The simple SEO steps to get you started

co-workers using computer

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is all about helping people find your site as easily as possible. Essentially, we are trying to do what we can to work with the Google algorithm. The algorithm is the way that Google programs their search functionality and it decides whether you appear on the first page or not. There are lots of easy ways to make sure that your website is as accessible as possible for Google and, just as importantly, for your customers and visitors!

Be real, natural, and write for people, not optimisation.

Google are smart. They have evolved their search algorithm (the machine that decides what results to show in a Google search) to punish businesses who try to ‘stuff’ their websites with too many keywords. Your SEO aim can be easily summarised in one sentence; write content for your audience, the way they speak, about what you are good at and what you know. Share what you do well and explain why you do so.

Your keywords.

Take a step back and look at your business and the way you plan to attract customers to decide which keywords you want to focus on. Think about what people would be typing into Google to find you. Try to think at a deeper level about what questions people would type here. What are the problems or frustrations that you would solve for them?

The technical bits: Page titles and headings, in-links, alt-tags, XML sitemaps and URL structure.

Don’t underestimate how effective it can be to use your target keywords in all elements of your page or article. Consistency is key and, if the keywords naturally belong there, your page will rank higher in a search.  These are all elements that you can do yourself when updating your website if you’re a bit tech-savvy. If you aren’t comfortable doing this yourself, there are plenty of virtual assistants who do these things well!

Think about your domain name.

The best time to do this is before you buy it! It’s never too late to look at a new domain, though. The reasons you may want to do this include:

  1. If your domain is too similar to your competitors’
  2. If your domain is similar or the same as a very popular brand, movie, person or another topic that gets searched a lot
  3. If your domain makes you sound like you do something else (ie. using the word security when your business is not in that industry)
  4. If your domain is too long and hard to remember
  5. If you have changed your business name

It’s important to consider the SEO implications of changing your domain name. If you have a high level of trust and your Google results are very high, it may take a few months to get back to this position with a new domain.

Fresh content.

You should be updating your website regularly. Add new content to your newsfeed and update your product and services pages as your business evolves. Your website should give an accurate picture of the way your business changes and grows. If your focus changes, update your website. If you have a special offer on, update your website. When your staff change, update your website. If Google was looking at a history of website changes they should be able to see how your business has changed and grown. This honest reflection in your website will help your SEO a lot.

What is SEO and why does it matter for my business?

Father and son

SEO stands for search engine optimisation and it’s the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine’s unpaid or organic search results. In other words, it means your website appears clearly in the searches returned when a customer types your business name into Google or a similar search engine.

An SEO strategy looks at how search engines work, what your clients may be searching for, what keywords or search terms they are tapping in, and which search engines they are most likely to use. Optimising your website is the best way to rank most highly in returned searches, and this can be done with the use of specific keywords, dynamic and regularly updated content, adding keywords to a web page’s metadata, and the inclusion of relevant links.

SEO is a bit of a ‘dark art’ in that the rules are always changing, algorithms are always played with and the way search engines operate also shifts. These changes ensure that search engine companies stay competitive against each other, react to new trends and technologies, and ultimately that it is harder to reign supreme in searches 100 percent of the time without paying for it.

Important things to remember:

Content is king
Search engines love content that is constantly being updated and that is “keyword rich”. Having keyword rich content is easy to implement, it can be simple things like mentioning the suburbs or areas you service on your website. These will be the things people will search for. Aim to make your content more interesting, by doing this you make it more likely to be shared, which is an important part of the next pillar of SEO: relationship building. Not all your pages will have link-worthy content, but the more unique and relevant your copy is to your users, the more inbound traffic you’ll see coming to your site.

Linking between sites
If you have other websites that link to your website this adds value to your ranking within search engines. So besides the usual suspects of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn where you can link back to your own site easily, you can try to arrange with other resources online. These can be business partners you may have, community networks or local business groups just as a few simple points.

These are referred to as inbound links as they are bringing users to your website. Outbound links are also important, this is when you link from your website to another website. It’s important to link to websites of high credibility, these will be obvious websites like news or industry press sites. The key thing to remember is, don’t go overboard with the links.

