinterest for advertising is to send people to a landing page where they can explore what you offer. You can certainly include a lead generation form on this page, but don’t make it the only asset at that URL.

Group Boards

Group boards are sometimes referred to as shared, community, collaborative or contributor boards. Using them can lead to significant increases in traffic.

More than one person can add pins to a group board. Therefore, when anyone adds pins to the board, those pins may appear in the home feed of anyone who follows any of the board members. This exponentially increases your reach.

If you focus on sharing your own content to group boards, you’ll gain exposure for your brand. Keep the content relevant, however.

Because Pinterest rewards high-quality pins with exposure, make sure that you join the right group boards. Those that are targeted to a specific theme usually have more traction with an audience and get more engagement. Click on several of the pins on a group board that you’re thinking of joining to make sure that the links aren’t broken or redirect to a spammy or inappropriate site.

Pinterest is an opportune way to expose your brand to a new audience. The platform isn’t just used by crafty people, DIY-ers and foodies. Travel, fashion, design, hobbies, health and beauty, entertainment, accessories and sporting goods are commonly searched categories on Pinterest. Creating a business account for your brand is free, and you can play around with promoting your pins at a low cost to determine whether it works well for your business.

Next Steps

Pinterest holds a lot of opportunity for businesses of all sizes. It’s also straightforward and fairly risk-less to experiment there.

You’ll learn more from running a single experiment than any blog post – so go for it!

If you want to know other ways to use Pinterest for marketing, check out Nate’s post on Pinterest & SEO research in addition to Using Pinterest Analytics.

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How To Advertise On Spotify Effectively

How to Advertise on Spotify Effectively

People don’t just listen to music anymore; they experience it. Advertising on a platform like Spotify can expose listeners to your brand in an engaging, involved way.

Spotify can be used to market your business similarly as a radio ad. You can also sponsor streaming sessions and playlists to get in front of the people who are most likely to resonate with your message.

Why Advertise On Spotify?

Statista reports that there were 70 million paying Spotify subscribers in January 2018. However, it’s really the people who listen for free that get to hear your ads. In March 2017, there were about 90 million people who took advantage of the service for free, according to the Verge.

If Spotify is trying to push listeners to its premium version, which doesn’t play or show advertisements, why would you want to advertise on the platform? Sure, Spotify is trying to make money from premium memberships. However, it isn’t writing off the free offering. In fact, a recent statement by Spotify’s vice president of product, Jason Richman, confirmed that the company views its free version as a separate service that it wants people to use.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2017 that Spotify was slated to become the third-largest advertiser in the world, following the footsteps of Facebook and Google. Spotify started out offering a free, advertisement-sponsored subscription service to help music fans connect with the songs and artists that they love. They quickly realized the opportunity that advertising could provide them.

Business Insider said that because of its global scale and huge collection of data, Spotify is trying to be a primary advertising solution for just about everyone, including small and medium-sized businesses. The company launched Spotify Ad Studio, a self-serve advertising platform, in 2017. This allows smaller and mid-sized companies to advertise.

Plus, Spotify uses its advertising platform to convert users to the premium product, as you can see in the image below, which shows a mobile takeover ad that appeared while we were navigating to our Discover Weekly playlist. The fact that the company believes in the power of its own advertising gives us faith.

If Spotify can’t sell ad space, it will lose quite a bit of revenue. The free platform isn’t going anywhere.

And if you think that people get annoyed by ads on Spotify, think again. Acquisio reports that 75 percent of listeners expect advertisements on a free streaming service. Almost 50 percent say that commercials are less disruptive on Spotify than on regular radio.

Part of the appeal of Spotify is its ability to connect users. Those who register their Spotify account through Facebook can share playlists with their friends. Spotify is largely about discovery. Check out what your friends are listening to, and you might learn about an artist that you’ve never heard before.

Even if users don’t connect to Spotify through social media, the platform incorporates a similar connective quality. Users can follow other Spotify users on the platform. When they search for a particular song, artist or album, they can view playlists that other people have created using that song.

So why should you advertise on this platform? Because people are using it to stay up-to-date with the world. If people are using Spotify to learn about new music, they might also learn a little about what you have to offer when they hear your advertisement.

If you want to target a hip audience that’s interested in staying in the know about current trends, you might want to advertise on Spotify. If you’re a musician, advertising on the platform is a no-brainer.

Plus, Spotify collects data from all of its logged-in users. According to Smart Insights, this means that marketers can take advantage of unique intelligence, such as users’:

  • Moods
  • Preferences
  • Listening habits
  • Activities

Over time, companies can learn more about the people they wish to target, gaining insights into platform behaviors, routine activities and wider interests. This allows brands to create tailored experiences that aren’t possible on other platforms.

Because Spotify requires users to log in, it has extensive data about what people are listening to and how they listen. The company also compiles real-time information about lifestyle, entertainment preferences, family status and technology use.

How Do Ads Work On Spotify?

If you have used Spotify for free, you probably know how often advertisements are played. When you start a streaming session, you can listen to one sponsored advertisement to get a 30-minute session of uninterrupted music. After that, Spotify will play an advertisement about every 15 minutes.

Users can’t skip or fast-forward the ads. They can choose to watch a video from an advertiser to get another 30-minutes of ad-free music from time to time. If they’re listening via a laptop or computer, a branded overlay hangs out on the screen at almost all times. It’s not disruptive—it can be closed so that the user can navigate the site—but it will reappear.

Audio and display ads aren’t the only way to market a brand using Spotify. Businesses can sponsor listening sessions, providing videos that users watch in exchange for uninterrupted listening.

Marketing on Spotify can be even more creative, though. Businesses can put together branded playlists. These can include a logo and a link to the company’s landing page. Even President Barack Obama used a branded playlist to help bring awareness to his brand in 2016.

In sum, there are three main paid advertisement types with which marketers can experiment:

  • Audio – Plays between songs during active listening sessions. Accompanied by a clickable display that can take users to a specific URL or landing page.
  • Video – Sponsored sessions, video takeovers or branded moments video advertising that rewards viewers with 30 minutes of uninterrupted music after watching.
  • Display – Homepage banners, homepage takeovers.

What Can You Advertise On Spotify?

You can use Spotify to raise awareness for any brand, company or organization. You can also use it to promote music-related content or an event, such as a concert.

If your target audience uses the platform, it makes sense to try it out. Using multiple channels for advertising can lead to steady growth for your brand.

One of the benefits of using an audio ad instead of a video or image is that users can access it when they’re not watching a screen. For example, many people listen to Spotify while driving or in the shower. Reaching them with a DIY audio ad using Spotify’s DIY Ad Studio can help you influence them in a way that you might not have tried before.

In fact, Nielsen analyzed Spotify audio ads and found that listeners are more likely to enjoy and recall audio ads through streaming services than display ads. Audio ads are also more apt to increase purchase intent.

How Much Does Advertising On Spotify Cost?

Using Spotify’s self-serve advertising platform is the way to go if you don’t have a huge ad budget, although the service is available to companies and budgets of all sizes. The minimum is $250, with each ad served costing marketers about $0.015 to $0.025. The price varies depending on your targeting choices. Aiming at a larger target market will typically cost you more per ad.

You can target your audience based on the following:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Activity
  • Music taste/listening behavior
  • Mobile
  • Desktop

When you initially set up an ad using the DIY Ad Studio, you can choose from a range of options for your total campaign budget. As we describe in more detail below, you have to select a custom option to enter the minimum of $250. If you launch your ad and realize that it’s not bringing you the results that you want, you can stop the ad.

That means that you’re technically not committed to the $250 budget minimum if you find that the platform isn’t working for you. If you stop an ad after paying only $30, you won’t be billed for the unused portion.

You can also purchase advertising programmatically and through Spotify’s direct sales department. These options usually cost more than using Spotify Ad Studio.

What Spotify Ad Studio Can And Cannot Do

Spotify Ad Studio makes it simple for anyone to set up, track, manage and analyze audio ads. Some of the other things that you can do with Spotify Ad Studio include:

  • Creating and record your own audio ad
  • Reaching free Spotify users
  • Retarget people who have engaged with your ads
  • Create successive ads to share an extended story
  • Track your campaign, including clicks and cost

If you are an approved advertiser for a specific artist, such as the label or a promoter, you can target people who follow that artist. For example, if you’re promoting a concert, you can reach out to the people who follow the performer on Spotify.

You won’t be able to target fans of particular musicians if you’re not an approved advertiser, but you can still target by genre or playlist. Genre targeting lets you deliver your ad after a user has listened to a specific type of music. This is helpful if you know that the majority of your target audience listens to smooth jazz, for example.

Playlist targeting lets you deliver your message to people who are listening to tunes that are associated with certain activities or moods. Spotify categorizes different playlists and refreshes its inputs every day.

You can’t target fans by zip code, but you can select a country, region or U.S. state. As of the time of this writing, Spotify didn’t offer a feature to exclude certain people. That might come in handy if you’re promoting a concert but don’t want to waste money marketing to people who have already bought tickets.

How To Create Spotify Ads Using Ad Studio

To start creating your own Spotify ads, head over to Spotify Ad Studio and click Sign Up. The platform is still in beta, and it’s currently only accepting advertisers from the U.S., U.K. and Canada. You’ll also need a Spotify account. The system will set you up with one when you sign up for Ad Studio if you don’t have one already.

Once you have registered, you can start creating an ad. Click on Your Ads on the top right corner of the screen. Then, click Build Ad on the top left corner to begin working on your ad.

There are three steps to building an ad:

  • Set Up
  • Budget & Audience
  • Ad Creative

1. Set Up

In the set-up phase of ad creation, you get to choose your objective and name your ad. This step is easy; unless you’re an authorized promoter for a particular musician, you’ll choose “Raise awareness for a brand, business, or organization.”

Next, give your ad a name. This will only be visible internally and serves as a good way to organize your ads if you’re creating more than one.

2. Audience & Budget

In this step, you’ll select your audience and budget. Start by choosing a location, gender and age range for your target listener.

You can choose listeners in a particular country, state (Australia and U.S.), city (Australia, Canada and U.K.) or DMA (U.S). The DMA, or designated market area, includes a metropolitan area as well as its suburbs.

Next, narrow down your audience by listening behavior.

Targeting by genre delivers your ad right after someone has listened to the type of music that you selected. You can choose more than one genre.

Targeting by playlist uses Spotify’s ability to categorize playlists by mood and activity. After someone listens to a playlist that matches the playlist categories that you choose, they’ll hear your ad.

You can also target by fans of a particular artist if you’re a record label or promoter. You can’t target by all of these options; you must choose All Music, Genre, Playlist Category or Fans.

Next, you’ll need to choose the platform or device on which you want your ad to display. Choose all of them unless your ad is platform-specific.

At this point, you can also choose when you want your ad to display. For example, Spotify says that moms are 25% more likely to listen at 5 or 6 am. If mothers are in your target market, you might want to set your ads earlier than a brand that caters to college students. You don’t have to fill this in if you want your ads to play throughout the day.

Finally, you’ll set your schedule and budget. To set your schedule, enter the start and end dates and times that you want the ad to run. Campaigns run from midnight to midnight in your local time zone by default, but you can enter different start and end times.

Remember that it takes time for an ad to be approved. If your ad is approved after the start time, it will begin immediately once it is accepted.

To choose your budget, either pick from the given options or select Custom. You cannot enter an amount lower than $250.

3. Ad Creative

Now, you get to choose what your ad will look like. Every audio ad has a corresponding display to go along with it. This includes a companion image, headline and link to a URL that users will go to when they click on the ad image.

The image must be a JPG or PNG image that’s 640 x 640 pixels and no more than 200KB in size. You can preview the way this will look on a mobile or desktop. If you have a call to action, it must be included on the image. A directive like “Click here” or “Learn more” will help users understand that they can drill down on the picture to explore your brand further.

Finally, you get to set up the audio creative for your ad. If you already have a sound recording, that’s great. Upload it here.

The audio specs are as follows:

  • Length – 30 seconds or less
  • File types – WAV, MP3, OGG
  • Max file size – 1MB
  • Audio – WAV – 16-bit 44.1 kHz MP3, at least 192 kbps RMS normalized to -14dBFS Peak normalized to -0.2 dBFS

You can also provide Spotify with a script, and the platform will create a voiceover for your ad at no additional cost. If you do this, you can choose the profile of the voice that you’d like based on age, gender, dialect, etc.

When you write the script, you’ll need to make sure that it’s the perfect length to sound natural in a 30-second time slot. A script of about 50 to 75 words is perfect. If it’s longer, the actor will speak too quickly, and if it’s shorter, it might sound like it drags on.

If you’re uploading your own audio and you want background music, it will need to be incorporated into the audio file. If you’re asking Spotify to record the voiceover, you can select your background track separately from a library of pre-selected genres or upload your own.

4. Review Your Order Summary

Before you submit your order for processing and approval, Spotify will show you a summary of all of the options that you chose. If you need to edit anything here, you can go back and do so. Once you click Place Order, your ad will be reviewed by Spotify.

This typically takes 48 hours, according to Spotify’s FAQs. However, you should provide your creative materials at least five days before you want the campaign to start if you don’t want to be rushed.

If you request a voiceover, Spotify will send you the final recording for your approval. If you want to change something, you can request a revision at that time.

5. Editing Your Ad

You can stop or pause your ad at any time. You might want to pause it to change your targeting selection. You can change any target demographics except for fans. If you want to edit Fan Targeting, budget or start/end date, you have to email Spotify, and they’ll recommend the best solution for you.

You may even want to stop an ad that doesn’t seem to be converting. If you do that, you’ll only be charged for the number of ads that were displayed during the run.

6. What If Your Ad Isn’t Approved?

If your ad doesn’t meet the terms of Spotify’s Advertising Terms and Conditions, it will be rejected. An ad that’s longer than 30 seconds or promotes a Spotify competitor will not be approved. You can always reach out to Spotify if you’re not sure why your ad wasn’t approved.

