What's in store for online businesses in 2011? There are several changes on the horizon, but one common thread through them all is the need for flexibility. Your customers are accessing information in more ways than ever, and their expectations are high. To meet them, you'll need to be nimble.
From mobility to scalability and security, here's my take on the most important trends influencing online business technology in the coming year and what they could mean for your website.
The use of mobile devices will continue to grow. Your customers may be reading your emails and visiting your website on smart phones, netbooks or iPads. Are you meeting their needs?
It's time to start planning for a mobile rollout for your website. First, identify the types of information your customers want to access on the go. These are likely to include your home and contact pages, but each business is different. Restaurants, for example, may want to consider making their menus and events pages accessible. Online stores may consider a mobile commerce version. If your clients are business customers, you may consider offering support and other resources from a mobile device.
Next, find out which mobile browsers and screen resolutions that visitors are using by analyzing your website traffic data. Use this information to decide on the various options for your mobile version. You'll generally want to roll it out in phases and make time to test your updates. Eventually your entire website will need to comply with common standards, but tackling the project in phases will help you budget and gain customer feedback.
"Scalable" is a techie term for being able to handle increasing volume and add-on features. Your website needs to be built with a scalable technology so it can change with the times. You may not be able to implement all the changes yourself, but it's a good idea to be able to add new technologies when they become available. For example, many content-management systems have add-ons or plug-ins for mobile or social applications, such as a program that allows visitors to use their saved profile to register with your website rather than creating a new one. If you're building an online store, be sure that the shopping systems can expand and tack on new features as your customers' needs change.
You'll want to give customers more tools for connecting and interacting with you. These features will be different for every company. Options range from integrating more social-media platforms to adding videos. For some businesses, 2011 may be the year to create a mobile application. For example, you may want to create an app that makes it easier to motivate or consult with clients. While ideas vary, the goal is the same: Engage your customers and build greater loyalty.
Websites have become a target for malware through security holes. Even if your site isn't an online store, it may be vulnerable. Talk to your developer about the recent threats and how to prevent them from harming your site. Just as you run updates on your computer, you need to run updates on your website. Setting permissions on your content management system will not be enough. Online stores also have new security standards to which to adhere called Payment Card Industry compliance. If you have not heard about these standards and you sell online, call your merchant-service provider to discuss the upgrades your site will need.
Jennifer Shaheen, the e-marketing and Technology Therapist, has more than 10 years experience working with small- to mid-sized businesses on their e-marketing and web development needs. You can learn more about her by visiting her web site, TechnologyTherapy.com