Getting nerdy with code
If you know the basics of HTML then you’ll be able to get your head around this, if not just get in touch with the developer that built your website.

  • Meta Tags: This is SEO 101, but optimising your Title and Description meta tags are one of the most basic things you can do to optimise your website. While meta tag optimisation alone won’t rocket you above your competitors in the search engine rankings, it’s an important step in the overall process.
  • Alt Tags: Similar to meta tags, alt tags are the alternative text attached to the images on your website. Adding alt tags gives the search engines crawlable text in the code of the web page. Without the alt tags, the search engines will see a big, block of nothing where some good, optimised text could reside. It’s an often missed opportunity.
  • Headings: Like any good publication, headings also play a big part in the usability of your site. They are the titles and subtitles on the page that help break your big blocks of content into smaller, clearly labelled chunks. Although they have less impact on content optimisation, headings (like H1 and H2 tags) should nevertheless be optimised for the search engines.
  • Body Text: We’ve already covered this earlier but can’t stress the point enough. Keyword rich content should be integrated seamlessly into the body text of every page of your site. Focus on 2 or 3 keywords per page and write for your users, not the search engines. Your text should always be written naturally and should never become bloated with keywords.

Stay clear of writing copy that doesn’t look genuine. If you know the keywords your clients are looking for are ‘hairdresser Brisbane’ don’t write something like “I am a hairdresser from Brisbane that can help with hairdressing styles in and around Brisbane and the Brisbane area.” You probably won’t rank for the word “Brisbane” writing like that, and even worse your website will likely get punished for what is known as “keyword stuffing”.

A basic understanding of SEO is essential, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all for every website. Like anything, a successful marketing strategy is multi-faceted. It includes a range of activities and mediums, but at the end of the day, your customers need to find you, and that’s where SEO comes in.

How to market your business on a shoestring

Whether you’re embarking on your first marketing adventure as a new business, or planning your next annual marketing strategy and spend, there are quite a few options available that are low on cost but can net a high response rate. Here we explore a few and look at how you can begin setting them up.

Email database

Don’t underestimate the power of email. Some days we all feel like we drown in too many emails, but they still have far higher open rates and click through rates than social media. If your emails are well thought out and engaging then you will be able to effectively reach people via this method. Explain the benefits of joining your email list to encourage people to subscribe and don’t be afraid to send out updates, at least monthly, to share informative, engaging and educational content.

Social media

It’s here to stay. Facebook added another 1 million users between December 2016 and January 2017 taking them to a total of 16 million Australian users. Instagram now has 5 million monthly active Australian users. If you are working on a B2B strategy then you have access to 3.6 million professionals in Australia via LinkedIn. Have a look at who your target market are, and where they are currently looking online. It’s much easier to put yourself in front of your target audience than try to make them come to you.

Referrers and influencers

Marketing is built around people and human nature. As humans, we naturally turn to other people for recommendations. 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know directly, and anonymous reviewers have a 70% trust rate when they post online about a brand. Think about who you know, who you’ve worked with before, who loved what you do, and use those connections as much as you can. Ask them to give testimonials, reviews and share their experience.

Networking

We all belong to community groups, whether it be through schooling (our own, or our children’s), sport, neighbours, colleagues, or even family. Add to this all the online opportunities to join networks and groups. Think about what materials you can produce to encourage those people to share your business with others. You aren’t necessarily asking your family and friends to spend money with you, but to share your business with others they know. It might sound simple, but if enough people remember what you do, the potential number of word of mouth recommendations you could receive is quite high.

Ask around!

Don’t feel like you are alone in not being sure where to promote your business and what you should be spending. There are so many options when it comes to marketing and spreading yourself too thin by trying to be everywhere will prohibit you from focussing on where you can attract the most attention and conversions.

Don’t let your business finance take up any more energy than it needs to either. Enter your information to see your options online at business.afgonline.com.au.

SEM – the basics of what you need to know

Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is paying to ensure that the people who are using keywords to find products and services online, can easily find your business. It’s like buying advertising space in a newspaper, but the newspaper is filterable by keywords.