Can You Create Other Types Of Ads Using Ad Studio?

If you’ve ever used Spotify’s free streaming service, you’ve probably seen ads that aren’t just audio with companion displays. You have the option of working with Spotify through direct sales or programmatic ads. This will give you the option of delivering your message through different types of ads on the platform.

Some advertising options besides audio include the following.

Sponsored Session

When users start streaming on Spotify mobile, they’re usually asked if they’d like to watch a short video to get 30 minutes of uninterrupted listening. After the video runs, an image with a link will appear if the user wants to learn more about your brand. This type of ad is available on mobile devices or tablets.

Video Takeover

Video Takeover ads are presented to logged-in users when they’re engaged with the app in between songs or during commercial breaks. They’re available on mobile devices or desktops. Videos are less than 30 minutes long and contain a call to action as well as a link to the brand’s URL.

Display

There are a few display options that can be purchased through direct sale or programmatic marketing.

The Overlay welcomes users back when they return to the Spotify app. Your brand message covers the screen while users listen to music. They can click through to a URL or click to close the image.

The Homepage Takeover shows up on Spotify’s desktop Browse page for 24 hours. This option can include interactive elements to engage your audience further.

The Leaderboard is shown as a smaller banner on the bottom of the desktop or web app. It’s served when Spotify is the top app on the screen, and it appears exclusive of any other messages for 30 seconds.

Sponsored Playlists

Spotify’s top real estate includes the playlists that the company owns and operates. Brands can sponsor these playlists based on the categories that their target market listens to. This is available on mobile and desktop.

Tips And Best Practices For Creating Spotify Ads

Spotify ads run between songs and are an interruption for users. If you want people to pay attention to what you have to say, it’s probably best to resonate with their listening preferences and interests.

Stay Within The Context

If you’re marketing a brand that will be used by energetic party-goers, like an alcoholic beverage, you might not want to place your ad on a yoga music playlist. On the other hand, an ad for a relaxing product might not be what people tune into when they’re listening to upbeat electronica. If your ad feels like it fits in with the music your target audience is listening to without creating a disturbance, it’s more likely to resonate with the listener.

Know Your Target Audience

In order to keep your ads relevant, you’ll need to understand your target audience. Age, gender and language are important when selecting your target. One way to choose the right demographics is to analyze ads that you’ve run in the past. If people from a particular age range, location or gender convert more than others, choose those when setting up your Spotify ad.

If you don’t have data from other ads, accept the fact that you’ll need to experiment to find what works best for you on this platform. You might wonder what someone’s music interests have to do with your non-music-based brand. Spotify compiles data based on the mood and emotion elicited by certain songs, and users choose to listen to certain playlists based on their current state of mind.

If you can tap into that, you can drive conversions.

Personalize The Location

You can target users who live in specific areas when setting up an ad. If your audience lives in London, you might want to start your ad with, “Hello, London.” The personalization and association with their location might grab their attention.

Create A Story

What makes you get emotional when you listen to a particular song? It’s likely the story behind the music. You can touch your audience’s emotions when you incorporate a story into your advertisement too.

People are more likely to tune in when they’re being told a story than being sold a product or service. You can do this with words, but you can also build a story with a playlist.

Fox promoted its TV show Star by developing a branded playlist to share the inspiration behind the show’s music. Between songs, the cast offered some commentary.

Creating a playlist as part of your narrative can capture your audience. People will tend to listen to the playlist even after your advertising campaign is over.

Use Music

Your audience uses Spotify to listen to music. Therefore, if you use the perfect soundtrack for your ad, you’re going to fall in line with the platform’s mission and design. You can use music in the background of your ad or create a branded playlist to keep listeners involved.

The music that you use must do two things:

  • Resonate with your audience
  • Reflect your brand

Create A Specific Call To Action

When creating an ad, think about what you want users to do, and then instruct them to do this. Most of the time, this will involve clicking on the ad image for more information.

This Google Home Max ad that appeared on Spotify mobile has a clear “Buy Now” button that takes you to the Google store when you click on it:

Free Advertising On Spotify?

If you don’t want to pay for advertising fees, you can get creative with Spotify’s playlist options. Any user can create a playlist, and it’s free. Brand it by adding an image, and you have a new way of connecting with your audience.

Some ideas for creating engaging playlists include:

  • Making holiday playlists to get consumers in the mood to buy your products
  • Putting together workout playlists for companies geared toward sports and fitness
  • Compiling comforting and enthusiastic music for a restaurant

Once you’ve created some playlists, you need followers. If you’re serious about marketing, this involves strategy, not just asking your grandmother and best friends to follow you.

The strategy begins when you set up your playlists. They should match your listeners’ moods and interests. If you are trying to appeal to yogis, you might not want heavy metal on your playlists. Also, playlists should be curated and short. Split up the 500 songs that you want to share into several different playlists.

You can collaborate on playlists to allow your followers to add their own tracks. This is a great way to make some friends on the platform and gain visibility. If you choose to do this, you’ll need to keep tabs on the list so that it doesn’t get out of hand.

Once you’ve created a few playlists, share them. You can do this on social media or your blog. Ask questions, such as “Which is your favorite track?” to boost engagement. Add a Spotify Follow Button to your website so that new followers are only a click away.

Remember, Spotify is a social platform. You’ll need to keep up with it the same way you do with your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Follow artists that are appropriate for your brand so that others can learn what you’re listening to. Network by asking others what they’re listening to.

If your target audience listens to music, they’re likely to be on Spotify at some point. Harness this powerful platform by using it socially, creating your own ads for it or working with Spotify’s advertising sales team to dream up a campaign that will engage listeners and increase your brand’s exposure.

Next Steps

Advertising on Spotify is not quite as easy as setting up a Google or Facebook ad. But, that barrier to entry provides a unique opportunity for brands and businesses of all sizes looking to reach an audience in a personal and memorable way.

The post How To Advertise On Spotify Effectively appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Stripe VS Square

Stripe VS Square
✓ Products and Services ✓
✓ Compatible Hardware ✓
✓ Fees and Rates ✓
✓ Sales and Advertising Transparency ✓
Customer Service and Technical Support ✓
✓ Negative Reviews and Complaints ✓
✓ Positive Reviews and Testimonials ✓
Tie Final Verdict  Tie
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Overview

Spend a little bit of time reading up on Stripe (read our review) and Square (read our review) and you’ll start to see the similarities. They’re both giants in the payment industry, media darlings that have transformed the way people pay for things and the way merchants accept payments. They’re both on the leading edge of technology and rely heavily on machine learning to drive their payment processing systems.

Most importantly, both Square and Stripe offer huge assortments of commerce tools that make it easy for merchants to run their businesses. With the various APIs and integrations available, there are almost limitless possibilities for creating a custom system with everything from invoicing to email marketing and more.

But that’s where I stop pointing out the similarities. Once you get past that point, it becomes harder to draw apples-to-apples comparisons because Square’s offerings are much more varied. Square really is an all-in-one processor that can handle in-person and eCommerce payments, as well as inventory management, customer databases, and more. Stripe is more limited to eCommerce, both for websites and for mobile apps, but it has powerful tools for global enterprises, subscription-based businesses, and other online companies.

To keep things fair and within a manageable scope, we’re going to limit the scope of this comparison to each companies’ online and mobile commerce tools. That means, for the most part, we’re not going to look at mPOS apps, POS integrations, appointment booking, or email marketing…except to say if you need them, Square is the better choice.That also means we’ll be ignoring Stripe Atlas, the company’s service for helping international merchants establish themselves in the US.

If you want to sell online and Square and Stripe have made your shortlist, you should start by asking yourself some questions:

  • What features do you absolutely need? Which features aren’t essential, but would be very nice to have?
  • What percentage of your transactions are from outside the US?
  • Do you have a developer or advanced coding knowledge yourself?
  • Do you have limited tech knowledge and need an easy solution?
  • Are you looking for specific integrations?
  • What industry is your business part of?
  • How advanced are your subscription tool needs?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can sit down and look at each company in more detail. Read on for our comparison of Stripe vs. Square!

Products & Services

Winner: Tie

It’s so important to have a list of must-have features before you set about choosing any sort of payments or eCommerce software because you don’t want to make the decision and then find out that you’re missing a very important function. But it’s also important to think about where you want your business to go and what tools you want to invest in as your business scales up. If you pick the right service, it could mean you never need to switch. But if you don’t think about growth, you may wind up having to make a complicated switchover later in the future once you’ve outgrown a solution.

The good news is that for the most part, Stripe and Square are both very good solutions that scale up as a business grows. It just comes down to in which direction a business wants to grow.

Square Tools and Services for Online Merchants

Square initially stood out among mobile competitors by offering a free webstore to its merchants. Since then, the company has branched out considerably to include eCommerce integrations as well as developer tools. For a more in-depth review of all of Square’s offerings, check out our full review.

  • Online Store: Square’s free online store is very basic. There are only four templates to choose from, and you can only customize portions of the site (such as filling in your business name and address in the footer) in addition to loading your products. This is not a good solution for anyone with a large and diverse inventory, especially if your shipping costs vary significantly or if you’re looking for a particular visual aesthetic.
  • eCommerce Integrations: When you first take a look at Square’s eCommerce offerings, you’ll see that Square very conveniently groups everything by a merchant’s level of technical expertise. I think this is a really helpful approach.

    The easiest integrations are listed on the site and Square lets you know that you can choose from an assortment of templates.

    The intermediate level includes eCommerce integrations that require a bit more work and technical knowledge to get set up.
    Square’s list of integrations includes some of the best shopping cart options, and the list keeps growing. That makes me happy, but if your preferred integration isn’t on the list yet and you do have the technical knowledge (or an eager developer on your payroll), there are more tools at your disposal. You can check out the list of Square integrations in the app marketplace.
  • Developer Tools: Square’s dev tools make it possible for you to create almost any custom integration you could need. For eCommerce, there are two APIs, Checkout and Transactions.  Square Checkout is a premade form that can be dropped into a site with minimal fuss. Using Checkout means merchants are eligible for some perks, like next-day deposits and chargeback protection. The Transaction API, combined with Square’s payment form, is more customizable. Square has other APIs to handle other aspects of commerce, but you’ll find that Square doesn’t readily support in-app payments.
  • Dashboard Reporting: Square’s reporting tools are fairly advanced, especially for a company that started as an mPOS. They’re very popular with merchants who want to know what’s selling and how much they’re processing and need standard business data. The dashboard is actually quite intuitive, as well. However, Square doesn’t allow for a huge amount of customization in reports unless you get into the Reporting API, which allows you to create real-time notifications using webhooks.

Additionally, Square offers the following tools:

  • Advanced Inventory: Square will reconcile online and in-person sales and give you an up-to-date count on your inventory, including low-stock alerts when you hit a specified threshold. Plus, you can bulk upload products and generate SKUs, create variants, and more.
  • Fraud Protection Tools: Square uses machine learning to analyze transactions and identify and flag possible fraudulent transactions.
  • Customer Database: Save customers’ contact information and build a database with records of their purchases so that you can market to them later.
  • Invoicing: Create invoices from within the Square dashboard or from within the mPOS app. Square also allows customers to store their cards to automatically pay invoices (using this Card on File will cost you a bit more). You can also create recurring invoices. However, if you want extensive subscription management tools, you’ll need an integration with a service like Chargify, which will add to your costs.
  • Free Virtual Terminal: If you want to process payments over the phone or you don’t have access to the mPOS, you can use Square’s virtual terminal. Transactions will be processed at the manual entry rate (3.5% + $0.15) rather than the eCommerce rate, but the solution is PCI compliant and is designed for regular use.

All in all, while it’s worth noting that Square really is an omnichannel solution for merchants who want to sell anywhere without needing to build a complicated system of integrations. But it has some shortcomings, especially for digital merchants. Subscription tools are nearly nonexistent, and fraud protection doesn’t compare to the tools Stripe offers. If you want advanced, custom reports, you’ll be better served by Stripe. However, Square’s tools and overall design are incredibly easy to use, especially for business owners who don’t have a lot of technical expertise or a large budget to hire someone. And it has very strong tools for merchants who sell physical products in particular.

Stripe Tools and Services for Online Merchants

Stripe has earned its name as a developer-friendly option, but you can also integrate with a host of third-party apps to accept payments with ease. The company focuses on internet and mobile commerce, but developers have extended Square’s power to include mobile payments and more. Just take note, there’s no free storefront option here. For a more detailed look at different features, check out our complete Stripe review.

  • eCommerce Integrations & Plug-Ins: Stripe outclasses Square in terms of shopping cart integrations by virtue of sheer numbers. In addition to integrations with major eCommerce software providers, developers have created an assortment of plug-ins for businesses operating on WordPress, Magento, and other websites. If you’re not really sure where you start, you might end up doing a lot of research to decide the best course of action, but you can at least take heart in knowing that there’ll be something that will meet your needs. You can check out the full list of eCommerce integrations on Stripe’s “Works With” page.
  • Developer Tools: Stripe is much loved by developers for its flexibility, its extensive documentation and its support for multiple programming languages. Its APIs allow you to create invoices and subscriptions along with many other features.

    Stripe Elements will let you create an entirely custom form with pre-built components; Stripe Checkout generates a pre-built form you can just drop into the site with a few lines of JavaScript. With Stripe, it’s very easy to accept payments on a desktop computer, a mobile site, or within a mobile app. Stripe now even supports 1-touch payments on mobile
  • Stripe Sigma: Stripe offers your standard user dashboard with some general sales reports at no charge. But if your business is heavily data-driven, Sigma’s customizable reporting is the perfect solution for you: you can generate reports based on SQL queries. This is pretty cool, and it’s a great way to make sure that anyone on your team can get the reports they need without creating an information bottleneck. Pricing is based on a sliding scale rather than a set additional monthly see.

