Many of us are spending a lot of time shopping during this busy holiday season – whether it’s online, in the malls or shopping “small” to help support small businesses in our communities. Shopping is definitely top of mind right now. Have you ever thought about selling products on your own website?  Have you wanted to offer your customers the ability to purchase your products online but hesitated because you just don’t know where to start? There are a few things you may want to consider.

What are the options?

There are several options out there and there are definitely some pro’s and con’s to think about. You could use Paypal, but there is a risk that some customers may feel that you are less credible because you aren’t processing payments like most other sites. You could use one of the gateways that don’t require a merchant account, but you may risk having to pay up to 10% more for each transaction. Some hosting providers also offer more automated out-of-the-box methods, but again…you may ultimately paying more per transaction. The method we recommend is obtaining a merchant account with payment gateway. This account will be a bridge from your website to the credit card processor. In other words, you don’t have to have the security concerns or the liability of maintaining or storing the credit card numbers yourself. It will all be managed directly by a regular bank. There is a small fee for this payment gateway but it’s the most secure and it’s an encrypted gateway offering protection to not only customers but for merchants as well.

How do you get a merchant account?

The best way to go about getting a merchant account is to apply to several different banks. They each dictate their own terms for these types of accounts, so it’s best to give yourself some bargaining power. Banks want your business, and they are sometimes willing to negotiate terms with you if it looks like you may take your business elsewhere.

When should you start the process?

Get your website up first – even if it’s just placeholder – because the bank will want to see your website during the application process (it doesn’t necessarily have to be the final website that you actually going to launch with). Be patient – the process of getting the merchant account can take several weeks and banks don’t always process these applications very quickly. So, it’s best to start the process as soon as possible.

What information will you need?

To get started, you need to:

  • Determine what products you want to sell online
  • Group your products in logical categories for customers
  • Get full size and thumbnail pictures of your products (preferably .jpg, gif or tif)
  • Create an electronic list or spreadsheet of your products, including price, weight, title, categories, sizes, colors, pricing options, etc.
  • Determine your shipping methods (USPS, FedEx, Expedited, US/Int’l, etc) and tax rate

Once you have the merchant account, then what?

Once you have obtained your merchant account, just provide the account number, user name, password and key to your web developer. Then, provide the product information that you have compiled along with the shipping methods, tax rates and product images you want associated with the cart. The developer will integrate all of this shopping cart information with your website and you’ll be ready to start processing transactions online!

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Apple first introduced Siri (a speech-recognition “personal assistant”) to the world on the iPhone 4s. Siri attempts to translate human speech and provide relevant responses to the requests it receives.

Siri allows you set appointments, get the weather forecast and search for many other things, including businesses in your local area. How can this new Apple feature help your business? Well, think about how many iPhone users are out there and are currently using Siri to locate information or get directions using their voice. If your business isn’t showing up in Siri’s results, there’s a chance that you’re missing out on some new customers.

Have you searched for your business yet on Siri? When I search for our own company, Digital Dogs, I get asked if I am looking for dog breeders or kennels. We all know that Digital Dogs is neither of those, so I tried searching all businesses within walking distance of our location – still no luck! Many other businesses are running into the same issue, so I started searching around to see if I could find the solution to showing up on Siri.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.

A large part of the problem is that Siri still has a lot of kinks that need to get worked out. Its system isn’t as refined as, say Google, in returning relevant results for users. In fact, some of the results (or lack of) that Siri provides have been the cause of recent controversy. As a result, many businesses will probably start to see improvement in their visibility on Siri only as Apple continues to work on and refine the program.

Even with Siri’s flukes, there are still some things you can do to help increase the chances of your business showing up in the results. From my research so far, here are some of the top factors you should address:

Purchase the Premium Version of Yelp
Many business owners have commented that upgrading to the premium service offered by Yelp seems to have helped their companies appear on Siri. However, this may not be a viable option for small companies with tight marketing budgets. If upgrading to the premium service isn’t an option for your company, make sure that you create a free Yelp account or check up on your current one to make sure it lists your company in the appropriate business categories and contains your company’s most current information.

