Imagination is our power

Archive for January, 2012

The Psychology Of Color In Design

ave you ever wondered why you seem to be getting hungrier while waiting to place your order at a fast food place or why you eat faster that any human should ingest that poison? Have you ever heard of a “power tie” in business?

There are things that excite the human senses. Aromatherapy and the sense of smell bring about mood and emotional change. Taste, touch and audible sensations bring about the same changes, so it’s no surprise that visuals also bring about emotional changes in humans. Color is light and light is energy. Scientists have found that actual physiological changes take place in human beings when they are exposed to certain colors. Colors can stimulate, excite, depress, tranquilize, increase appetite and create a feeling of warmth or coolness. This is known as Chromodynamics.

 

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In Design

In 1666, English scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, discovered that when pure white light passes through a prism it separates into all of the visible colors. Newton also found that each color is made up of a single wavelength and cannot be separated any further into other colors. Color has the power to suggest mood and emotion and, used the correct way, you can move people to become excited, fearful, playful, relaxed and powerful.

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In Design

 

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In Design

 

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In Design

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In DesignThe big fast food giants have similar colors for their brands, which stimulate and excite. Oddly enough, Whataburger, a smaller chain, uses muted colors for a friendly retro feel. Coke also uses the power of a warm red, giving the feel of a lazy summer day. Which website entices you the most?

Our personal and cultural associations affect our experience of color. Colors are seen as warm or cool mainly because of long-held (and often cross-cultural) associations. Yellow, orange and red are associated with the heat of sun and fire; green, blue and violet with the coolness of leaves, sea and the sky. Warm colors seem closer to the viewer than cool colors, but vivid cool colors can overwhelm light and subtle warm colors. Using warm colors for foreground and cool colors for background enhances the perception of depth and suggests peace and tranquility. Warm colors in the foreground and cool colors in the background can suggest a sense of foreboding.

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In DesignLook at this photo of the five U.S. Presidents. Which one commands more respect from the colors they wear? Don’t go by their records as Commanders-in-Chief or you’ll say, “none!”

Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, practiced chromotherapy, or using colors to heal. Chromotherapy is sometimes referred to as light therapy or colorology and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

In this treatment:

Red was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.

Yellow was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.

Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.

Blue was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.

Indigo shades were thought to alleviate skin problems.

Although red, yellow and orange are in general considered high-arousal colors and blue, green and most violets are low-arousal hues, the brilliance, darkness and lightness of a color can alter the psychological message. While a light blue-green appears to be tranquil, wet and cool, a brilliant turquoise, often associated with a tropical ocean setting, will pop more to the viewer’s eye. The psychological association of a color is often more meaningful than the visual experience of the elements themselves.

Why Color Choice Is So Important To Your Designs

It’s more than just the emotional factor of the colors you choose. Colors act upon the body as well as the mind. Red has been shown to stimulate the senses and raise the blood pressure, while blue has the opposite effect and calms the mind and body.

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In DesignThe natural palette screams calm, harmony and “green movement.”

People will actually gamble more and make riskier bets when seated under a red light as opposed to a blue light. That’s why cities with gambling institutions use a lot of red neon lights.

How often have you stopped to admire a flowerbed in full bloom? Expert gardeners arrange the flowers according to their color for extra vibrancy. With a little knowledge of good color relationships, you can make colors work better for you in your business graphics and other applications.

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In DesignA smart use of a limited color palette by the American Express Company. The Inc. website is plain, neutral and boring. The AmEx ad stands out as the most important element on the page. True blue, it inspires confidence and the burst of color makes it hard to look at anything else.

Studies have also shown that certain colors can have an impact on performance. Exposing students to the color red prior to an exam has been shown to have a negative impact on test performance. More recently, researchers discovered that the color red causes people to react with greater speed and force, something that might prove useful during athletic activities.

Black is the color of mystery, authority, power and evil. It is popular in fashion because it supposedly makes people appear thinner. It is also considered stylish and timeless. Black can also be accented with any other color as it is the ultimate neutral color, albeit the most powerful.

White is cleanliness, sterility, innocence and purity. White reflects light and is considered a summer color. White is popular in decorating and in fashion because, as with black but at the opposite end of the spectrum, it is light, neutral, and goes with everything.

Red is the most emotionally-intense color. It is the color of blood, the color of the devil, Mars (the God of war) but also the color of a Valentine Day heart. Red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing. Red ties are known as “power ties” and are favored by CEOs and politicians. Red cars, according to police statistics, are popular targets for thieves. In decorating, red is usually used as an accent to draw attention in a room or for a doorway.