Stripe’s additional tools include:

  • Stripe Billing: Stripe’s subscription tools are industry-leading, with the ability to charge clients based on a recurring quantity or metered usage, to set free trial periods, and much more. You can also create invoices or set up recurring billing tools. However, new businesses will pay a small additional charge per transaction to use these tools.
  • Stripe Radar: Stripe makes a big deal of its fraud monitoring tools, bundled under the very-apt name Radar. The system uses machine learning and a host of criteria to analyze every transaction and decide whether it is legitimate or possibly fraudulent. Radar also lets merchants set custom criteria for rejecting transactions and review flagged transactions to decide whether to accept or reject them.
  • Marketplace Tools: Merchants who want to operate a marketplace can use Stripe to build the platform. Stripe’s marketplace tools are grouped under the moniker “Stripe Connect.”
  • Multiple Currency Displays & Dynamic Currency Conversion: These tools are a major reason why Stripe is such a powerful tool for global businesses. Whereas Stripe will automatically convert transactions to USD (usually at the cost of a fee to the cardholder), Stripe will allow you to display prices in local currencies based on where the customer is located. Stripe then automatically converts them for the merchant, charging a small markup over the exchange rate. This makes a business more appealing to international customers.

There’s no doubt that Stripe is very powerful. It can handle all sorts of payments, from digital subscriptions to retail goods. It’s one of the best solutions for global businesses with its currency tools. But it does have some limitations. If you plan to sell across multiple channels, there’s no option for in-person payments unless you have an integration like Flint Mobile (read our review), but it’s still more costly than other mPOS options. There’s no virtual terminal, either. While Stripe does allow you to manually enter a transaction if all else fails, it’s a last resort rather than a tool to be used on the regular because of PCI compliance issues.

Stripe’s inventory tools aren’t on the level of Square. They’re powerful, but if you want advanced inventory management, you’ll need to tack on an integration. I also don’t think that Stripe’s inventory tools are even half as intuitive as Square’s. But I think part of that is Stripe’s focus on online payments and tools for digital merchants, compared to Square’s omnichannel approach.

All in all, it’s really hard to say one of these companies is inherently better than the other. Both have a good assortment of integrations for shopping carts and other tools, though Stripe has a greater number of supported integrations. If you want ease of use, especially if you sell physical goods,  Square is the standout option. But if you need flexibility, robust tools, and advanced data, Stripe is the better choice. So it ultimately comes down to your business’ needs.

Fees & Rates

Winner: Tie

I am happy to say that pricing for both Square and Stripe is mostly straightforward:

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction

There are no monthly fees, no monthly minimums, no statement fees. That’s very nice to see.

I do want to point out that Square charges different rates for its card-present and keyed transactions (2.7% and 3.5% + $0.15, respectively). However, invoices process at the same rate as eCommerce transactions unless you’re using Card on File, which process at the keyed transaction rate.

Square also has no chargeback fees, which is very unusual. Not only that, but the company has rolled out Chargeback Protection, which will cover the actual chargeback costs on qualifying disputes up to $250 per month. This doesn’t apply to merchants who use the Transactions API, but it is available for those who use Stripe Checkout.

You can get volume discounts if you process above $250k per year AND have an average ticket size exceeding $15. That’s a mark in Square’s favor for large businesses. However, nonprofits don’t get any sort of special discount, which you can often find with other processors.

Stripe’s pricing has become a tiny bit more complicated. In addition to card transactions processed at 2.9% + $0.30, you can also accept ACH transactions for 0.8%, capped at $5 maximum.

The base fee per transaction is simple. And for each chargeback, Stripe will assess a $15 fee, unless the chargeback is decided in your favor. In that case, you’ll pay absolutely nothing.

Stripe’s subscription tools, lumped under the name “Stripe Billing” along with invoicing, will cost you a small percentage fee (between 0.04% and 0.07%) on top of your transaction.

Existing Stripe merchants are grandfathered out of this new pricing. Large businesses will actually pay the higher 0.7% markup, but it seems Stripe has compromised by offering lower transaction fees.

You’ll also pay a monthly fee for access to Stripe Sigma. The cost is a sliding scale based on the number of transactions you process each month, which is a great way for very small businesses to still get crucial data. But for a company that built its reputation on not charging any fees beyond transaction processing, it’s a little bit disappointing to see that model disappearing. You can estimate your cost with Stripe’s tool.

Stripe does offer enterprise pricing for very large businesses, and some nonprofits may be eligible for a special rate. Stripe doesn’t make any promises about nonprofit pricing apart from “let us know and we’ll see what we can do.” So you shouldn’t assume it’s guaranteed.

With Stripe, you may also be able to negotiate for micro-transaction rates. Whereas per-transaction fees like the $0.30 Stripe and Square charge can eat up fees from small transactions (less than $10 in particular), micro-transaction rates typically include a higher percentage and a lower per-transaction fee that can save merchants money. This is ideal for anyone who sells digital goods and other low-cost items.

Because it’s something offered as part of a custom package, Stripe may not offer this deal to everyone. If you’re unable to get a micro-transaction plan from Stripe, it might be worth looking at a third option — PayPal (read our review) — instead. The 5% + $0.05 fee could save you quite a bit of money in the long run.

All in all, Stripe and Square are fairly evenly matched in pricing. Some merchants might enjoy the lack of chargeback fees and included chargeback protection that Square offers. But Stripe might be a bigger draw for other companies, despite the additional charges for using its subscription tools or Sigma reporting.

Contract Length & Cancellation

Winner: Tie 

Both Stripe and Square offer pay-as-you-go processing with no locked-in contracts or early termination fees. It really is that simple. Stripe will even help you transfer your customer data to another processor in a PCI compliant way.

If you’re using any of Square’s monthly services in addition to eCommerce processing, you can get a free 30-day trial, and then if you choose to continue with the service, you can cancel at any time. Square doesn’t bill annually for those services the way many SaaS providers do. (Conversely, you also don’t get any discounts for paying annually, either.)

Sales & Advertising Transparency

Winner: Tie 

One of the reasons I like pay-as-you-go processors is that they are, on the whole, very upfront and transparent. They tend to not have extensive sales teams, and if they do have a sales team, they’re all in-house. They’re very clear about their pricing and terms, and they’re applied fairly to all merchants.

Square and Stripe both fit this pattern to a T. You won’t see reports of misleading sales pitches or rates not as promised here, which is always nice to see. You can find Stripe’s terms of service on the site, both the general user agreement and the Stripe Payments agreement. Like Stripe, Square has separate agreements applying to general use, payments, and other services. I do recommend you be cautious and check that your business doesn’t fall on either list of “prohibited businesses,” because that’s an easy path to account termination.

Overall, I’m really happy with both companies in this category, and you shouldn’t have any worries about whether you’re being told the truth or whether you’ll pay what you were quoted.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Square

I think it’s fairly clear that Square outshines Stripe in terms of its customer support — both in quality and in the number of channels available.

Square offers merchants phone and email support, as well as an extensive knowledgebase. That’s pretty typical of any processor, but on top of that, Square operates the Seller Community, a community forum about all-things Square.

 

You can get answers from other Square merchants as well as from Square support reps. It’s a pretty powerful tool. But on top of that, Square’s team monitors Stack Overflow for questions about Square products and responds to them.

And that’s not even talking about Square’s dedicated Twitter support handle (@SqSupport), or the developer portal and documentation.

I can’t say that Square customer support is all sunshine and rainbows, because I do see customer complaints about the quality. However, without a doubt the biggest complaint about the quality of customer support comes from merchants whose accounts have been terminated. In that case, Square cuts off access to phone support and will only communicate via email. This is unfortunate and I don’t know if it’s actually a good solution. But I am sure part of the reason to reduce the odds of a customer support rep saying something they shouldn’t, and to prevent support resources from being tied up dealing with complaints from terminated merchants whose accounts won’t be reinstated.

Stripe is more limited in its support options. Its primary support channel is email. However, Stripe also operates an IRC Freenode chat (#Stripe) that developers may find useful. There’s no dedicated social media support with Stripe, but you can follow the general @Stripe twitter feed.

Stripe also maintains a self-service knowledgebase, though I don’t think it’s as extensive or detailed as Square’s. But I will say that Stripe’s documentation is pretty legendary, and so it’s going to be one of the best resources you can get.  You can also find questions about Stripe on Stack Overflow, but I am not able to ascertain whether Stripe’s team is active on the forum at all the way that Square is.

I do see comments from merchants that the support is pretty good. But I also see a lot of complaints from frustrated merchants about the lack of phone support. That complaint has actually become one of the biggest marks against Stripe. I’ve seen one mention that Stripe might be rolling out phone support to “select merchants” (presumably high-value clients). However, take this with a grain of salt. I wasn’t able to verify it through any sort of authoritative source.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

As far as complaints go, the single biggest issue for both Square and Stripe is a common one:

  • Account Holds And Terminations: This is unsurprising (understatement of the year, right there) because it’s a common issue with any third-party processor. Because these payment systems are usually open to almost anyone right away and they are all lumped into one large merchant account, there’s a greater risk that some of those accounts will be terminated for risky behavior. There’s very little scrutiny done before a sub-account with one of these processors is approved, which stands in contrast to merchant accounts, where the processing company will do a lot of underwriting and investigation before approving your application. Both Square and Stripe use a lot of machine learning to analyze transactions and flag suspicious behaviors. This potential for account holds or terminations is universal — you will encounter it with any third-party processor. If you want to avoid it, your only alternative is to seek out a traditional merchant account.

The other big complaint that I see with both is also a pretty common one:

  • Poor Customer Support: If I’m honest, reports about the quality of customer service conflict. But because of how common the complaints are, I’m listing it here. With Stripe, the most common issues are the lack of phone support and slow response times for email. With Square, a lot of the complaints about poor customer service come from terminated merchants, but I’ve seen a few complaints about slow or unhelpful email responses.

Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:

  • Lack Of Fraud Protection: I want to be clear: Stripe does have fraud management tools and a system to help merchants fight chargebacks. But I have seen complaints from merchants who don’t think these are adequate. Chargebacks are not settled by Stripe, so there’s not much the company can do beyond pass the requested documents on. But for fraud prevention, merchants need to make sure they have the appropriate tools enabled.
  • Not User-Friendly: There’s a lot of testimonials from users (especially developers) who really like Stripe and find it simple to set up. There are plenty of others who disagree with that idea. I’m inclined to think most people with a decent technical backing will get along fine with Stripe, but for some people, especially those with less technical knowledge, it’s not going to be a good choice.

For Square, there is one other common complaint:

  • Lack of advanced features: It’s not that Square doesn’t have enough features, or that it’s missing anything important. The complaints about Square often focus on the lack of very particular advanced features that you typically find in full-scale POS systems. In this case, I think Square’s lack of extensive subscription tools would fit the bill. Some merchants have been upset for quite a while over the lack of Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) reporting. Square added this feature with its Square for Retail app, but not for online sales or its free POS. Square has some very powerful reporting tools, but in the end, they won’t hold a candle to Stripe’s Sigma offering.

I think, yet again, that the two companies are pretty evenly matched in this category. The largest complaints are identical, and that’s because they’re the same complaints we see with third-party processors. To be entirely honest, poor customer service is a common complaint across the entire payments industry. It’s frustrating, for sure. But you can take steps to better inform yourself — read our article on how to prevent holds, freezes, and account terminations. And please take reports of poor customer service with a grain of salt, because I see conflicting accounts there.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

As media darlings, both Stripe and Square have gotten lots of press. They’re both lauded for the way they’ve transformed payments.

I usually feel a little bit silly comparing two businesses in this category because it almost feels like a bit of a popularity contest. But in this case, we’re dealing with two companies who have both gotten a LOT of positive press over the years, not to mention high-profile clients. And the bits of each service that merchants love most are pretty similar, too.

Square merchants love how easy the service is to use. And I tend to agree — Square is one of the most intuitive options out there as far as payments and using the dashboard. Merchants also really like the predictable pricing and lack of fees. Other than that, the integrated invoicing feature and the seamless omnichannel commerce experience are big draws.

Stripe also wins merchants over with its pricing, and its tools are very much loved by developers. While if you don’t have a lot of technical knowledge, Stripe may feel foreign to you, developers say it’s incredibly easy to use. Also on the dev side of things, it seems like the quality of customer service is great, even if business owners don’t always like the lack of phone support. And unsurprisingly, merchants really seem to love Stripe’s robust subscription tools. The predictable pricing and lack of monthly fees are also appealing.

Final Verdict

Winner: Tie

Stripe and Square have some very important core similarities: they’re both third-party processors with an assortment of tools that allow merchants to sell online. Neither one is suited to high-risk industries, and there’s a lengthy list of businesses neither company can work with. But despite that, both Stripe and Square offer tools that cater to a huge assortment of industries. They’ll both grow with your business, making it easy to scale up.

But despite their similarities in terms of business model, it’s also pretty clear that what each company does best is completely different.

Square is a spectacular all-in-one processor. You can sell in a store, on the go, and online and get all of your information and payments and orders collected in one simply, intuitive dashboard. There’s a huge array of add-on products that allow you consolidate a host of business functions under one name, and they’re guaranteed to work together perfect. eCommerce support is really the newest branch of Square’s offerings, and it’s a work in progress as the company establishes more partnerships and integrations with other major players.

If you have limited technical knowledge, Square is going to be much easier to get started with and to navigate through the different features. It’s free advanced inventory tools are also very well suited to retailers and other businesses that sell primarily physical goods.

Stripe focuses only on Internet payments (both on the web and in-app), but its tools make it possible for businesses to cater to customers all over the globe. The international appeal — from the local currency displays to the sheer breadth of payment methods accepted — make it clear that Stripe is already a global player.Not only that, but with Stripe’s APIs and documentation, a savvy developer could create all kinds of payments platforms for a business. Business owners who don’t have a developer on staff, and who don’t have a lot of technical knowledge themselves, might struggle with understanding how to use Stripe, especially if you want to do anything more than integrate it with some sort of shopping cart software.