Get Online Customer Reviews
Some business owners and webmasters have also noticed a difference once getting some customer reviews on Yelp. This clearly isn’t a hard set rule for showing up in Siri, since some searches bring up companies without reviews. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to get positive reviews about your business online, so if you haven’t been encouraging customers to post reviews on Yelp and other websites, now’s the time to start.

Include Keywords in Your Company Name
Having the keywords that people search for in your company name seems to help businesses be found better on Siri. However, I’m not recommending that you randomly include keywords in your company name. Only do it if they’re already a part of your company name. For example, if you’re the owner of Teaching Kids Elementary School, make sure that you include the words “Elementary School” in your Yelp listing and not just “Teaching Kids.”

Once again, none of these recommendations are guaranteed to get your company showing up in Siri. However, they can help, and they don’t require much effort to start implementing.

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When talking with potential clients, one question we frequently hear is, “What kind of results can you guarantee me?” It’s a legitimate question. All businesses, whether small or large, need to know what kind of ROI they’re going to receive. However, when it comes to SEO, the buyer should beware of any companies that guarantee results.

Oftentimes, these companies promise to achieve page 1 rankings each month or the client doesn’t have to pay for the services that month. However, their strategies typically involve targeting low-quality, low-search volume keywords that won’t generate a client much traffic or business. For good measure, these companies might also count page 1 rankings on smaller, less important search engines, such as Dogpile or Lycos.

Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t trust companies that promise rankings:

The Search Engines Actually Warn Against It
It’s true. On its website, Google writes, “Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings.” You can read more here. That alone should close the door on the topic.

Rankings Are Unstable
Apart from the fact that Google constantly updates its algorithm, rankings actually change from place to place. If I search for “electrician” here in Scottsdale, AZ, I’m going to receive different results than someone doing the same search in Tucson, AZ. Being logged into your Google account also provides you with different rankings. Savvy SEO firms don’t guarantee rankings, because there are simply too many factors that cause rankings to fluctuate.

Rankings Alone Can’t Measure Performance
It’s exciting to see your website show up on page 1 of Google, but that doesn’t mean your business is benefiting much from the ranking. How are your website traffic and conversions looking? If you haven’t seen improvements in these areas, then something’s off with your SEO plan.

There Are Ethical Issues in Guaranteeing Something That Can’t Be Controlled
While FedEx and UPS can guarantee next-day delivery, a camera maker can’t responsibly promise that all your pictures will turn out beautifully. What if you took a picture of Elwood, the world’s ugliest dog? It’s the same principle with SEO. While an SEO company can guarantee to provide you with the best possible advice to help your website earn more traffic, they can’t (and shouldn’t) provide a guarantee on rankings.

If you’re searching for a good SEO company, but hesitant to invest without knowing the results you’ll receive, there are still questions you can ask to help you feel more confident in making your decision. We’ll cover those questions and the different topics you should discuss with any SEO company in our next blog post.

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At Digital Dogs, we often develop web and mobile apps for our clients, but we also enjoy checking out and using apps other companies create, as well. This year, we’ve run across a few different apps that we know will make our holiday shopping easier. Hopefully, they’ll do the same for you. Here are our favorites for Black Friday shopping:

Before you leave the house on Friday:
BFAds and TGIBlackFriday – The search function on both of these apps works great for comparison shopping. Just type in the product you want to purchase, and these apps will show the product’s price at the different stores selling it. It’s a quick way to know which stores have the products you really want at the lowest price, making it easier to map out your Black Friday shopping route.

Once you’re in the store:
ShopSavvy 5 – If you forgot to look up a product before you started shopping, the ShopSavvy app still helps you grab the best price. Once you’re in a store, you just have to scan the product’s bar code with your smartphone. The app will show you all the stores selling the product, as well as the prices that each store offers.

If you know of any apps that help make your Black Friday shopping easier, feel free to post a comment and let us know!

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You may think that once a website is built, it just works regardless of what browser you are viewing it in. Not necessarily true. Building a website that looks and functions consistently on multiple platforms and multiple browsers can be a very arduous task. Many designers build sites on a given platform but may not be viewing the site or performing extensive quality assurance testing for multiple platforms and browsers. If this is overlooked, you can run the risk of having a certain percentage of your potential visitors having a bad experience when they view your site. You always want to try and make a good first impression with visitors and try to make your site as universally available as possible. The challenge is to continually keep up with all of the new versions of browsers and new operating environments out there.

