Portrait of young male mechanic in bicycle store, Beijing

By Rieva Lesonsky

1. Back to School

The folks at Bazaarvoice, a leading shopping analytics company, report that this year’s back-to-school shopping season sales are expected to grow 2.6%, reaching nearly $829 billion. If this is your market, are you ready? Here are some insights about the ROBO (Research Online, Buy Offline) effect:

  • For buyers of computers & tablets 49% of in-store shoppers and 63% of online shoppers read reviews before purchase
  • Home & bedding sees 21% of in-store shoppers and 63% of online shoppers reading reviews before purchase
  • 54% of in-store and 82% of online shoppers of electronics read reviews before purchase

For more, check out the infographic below.



2. 3 Ways to Improve the Effectiveness of Your Blog

Guest post by Katie Bagley, Marketing Specialist, Blue Fountain Media

  1. Know Your Audience: There should always be a strategy in place when it comes to creating content for your blog, and getting that content in front of your audience. It is one thing to write exciting and informative blog posts, but they mean nothing if they aren’t relevant to the interests of your readers, or reaching them at the right time.

Take the time to research what information your readers are looking for. What topics regularly perform well on your blog, and what doesn’t? What are the best channels and time periods to get that content in front of your readers? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself when creating a content strategy for your blog. Though the posts are going to be housed on your website, your social media and digital PR platforms need to work in tandem if you want to make sure that content gets in front of the right people.

  1. Consider the Content Lifespan: It’s important to stay on top of breaking news and trends within your industry when creating content for your blog, but keep in mind how long that information will be relevant to your readers. Be prepared to write posts that address these exciting topics, but really invest your time and resources into the content that will drive readers to your page long after the breaking news is not so new anymore.

If topical content is the bread and butter of your blog, that is ok! However, you should always back that content up with other posts that will give your website an ongoing element of relevance and longevity. You want people to be interested in your brand, but most of all, you want them to stay interested.

  1. Internal Links: If the main purpose of your blog is to turn readers into customers, then your blog posts need to serve as a gateway that leads visitors in that direction. Including internal links in your posts can take readers to previous posts that cover topics that are relevant to the one they are currently exploring.

You can also use internal links as an opportunity to navigate people to specific landing pages on your website that include information, products, and services that are similar to the topic that are reading about. You ultimately want to gain more business from your blog, and internal linking can help guide visitors through that conversion funnel.


3. Shopping Habits

If you’re a small retailer, be aware that the “omnichannel shopping experience is taking over.” In a post on FTI Journal, experts say that shoppers want the “unique benefits of shopping online as well as in-store.” Check out their blog post here and the infographic below.



4. 5 Security Threats to Watch Out for This Summer

It’s summertime, and that means some much needed vacation for most employees.  However, when people are out of the office and working from remote locations, they may  let their guard down, increasing the risk of data breach incidents. From malware to hackers to malicious insiders to data thieves, there’s no shortage of security concerns.

“Cybercriminal organizations don’t take summer vacations, and many employees just don’t realize the security risks they are taking,” says Usman Choudhary, chief product officer at ThreatTrack Security. “Criminals understand the seasonality of consumer search habits and exploit that information to their full potential. Issuing a reminder about basic security steps employees and businesses can take to protect themselves along with a list of potential threats to watch out for this summer can go a long way toward reinforcing strong security practices and preventing breaches.”

So what should people be watching out for? The VIPRE antivirus team at ThreatTrack provides the following five email and online threats to be aware of for businesses and home users:

  1. Sensationalized political posts for 2016 elections: Today’s campaigns are fought not just on the airwaves, but also on the internet, as voters of all stripes will be searching voraciously for news and information about the candidates. Cybercriminals will take advantage of election interest with a deluge of Trump/Clinton-style spam, advertisements and redirects throughout the summer to gather personal information and compromise devices. Be wary and check the URL before clicking.
  2. Phishing emails focused on travel and vacation: With many vacationers taking trips and using credit cards, people need to be extra vigilant about which emails and links they choose to open or click while on the road or when planning. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, fraudsters take in $1.3 billion a year in online hotel scams. Watch out for emails promising some kind of super discount and double check that website—trusted URLs should have a small lock and start with https:// as opposed to just http://. Don’t enter your information—especially payment—through a non-verified link. The old adage definitely applies here: if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Zika virus and other health concerns: The Zika virus is a top story, and it’s only going to get more visibility as the Olympics in Brazil, the virus’ epicenter, gets closer. People are understandably a bit more anxious this summer about the virus and its health effects. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for instance, recently issued an alert warning about Zika investment scams. Cybercriminals will continue to take advantage of this common fear to help mask their scams.
  4. Major sporting events: Any major news, entertainment or sporting event this summer will have a campaign behind it. Watch out for unsolicited emails and pop-up websites offering discounted tickets or other products and services. Be cautious before clicking on a link,
  5. Kids on summer vacation: Children are home from school, sometimes unsupervised, and they tend to spend a lot of time on their devices during the summer months. Unless parents take precautions, children will find applications and other types of files to download that may not be safe or appropriate while they’re at work. Installing a good parental control program will help minimize their vulnerability on the internet.