You also get a far more limited scope of features. There’s no native support for omnichannel commerce. No mPOS app, no POS integration to support card-present pricing, no invoicing. If you need more than online payments on a regular basis, Stripe isn’t a suitable choice. But if that’s all you need, Stripe isn’t just a good option — it’s one of the best out there, period. If your business has a global reach, again you’ll find that Stripe once again tops the lists of best solutions.

I’m not comfortable saying that one of these solutions is better than the other because it really comes down to what your priorities are. Do you need something easy to use? Do you want to embrace multiple sales channels? Or are you limited to online sales and want best-in-class tools to reach a global audience, manage subscriptions, and even drive mobile commerce? Square can get the job done, and it’ll be the easier solution, but Stripe offers far more tools.

Sit down, think about what features are absolutely mandatory for you to have — and then look at which ones you’d like to have, but aren’t necessarily required. From there, it should be fairly clear which solution is right for you! Don’t forget to check out our complete reviews of Stripe and Square for more insights into how they function.

Have questions? Leave us a comment and we’ll help! Have experience using either of these tools? We’d love to hear from you.

As always, thanks for reading!

The post Stripe VS Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Use GoFundMe To Fund A Business In 8 Steps

go fund me for business start up

With over $5 billion raised on the platform since its inception in 2010, GoFundMe has a reputation for helping to cover the costs of personal emergencies in a world where most of us are just one missed paycheck away from ruin. But while the company has become synonymous with charitable crowdfunding, you might not realize that GoFundMe can be used to fund a business as well. Want proof? Here are the categories you can choose from when creating your GoFundMe campaign:

 

go fund me for business

Now, don’t get me wrong: If your entrepreneurial venture is a high-tech startup with exponential growth potential, or if you’re creating the next tabletop gaming sensation, you’re going to be better off going with a more commercially-oriented crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter (see our review) or Indiegogo (see our review), or perhaps one of the new equity crowdfunding sites that have popped up in recent years.

However, for the right kind of startup business — preferably one with a local/community focus and with a compelling story to tell about overcoming adversity — GoFundMe is an attractive fundraising option. One big reason? GoFundMe charges no platform fee to individual campaigns launched from the US, UK, and Canada. The typical crowdfunding site takes 5% of what you raise.

I’ll give three real-world examples of people using GoFundMe to fund a business and finding success.

  • Two Detroit students raised $3,000 to fund their socially-conscious waffle cookie company
  • Owners of a San Francisco restaurant raised $50K to get out of debt
  • A veteran raised $2,000 to start his own motorcycle repair shop

Read on for the eight steps you should follow to get money from GoFundMe to start your own business.

1) Make Sure Your Business Is Right For GoFundMe

Before you go about using GoFundMe to start a business, consider whether your startup is a good fit for GoFundMe. Many of the startups currently using crowdfunding to great effect are in industries that thrive on platforms like the aforementioned Kickstarter: makers of apps, gadgets, and games who typically don’t have an offline presence in the form of a restaurant or shop. Likewise, Patreon (see our review) has become a leading crowdfunder for podcasters, musicians, graphic artists, and other creatives whose work is easily disseminated online.

Crowdfunding with GoFundMe is a different matter, however. Donors tend to contribute to GoFundMe campaigns not to get in on the latest tech trend or trendy tabletop game, but to make a positive difference in the life of people in need or to benefit their community as a whole. Look at the sort of businesses that have had successful GoFundMe campaigns and you’ll note that they typically feature some combination of a) a business that has a positive impact on public life in a community and b) an entrepreneur/business owner with either a sympathetic and compelling personal story to tell or a mission related to charity or social justice.

If neither a) nor b) applies to you and your business, you’d be better off seeking funding from one of the other crowdfunding outfits I’ve mentioned. If at least one of the two does apply to your efforts, you stand a decent shot at making GoFundMe work for your business.

go fund me for business

2) Develop A Business Plan & A Realistic Funding Goal

Have a business plan ready before you start publicly campaigning for money. In particular, make sure you set a funding goal that you expect to actually be able to meet. Define exactly what it is that you plan to do with the money you expect to raise so that in the event you reach your funding goal, you know what to do next.

Of course, all the best-laid plans on Earth won’t help you if you don’t actually raise any money. One way to increase your chances of crowdfunding success is to offer cool rewards to people who donate to your campaign.

3) Offer Multiple Reward Tiers

Remember when I said that GoFundMe donors are motivated mainly by the desire to do good? This may be the case, but you’re still competing for the limited attention of donors with all the other campaigns listed on the site. This is when rewards come into play.

With GoFundMe, as with Kickstarter and many other crowdfunders, you can offer multiple levels of rewards to those who contribute to your campaign. This means that you can offer increasingly higher-value rewards to people who donate larger amounts of money. My advice would be to take advantage of this crowdfunding feature and offer multiple reward tiers to your would-be donors. Give people a reason to feel invested in your success!

While branded trinkets and t-shirts might draw some people in, rewards that give people a taste of your product or service are even better. Offer discounts, coupons and/or gift cards for whatever you have to offer. Get people in the habit of frequenting your business and they’ll be more likely to give you their business on an ongoing basis.

4) Refine Your Campaign Pitch

When creating your GoFundMe campaign page, you’ll obviously want to make it as appealing as possible.

  • Post A Fun Campaign Video: Keep it to around two minutes so you don’t lose viewers’ fickle attention, but don’t be afraid to show a personal touch, as people prefer authenticity and humor to slick sales pitches. You should at least allude to the personal challenges you’ve faced in growing your business. After all, this is GoFundMe, where tugging at the ol’ heartstrings is expected.
  • Make Your GoFundMe Campaign Page As Attractive As Possible: Use high-resolution images to promote your campaign. Preferably images that feature both you and your place of business. Remember: the personal touch is key.
  • Write A Descriptive Title: Try to summarize what your campaign is all about with one phrase. Don’t just write “Business Needs Help” — that doesn’t tell anyone anything or capture their interest. A good, catchy title can help distinguish your campaign from the thousands of others like it!

5) Seek Support From Friends & Family Before Launch

Not to diminish the importance of marketing your campaign to the public at large, but your most important source of support is likely to be your personal network: friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. Not only are they likely to contribute a significant proportion of what you raise, but it’s essential to secure their support before your campaign goes public. That way, when you launch your campaign, strangers who come across it won’t see “$0” as the amount raised. Success breeds success, and it’s easier to attract public support when you’ve already secured a decent chunk of funding.

You can have family members donate anonymously if you don’t want people knowing how much of your support comes from relatives!

6) Market Your Campaign Via Social Media & Email

To build buzz around your GoFundMe campaign, you’ll need to market it on your social media channels. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like to spread the word about your story and your campaign. If you can, try to collect the email addresses of those interested in your campaign in order to build a mailing list in which you can give updates on your business’s progress and whatever other behind-the-scenes material you like. You can use services like MailChimp (see our review) to keep your followers updated with attractive template-based emails in which you can detail your progress.

Try to develop some press contacts as well. This way, when you’re ready to launch, you can alert them ahead of time.

7) Keep Everybody Updated After Your Campaign Launches

There’s a reason it’s called a campaign — you have to work hard to keep the contributions flowing! The uncomfortable truth is that most crowdfunding campaigns, whether they be for business or personal causes, don’t reach their funding goals. If you want to beat the odds, a compelling story and a nifty video won’t be enough. You’ll need to work on your campaign continuously as if it were your job.

Once your campaign is in full swing, keep everyone informed with frequent updates. Don’t just post updates to your GoFundMe page — make sure to send out updates through all your social media channels as well. Go ahead and get personal with your updates. Don’t just rattle off a list of statistics. Document your continuing personal involvement in your campaign for business funding. Be sure to respond to anyone with questions about what you’re doing, both on your GoFundMe page and on social media.

8) Stay Engaged With Your Backers Post-Campaign

Let’s say you overcome your challenges and meet your funding goal. Fantastic! Now, what are you going to do with the contacts you’ve made, the followers you’ve attracted, and the mailing list you’ve started? If you want your business to thrive, you won’t just let them drift away.

Consider an email drip campaign to keep your contacts appraised of your latest doings and to offer special promotions. Stay active on the social media channels you used to such great effect during your campaign. Maintain the relationships you developed with your first customers, as these people will be your most important evangelists, spreading the good word about your business and the friendly, personable owner who treated them so nicely.

In this lonely, atomized world we unconscionably created, people long to experience community. Provide them with one, and they will reward you.

Final Thoughts

Crowdfunding is hard. As I mentioned at the start of this article, most crowdfunding campaigns fail. There’s a reason why crowdfunding hasn’t solved the problems of startup undercapitalization or bankruptcy-inducing medical expenses. However, if you prepare beforehand, build a community of supporters, and approach the task like a job, you’ll greatly increase your chances of success when using GoFundMe to start a business.

Check out the links below to learn more about GoFundMe.

Read our full GoFundMe review

Visit the GoFundMe website

The post How To Use GoFundMe To Fund A Business In 8 Steps appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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A Guide To Shopify Templates And Design Tools

Shopify is a cloud-based, SaaS solution for online sellers. This ecommerce platform allows you to build a full website, add products, create promotions, and sell from your own site.

Shopify is an incredibly popular solution, hosting online stores for over 500,000 merchants; this popularity is due primarily to Shopify’s simplicity and ease of use. Sellers of all skill levels can set up and operate their stores on Shopify.

What’s more, Shopify is well known for its excellent web design. The platform offers a wide selection of modern and elegantly designed website templates.

Like everything this company does, Shopify’s responsive design is intended to be easy to use and accessible to merchants with little to no experience in web development. Keep reading to learn more about Shopify’s design templates, design tools, and best practices for your own designs.

How Do Shopify Designs Work?

Shopify uses a theme marketplace to provide design templates to their users. Every merchant has access to Shopify’s theme marketplace, which includes 63 themes made to fit a variety of industries and online stores.

When you find one you like, you simply download the whole package and enable it on your site (in some cases, you will have to purchase the theme). You can then tweak your site with a few of the available design tools. We’ll talk more about those design tools later. First, let’s talk about the kinds of Shopify templates available.

Types Of Shopify Templates

Free Shopify Templates

10 of Shopify’s 63 themes are free to download. Those themes are a bit simpler than their premium counterparts. However, many merchants will find that the free themes fit their needs just fine.

Here are a few of our favorite free Shopify templates:

Premium Shopify Templates

If the free themes don’t strike your fancy, take a look at Shopify’s premium themes. These themes are a little more complex, and they are typically priced between $140-$180.

Here are a few examples of Shopify’s premium templates:

Buying Shopify Templates

If you do choose a premium design, purchasing the template is a simple process.

Just go into the theme marketplace, and select the template you’d like to buy. Then, click the “Buy Theme” button located under “Try Theme.”

You’ll be redirected to your admin where you can confirm the purchase.

Then, you can enable your brand new template on your site.

Available Design Tools

Once you’ve found your template, it’s time to start customizing your store. Shopify provides a variety of tools for different levels of customization. Here are a few of the tools you can use to change up your site.

Easy-To-Use Tools

  • WYSIWYG Editor: Use a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor to quickly update copy and add content to your site, without touching the code.
  • Theme Editor: Use Shopify’s built-in theme editor to make a few simple changes, and preview those changes in real time. You can use this tool to adjust the backgrounds, images, colors, and fonts of your online store.
  • Sections: Sections is Shopify’s new drag-and-drop block design tool. Sections lets you make large-scale changes to your site by adding content blogs and rearranging widgets. This tool is currently only available with select themes. However, Shopify is continually working to expand its availability. View the Sections editor below.

Advanced Customization Tools

While the above tools are great for merchants who simply want to tweak their existing designs, they do have their limitations. If you want to alter your templates more than these easy editors will allow, you’ll have to go deeper.

Here’s how you can best customize your website design:

  • Code Editor: In order to make dramatic changes to your site, you’ll need to really get into the code. Shopify uses the Liquid templating language (Learn more about Liquid). You can also edit your site’s HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Hire A Shopify Expert: If you want to make changes to your code, but you don’t have the skill to do it, look into outsourcing your customization to Shopify Experts.

Shopify Template Designs & Best Practices

When you select a Shopify theme, you get every template that comes with it. You will have a pre-designed template for your About Us page, storefront, blog, checkout page, etc.

As we’ve already discussed, while most of the design elements are determined by the theme you choose, you can edit a few elements of your online store’s design using available tools.

Here’s what you can do to make sure your site meets with industry best practices on every page:

Shopify Store Templates

Before we get into best practices for your storefront design, let’s take a look at one of Shopify’s preset storefronts. This image is taken from the free Brooklyn theme.

Shopify does a lot right with this preset. And, with a little work, you can make this design even better. Here are a few of the most important factors to keep in mind as you customize your design.

Prioritize Site Navigation

Excellent site navigation helps your customers locate the products they’re looking for, hopefully reducing your store’s bounce rates. One of the best ways to improve site organization is by implementing a navigation bar with a drop-down menu at the top of your site.

This navigation bar should include categories and subcategories (which you can display using a drop down bar). Everything in your navigation bar, from titles to promotions, should be clickable.

Not only does a navigation bar aid your customers, but also it improves your online store’s overall SEO. Listing your categories and subcategories on every page gives Google more keywords to grab onto, helping your site rank better on organic search results.

Focus On Images

Studies show that image-focused responsive design inspires more engagement. Design your homepage to feature your products and your brand with engaging, high-quality images.

Keep Information Above The Fold

Make sure your most important information is displayed at the top of your page, so customers will see it before they scroll. This includes contact information, promotions, shipping information, and your shopping cart icon.

Shopify About Us Templates

The About Us page is your space to shine. Share your story with your customers, and let your brand’s personality come through. Scroll down for a few more tips for your About Us page.