The most romantic color, pink, which is a shade of red, is more tranquil and considered feminine. Candy is often pink and it is a color that inspires happiness.

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In DesignA friendly and inviting candy store’s website makes your mouth water and your teeth hurt just by looking at it. A bright, retro feel brings up happy emotions.

Blue, as the color of a clear sky and a deep ocean, is one of the most popular colors. It causes the opposite reaction as red. Blue causes the body to produce calming, tranquilizing chemicals, so it is often used in bedrooms. Blue can also be cold and depressing. Fashion consultants recommend wearing blue to job interviews because it symbolizes loyalty. People are more productive in blue rooms. Studies allege that weightlifters are able to handle heavier weights in blue gyms.

Green symbolizes nature and the current recycling, save-the-planet movement. It is the easiest color on the eye and is reported to improve vision. It is a calming, refreshing color. People waiting to appear on TV sit in “green rooms” to relax. Hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients. Dark green is masculine, conservative, and implies wealth. It is also a color of luck as in a four-leaf clover.

Yellow is a happy, cheerful color that draws attention, especially when paired with a strong contrasting color. While it is considered an optimistic color, people lose their tempers more often, and babies will cry more, in yellow rooms. It is the most difficult color for the eye to take in, so it can be overpowering if overused. Try looking at a yellow wall of a website for a long period and you will most probably get a splitting headache. It is believed, however, that yellow enhances concentration and that it speeds metabolism.

Purple is the color of royalty and connotes luxury, wealth, and sophistication. It is also feminine and romantic. However, because it is rare in nature, purple can appear artificial and often causes a “vibration” when not used in a proper color palette.

Brown is solid, reliable and is the color of earth. It is abundant in nature but varying shades have very different emotional responses. Light brown implies genuineness while dark brown is similar to wood or leather. Brown can also be sad and wistful. Brown is often considered a “male” color.

The Mix Of Colors

In the same way that one color can appear different in different surroundings, two similar colors may appear to be identical under some conditions. Even though the two symbols are actually slightly different tones, the contrasting backgrounds cause our brains to think that they are the same color. This effect is harder to control, but be aware of it because it can affect your graphics in hidden ways.

The feeling you get when looking at bright complementary colors next to each other is a vibrating or pulsing effect. It seems that the colors are pulling away from each other. It’s caused by an effect called “color fatiguing”. When one color strikes a portion of the retina long enough, the optic nerve begins sending confused signals to the brain. This confusion is intensified by the complementary colors.

instantShift - The Psychology Of Color In DesignThe BoingBoing logo, a warm red, will have different effects as the color is changed. The heart-pounding yellow is a little too bright (although the contrast is attention grabbing) and the pure violet at the bottom is too dark and vibrates, which will cause the viewer to move off the site more quickly.

Mixing brilliant complementary colors gets attention, but should be used with restraint. The effect is disconcerting and can make your eyes feel like they’ve been shaken around.

If you want to use complementary colors without causing discomfort, you can outline each of the colors with a thin neutral white, gray or black line. The outlines separate the two colors, which help your brain keep them separated.

When two very similar colors touch in an image, both colors appear to wash out and become indistinct. This is because the borders between the colors are difficult to distinguish and your brain blurs the colors together.

Personal Preferences

Color preference is subjective. If you face a committee of critics of your design, you will receive several different requests for color changes… for completely different colors. People have a connection with certain colors due to their experiences with objects of those colors. A person who has positive experiences with a favorite blue toy as a child will generally like the color blue even later into life.

This works in a negative manner as well. Facing a committee with a line of designs, a marketing person refused to allow a cherry red to be used. It was an integral part of the design as it was part of the client’s branded style guide, so some argued the color was appropriate. After point and counter point was argued to exhaustion, the marketing person admitted her aversion to the color was from a girl who wore that color of lipstick who had tormented her in school. Irrational to others but not to her, as the color made fear and anxiety well up in her. The committee did look past her preference and she constantly complained about the client’s products, not allowing any of them to be placed in her office… although we would hide them in her desk drawers and messenger bag.

By the same token, the red and green colors are ignored by designers suffering even the slightest color blindness as those two colors hold the most common problems in color blind individuals.

The WORLD WIDE web demands smart choices for a web design. In China, red indicates luck, while in Nigeria and Germany it means the exact opposite. International corporations, at least the smart ones, will study colors and the effect they have on different cultures. Losing an entire population of consumers due to using the wrong color is a huge hit on profit and brand awareness.