The first step to starting your business on a SEM journey is to ascertain what your objectives are. Your strategy should be very different if you are trying to convince people to spend thousands of dollars, as opposed to an objective of finding people to enrol in a free seminar or follow your business on social media.

Secondly, it’s important to decide how much you would like to spend on your SEM campaigns. SEM is not a set and forget method and your spend on different keywords and target markets should be adjusted regularly in response to the traffic you are seeing and the seasonality of the campaign.

Ensure you decide what you are expecting to achieve from your spend. Decide what success looks like to you before you embark on this new method of attracting new leads to your website. Set some targets and check up on your progress each week.

Before you hit the ‘Go’ button on your campaign, think about what your new leads will see when they land on your website. Your ad could perform very well but if you don’t give your leads something interesting, they will not convert once they land on your website.

In our increasingly risk adverse world, you always need to be careful that the way you promote your business is legal and compliant with any applicable industry legislation. If your product or service is part of a particularly heavily regulated industry, then it’s always best to get an expert legal opinion on the wording you use in your offers.

If you are spending a large amount of money on SEM then it may be worth considering A/B testing for your first month. A/B testing means creating two versions of your ad and testing to see which works better. The same concept can also be used for your landing page and your conversion form. Some businesses?convert better using first person terms such as, “I want to know more,” on their buttons, whereas others may prefer, “Click here to find out more.” Testing the different versions can help you figure out which works for you and your leads.

As with all digital marketing methods, take it one step at a time and don’t let anyone convince you to throw all your eggs into one basket. If an advertising or promotional method is going to use all your marketing budget, be sure that you will see the return on investment that you expect!

How to ensure your social media is top notch

It’s not a fad, and it’s not a trend. It’s here to stay, and social media is part of our lives, whether we like it or not.

Social media for your business can be as complex as you choose to make it. You could pay thousands of dollars to engage another company to do it for you. You could automate all your posting and set it in advance. Or you could do all the work yourself. Regardless of how much you spend or how often you post, there are few simple guidelines that can help you make the most of your online business presence:

  1. Having an audience does not mean you have a following: Aim to have a high level of engagement with your followers. Generating a proportionally low level of post likes and engagement from a high number of page likes implies that your content is not reaching or engaging much of your audience.
  2. Use images: Ensure that your posts include eye-catching images. When Facebook users are scrolling through their feed, you have a very short amount of time to capture their interest. Images will help with this. There are plenty of free imagery creation sites online. Canva is a very popular one at the moment.
  3. Find your influencers: Are there businesses or celebrities who share your values and/or goals? Sharing content from bigger businesses or pages can help you reach new audiences and also get noticed by other businesses. The more potential referral sources, the better.
  4. Consider structuring your posts in different ways: Linking to a blog post can be done by quoting a fact, posing a question, or listing a benefit. Also, trial images of people, technology, quotes, and testimonials to see what works best for your audience.
  5. Don’t use every post as a sell: Share a mix of informative, interesting, and engaging content on your social media. Try to sell directly once out of every five posts. Be sure to include a call to action in these too.
  6. Be topical: If there is a local, industry or national event that people will be talking about then be sure to include that in the content on your page. Your business is a part of the community?— show your roots.
  7. Engage experts: If you aren’t sure where to begin, or you’re scared of launching your business online, then talk to an expert. There is a range of social media help available, with entry level help starting at approximately $500 per month. Figure out what your time is worth and spend it generating new business and bringing in money while you outsource the level of social media help that works for your business.

How to grow your business via word of mouth – getting your clients working for you

One great free way to extend the reach of your business is via word of mouth. But how does a business go about encouraging their current customers to share their experience and make a recommendation to a friend or colleague?

And why is it so important?? It’s a well-quoted statistic, most recently from Neilsen that around 90% of customers trust recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.