Connect With Customers

Your About Us page should be a place where you build a relationship with your customers. Make sure to welcome customers to your site and don’t be afraid to use flattery. (“You won’t settle for anything but the best!”)

Tell A Story

Every business has a story. Use your About Us page to put your history on display. Show your customers that you are regular people and demonstrate your business’s growth to date.

As you write your About Us page, be sure to use your brand’s own voice. Include all the personality of your brand.

Consider Including Alternative Media

Got a video you’d like to share? This is a great place to put it! Consider using videos, images, and testimonials on this page, as well as links to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others.

Shopify Blog Templates

We love that Shopify offers built-in blogs with all their themes and designs. Maintaining an active blog is a great way to build your brand, promote your online store, and harness some extra SEO power. Here’s a look at Shopify’s blog template for the Brooklyn theme. See below for more information on blogging best practices.

Post Regularly

The most important part of having a blog is actually using that blog. Develop a publication schedule and stick to it! Posting frequently and regularly will show customers that your online store is still in business, and it will indicate to Google that your site is active.

Write Relevant & Useful Information

While your blog is an important part of your business’s marketing strategy, your articles should not read like advertisements for your products. Write articles that are interesting, useful, and entertaining to your customers. Each article should have some value for its reader. Keep in mind your customers’ needs and interests as you write.

Shopify Thank You Page Templates

The Thank You page is the page your customers will see after they finalize a purchase. Shopify gives you an excellent starting place with their predesigned Thank You page. However, you can still do more to optimize this page.

Think Upsell

Now that you’ve secured a purchase, it’s the perfect opportunity to encourage more purchases. Consider displaying related products in the sidebar of your Thank You page. You could even provide a discount code for future purchases at your store.

At the very least, make sure customers can easily return to browsing with the easy “Continue Shopping” button that Shopify has already included.

Final Thoughts

If you’re already a Shopify merchant, you’re only a few steps away from a beautiful baseline for your online store. Just take a tour through the theme marketplace, test out any responsive themes that pique your interest with a demo, and settle on one that fits your website design plans.

Then, customize, customize, customize, until your site works exactly the way you need it to!

Are you already using Shopify’s design tools? Do you have any favorite themes? Let us know in the comments below which theme you’re using and how web design is going for your online store.

The post A Guide To Shopify Templates And Design Tools appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The 7 Best Equity Crowdfunding Sites For Businesses And Entrepreneurs

So, what is equity crowdfunding, anyway?

Let’s start with the term “crowdfunding.” If you’re only loosely familiar with the concept, you might think of GoFundMe’s brand of medical and charitable crowdfunding. You may also think of rewards-based crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon in which entrepreneurs and artists solicit funds from backers in exchange for a physical product or exclusive creative content.

What if I told you that there existed an entirely different form of crowdfunding — one in which entrepreneurs and startups receive funding from backers in exchange, not for gifts or products, but for an equity stake in the company? A crowdfunding campaign in which the backers are investors?

Equity-based crowdfunding got its start later than rewards crowdfunding because crowdfunding involving investments was, until relatively recently, illegal in the US. Enter the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, better known as the JOBS Act. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2012, the JOBS Act amended federal securities regulations to legalize equity crowdfunding. The reasoning was that allowing startups to publicly solicit investment via crowdfunding would help spur the economy in general and startup formation in particular.

The various portions of the Act, however, did not immediately come into force. For instance, the provision that allowed the offering of equity investment to non-accredited investors (more on what this means later) wasn’t actually enacted until 2016. Suffice to say, equity crowdfunding is new. In fact, the reality of equity crowdfunding hasn’t yet lived up to the loftier predictions of those who pushed its creation. Nonetheless, the fact remains that billions of dollars have been raised by startups and companies via equity crowdfunding. For the right kind of business, equity crowdfunding represents a prime opportunity.

If your company is still just getting off the ground, however, you might find that rewards crowdfunding is a better fit for your enterprise, considering that investors tend to be less starry-eyed than the typical crowdfunding project backer. In this case, you might want to read our reviews of Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patreon. Bear in mind that in many cases, a successful rewards crowdfunding campaign can set you up for an equity crowdfunding campaign by showing proof of demand to potential investors.

Let’s take a look at the leading equity crowdfunding sites and what they have to offer growing businesses.

But First, A Warning

Let’s pump the brakes for a moment and go over the disclaimer I’ve started putting on my equity crowdfunding reviews:

Bear in mind that equity crowdfunding is a still-evolving field, with the full impact of the JOBS Act still being assessed. Equity crowdfunding is a more complex proposition than, say, rewards-based crowdfunding, as investing is much more substantially regulated. Consult an attorney if you have any legal questions regarding the process, SEC regulations, etc.

In short: Equity crowdfunding is legally complex. Be careful and don’t get into trouble!

Crowdfunder

crowdfunder

Crowdfunder (see our review) was launched in Los Angeles in 2012 with a mission to, in the company’s own words, “empower thousands of entrepreneurs to grow high-impact ventures.” The company provides the following figures regarding equity funding services:

  • $160,000,000 in investment commitments on the platform
  • 12,000 individual & institutional investors
  • 36,000 companies
  • Funded 100+ deals with an average deal size of $1.8M

Let’s take a closer look at the equity crowdfunding platform with the hopelessly generic name. (The company shares its name with an unrelated British rewards crowdfunding site.)

Best For…

Crowdfunder is very explicit regarding its target audience:

Crowdfunder is designed for early-stage startups and more mature businesses raising seed stage, Series-A & Series-B funding. Our offering does not cater to inception stage companies at this time.

The platform accepts businesses that fall into a variety of categories including Tech Startups, Social Enterprises, Small Businesses, and Film & Entertainment.

A look through the companies currently campaigning on Crowdfunder reveals more tech companies than anything else, with financial/investment companies a close second.

Products Offered

Crowdfunder allows companies to raise money via Title II equity crowdfunding. For those who aren’t familiar with what I mean, here’s a brief explainer.

Title II equity crowdfunding essentially means your crowdfunding campaign can solicit investment from accredited investors only. An “accredited investor” is defined someone who either has a net worth of $1,000,000 minus the value of their principal residence OR who made more than $200,000 a year for the past three years. The term simply refers to someone with a certain level of wealth/income — it does not denote any particular investment skill.

Title III equity crowdfunding, or Regulation Crowdfunding, means you can solicit investment from anybody — both from accredited investors and those who are not. Title III crowdfunding was legalized more recently than Title II crowdfunding and is currently less widely used. On its website, Crowdfunder explains why it does not currently allow Title III crowdfunding.

With Crowdfunder, all funds are transferred offline, so Crowdfunder doesn’t take a percentage cut of what you raise. And while it won’t cost you anything to create a (non-public) profile on the platform, you’ll need a monthly subscription in order to launch your equity campaign.

  • Crowdfunder’s Starter package, for $299/month, lets you take your profile public and start raising money.
  • The Premium plan, at $499/month, gives you the above while letting you browse and contact the accredited investors on Crowdfunder’s platform. You also get advanced data/metrics and up to one hour per month of phone support.

I’ll note that in addition to equity-based crowdfunding, Crowdfunder lets you raise money via debt, convertible note, or revenue share offerings. Furthermore, Crowdfunder’s funding campaigns are keep-what-you-raise — you don’t have to hit a specific funding goal to collect funds.

Requirements

Anyone can set up a profile on Crowdfunder’s website, but in order to launch your campaign, you’ll have to prepare and submit three documents: the Term Sheet, the Executive Summary, and the Investor Pitch Deck. These documents are complex, particularly the Term Sheet. Crowdfunder recommends that you work with an attorney when creating your financial offering.

Of course, you’ll also need to buy a monthly subscription before raising funds.

How To Apply

Anyone can set up a profile on Crowdfunder and submit the documents required for taking your campaign public. However, upon reviewing your documents, it’s up to Crowdfunder’s sole discretion to determine whether your business is “high-impact” enough for their platform.

Takeaway

Startups with boundless growth potential, particularly tech and investment startups, stand to potentially raise significant sums through Crowdfunder’s equity crowdfunding platform. While the monthly fees are high, they’ll be worth it if your campaign is successful, as Crowdfunder doesn’t charge a platform fee.

Read our full Crowdfunder review

Visit the Crowdfunder website

EquityNet

Like Crowdfunder, EquityNet (see our review) is an equity crowdfunding site that doesn’t process transactions itself, but rather facilitates offline transactions between campaigners and investors. Founded in Fayetteville, Arkansas in the pre-crowdfunding days of 2005 as a private investment company, EquityNet started offering equity crowdfunding after the enactment of Title II of the JOBS Act.

Best For…

EquityNet markets itself to a broader range of entrepreneurs and businesses than does Crowdfunder. EquityNet states in its FAQ that they are not just a platform for high-tech and high-growth businesses:

EquityNet is designed with flexibility to accommodate all ranges of private businesses, whether it’s an $100M/yr in revenue international biotech company, a pre-revenue one person software start-up, or a modest one-location coffee shop.

Products Offered

EquityNet offers entrepreneurs and businesses the ability to use its equity crowdfunding platform. EquityNet’s equity campaigns operate under Title II rules, so you’ll be raising funds from accredited investors only. You’ll also get to keep everything you raise regardless of whether you hit your funding goal.

Since all funds are transferred offline, EquityNet doesn’t take a cut of what you raise. Instead, EquityNet operates on a subscription basis. You can actually sign up with EquityNet and publish your business profile for free, but if you want to, say, share your business plan with investors (investors typically like to see a business plan before investing in something!), you’ll need one of EquityNet’s three subscription plans.

  • The Full Access package goes for a one-time fee of $900 and gives you full access to the accredited investors on the site. You’ll also get full access to fundraising documents and EquityNet’s patented business planning tools.
  • The Premium Consulting package goes for $2,500 and gives you all of the above, plus access to one-on-one consultations with an EquityNet team member regarding every aspect of your business plan, funding strategy, pitch, marketing, and more.
  • The EquityNet + plan costs a whopping $25,000 and gives you the ultimate hands-on equity crowdfunding package in which the company tailors everything to your exact needs.

Also note that since all transactions between entrepreneurs and investors occur offline, you can theoretically enter into a debt funding arrangement with an investor or even seek a grant. It’s up to you.

Requirements

Anyone can freely set up a business profile page on EquityNet. However, EquityNet reserves the right to remove profiles for any reason.

Of course, you’ll need a paid subscription if you want to run an equity funding campaign with any likelihood of success.

How To Apply

Just sign up with EquityNet and set up your profile. EquityNet does not pre-screen businesses before allowing them onto the site.

Takeaway

The folks at EquityNet make a point to try to attract a broad range of businesses to their platform. It’s not just for Silicon Valley tech startups and investment funds. And while the premium services cost a pretty penny, they come with one-time charges, not monthly charges. EquityNet is one of the less elitist equity crowdfunding sites out there, and to that, I’ll tip my cap.

Read our full EquityNet review

Visit the EquityNet website

Fundable

fundable

Founded in 2012 and based in Ohio, Fundable (see our review) is an unusual crowdfunding site in it hosts host both rewards and equity crowdfunding campaigns (though not both simultaneously). Think of it as both a Kickstarter-type platform and an equity crowdfunder. Given the subject of this article, however, I’ll be focusing on the equity side.

Best For…

You can raise funds for just about any type of business endeavor on Fundable. When it comes to choosing a rewards campaign or an equity funding campaign, Fundable states that rewards campaigns “are effective for smaller dollar raises (typically below $50,000)” and goes on to describe the target audience for its equity campaigns:

Equity raises are best for companies looking for larger sums of operating capital to move their business forward. Also, some businesses do not have a developed product or service that they can market through a Rewards raise, so offering equity is their best bet for raising funding.

Products Offered

Fundable is another crowdfunding platform that doesn’t take a percentage of what you raise, but rather charges a flat monthly fee to launch a campaign. Fundable offers two subscription packages:

  • The Standard package costs $179/month and gives you data analytics, email support, a guide for marketing your crowdfunding campaign, and marketing outreach templates.
  • The Premium package is available for a one-time payment of $2499. With this package, Fundable puts you in contact with the accredited investors the company believes will be the most receptive to your pitch. Fundable will also provide a list of relevant media contacts so you can better conduct media outreach for your campaign.

As with the previous two companies discussed, all funds transferred in a Fundable equity campaign are transferred offline. You are therefore free to seek a debt-based funding arrangement (or any other type of funding arrangement).

Requirements

Once you set up your Company Profile in which you detail your company, your proposed campaign, and your funding goals, you’ll have to wait for Fundable to approve your project before you can continue. If you’re approved, you then choose which type of crowdfunding campaign you’d like to run and a subscription package.

How To Apply

Go to Fundable’s website and get started!

Takeaway

Fundable is a flexible crowdfunding platform in terms of what sort of campaign you can launch through the site, and they provide invaluable assistance with media outreach, marketing, and investor contacts at the highest subscription level. Fundable does pre-screen businesses before allowing them to begin fundraising, however, so make sure you have everything in order before you begin the process.

Read our full Fundable review

Visit the Fundable website

AngelList

Founded in 2010 in San Francisco, AngelList is one of the leading equity crowdfunding platforms. It’s the only crowdfunding site that doubles as a job board for job-seekers trying to find a position with a startup. AngelList distinguishes itself by being the rare crowdfunding platform that lets entrepreneurs/startups raise money free of charge. All fees are paid by investors. Pretty cool, huh?

Best For…

Anybody can sign up with AngelList and attempt to raise money from the accredited investors on the site. However, AngelList doesn’t quite provide the guidance for those looking to crowdfund that many other crowdfunding platforms give you. Their website is much more spartan than the competition, with relatively little information for startups as to how you launch your campaign. Be prepared to do some research.

Products Offered

AngelList doesn’t offer any subscription packages with special features. You just sign up with AngelList on the website, and once you’ve completed your profile, you can launch your Title II crowdfunding campaign and get in touch with accredited investors.