Before launching a site for our clients, the Digital Dogs team completes comprehensive quality assurance testing to make sure the site is functioning properly for a large variety of common platforms and browsers such as Macintosh Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla FireFox and Google Chrome. We also work closely with our clients to find out exactly what functionality is needed on the site, who is your audience, what devices will they be using, etc.  If you need your website to run on specific mobile devices, iPad or specific tablet computers, it’s best to let your web developer know this information up front. It may require additional development time to enable the functionality you have on your full-version website to work on these other devices. Don’t assume that it will work on everything.

If you’re like me, you might also find it interesting to look at current technology trends. Here are some web browser, operating system and smartphone market share stats.

According to W3Counter (, here is a breakdown of the current Web Browser Market Share data:
• Internet Explorer (35.1%)
• FireFox (26.1%)
• Chrome (20.9%)
• Safari (6.0%)
• Opera (2.4%)

According to NetMarketShare (, this is the breakdown of Operating System Market Share:
• Windows (86.57%
• Mac (6.04%)
• iOS (3.27%)
• Java ME (1.11%)
• Linux (1.04%)
• Android (0.97%
• Other (0.65%

According to nielsenwire (, latest smartphone market share numbers are as follows:
• Android OS (36%)
• Apple (26%)
• RIM Blackberry (23%)
• Windows Mobile (9%)
• HP WebOS (2%)
• Symbian OS (2%)
• Windows Phone 7 (1%)
• Palm OS (1%)

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At Digital Dogs, we’re regularly asked to review websites and put together recommendations for SEO campaigns. While oftentimes a website could benefit from updating its look or even re-structuring the site’s architecture, the issues are typically minor enough that they won’t prevent an SEO campaign from being successful. If the website owner has the funds to update the website, we’ll recommend those changes. If the owner is on a tight budget, we can typically work with what’s currently in place and still get good results for the client. However, sometimes we encounter websites that need some serious work done to them before implementing SEO.

Here are a few reasons you should update your website before investing in SEO:

1. Your website only has 1 or 2 pages

Maybe you just want to keep your company’s message simple and uncluttered. That’s great, but you could still probably do the same with some more pages on your website. From the perspective of a search engine, a website with only a few pages is weak, especially when compared to a competitor’s website with hundreds of pages. Think of it in terms of football – if you’re choosing a defensive tackle, are you going to pick the scrawny kid who can be blown over by a gust of wind? Probably not, and Google won’t either. If you’re website is on the scrawny side when it comes to content, it’s time to start beefing it up by adding more pages about your products or services. Adding a blog and regularly updating it is also a good idea.

2. Your website looks like this:

Let’s be honest – if you’re website looks anything like the above one, people will run away screaming. Or, to be more realistic, they will click the Back button and look for a website that isn’t stuck in the ‘90s. While an ugly website can rank well in the search engines, the money you spend on SEO won’t provide a good ROI if people are so turned off by your website’s looks or usability that they immediately leave. The money invested in an updated web design will cause your SEO dollars to be more effective and will eventually pay for itself.

3. You have a splash page

The main issue here, as in the above one, is usability. You don’t want to make visitors go through multiple steps just to get to your website. Many people will see the splash page and, before it can completely load, they’ll leave and go to another website. In some cases, splash pages are set up in such a way that the search engines can’t access the interior pages of the website, thereby impacting your site’s rankings and visibility. There is good news, though. This issue can be resolved fairly painlessly – just have your designer or webmaster delete the splash page. Consumers will be able to immediately access your website, and you’ll probably see improved stats for visitor interaction on your website.

The above are just a few reasons why you might need to update your website before investing in SEO. Other issues can also come up, and heeding your SEO consultant’s advice regarding such matters will help you get the most for your money. If you’re a small business owner, you might initially be turned off by the price tag for updating or redesigning your website. However, by ignoring your website’s problems, you’re turning your back on potential customers, which can impact your wallet much more deeply in the long run.