We’ve put together the top tips for businesses looking to increase their word of mouth recommendations:

  1. Make it easy for them. Your website, subscription emails, vouchers, follow up communications and delivery should all be shareable on social media and via other methods too. Help your customer to help you.
  2. Be sure to think of creative ways to start a conversation. Think of something that is valuable to your client, something they want to talk about. If you’re product or service delivery is not something that people can easily talk about then they won’t want to share it – simple.
  3. Ask for the referrals. Ensure that all your customer touchpoints feature a request for a referral or recommendation in some form. Jog their memory.
  4. Provide images and wording for them to use. Whilst it’s great when your customers say nice things about your business, they don’t always know what to say or what imagery to use. Providing images on your website or emails as well as shareable wording will help to make the process even easier for your advocates.
  5. Use testimonials. When your customers send in positive testimonials, use them! Your website, emails, marketing material and social media are all great examples of how to show your customers that you value their feedback.
  6. Incentivise word of mouth and referral behaviour. Depending on the industry you operate in, you may have the ability to incentivize referrals to increase their frequency. Be sure to check the legal requirements of this type of reward before embarking on a course of action.
  7. Make it easy for potential customers to contact you. And be sure to get back to them promptly. When a potential new customer has contacted you on a friend or colleague’s recommendation, you want to make a great first impression so make sure your lead generation and funnelling processes are up to scratch.

Those are just a few of the many tips available online for businesses looking for word of mouth recommendations. Remember, a customer will only recommend you if your service has been top notch and you give them something to talk about.

What do I need to consider when it comes to website design?

Having a great website is imperative in terms of both connecting with your existing customers and attracting new ones to your door. When customers research home loans these days, it’s more than likely they will be researching online, and if your website looks unprofessional and hard to use, customers will assume you are too.

When it comes to your business website, here are a few pointers from us to ensure you’re on the right track in terms of great web design.

Why is good design so important?

There are easier options to build a website these days, but it’s important to find someone who can lay the right foundations with a?great design too. Why? Because a great website means you have the professional online presence that is so critical to success, and that you aren’t investing hard earned dollars in something that is going to do more harm than good.

Just think about a site you’ve visited lately and how frustrating it is if you can’t find the information you need, things take too long to load, content is out of date or poorly written, or fonts are hard to read. Consumers are so sophisticated these days when it comes to online research and their patience is low — if your site doesn’t deliver within the first few seconds they will start looking elsewhere. With more and more people looking at websites on their devices such as smartphones, having a site that is mobile friendly is critical, so keep this in mind at every turn.

So, our top web tips are:

Keep it simple

This applies to content, layout and navigation. People have short attention spans, especially when surfing the web. And according to eye tracking studies, users fixate longer on bulleted lists and text formatting (such as?bolding?and?italics).

With regard to content, make sure you:

  • Highlight keywords
  • Use bullet points
  • Be concise, cut out unnecessary ‘fluff’ words
  • Use easy-to-understand short, common words and phrases, and don’t use industry acronyms without explaining what they stand for
  • Start with the summary and then drill down to the detail
  • Avoid long paragraphs and sentences
  • Design a clear and simple navigation system
  • Proofread for grammar and spelling — check and check again

According to web usability guru Jakob Nielsen, a good navigation system should answer three questions: Where am I?? Where have I been?? Where can I go?

To achieve this:

  • Be consistent – the navigation system should be in the same place on every page and have the same format
  • Add a text-based site map.
  • Ensure your logo links to the homepage wherever it appears on your site
  • Include a site search box

Use images strategically

Photos, charts, and graphs are worth a thousand words. Using visuals effectively can enhance readability when they replace or reinforce long blocks of textual content.

Another eye-tracking study reported a 34% increase in memory retention when unnecessary images were removed in conjunction with other content revisions.

What you can do:

  • Make sure images you use aid or support textual content
  • Make sure you have the rights/consent to use any images or logos that appear on your site
  • Make sure your images aren’t enormous as they will take too long to download

Support your brand

A good brand creates or reinforces a user’s impression of the site. When your site is strongly branded, that means that visitors will think of you first when they go shopping for your product or service.

Branding on a website takes time, effort, and close attention to page design and layout.