Companies using AngelList raise money through investment syndicates. It’s an investment arrangement that differs from that of the other crowdfunding sites I’ve detailed today. Essentially, accredited investors give money to “angel” investors who then invest the pooled money into companies on the platform.

Keep in mind that though you won’t have to pay a monthly charge or a cut of what you raise to AngelList, that doesn’t mean there are no costs associated with running an equity campaign. The process of arranging an equity deal with investor syndicates on AngelList will cost you money due to paperwork, legalities, etc.

Requirements

There are no particular requirements for a company looking to establish a profile on AngelList. Of course, in order to actually raise any money, your plan of action must be formidable enough for AngelList’s syndicates to take an interest in you, so this platform isn’t for just anybody.

How To Apply

Create a startup profile on AngelList’s website and start kissing angel investor butt! (Or use any other technique you find effective)

Takeaway

AngelList is a more freewheeling platform than some of the others discussed here, and the complexities involved in working out deals with investor syndicates may seem daunting to the first-time entrepreneur. However, AngelList has an excellent public reputation and is highly rated by those who have used the platform to conduct equity raises, many of whom have used multiple equity crowdfunding sites.

Visit the AngelList website

WeFunder

wefunder

WeFunder (see our review) differs fundamentally from the other services I’ve mentioned. Every site I’ve mentioned thus far deals in Title II crowdfunding (accredited investors only) and not Title III (anyone can invest). Wefunder, founded in 2012 and based in Cambridge, MA, is the most successful crowdfunding platform to use Title III equity crowdfunding, or Regulation Crowdfunding. In fact, with over $50 million raised thus far, Wefunder comprises 50% of the market share in the Regulation Crowdfunding industry.

Best For…

Of the 174 companies that have been successfully funded through Wefunder, the company states that “Most are alumni of Y Combinator.” That should tell you something about the sort of company to whom Wefunder is best suited. The rare startup with exponential growth potential stands a decent chance of finding funding through the platform. Other businesses may have a tougher time of it. I’ll note that tech and food companies seem to comprise the majority of funded startups on Wefunder.

Only US corporations and LLCs can use Wefunder for crowdfunding.

Products Offered

Wefunder offers the use of its equity crowdfunding platform through which you can raise anywhere from $20,000 to $1,070,000. You’ll have to pay a $195 fee before you can start crowdfunding, and if you’re successful in reaching your funding goal (Wefunder is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding site), Wefunder will take 7% of what you raised as a platform fee. Take that into account when setting your funding goal.

Requirements

There are no particular requirements for joining Wefunder. The company prescreens applicants for fraud and to make sure your startup complies with the rules, but that’s about it.

How To Apply

Go to Wefunder’s website, sign up and fill out your business profile, and wait to hear back from the company.

Takeaway

Wefunder is the industry leader in Regulation Crowdfunding and can take the right kind of high-growth startup to funding success. Regulation Crowdfunding hasn’t yet been the boon some hoped it would be, but Wefunder is one of the few companies thus far to truly make it work.

Read our full Wefunder review

Visit the Wefunder website

SeedInvest

seedinvest

SeedInvest (see our review) was founded in 2012 just as the JOBS Act was being signed into law. In fact, founders Ryan Feit and James Han were part of the movement to get the Act passed in the first place. Like Wefunder, they offer Regulation Crowdfunding, opening up investing to the masses.

Best For…

By their own estimation, SeedInvest has approved only 1% of the companies who have applied to use their platform. SeedInvest is an exclusive platform and they don’t care who knows it. Tech companies seem to dominate the list of offerings on SeedInvest’s site.

I’ll note that while many crowdfunding sites refuse to have anything to do with cannabis-related companies, SeedInvest appears not to be one of them. “Green” startups, take note!

Products Offered

Wefunder offers up the use of its equity crowdfunding platform to the lucky few who survive the vetting process. Per the FAQ, this is what SeedInvest offers to those who get through:

  • Simplify and speed up your fundraising process
  • Access a network of accredited investors from around the world
  • Host virtual fundraising sessions from your desk
  • Streamline investor pitches, execution of legal documents, and processing of investments

Unfortunately, SeedInvest’s fees are complex and depend on your specific offering type:

  • 7.5% placement fee; charged on the total amount raised on SeedInvest in the round, paid only upon the successful completion of your offering.
  • 5% warrant coverage or equity; based on the total amount raised on SeedInvest in the round.
  • Up to $0 – $10,000 in due diligence, escrow, marketing and legal expense reimbursements.

Though the fees are considerable, one advantage of SeedInvest is that you can raise up to $30 million on the platform.

Requirements

SeedInvest doesn’t lay out specific criteria for making it onto its site, but remember that only 1% of applicants survive SeedInvest’s extreme vetting process. You’d better have done your homework!

How To Apply

Go to SeedInvest’s website, sign up for an account, fill out your project information, and wait to see if you’ll be accepted into the 1%.

Takeaway

To state the obvious, SeedInvest isn’t for everybody. Only the startups with the highest growth potential need apply. If this is you, SeedInvest may be worth investigating.

Read our full SeedInvest review

Visit the SeedInvest website

MicroVentures

microventures review

Founded in 2009 and based in Austin, MicroVentures (see our review) is another example of a Regulation Crowdfunding platform. You should know what that is by now if you’ve been paying attention!

MicroVentures states that “(t)he sweet spot for our platform is companies or startups that need $150,000 to $1,000,000 in capital.” Thus far in their lifetime, MicroVentures has facilitated the raising of over $100 million for high-growth startups. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Best For…

According to MicroVentures, the following industries are its main areas of investment:

  • Internet technology
  • Media and entertainment
  • Software
  • Green technology
  • Mobile
  • Social
  • Gaming

MicroVentures goes on to describe the sort of company that best fits the platform:

MicroVentures looks for businesses that have a unique idea or a new spin on an old technology. We review the team, traction, market size and other factors to determine if the company will be a good fit for our platform. Additionally, we believe in accountability to the business (or concept), which is one reason we seek to identify firms whose founders already have invested their own capital in their business.

Products Offered

MicroVentures offers equity crowdfunding with the following fees:

  • $99 application fee
  • $250 due-diligence fee
  • 5% of what you raise

MicroVentures is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding site. If you raise some money but fail to meet your funding goal by the time your campaign ends, you’ll get nothing and like it.

Requirements

MicroVentures doesn’t spell out any specific requirements to meet in order to be approved to start crowdfunding, but they do state the following:

We review every company that is submitted but we are only able to respond to the ones that we think will be successful on our platform. This is less than 5% of the companies that submit so please include as much detail as possible for us to evaluate.

So, 5% of applying businesses get through. That’s better than SeedInvest’s 1%, but it’s still a high bar to clear!

How To Apply

Sign up for a MicroVentures account, fill out the application for an offering, and submit it.

Takeaway

MicroVentures has a solid reputation in the industry. They offered investments in Facebook and Twitter before each went public. For the 5% of startups that, in MicroVentures’s estimation, have that kind of growth potential, this equity funding site holds great promise indeed.

Read our full MicroVentures review

Visit the MicroVentures website

Final Thoughts

Equity crowdfunding has only been around for a few years. Suffice to say, it is a work in progress. If you play your cards right, however, it might be just the thing to take your startup to the next level. If you’ve done your due diligence in preparing your offering and you possess the ability to excite investors, professional and amateur, then it’s certainly an avenue worth exploring.

The post The 7 Best Equity Crowdfunding Sites For Businesses And Entrepreneurs appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Crowdfunding For Startups: 8 Tips For Launching

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startup crowdfunding

For a people who revere startup culture and the idea that one can bootstrap one’s way to business success, we seem to prefer the TV version to the real thing — especially as of late. It turns out that new business creation recently approached its 40-year low. Banks are retaining their Great Recession-era tight-fistedness and the costs of education, housing and healthcare continue daily to expand beyond the ability of most Americans to keep pace. Frankly, our veneration of the entrepreneurial spirit does not appear to extend to supporting policies that would actually increase people’s ability to take the financial risks required to start their own business.

Due to these factors — along with the legalization of equity crowdfunding accomplished via the passage of the JOBS Act in 2012 — crowdfunding has arisen as a means of raising startup funds. You may only be familiar with crowdfunding in the context of all the medical- and disaster-based campaigns that have been making the news lately, but crowdfunding is a viable way to raise money for businesses as well.

The fact is, for the right kind of new enterprise, a crowdfunding campaign can be a great way to raise a much-needed initial infusion of capital. The biggest crowdfunding site for startups, Kickstarter (see our review), has seen over $3.4 billion USD raised by product-oriented business projects. To be fair, this money didn’t just fall into the laps of the startups in question. Crowdfunding takes some work to get right. However, it’s hard to imagine that the campaigners who raised that $3.4 billion could have raised that same sum via conventional means.

Just know that you’ll have a lot of competition for those crowdfunding dollars. You need to go into it with more than just a good story (not to discount the value of a good story!) — you’ll need to tailor your campaign to suit your particular enterprise, and you’ll need to give your potential backers a personal stake in supporting you with the promise of rewards, profit, or both.

Here’s what you should do to prepare before you begin.

Table of Contents

1) Learn Which Type Of Crowdfunding Suits You Best

If you know anything about non-charitable crowdfunding, you’ve likely heard of Kickstarter and its rewards-based crowdfunding model. What you might not be aware of is that Kickstarter is but one method of crowdfunding available to startups.

Rewards Crowdfunding

Rewards crowdfunding is what most people think of when they hear the term “crowdfunding.” Along with Kickstarter, Indiegogo (see our review), Patreon (see our review), and GoFundMe (see our review) are examples of popular platforms offering rewards crowdfunding. I’ll get into the differences between these platforms later on, but suffice it to say, these platforms generally involve raising money from The Crowd in exchange for rewards that are directly related to your startup’s mission. The platform will then take a cut of what you raise (except in the case of GoFundMe).

Equity Crowdfunding

Equity crowdfunding is a different beast entirely. The field of equity crowdfunding is a new one. It was legalized by the JOBS Act, which was signed into law in 2012 and whose provisions have gradually taken effect over the last few years. The JOBS Act was seen as a way to facilitate greater access to capital in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Equity crowdfunding differs from traditional rewards crowdfunding in that instead of backing a project in exchange for exclusive illustrations or a gadget or tickets to a performance, backers become investors who receive an ownership stake in the company. Investing is much more heavily regulated than rewards crowdfunding, so it’s a more legally complex way of raising funds than using Kickstarter. What’s more, the JOBS Act provides for two similar yet distinct forms of equity crowdfunding: the type in which you raise money from accredited investors only (which basically means rich people) and the type in which you can raise money from non-accredited investors (everyone else). Most equity crowdfunding platforms, including Crowdfunder (see our review) and Fundable (see our review), offer equity crowdfunding for accredited investors only, while a few upstart companies like Wefunder (see our review) offer equity crowdfunding for all (sometimes referred to as Regulation Crowdfunding).

Debt Crowdfunding

Debt crowdfunding, like equity crowdfunding, involves investing in a security of the company in question. However, with debt crowdfunding, the investor is a lender who gets paid back on a fixed schedule with interest. From the perspective of a startup, getting into debt crowdfunding means you’re borrowing money — not from a bank, but from a crowd of investors. Kiva U.S. (see our review), Lending Club (see our review) and Prosper (see our review) are all prominent debt crowdfunding outfits.

If you’re wondering which of these three types of crowdfunding best fits your startup, here’s a quick rundown for you:

  • Rewards crowdfunding is best suited to startups in the business of producing content for people to consume. Artists, gadget makers, podcasters, filmmakers, and board game producers have all made good use of rewards crowdfunding.
  • Equity crowdfunding makes sense for startups with exponential growth potential that do not produce a singular product or experience to share with a crowd of backers.
  • Debt crowdfunding is for startups that need cash for a defined purpose and that have the ability to pay back the loan.

For more information on the subject, I recently wrote an article comparing and contrasting these three types of crowdfunding. Check it out!

2) Research Different Platforms To Understand Their Differences

Simply knowing the difference between the three varieties of crowdfunding doesn’t provide enough information for you to settle on a platform. For one thing, crowdfunders like Indiegogo and Fundable offer both rewards and equity crowdfunding. For another, the terms, fees, content policies, and even the structure of the crowdfunding campaigns themselves differ from platform to platform.

For instance, you might be trying to raise funds to build your own board game company and have your sights set on Kickstarter. However, Kickstarter is a more exclusive platform than most rewards crowdfunders — it might not accept your campaign proposal. What’s more, you might find Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing funding policy intimidating. With all-or-nothing funding, if you raise less than your stated goal amount during the length of your campaign, you get nothing at all. You might find a platform like Indiegogo more to your liking, as Indiegogo accepts any campaign that doesn’t violate its rules while allowing you to collect whatever you raise with your campaign regardless of whether you’ve hit your goal.

Let’s say you’re an artist collective seeking to put on monthly art exhibitions. The Kickstarter/Indiegogo fundraising-for-a-one-time-event model of crowdfunding may not be for you. You might find Patreon to be a better fit. With Patreon, backers (or “patrons”) sign up to support you on an ongoing basis, either per month or per creation. You won’t have to gin up a new crowdfunding campaign every time you want to start a big project.

Likewise, equity crowdfunders vary greatly in their policies — SeedInvest (see our review), for example, boasts of only accepting 1% of those who apply to crowdfund on its site, whereas EquityNet (see our review) accepts any startup applying to use its services.

3) Check Out Other Crowdfunding Campaigns To See What Works (And What Doesn’t)

When you’re raising money via crowdfunding, you have one big advantage over those trying to raise money via other means. If you’re applying for a bank loan, you don’t get to browse through every loan application ever submitted to the bank or view the result of every application. But with crowdfunding, in most cases, the data is there for everyone to see!