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Many small business owners often wonder how they can increase website exposure, traffic and sales with search engine optimization (SEO). SEO may seem complicated, but oftentimes you can get results by making some simple changes to your website. Here are 5 things you can do to get started:

  1. Focus your homepage title on the most general topic/service you provide and include your location. Just like businesses in the phonebook are listed under the main service they provide, your homepage should also focus on your main service. A brief title, such as “Italian Restaurant in Dallas Texas,” is still descriptive, and therefore effective. Keep in mind that search engines only display the first 65 characters of your title, so put the most important information at the beginning. It’s okay if the title is longer than 65 characters, but only search engines, not visitors, will see the extra words.
  2. Write good content for your most important pages. Ideally, all the pages on your website should have content, but the first step is to get good content on the most important pages. If you can write 300 words or 3 paragraphs about a particular service or product you offer, then that product should probably have its own page on your website. A great approach to writing content is to address typical customer concerns or describe important product details that make the item unique.
  3. Give each page on your website a different title. Focus the title on the page’s topic. If you sell snowboards, don’t just put “Snowboards” as the title on all your pages. Be descriptive and create unique titles for each page, such as “Women’s Snowboards” or “Children’s Snowboards.” If you only sell to a local area, make sure to include your location: “Women’s Snowboards | Denver & Boulder Colorado.”
  4. Target good keywords. If you’re not sure where to start with keywords, you can use the Google Keyword Tool. This tool will show you the keywords that people search most frequently. Once again, if you’re a local-only business, make sure to include the cities or towns you serve when searching for keywords.
  5. Put your address on your website. Including your address helps Google and Bing associate your services with a particular area, which is great for local businesses. Simply adding your company’s address to the bottom or footer section of every page is a simple way to implement this tip.

If you’re still in the design phase of your website, incorporating the above tips in the beginning stages can be easier than going back and reworking content or coding that isn’t search-engine friendly. Regardless of what stage you’re at with your website, it’s still never too late to start on SEO. In the end, the extra work can pay for itself by increasing your company’s overall profitability.

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When choosing a web design company, keep in mind that you’re picking a team of people who will your business on the Internet, a very important component which can help improve your business.

Here are some points to consider:

Do they have a local presence?

Nowadays a lot of companies outsource their work. Make sure the company you’re considering has a local office and can meet with you in person. Take note of the company’s business hours, and make sure someone will be around to answer the phone or reply to an email when you need to get in touch with a person. The most praise Digital Dogs receives from clients is in regards to our responsiveness. We try to answer emails as soon as we receive them, and clients can always reach someone by phone during business hours.

Do they have an online portfolio?

Check out the company website and review previous work they have done. That will help you determine if you like the company’s style and their level of website professionalism.

Have you asked someone for a referral?

As with any service, ask your friends and family if they have used a company for web development. Ask them about the experience they had and if they would use the same company again. Also, feel free to ask the web design company for references from previous clients.

Where do they host your website?

It is recommended that the company creating your website also host it.  That way, the company is familiar with the hosting environment, and you call one place for edits and hosting. However, make sure that if you switch to a different company in the future, you own your site’s code and can easily access it and/or move it to another server.

Are they offering any advice on how to improve your site? How professional is their advice?

Consulting is the most important part of web design. A client might not be tech savvy or understand all the “rules of the web”. The web design company should be there to offer advice and guide you in the right direction. Be wary of companies that agree with everything you say and offer no new ideas in a professional manner.

Does the contract include everything you need?

Make sure that the contract includes the budget, number of revisions, hourly cost for additional edits/revisions, length of development time, as well as the length of the warranty after the site is launched.

Meet with the web development company and, if you like what you hear, make a decision based on knowledge and experience. As we all know, you only get what you pay for, so the cheapest solution may end up costing you more in the long run, and it may not produce the results you want.

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Most people think that their computers at work are quite safe. There’s almost always some sort of firewall on the network (with half of its workload being devoted to blocking your co-worker from being on FaceBook all day). Everyone typically sees an anti-virus program quietly waiting in the notification bar and works on a browser trafficking the same humdrum places as the fifty million others boxed in by four-and-a-half foot high walls.

Then your screen starts looking something like this:

Wondering exactly what went wrong? To be honest with you, nothing. Even the most techno-savvy individuals will eventually run into one of these cyberware “fishing hooks.” The most important thing to remember is to stay calm. In the end, these warnings are just a nuisance if they can’t goad you into doing something stupid.