What you can do:

  • Keep colours and typefaces consistent. Choose your colours and fonts carefully and use them consistently throughout the site.
  • Keep page layout consistent. Use a website template to enforce a uniform page structure.
  • Create a good tagline and use it on every page. A good tagline makes your site stand out from competing sites. It should be memorable and reinforce your brand in one quick phrase.
  • Make contact info easy to find. It should be on every page

Group all corporate information in one spot

Good corporate information is especially important if the site hopes to support recruiting,?investor relations, or?PR, but it can also serve to increase a new or lesser-known company’s?credibility. An “About Us” section is the best way to link users to more in-depth information.

Ensure your email address can be clicked on to instantly generate an email to you, and likewise with your phone number, ensure that when viewed on mobile devices your phone number is set as ‘click to call’.

Information, information

List FAQ on your site and provide great answers to each of them. This will help validate you as the expert in your field and also help customers feel empowered before they come and see you. It also helps with efficiencies at your end as consumers come to you well armed with the information they need and you’re both not wasting any time.

Remember who you’re talking to as well and try and add value.? If the two key market segments you specialise in are accounting and taxation, speak in a language they understand and relate to. Give them the?information they perhaps wouldn’t have access to elsewhere and offer them something that the next guy online isn’t prepared to do.

Validate why using you, and why using your product or service is the smart way to go

Never assume your clients really understand the benefits of using you or your product or service and reinforcing the benefits to them is a smart way to ensure existing clients stay with you and potential clients aren’t lured away by competitors.

Make sure your site can be seen

Ensure your site is able to be viewed easily on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets and make sure your copy (text) is easily able to be printed as some consumers will still prefer reading the information in hard copy and will press print. And, less is more when it comes to good design and don’t use background images that will make legibility an issue.

Take your ‘professional hat’ off for just a minute

Always place yourself in your client’s shoes and try and look at the site as objectively as you can. If you find this hard, then ask someone without much knowledge when it comes to your industry, product or service, to sit next to you and watch them navigate through the site. Does it answer their key questions, does it fulfil their expectations or needs?? Does it make sense and does it encourage them to take the next steps and make contact?

Legalities

Ensure your site ticks all the boxes when it comes to the legalities of your industry and within Australia.? From ensuring you have privacy covered, to displaying licences and disclaimers, it’s best to seek the right advice on what you need to include on your website, particularly when making claims, advertising products and services, representing a company and collecting customers’ information.

Jump aboard the analytics train to help your business grow

Big business has been analysing consumer habits for years to boost sales and expand their customer base. Now there’s a host of powerful analytical tools available to small business too.

It is an event that saw the rather dry world of business analytics make international headlines. Back in 2012 data crunchers at Target in the US managed to work out a teenager was pregnant before she had even told her father.

Statisticians at the chain store had identified 25 products that – when purchased together – indicated a woman was pregnant. When any customer bought these products it would trigger an automatic mail-out of special offers on baby clothes and nursery furniture.

A man reportedly complained his young daughter had been sent “inappropriate” advertising material but later found out she was, in fact, pregnant. Target knew before he did. The story offered a startling insight into how big business was using analytics to track customer behaviour and drive new sales by intuiting consumer interest.

Four years on and ‘analytics’ is still the darling of the business world, but it is no longer just the domain of big business. Smaller firms are jumping on board, thanks to a host of powerful free and low-cost analytic tools.

And, although some can take time to master, it is well worth the effort, according to James Forbes, digital and marketing executive with Infoready, one of Australia’s leading data and analytics firms.

Infoready uses data tools to help companies solve problems and optimise their marketing spend. Forbes believed most small businesses didn’t take full advantage of tools that could deliver a significant business edge. So, what sort of information could analytics deliver? Well pretty much anything, Forbes said.