Kickstarter is typical for a crowdfunding site in that every campaign ever posted to its website is left up permanently, regardless of whether the campaign succeeded or not. For the creator whose ridiculous campaign never really got off the ground, this permanent record of failure may not seem like such a boon. However, if you’re a startup looking to identify patterns in past crowdfunding campaigns that correlate with success — as well as patterns that correlate with not-success — this data is quite valuable indeed. I would strongly advise you to make use of it! Don’t be too proud to emulate what has been shown to work.

4) Be An Intensive Self-Promoter

If you’re the modest, retiring sort who spurns self-promotion, get ready to change your approach  — that is, if you want your campaign to succeed. Spend some time promoting your startup’s cause before taking the crowdfunding plunge (Indiegogo recommends at least two months of prep time before launch).

Do the legwork necessary to build up your social media following before starting your crowdfunding campaign, so that when you launch your campaign, you’ll have a built-in audience that is already receptive to your message. Contact journalists who cover your field. Build an email list. Consider buying ads on Facebook or Twitter to promote your campaign. Unfortunately, with crowdfunding as with so much else in our fallen world, you have to spend money to make money.

Remember to tailor your self-promotional efforts to fit your audience. If you’re looking to conduct business with accredited investors, a hard-nosed, data-focused approach may bear more fruit than a flashier look-how-cool-we-are campaign.

5) Create A Professional Video

I suppose I could have included this point in the previous section, but I think it deserves to be emphasized on its own. According to Kickstarter, posting a video to go along with your campaign increases your likelihood of ultimately succeeding from 30% to 50%.

Here’s another example of “spend money to make money” — a professional video with decent production values will make your potential backers more confident in the potential of your enterprise than something produced on the cheap. I’d love to live in a world where one could devote all one’s energies towards their true passions and not have to set aside time and resources for salesmanship, but we don’t live in that world. So, make a video. Keep it to just 2-3 minutes. You can get personal, but make sure to hit all your main points about your startup and its potential. Don’t forget to mention the benefits backers stand to earn!

6) Get Commitments From Backers Before Launching Your Campaign

It might not be fair, but it’s not easy to attract backers when your campaign first launches. An adverse first impression can easily dissuade someone from contributing to your campaign, and seeing “$0 pledged” next to your project can be enough to cause a prospective backer’s wallet to close. That’s why it’s important to line up commitments from backers before your campaign launches.

Time to make your family and friends prove their love to you by securing their backing before your campaign goes live! Gather commitments from your followers as well. Remember how I mentioned that you should build an email list of potential backers? Here’s where you can put that list to good use. Email your followers immediately when your campaign goes live. Get some pledges early and it will be all the easier to get subsequent commitments from backers. Data provided by Kickstarter backs this up — while their overall project success rate is just a hair under 36%, projects that raise over 20% of their goal have a 78% success rate.

7) Don’t Be Afraid To Use Analytics

The use of analytics is the only way you’ll be able to tell just what kind of traffic to your campaign page is converting to pledges. Use whatever analytical tools are available to see where your pledges are coming from and how you can boost them.

For instance, Kickstarter’s Project Dashboard gives you access to a trove of data regarding exactly where your backers are coming from. This data is invaluable when determining where you should focus your marketing.

kickstarter

8) Stay In Touch With Your Backers

Show your backers that you respect them by staying in touch with them. Keep them updated on your progress. After all, these are people who made a financial commitment to you knowing that there’s no guarantee that your plans will come to fruition.

Monitor social media chatter related to your campaign to see if particular concerns pop up repeatedly. If so, do what needs to be done to address these concerns. After all, you’ll want to stay in their good graces if you want to launch another crowdfunding campaign in the future!

Final Thoughts

Crowdfunding doesn’t work out for every startup that tries it. If you do your due diligence, however, you greatly increase the likelihood that your campaign will reach its funding goals. Follow these tips, and you’ll have a fighting chance to get the funding you need so that you can ultimately focus on growing your startup, not on fundraising!

Jason Vissers

Jason Vissers is a writer, cereal chef and Netflix aficionado from San Diego. A native Californian who enjoys the beach, Jason nonetheless prefers to do his surfing on the World Wide Web, the raddest wave of them all. Jason can’t eat raisins.

Jason Vissers

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7 Ways To Make Your Business Website Better

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As a reviewer of small business software and services — and a human who lives in the modern era — I’ve seen my share of business websites. Many of them are so basic that they serve only to confirm that the business in question, be it a bowling alley or an accountancy firm, is not merely a front for backroom bookie Big Sal and his associates (Fingers, Lefty, and Slippery Joe). What is dodgier than a business without a URL, after all?

(Read this article if you’re wondering whether your small business even needs a website. Spoiler alert: it does.)

Few websites are anything other than forgettable, and the ones that stand out usually owe their memorability to monumentally funny errors rather than to craftsman-level design.

Your website can be — and should be — more than just an online throwback to the yellow pages, a mere repository for basic information about hours and addresses and contact emails. Your website was destined for greatness. And I’m going to help you take it there. Here are several steps you can take to make sure your website stands out for all the right reasons:

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Join The 21st Century (Be Mobile Responsive)

When I say, “join the 21st century,” I am not being snarky in the manner of a 90s sitcom character. (If I were, I would have said: Welcome to the Oughts, holmes!)

I am trying to stress the importance of having a modern, mobile-responsive site. There’s a word for businesses with websites that don’t work well on smartphones. And that word is defunct.

Consumers are addicted to their mobile devices. And according to this article by Marketing Land, mobile devices now drive an estimated 56% of web traffic. That’s right — chances are that more than half of your customers will find your website on their mobile browser. If your site isn’t mobile responsive, I guarantee they will exit your page as quickly as they enter.

When viewed on a smartphone, non-responsive sites appear either too large or too small, requiring the reader to manually adjust the screen. Responsive sites, on the other hand, automatically adjust to accommodate each device, be it an iPhone, a Kindle, or a Galaxy Note8. Mobile sites are often simpler and/or allow the visitor to scroll down for more information, rather than navigating from one page to another.

Effective mobile sites are sleek, minimalistic repositories of information. They should be reminiscent of your full site and good ambassadors for your brand. They should not make people throw their phones in anger.

Happily, most do-it-yourself website builders allow for mobile responsive design; if yours doesn’t, it’s time to look for a new platform. And it goes without saying that if you’re paying a developer to design your site, you should insist that they make it responsive. If you want more information about this topic or tips about how to make it work for you, read our articles What Is Responsive Design? and Creating Websites For The Smartphone Generation.

Update, Update, Update

To stay competitive, your site has to look current. People are only becoming more attuned to (and judgemental about) the aesthetics of their technology. Older designs simply won’t cut it. You must update, and update frequently, to stay alive.

To be clear, we’re not just talking about upgrading from something like this…

If your site looks like that, you either went out of business in 1996, or you are using the design ironically. If it’s the former, and you’re now trying to get back into the game, good for you. Burn the site and start over. Burn it. If it’s the latter, you are invariably a hipster and I don’t want to talk to you or your handlebar mustache.

This is the horrible truth: your pages don’t have to be neon and underlined to look hopelessly dated.  Sites built as recently as 2012 now appear sad and outre. First impressions matter, and the average consumer will ditch your site without blinking an eye if it looks sketchy or old.

To stay in the game, you must update the design of your site every few years. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it will cost you time, money, or both. But what you gain in street cred will be worth every dime.

Updating actually isn’t so bad if you’re using a modern website building platform, like Wix (read our review) or Squarespace (read our review). New, intuitive site editors make it easy to switch layouts, change templates and forms, and alter color schemes — without paying an hourly rate to a spendy developer.

Provide Accurate & Complete Information

I know I spent a good part of the introduction talking about how business websites need to be more than just storehouses of basic information. That is 100% true, and I stand by every word. But…and this is a big but…it is vitally important to put basic information about your business on your website, front and center, or everything else in this article is pointless. Highlight your operating hours, address, phone number, and digital contact information, and put that information in more than one place. If your business occupies a physical space, your address and phone number should be above the fold. In other words, website visitors should not have to scroll down or navigate to another page to see this information.

You also need to give potential customers and new visitors at least a hint of what your company is all about on your home page. Don’t write a novel at this point. As you’ll see in the screenshot of Merchant Maverick’s home page below, a simple summary phrase — Unbiased Reviews That Save You Time And Money — is enough to convey the purpose of our site.

An “About Us” page is a great place to go more in-depth about exactly what your business does, and why you do it. It can also be a good vehicle to introduce yourself or your staff. Include mini-bios and pictures if you can. People are social animals. We’re evolutionarily wired for relationships, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The exchange of goods and services is occurring less and less in the meatspace, but we still like to know who we’re dealing with.

Avoid Grammar Mistakes

You don’t have dig deep to realize that American public schools are sadly failing when it comes to even basic writing competency. Just log in to Twitter for 10 seconds and yOull sea that Im rite. (There’s a little editor humor for you.)

You can get away with shocking grammar in Tweets, texts, and even over email (alas). But your website is not the place to be slipshod and careless. Save that devil-may-care attitude for Facebook or Christmas cards, where only some of your acquaintance will be judging you. If your website is riddled with typos and syntax goofs, you will lose customers, period. Error-laden copy connotes one of two things to your client base: you are illiterate or you are lazy. Ponder this riddle: What’s more off-putting to a consumer — an uneducated merchant or an indifferent one? The answer, of course, is moot. Neither one is going to survive.

This may all seem terrifying if grammar isn’t exactly your thing. But don’t worry! There’s no need to hastily enroll in a community college course. Simply running your site through spellcheck should catch most spelling errors, though you’d be surprised how many merchants neglect to do so. For higher level syntax and grammar issues, try using a service like Grammarly. It’s not perfect for higher level writing, but it catches almost 100% of basic errors (there/they’re/their, etc.), and it’s free. You can also enlist help from friends and family. The more eyes on your website copy before you publish, the better.

Write Engaging Copy About Your Products/Services

It’s not enough for your content to be grammatically perfect. It must also be useful and interesting. And there’s the rub.

How does one write captivating copy? Especially if one is trying to sell items as unsexy as, say, lawnmower parts or plumbing services? The key is to know your audience. Your stuff doesn’t have to be Dostoevsky-good. It doesn’t even have to be Reader’s Digest-good. Excellent website copy is defined by only three characteristics:

  • Detail
  • Utility
  • Appeal

Let’s take them one by one.

Detail

Presumably, you understand your business and your products or services well. Take the time to describe them, providing as much or more of the minutia as is reasonably warranted. Color; size; shape; weight; feel; smell; taste. Go further into the aesthetic sensibility of your items if you want. The more your customer knows about the product or service, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their purchase.

Utility

The overall helpfulness of your copy will depend in part on how wisely you’ve used detail in your descriptions. But you must go even a step further. It’s not enough to state that a scarf is hand-knit, blue, and made of angora wool. It’s not even enough to say that it is 60-inches-long and machine-washable. For optimal impact, you’ve got to paint a word picture for your potential customers. Give suggestions about various ways to wear the scarf. Talk about occasions or events the scarf is appropriate for. If a customer can imagine your product as a useful part of their daily life, you’re far more likely to make the sale.

Appeal

This one’s not so straightforward. The line between interesting copy and content that is mind-meltingly dull is thinner than you’d expect. When in doubt, go back to the advice above: know your audience. If you’re hawking lawnmower parts, it’s best not to be cutesy or make attempts at humor. You’re likely to simply irritate people. For utilitarian products and services, appealing equals factual and descriptive. But if bespoke spa treatments or patchwork quilts are your daily bread, be as whimsical as you want. Go nuts. Employ first-person language. Break out the charm. And if you don’t feel up to the task, hire someone who is. There are plenty of freelancers out there who write website copy for a living. Sites like Upwork are teeming with writers who would fist-fight each other for the privilege of generating your web content. (I know because I used to be one of them.)

Use Original Images

On the internet, as in life, it often pays to be unique. And not in an after-school-special, every-snowflake-is-beautiful kind of way. Search engines like original content. They give preference to it, in fact.

That said, unless your name is Dorothea Lange or Ansel Adams, you’re much better off using BigStock or Getty Images for your graphic content than simply uploading pictures from your digital camera or smartphone. Unique isn’t always equivalent to good. My iPhone pictures, for example, are invariably blurry and too dark, invoking what I’m sure are merely pity-likes on Instagram. Yours may be better (and likely are), but I can say with near certainty that they aren’t good enough to be featured on your website.

Website-quality photographs and images should be:

  • High-resolution
  • Well-lit
  • Sharply focused
  • Artistically blocked, posed or designed
  • Minimally cluttered

Images like this don’t grow on trees. They come from professional photographers and graphic designers who use professional equipment. In other words, you’ll have to pay for them. Craigslist is a good place to find relatively cheap freelancers in your area, or you can solicit help from sites like Upwork and Guru.

Maintain A Blog

Blogs aren’t just for bloggers. Used wisely, a blog can be an excellent marketing tool for your retail, restaurant, or service business.

For starters (to reiterate my point in the section above), search engines give preference to original content. They gobble it up, in the manner of hungry hippos. To be clear, Google is an equal opportunity tool in that, if you have a URL, you’ll show up in an appropriate keyword search…eventually. But if you want to rank a little higher than the two-millionth results page, you’ll need to put it a bit more effort. Creating unique, high-quality content for your site increases your visibility to potential customers online. The key phrase here is high-quality, by the way. Search engines employ highly trained digital bloodhounds that can sniff out BS filler-content a mile away. You can try to cover redundant or pointless copy with metaphorical coffee grounds, but Google algorithms just keep getting smarter.

If you equate blogs solely with hot-button social issues like politics, the Mommy Wars, religion, and the like, it may be difficult to see how having one could benefit — or even apply to — your business. There are only so many edgy articles you can write about lawnmower parts.