Finally, don’t open unknown emails or divulge sensitive information unless you’ve verified the legitimacy of the organization, person or website. And don’t provide others with access to your devices or accounts. Be aware of unsolicited requests for tech support requiring the download of software that enables others to remotely access your PC. Hackers will use legitimate remote administration tools as weapons for breaking into networks. Likewise, employers should be sure to lock down these tools so only authorized users have access. While these tools provide added convenience for remote workers, they also serve as a potential gateway for attack.

As always, protect your systems against unnecessary vulnerabilities. Regularly update your applications with the latest software patches and be sure to install antivirus software and set it for automatic updates.

(For more information about VIPRE antivirus solutions and to sign up for a free trial, visit VIPRE for Business and VIPRE for Home.)


5. Predictive Analytics

Predictive Analytics, says Matt Zajechowski of Digital Third Coast, is “the practice of looking for patterns within systematically compiled data in order to anticipate behaviors and trends.” It can, he adds, help sales and marketing professionals build models and ideal customer profiles, as well as information which can then be used to increase sales, retain profitable customers and understand which customers aren’t a good fit.

Matt and Soliant Consulting created the visual information below to help you better understand what’s ahead for predictive analytics.



6. Retailers Depend on Email Marketing

A new survey from Campaigner shows online retailers are counting on email marketing to acquire customers in the coming year. They asked retailers how they use email marketing to increase customer engagement, acquisition and conversions.

The survey shows:

  • Nearly two-thirds send a welcome email to new subscribers within 24 hours
  • Nearly one-third of new subscribers make a first purchase within 48 hours of subscribing
  • Over half the marketers feel they are not making the most of their welcome email

Some details:

  • 39% say a “thank you for subscribing” message is the first email they send to new subscribers
  • 62% send new subscribers their first message within 24 hours of signing up

There’s more in the infographic below.



7. Yes, You Can Take a Vacation This Summer

According to Funding Circle, even though “vacation season is in full swing,” many small business owners won’t be taking much time off. Their survey shows:

33% of small business owners plan to take no more than 5 vacation days this year

Even worse, when asked how many times work emails are checked during vacation:

  • Almost 30% of small business owners admitted to checking at least once a day
  • 40% confessed to checking emails multiple times per day

Funding Circle offer some tips on its blog on how you can make the most of your vacation time.


8. What Small Business Owners Should Know About Transitional Relief for ACA

Guest post by Matt Thomas, President, WorkSmart Systems, a Professional Employer Organization, specializing in helping SMBs remain ACA compliant  

Many business owners are having trouble keeping track of their next health insurance renewal date. Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, there have been several iterations of transitional relief for companies and organizations with less than 50 employees.

It’s important for small businesses to understand what these plans options—first called “grandfathered” plans, and then later “grandmothered”—mean for your businesses.

Understanding Grandfathered and Grandmothered Plans

Grandfathered plans are the ones people already had when the ACA was signed into law in 2010. As long as the plan hasn’t substantially changed and the carrier is still offering it, businesses can continue to renew it. The initial intent was for all policies to transition off old plans and on to ACA-compliant plans in 2014. Grandmothered plans are the health insurance plans purchased after the ACA was signed in 2010, but before the bulk of the regulations went into effect in 2014.

The point of grandfathered plans, and later grandmothered plans, was to delay the pain of significant premium increases due to the “community rate” pricing formula established under the ACA. The insurance carriers and the attending government agencies have negotiated these delays by changing health insurance policy dates.

What it Means for Small Businesses

A few years ago, the majority of businesses had a January 1 effective date for group health insurance policies. The first adjustment moved the renewal date of January 1 to December 1 to avoid the need to issue ACA compliant plans. The next adjustment moved the December 1 renewal date to October 1. This short plan year renewal was to take place this year on October 1; however, we don’t expect that to be the case overall.

In a move sure to be followed by other insurance carriers, Anthem recently announced that companies who were planning to renew plans early on October 1 will be able to stay with the original renewal date from 2015. This means companies with Anthem as a carrier will be able to keep their same plans active until December 2017.

Anthem is allowing employers to lock in rates in advance of their next renewal to take advantage of transition relief; this move grants employers more time to figure out the best solution for their employee and business needs ahead of the move to a community-rating environment. A short renewal period in 2017 will lead to ACA-compliant plan renewals for January 1, 2018.

For the average small company, these continual changes are hard to manage and the result is uncertainty about their group health plan. These moves may have delayed the hard-hitting increases of community rating, but they do not change the fact that the increases are on the horizon.