And therein lay one of the potential pitfalls. “One of the challenges is that there are so many tools, you can just get stuck in a never-ending loop of investigating and finding new tools,” he said. Offline analytics (such as phone logs and point of sale data) would reveal patterns in customer behaviour. But as most activity, both business and personal, shifted online – this was where the richest veins of information lay, making it possible to track:

  • Who accessed your website (individuals and companies) and how often; how long they spent there and what they look at.
  • How they got there (i.e. a keyword search, Google or Facebook ad, or links from another page).
  • What sort of device they used to access your site.
  • How they used your website – where they clicked and where their cursor hovers. Analytics tools could even reveal you how users navigate forms on your website, indicating fatigue points where people abandon the process. Analytics tools were also useful for testing the effectiveness of different strategies by running landing pages with alternate layouts. “The whole thing with digital is that it’s a great environment to test and measure,” Forbes said. To avoid getting bogged down with myriad tools, Forbes suggested starting with a problem or goal in mind and working backwards to find a tool that could help. “You can rent these tools by the month. If they work for you, great. If not, move on.”

Analytics Tool Box: useful free and low-cost tools for small business

  • Google Analytics: This is a free service, but most businesses only used about five per cent of its capabilities, Forbes said. One of the most powerful ways for SMEs to use Google Analytics was to track ‘events’ (such as people completing sign-ups/registrations, booking appointments or making purchases). Tracking the source of this event traffic allowed businesses to identify the advertising/marketing channels that drove the most valuable visits to your site. A lot of money spent in digital media was wasted because firms didn’t take the time to perform simple market attributions to work out which forms of promotion were most effective, Forbes said. “You can drill down even further so you can understand which specific ad, which specific copy, which image, is driving the traffic. Big business is doing that. Are small businesses doing that? A lot of them won’t be,” he concluded.
  • Google Trends: This free tool is really about keyword research. “So if you are thinking about doing some digital advertising you can use it to explore what people are searching for on Google,” Forbes said.
  • Facebook Ads: “You can actually use the Facebook ad management tools to research your business and your market,” Forbes said. It allows you to see the size and geography of market interests.
  • Optimizely: This tool enabled firms to carry out A/B testing to compare different versions of webpages for performance. For example, you could test whether a red or green ‘buy’ button works better; or if a price point of $19.95 attracted more sales than $20. “You can see which one converts better and you can auto pick the winner,” Forbes said. “You can test your webpage to understand how you can optimise virtually every element.”
  • Unbounce: This low-cost subscription service was particularly useful to allow small business operators with limited IT skills to build and test landing pages to drive specific actions, such as sales or lead generation (sign-ups and registration). Landing pages could be linked to both your e-commerce site and a promotional campaign to test the effectiveness of various ad channels.
  • Inspectlet: “This actually allows you to record sessions of people interacting on your webpage,” Forbes explained. It included heatmaps and form analytics. “So it’s more of a qualitative than quantitative – you’re seeing how people actually interact with the webpage – where did they hover, where did they dwell, how far did they scroll down, at what point did they abandon.”

Clever business tech tools to improve business efficiency – lessons from the startups

Startups and small businesses are different beasts, but that doesn’t mean one can’t learn from the other. Startups are focused on growing ideas into big businesses as fast as possible. It makes sense they would utilise the most efficient tools of the trade. Andy Lamb, co-founder of Perth’s Atomic Sky startup studio, specialises in helping entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality. But he is also passionate about taking some of the practices of startups to the wider business community.

By cherry-picking software tools commonly used by startups, any SME could become a more agile and efficient company, he said. Most are available on a ‘freemium’ pricing strategy, which means the base level application is free with a premium charged for higher level functions. This is Lamb’s pick of the bunch.

Quick and easy website creation

Squarespace:?Launched in 2004, Squarespace is a drag and drop website builder with a strong design focus. There are around a million paying users. Squarespace delivers rich imagery with extensive, easy styling options which allow pages to be tweaked without fiddling with code. All page templates are responsive (i.e. they will automatically resize to fit any screen size), which is particularly important as traffic from mobile devices escalates. Squarespace also offers ‘cover pages’, which can be used as one-page, stand-alone websites or combined with other templates.

Wix:?Wix has built a reputation for continuous innovation and improvement, which has helped it build an impressive base of 1.8 million paying users. Wix includes (and is always developing) a range of industry specific tools to help niche industries – such as musicians or B&B operators – to build their businesses. Wix is considered by many to be the most innovative website builder, keeping abreast of design trends and introducing advanced features for users.