Blogs don’t have to be hilarious rants or incisive social commentaries. In fact, if you want them to work well for your site, you should avoid controversy and/or high-art altogether. Instead, think about what kinds of things your customers are interested in, and provide content that caters to those interests. Do you sell custom clothing? Write a few how-to posts about accessorizing or blog about fashion trends. Run a pet shop? Talk about what pet owners can do to keep their dogs healthy. Rank cat toys from worst to most purrr-fect. Cat owners in your area who search for toy ideas may just stumble on your article and become loyal customers. Blogs exist to provide helpful information for your current clients, but they serve to draw in new customers as well.

Here are some articles types that work well for business blogs:

  • Top 10 Lists
  • How-To Articles
  • Dos & Don’ts
  • Product Comparisons
  • Guides
  • Best Of/Worst Of Lists
  • Industry News
  • Trends & Fads
  • Interviews

If you don’t feel up to creating the content yourself, hire someone who is.

Final Thoughts

In our increasingly digital society, your website is the most visible face of your business. It behooves you to make that face as clean and attractive as possible. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to create a professional, effective site.

Consider the tips above and take action where you can. With just a little TLC (and a little cash), your website can go from bland and forgettable to sleek and profitable.

Further Reading

We’ve talked about seven ways that you can create a better website for your business. Here are some other resources to help you get started.

Starting From Scratch?

Check out our large selection of do-it-yourself website builder reviews or compare top website building software vendors. If your website needs to incorporate an online store, you’ll want to peruse our eCommerce software reviews and compare some of the top shopping carts.

Read these articles if you need help deciding on a platform:

Looking To Improve Your Current Site?

If you already have a site, but need some tips on how to take it to the next level, these articles should help:

Want Tips On eCommerce?

We’ve written a comprehensive ebook on starting an online store. It’s free and well worth a read. If you’re operating an online store already or are thinking about adding one to your website, check out these articles:

Need Help With Social Media For Your Business Website?

Social media is a huge part of good business marketing, and it’s helpful to integrate your social media channels with your website. Check out these articles for more information:

Julie Titterington

Julie Titterington is a writer, editor, and native Oregonian who lives in the beautiful Willamette Valley with her husband and two small children. When she’s not writing or testing software, she spends her time reading early 20th century mystery novels, staring blankly at her iPhone, and attempting to keep her kids fed, clothed, and relatively uninjured.

Julie Titterington
Julie Titterington

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Shopify vs. Squarespace: Online Store Options Compared

Shopify vs. Squarespace – they are two of the most well-known brands in the online store / website builder industry. I’ve written a Shopify review here and Squarespace review here. But how do they compare directly to each other?

First, a bit of background. Over the past few years, online store software costs have plummeted, and the technology to get a website from idea to reality has blossomed.

Whether you’re using a text editor and uploading to the Amazon cloud, hosting your own site powered by WordPress + WooCommerce or using a drag and drop website builder, there’s never been an easier time to create an online store. It’s no longer 2002 where every storeowner had to know PHP, HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript.

All-inclusive ecommerce builders have been particularly interesting. Companies like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, Shopify, and BigCommerce – not to mention platforms like Etsy, eBay, and Amazon – have brought ecommerce to everyone regardless of their coding skills.

On the wide spectrum of ecommerce store building solutions, they all live on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website.

That is in contrast to solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. That’s not a good or bad thing. But it is something to be aware of when you’re choosing one of them as a solution since it affects your website both long and short term.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

Using an online store builder is like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

Shopify, Squarespace and other options like BigCommerce and Weebly as a group compete with options like WordPress (which provides the free software to build a website that you own & control – see my WordPress setup guide here) all the way to options like typing actual HTML code into a text file.

The last preface I’ll mention is that Squarespace is an all-around website builder with ecommerce capability.

Shopify, in contrast, is strictly an ecommerce platform.

This focus puts Squarespace behind as an advanced ecommerce tool and Shopify behind as a general website builder tool. With their respective free trials, you can quickly see the differences.

Try Shopify for Free

Try Squarespace for Free

Make sense? Awesome – let’s dive into the comparison.

Side note – if you want this comparison in a BuzzFeed-style quiz, you can take my online store builder quiz here…

You can also look at my posts on –

Otherwise, we’ll look specifically at pricing, onboarding/user experience, design features, technical features, ecommerce features, marketing features, and customer support.

Disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my professional experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pricing

Comparing pricing between Shopify and Squarespace is fairly straightforward if you have a clear idea of your needs. This comes from the fact that Shopify focuses on *only* online store owners whereas Squarespace markets to everyone.

The short version is that Shopify is more expensive. But there’s a few caveats to look at.

Shopify Pricing

Squarespace Ecommerce Pricing

The first caveat is credit card fees.

Squarespace syncs with Stripe and PayPal. Their fees are 2.9% + $.30 per transaction.

Shopify has their own payments gateway that charges lower per transaction fees. But – if you use a non-Shopify gateway, Shopify charges an additional transaction fee that Squarespace does not have.

So why is this important? If you already have a gateway (ie, Authorize.net for your physical pop-up shop) and you want to use them with Shopify – then Shopify’s transaction fee kicks in. But – if you want to use Shopify Payment’s for your online store – you can save a bit of money on transaction fees. Those fees add up. If you have revenues of $100000 – a 0.4% reduction in fees could equal $500 per month.

The second caveat is value pricing.

On front-end features alone – Squarespace is significantly cheaper than Shopify, especially on their Advanced plan, which compares almost directly with Shopify’s Standard plan.

See Shopify’s Plans here.

See Squarespace’s Plans here.

But – like I mentioned in the introduction, it’s hard to compare their pricing tables directly since they are really different products for different audiences.

It’s a bit like comparing the pricing of a motorcycle vs. an SUV.

Sure, the motorcycle is much cheaper and it gets you from A to B. It has wheels, an engine, and it drives on the road just fine. But it’s also meant for a certain type of driving.

It all really comes down to what you need for you project – two wheels that will get you where you need to go or a vehicle that has plenty of room along with lots of features. So let’s look at other differences.

Aside – if you’re curious, Shopify’s $9/mo Lite plan isn’t applicable since it’s more of an inventory/payments software than an online store builder software. You can upload products, manage them, and accept payments, but you can only sell them via other platforms such as a Facebook plugin or a button on an existing website. Same goes with Squarespace’s Business Plan. It’s meant to do a website that happens to have a couple things for sale – not really a full online store solution. I’ll set both those options to the side for the moment.

Onboarding & User Experience

No matter how intuitive and simple a piece of technology is, there’s always that moment of “what am I looking at and what do I do now?”

Onboarding is the process of guiding you past that point. In theory, a huge selling point of online website / store builders is that they have a near-zero learning curve. They have a straightforward process from website concept to website reality.

On this point, Squarespace and Shopify both do alright but in different ways.

Shopify has a quick path from free trial signup to site launch. They have guided tours and a very straightforward setup. They also have customer support outreach focused on getting you up and running quickly.

Shopify Backend

However, Shopify also has many more features, apps, and technical options available that can present a challenge. The most daunting hurdle is linking your domain name to your store. It’s not difficult but is daunting at the mention of “setting your CNAME” (in fairness, you don’t have to direct your domain if you purchase via Shopify for a bit more per year than via a 3rd party).

Since Shopify functions as a platform for payments, offline inventory and more – their website store setup is actually on the second menu of their main dashboard rather than front and center.

Squarespace has a ridiculously fast sign up to live site process. Their backend is fairly intuitive for basic websites. However, they to have a “Squarespace jargon” to get used to. They like to appeal to developers and freelance designers – so there are advanced tools that can clutter simply launching a site.

SquareSpace Onboarding

Their support emails and tours are structured well. But since their software is made for all types of websites, the ecommerce features are a bit buried (and limited) from the perspective of an online store owner.

I would not rule either provider out on onboarding/user experience. But their differences are sort of like a restaurant with a waiter (Shopify) vs. a fast casual restaurant with a menu above the cashier (Squarespace).

If you want more help and more customization, then Shopify is your choice. If you want to quickly see and order from the features, then Squarespace is less daunting.

Design Features

Part of the overall value of website builders is simple, straightforward design – no web designers necessary.

But good design is hard. And it matters – a lot. A lot of people can spot a good looking website but have a harder time figuring out how to get there. Using a template for a foundation and then customizing it is a good way to get the site you want without paying for a custom design.

Both Shopify and Squarespace use templates (aka “themes”) for design. But they are very different in customization options.

Shopify has a solid drag and drop design feature. You can create any layout element you’d like and drag it into place. You can click and edit any portion of any web page – including both content and design.

But – Shopify does not combine design and content. You have to get your design right – and then add content in a separate area (ie, it’s a template).

Since you can edit HTML/CSS with Shopify, you can build any design possible. There are few, if any, limits to any design that you see on the Internet. Additionally, Shopify has a drag and drop template editor.

Shopify Drag Drop

Squarespace has a hybrid approach. They famously have beautiful pre-built designs.

Squarespace Designs

They also have drag and drop – and pretty intuitive editing.

But – they also combine design and content with their editor. This approach has tradeoffs. On one hand, you can edit the design for specific pages. On the other hand, your design can go “off-base” pretty quickly – especially with content for hundreds of products.

The other drawback with Squarespace is that their off-the-shelf themes require *a lot* of really good imagery. If you don’t have access to high-quality photography, their themes are not going to work well. Many of Shopify’s designs are fine and functional regardless of product imagery.

They both have large marketplaces for premium designs (in addition to professional designers).

If you are a fan of raw functionality – then you’ll appreciate Shopify’s approach to design. If you want your site to look amazing off the shelf, love to edit details, and have access to good imagery – then you’ll appreciate Squarespace.

Ecommerce Features

The absolute core features of an ecommerce store are a –

  • product database
  • shopping cart
  • checkout page
  • payment processor
  • order database

That is it.

But, especially in 2017 (and 2018 and beyond), there is a *lot* more than can (and should) go into an ecommerce store. There’s everything from selling via Facebook Messenger to syncing with Amazon FBA to integrating with eBay – not to mention features for executing on marketing fundamentals.

Even for advertising products, there’s selling via Buyable Pins, Google Merchant, Twitter cards, and more. There’s remarketing and coupon codes. There’s A/B testing. There’s inventory synchronization with vendors like AliExpress. And there’s order synchronization with shippers like UPS and USPS.

And that’s all a drop in the bucket.

Obviously, not every store needs every feature. If you are trying to sell a couple T-shirts or a couple specialty products – you certainly don’t need them all. But if you want to grow and expand, you’ll need your options open.

For ecommerce features, Shopify wins hands down, though Squarespace does make it simple to sell your product. Squarespace has a few advanced features (like abandoned cart recovery), but it’s nothing like Shopify.

Shopify not only has more features directly integrated into their platform, but they also have a well-established app store that includes free and paid apps to extend your store with every feature you could possibly need.

Shopify Integrations

That said, this section is a bit unfair to Squarespace, because, again, they are a general website builder that includes ecommerce. Shopify is strictly an ecommerce platform.

If Shopify didn’t “win” on ecommerce features it would be a surprise. Technically, Squarespace competes more with the likes of Weebly and Wix or WordPress who are also website builders that provide core ecommerce features.

In short – if you need core ecommerce features integrated in a simple, straightforward way, then Squarespace is fine. If you actually need a full suite of ecommerce features to grow, then Shopify is hands-down better.

Technical Features

Technical features are all the web development best practices that don’t really “matter”…until they matter a lot. I’m talking about generating clean URLs, editable metadata, allowing page-level redirects, etc.

On this point, Shopify does very well – and not just compared to Squarespace, but compared to any hosted platform.

Traditionally, hosted platforms presented a risk for web designers, developers, and marketers who wanted to work on the technical aspects of the site.

I know that I flinch anytime a prospective client tells me they are on a hosted platform of any kind.

But Shopify and Squarespace perform well in general. Many skeptics of hosted platforms note that they actually take care of the technical features well. You still don’t have FTP access to your server, but you do have access to change things via their Liquid editor (Shopify) or Developer Mode (Squarespace).

Where they differ (especially for me) is in their potential for technical features. And again, here, Shopify’s app store is their “killer” feature. Even if a feature is not native to Shopify, a non-developer can usually add it.

On the flip side, Squarespace has a lot of native features that simply “work” – and a process of continually adding & revising existing features.

Both Squarespace and Shopify have inherent limitations as hosted platforms (ie, when you leave, you a lot of your data), but Shopify does a bit more to eliminate the weaknesses and capitalize on strengths as a hosted platform.

Marketing Features

In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character says “if you build it, they will come.” Sadly, that is not true about websites. Like any business, you have to actively promote and market your online store for anyone to show up.

Marketing features like custom metadata, open graph information, Schema markups, email signups, share buttons, landing pages, etc all make marketing your site a lot easier.

For marketing features, both Shopify and Squarespace both do really well. They support header scripts. They integrate with many products. They add meta data, product schema and open graph tags automatically.

But like design & ecommerce features, there’s the same catch. For an ecommerce store owner, Shopify has many more (and higher quality) built-in features plus a better, more developed app store.

Squarespace has core marketing features built-in, but with more limits.

Support & Service

Customer support and service are difficult to judge. Like I’ve said in most of my reviews, a single customer can never really know if they happened upon a disgruntled rookie or if the company is really that bad.

That said, there are ways to look at a company’s investment in both customer services and support.

For Shopify vs. Squarespace, I think the clear “winner” is Shopify. Shopify not only provides more channels for customer service (phone, chat, email, forums, social media, etc), they also have an incredibly extensive help center.

The help center not only tackles technical issues, it also tackles customer success issues (aka problems with making money).

Squarespace has email support, and limited chat support – but no phone. Their knowledgebase does not have the attention or the depth that Shopify has.

Comparison Conclusion

So Shopify vs. Squarespace – which one is a better fit for your project?

If you plan on running a growing online store and want all the features possible, then you should go try Shopify.

Go try Shopify for free here.

If you want a simple store – or a general site with a beautiful look, then Squarespace might be a good fit for you.

Also – bookmark my post on creating an ecommerce marketing strategy here.

Good luck!

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