It seems hard to believe, but next year marks the 20th anniversary of the internet achieving ‘critical mass’ to become an everyday part of our lives.
Yes, way back in 1995, the World Wide Web emerged from the science labs of universities into the computers of ordinary consumers. It has fundamentally altered the way people communicate, shop, play and dare I say, live?
To smaller business, the emergence of the World Wide Web was as scary as it was exciting. For some, it would mean a brilliant and affordable new way to do business or at least promote itself. To others, yet another brave new world they had to find time and energy to come to terms with.
But now, the internet is a critical component of the small business’ operational and promotional armoury. And not a day goes by without it touching some part of the business, whether it be a new business lead, a sale, a purchase, a customer service query or just doing the banking.
So in preparation for that milestone, here are my ‘digital dozen’ terms (in no particular order) that, really, all smaller business operators should know by now. Let’s see how many you know:
Or search engine optimisation. This is the practice of ‘optimising’ your website and web presence so as to achieve the most prominence on Google and other search engines. It is done via a range of optimisation techniques both within your website and from other websites.
Content management system – these are tools that enable ordinary computer users to alter most aspects of your website but most commonly pages and menus. At the ‘page’ level, the interface resembles a Word document so as to allow you to make alterations without requiring a degree in computer science.
Customer relationship management – essentially the way you manage your relationship with your customer using a database and related tools. A good CRM system will allow you to keep pretty much any kind of information – contact details, emails, notes of conversations, sales, etc in one place instead of many.
4. Spam Act
Way back in 2003, the Howard government responded to the public outcry at having their inboxes invaded by businesses and organisations large and small by introducing the Spam Act, a law that governs what you can email people and how you can do that – at least from within Australia.
Unfortunately, it seems to have been cut back over successive governments so that relatively few business operators know about it or the fines that a breach of the law can represent.
Not to be confused with a web designer or webmaster, web developers are essentially computer programmers who ‘write’ and manipulate computer language like the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) of the internet to create all the website functionality you use on a daily basis. Whilst some still work for smaller business, most work for larger organisations helping create and maintain household names like Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay and pretty much every major website you can name.
Unlike web developers, designers are more concerned with ‘look and feel’ issues than necessarily how they are built. A good designer will be responsible for not only the appearance of a website, but how you will get around the website and interact with it. Some designers do their own ‘development’ whilst others will partner with developers to create the look and feel they specify.
In the past, webmasters picked up from where designers and developers left off to manage the day-to-day maintenance of a website. But these days, webmasters often manage new website designs and builds to ensure the ongoing needs of the organisation are met, often working closely with the above specialists. What’s more, they have been forced to become more marketing savvy as the website touches all aspects of the marketing process.
8. Pay per click
‘Pay per click’ refers to a new business model for collecting advertising revenue, improving – at least for businesses, on the previous and imperfect business model of ‘pay per impression’. As the name suggests, the advertiser only pays when their ad is clicked on, instead of being assumed as being seen or heard due to the number of viewers, listeners or readers an advertising medium claimed to attract.
Most online advertising uses the pay-per-click model Google helped pioneer in the 1990s.
Whilst most business operators understand integration from a business perspective, less may understand its digital interpretation. But integration means the consolidation of as many stores of business data as possible, into a single data ‘hub’. For example, all of a business’s customer records, sales, finance, email marketing, communications records and so on should reside in a central database, which all of the business functions should essentially ‘speak to’.
Unfortunately, few smaller businesses are good digital integrators as they run a range of different and disparate customer records.
As the name suggests, platform essentially refers to the software that underpins any digital part of your operations. When it comes to the online world, your platform underpins your website and other components of your online presence to include features like a CMS, e-commerce, email marketing system and so on.
11. Open source
This term refers to your website or software ‘code’ or programming, being able to be accessed by anyone with the authority to access it – not to forget the skills required to do anything with it. This allows developers to access the computer code on which your technology is built, to make functionality changes or improvements.
Whilst developers are very much pro open source, this unfettered access to the technology can also mean that functionality can be tampered with by unqualified or even unscrupulous operators.
This term suggests that your software or website technology is offered by a legal organisation or entity rather than an individual or community of individuals. Most software you use will be ‘proprietary’ and some website platforms are too.
Many proprietary system providers ‘close’ their source code so as to have control over its quality – or as many cynics would suggest (e.g. opponents of Apple), to control all its revenue streams. However, some providers build in open source but can’t guarantee its performance once an outside developer has altered any of its code.
How did you go? If you got between 10 and 12 you are likely to be a digital leader when it comes to small business. Between six and nine shows you are reasonably in touch with the digital world. Five or lower probably means you need some brushing up to stay competitive.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.