Social/Digital Marketing Tools

Hootsuite: This dashboard-style tool helps businesses integrate and manage multiple social media accounts including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Hootsuite hit the headlines shortly after it was launched when, in 2009, President Barack Obama’s media team signed the @WhiteHouse twitter account up to Hootsuite. The company is a ‘unicorn’, a tag given to startups valued at upwards of $1billion.

Buffer: This software application allows users to manage and schedule social media posts across various platforms, with a specialist Buffer for Business extension launched in 2013. Buffer for Business provides more detailed analytics and allows for comparison of feedback on posts from different platforms. It also allows more team members to manage multiple social media accounts depending on the size of the plan. For example, a ‘small business’ plan allows for 25 social media accounts to be managed by up to five people.

Communication Tools

Slack:?While email may be good for communication, it is not necessarily helpful for the collaboration or problem-solving which drives a business forward. Software such as Slack is the new must-have for internal information sharing. Slack has chat rooms, private groups and direct messaging, with all content (files, conversations and people) searchable.

Website/Online Analytics Tools

Google Analytics:?This free tool gives website operators basic, through to extremely detailed, information about who is accessing their website, what search or link they used to get there, and what they are doing once there. It can tell businesses whether people are accessing their site from a mobile device or laptop, how long they spend on the site and what they look at. Google Analytics can even break users into related cohorts and provide data on how different market segments use the site. Use ‘conversions’ and ‘goals’ on the analytics dashboard to track ROI (return on investment) data.

KISSmetrics:?So, what is the difference between KISSmetrics and Google Analytics? While both analyse web traffic, KISSmetrics is more focused on tracking the behaviour of individuals rather than building a picture of overall website use. A KISSmetrics blog explains: ‘‘We use Google Analytics to get session data, view a general engagement (time on page and site), and check referral data. We use our own product… to get insights into how our customers are using our product, discover our customer acquisition channels…and gather data that can help us make better decisions.’’

Project Management/To-Do Tools

Trello:?This collaborative project management tool can condense the most complex tasks down to a visually simplistic one-page flow chart, called a project board. These boards are divided into ‘lists’, with each list composed of several project ‘cards’. Clicking on each card reveals detailed information about discrete task required to complete the project. Team members can be assigned to, and comment on each card, with due dates and alerts set for each task. Trello is most useful when the focus is on a specific flow of tasks required for the project to move forward.

Basecamp:?Basecamp sells itself as a ‘‘world-famously-easy-to-use’’ solution to successful collaboration. Like Trello, it breaks projects down into a series of tasks and to-do lists. In terms of differentiating the two applications, Basecamp is more focused on facilitating the communication that needs to happen around a project, while Trello is about sequencing the tasks required.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management)?Systems

Pipedrive: Pipedrive, as the name implies, helps small and medium businesses track their sales pipeline. Pipedrive organises leads and provides an overview of sales as they progress. It gives managers an overview, at a glance, of what staff are working on and allows them to prioritise deals. Pipedrive syncs with Google contacts and Google calendar.

Salesforce:?An array of cloud-based tools within the Salesforce suite can help manage and prioritise leads as well as manage service relationships with existing customers. Salesforce IQ links to both Gmail and, more recently, Outlook accounts to capture data on meetings, emails and phone calls. Salesforce updates the progress of any sales accordingly and captures data to make predictive notifications and update schedules.

Holding business to ransom — what is ransomware and what do I need to do to ensure my business is safe?

Small business owners have been warned to step up their computer security processes as ‘ransomware’ attacks become more prevalent and sophisticated.

Cyber security experts have dubbed 2016 the Year of Ransomware with attacks that lock computer databases increasingly targeted at Australian businesses.