These warnings are known as scareware, and they are surprisingly simple scams. They focus on loudly telling people their computers have been hacked or infected. Then, of course, the scareware offers to sell the computer users a “cure.” Often, the scareware will appear as an upgrade for the anti-virus or security program already on a person’s computer. It’s like someone broke your front window, climbed in and tried to hard sell you on buying a security system from him. Subtle as a brick, but surprisingly effective.

Your response is simple. Put your keyboard down. An infected computer is no good, so don’t bother trying to shut down the fake software or run your anti-virus program or even Google the name. Go to another computer or grab a phone and get someone with the tools to scrub the thing from your system. Don’t touch it again until you’re instructed by the professional to do so.

Now if you want to minimize your chances of being snagged in the first place, it’s important to have some idea of how it happens in the first place. There are two main sources for these types of infections: drive-by-downloads and malware-ladened spam.

The drive-by-download  is an invisible webpage element. They are either hacked onto existing pages or built as fake pages with some way or another of diverting traffic to them. These downloads try to exploit some bug or forgotten vulnerability of your browser to copy and run a small program on your machine that then installs the scareware program.

The malware -ladened spam usually takes the form of a form or document that is attached to a legitimate looking email claming to be a receipt or report or bank statement or whatever they think you’ll open without looking at too hard. This scam works by exploiting bugs in document viewer or player.

Oddly enough, most of these bug are well-known and can be fixed. But most people’s computers aren’t constantly up-to-date with all their security software. Here are some ways you can keep your computer safe:

Don’t use Internet Explorer if you don’t have to. Regrettably, sometimes you have to. There are some websites or apps that require IE to run properly. I can’t, as a web developer, say that there’s been any love lost for this particular product. But on the merits of security alone there are reasons enough. Here are the highlights:

  • Closed source – This ones a little counter-intuitive. You would think that the less people know about the inner workings of a browser, the harder it would be to compromise. But, in practice, the less transparency there is, the more often cracks form and the longer it takes to fix.
  • ActiveX – Powerful, useful but regrettably added to IE in a less than security conscious way.
  • Vbscript – A proprietary equivalent to JavaScript, along with its own share of holes.

Keep your Adobe products updated. The shear ubiquity of Acrobat and Flash makes them a prime target for scareware, though Adobe makes an admirable effort to stay ahead of. The problem has always been getting all of us users to keep the program up-to-date.

If you use Java, keep it fresh. The precision of the exact numbers is a little questionable, but more than half of computer uses have Java installed. There are all sorts of web bits built with Java, including file upload/downloaders, chat systems, screen and webcam streaming. It’s a problem that is easy to forget about.

Keeping the above tips in mind will help save you from the headaches that can come from scareware. However, if your computer does get infected, it’s important to stay calm and look for help from companies or individuals that are experienced in removing these types of malicious programs.

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Content management systems (CMS) allow for website owners, with no web development experience, to manage the content within their website. Back when Digital Dogs started in 1998, there were two options for CMS. You could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for one developed by a software company, or you could use a proprietary system built by a web development firm. The first option was usually a show stopper because of cost, and the second option had many issues. Most proprietary systems were not flexible, feature rich or well supported.  In addition, proprietary systems often left customers tied to the web development company who built it, because the system was owned by the web development company.

With the advent of open source software and the development Joomla, Drupal and WordPress, the CMS world has changed dramatically. These content management systems are priced right at no cost, which means the only cost to the website owner is the development time to implement them. Each is well supported by a broad development community. There are modules that are pre-built to support most common needs, such as calendars, shopping carts and event listings to name a few. In addition, since they are open source, website owners are not tied to one web development firm. You have complete control over where your website is hosted and who manages the programing of it for you.

One of our favorite CMS is WordPress. Initially developed as a blog, it has evolved into a very robust content management system. As a matter of fact, the Digital Dogs website is built and managed through WordPress. It offers the flexibility to have creative themes, making a website custom to your design requirements. The site management is done through a very intuitive administration area, allowing for content to be updated and pages to be added with a few key strokes and a click of a mouse.

As the Internet has evolved, so have content management systems. For less of a cost than having a static website built in the 90s, you can now have a site that is easily updated, feature rich, well supported and, best of all, over which you have complete control.

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