Small to medium businesses could be more vulnerable to attack, a Perth academic warned?if multiple users had administrator access and cyber-security was not a priority. “We see a news item almost every day of the week (on ransomware),” said Dr Zubair Baig, senior lecturer in cyber security at Edith Cowan University’s School of Computer and Security Science. “It’s a major issue these days. I see this as a serious threat to enterprises. Frequently it’s na?ve users – people who don’t know how to secure a machine or a bunch of machines in a small or medium enterprise – that are the first victims,” Dr Baig tells us.

“Essentially anybody who would be willing to open an email attachment would be vulnerable.” Ransomware, he explained, did not involve stealing data. But rather, was a virus that encrypted files (including client databases) on host computers. This effectively locked the information until a ‘ransom’ was paid in return for a decryption key. The virus was commonly delivered via scam email attachments and could be crippling to businesses.

In March 2015 the Australian Federal Police issued a warning after a ransomware email purporting to be an AFP subpoena was delivered to thousands of Australians.

Cybercriminals usually demanded the equivalent of $400-500 in untraceable cryptocurrencies, such as BitCoin. “$500 per victim and multiply that by 10 victims a day – that’s $5,000,” Dr Baig said. It was affordable for victims but generated significant income for scammers. “The business model works out perfectly, and the trails are concealed so we can’t actually find out who carried out the attack.”

A report released last year ranked Australia second only to the US in the number of ransomware attacks, with the numbers of attacks on businesses rather than individuals jumping from 16 per cent in 2014 to 28 per cent in 2015. The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has revealed it was hit by an attack and paid a ransom of AU$460 in 2015.

Many businesses reason that paying the ransom is cheaper and faster than paying IT experts to ‘crack’ complex encryption codes. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received more than 2,500 complaints about ransomware last year, with an estimated $400,000 paid to attackers. However, a spokeswoman told ABC News this was the tip of the iceberg, as many attacks went unreported.5 Experts warn ransomware attacks are becoming more sophisticated, skimming social media accounts to deliver personalised mail attacks. In March, security firm MailGuard reported an email that appeared to be parcel delivery notifications from Australia Post.

Those who opened “tracking details” found their computers locked and a ransom demanded. The sudden explosion in ransomware was due to a confluence of technological advances, Dr Baig said.

The advent of cryptocurrencies, such as BitCoin, provided untraceable payment methods, while greater connectivity increased the vulnerability of computer systems. The ‘Tor’ network or ‘dark web’ also allowed cybercriminals to hide the source of emails, minimising the risk of being caught. Dr Baig and his colleague Nikolai Hampton found more than 80 per cent of recent ransomware strains were using advanced security features, which made them difficult to detect, and advanced encryption, which rendered them practically impossible to ‘crack’.

But despite the increasing sophistication of ransomware, Dr Baig said attacks were not difficult to prevent or mitigate if SMEs followed some simple steps to stay on top of online security. The Federal Government intends to offer grants of up to $2,100 for small businesses to have their cyber security professionally vetted (applications open in the 2017/2018 financial year).

For more information, please visit ?www.business.gov.au/assistance/cyber-security-small-business-programme

To protect against ransomware attacks (Courtesy Z Baig and N Hampton, Edith Cowan University)

  • Don’t fall prey to social engineering or phishing, which is where an attacker attempts to have you reveal sensitive information to them. If you receive a suspicious email from your grandma or work colleagues, ask yourself whether it’s unusual before you click. If you’re not sure, contact the sender via a different medium, such as giving them a phone call, to crosscheck.
  • Don’t install any software, plugins or extensions unless you know they’re from a reputable source. If in doubt, ask and only rely on trusted download sources. And certainly don’t be tempted to pick up USB sticks found on your pathway.
  • Update your software (comprising your operating system, web browser and other installed software) regularly to ensure you are always running the latest versions.
  • Backup! Important documents need to be treated like valued possessions. Grab a handful of USB keys and rotate your backups daily or weekly, and don’t leave USB keys plugged in (current malware strains can scan removable USB disks). Having multiple copies means the adversarial effort of holding you for ransom is pretty much worthless.
  • Use reputable network defence mechanisms. A software firewall and anti-malware are advisable to regularly scan your machines looking for vulnerabilities and plugging holes at the right time.