What are YOUR personal preferences? Too often a designer will lean on his or her personal likes or dislikes for a color palette and that can ruin a great design with ineffective colors for the end user. We need to put away the convention of personal choices when designing for the demographics of the consumer and that can be difficult.

Making The Right Choices

A friend of mine was the creative director for a large corporation that encouraged innovation not only in design but demanded color palettes out of the ordinary. He confided in me that they used candy for their color palettes.

“We scanned a pack of Easter-color M&Ms and then used it for our spring line,” he told me while we sat in his office. “I’ve also used Jujyfruits, Skittles and Sour Patch Kids!”

So, who says that’s a bad way to create a palette? There are color generators and books with color breakdowns for designers to use. One can scan a piece of textile, a photo of a beautiful sunset, an ocean scene or a handful of dirt, sand or a piece of wood and create a palette of colors that will blow away viewers. Just be mindful of the colors used as you would the placement of elements. In design, everything, all elements, type, color and images are drawn together to elicit a response from the viewer/consumer. They all must work in harmony, just like the colors in nature.

 

Be Less Annoying: Reduce Bounce Rates through Better Web Design

A properly designed site can reduce bounce rate and increase engagement significantly. In this article, six important elements are introduced that are important for reducing a site’s bounce rate.

According to the almighty Google, bounce rate is defined as “the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page“. Basically, those users who leave your site right after they hit it — without checking anything else out. Bounce rate is a true measure of your site’s engagement. There are a bunch of factors that are involved with a lowering bounce rate, the main one being having relevant content, but even relevant content doesn’t stand a chance with a very poor web design.

Truly, the real killers of engagement are distractions and annoyances. As a whole, anything that the user gets distracted with or annoyed by will drive them away. Distractions can be anything from an overuse of animations to a blinding color scheme. Eliminating distractions will keep users focused and engaged on the content and purpose of the site design. Annoyances are just those elements that irritate users like poor navigation, error messages and unreadable typography.

A properly designed site can reduce bounce rate and increase engagement significantly. To avoid going into crazy detail about proper web design, I’ve tried to boil down how design elements can directly lower bounce rate and there are really six elements that go into reducing bounce rate:

  • Good UI
  • High Quality, Relevant Imagery
  • Engaging Color Scheme
  • Readable Type
  • Consistent Branding
  • Responsive Feedback

1 – Good UI

The quickest way to annoy a user is to design a site that has an unusable or bad user interface. Start at the top with the sites main navigation; design the site navigation to be easy to use, make sure labels are clear and easy to understand. Also, make sure that your navigation is simple and not cluttered with unnecessary stuff.

Positioning of typical site elements should be predictable and easy to find. Search boxes, navigation, logos and social sharing buttons should be positioned in typical and predictable places. If a user hits your site and can’t find these basic standard elements they are more likely to jump.

Forms are often a huge culprit in high bounce rates. Design your forms so that they are quick and easy to complete. Like navigation, make sure labels are clear and easy to understand and use form colors that engage the user. Breaking up long forms into multiple, smaller forms and letting the user know where they are and how much further they have to go, reduces bounce rates also by keeping the user engaged.

2 – High Quality, Relevant Imagery

For some reason, it seems like it’s always easy to spot stock photography. Maybe it’s because most stock photography is cheesy (you know, everybody is always smiling into the camera) or maybe it’s because the user just saw the same girl on three different billboards on the way home from work.

When users see and recognize general stock photos they tend to feel like the site is fake or cheesy. Relevant photographs let the user know that you care about the experience and that you want to show them what is important to you. Also, bad photos — even relevant ones — can drive the user away for the same reason. Great photography is always a wise investment. Hire good photographers to take product, location and staff images.

I don’t mean to demean stock photos, I actually use them quite a bit. Just make sure to choose relevant, non-cheesy photos that will not distract or annoy your user. Also, color correct those stock photos to blend in better with your sites color scheme. This will allow those photos to feel more relevant to the site even if they are just smiling, happy, thumbs up style stock photos.

3 – Engaging Color Scheme

The only thing worse than auto-start audio and video is an obnoxious, blinding color scheme. Unless your designing a children’s site, super bright color schemes are just simply annoying and will kill your bounce rate. I don’t know about you, but when a web site loads and I have to quickly squint and turn down my display brightness I’m usually gone fairly quickly there after.

Design and create a color scheme that complements your content. Your color scheme doesn’t always need to be soothing blues and greens, but it needs to be appropriate to what the site is offering. If your designing a health food site, go ahead and use the blue and green but if you are designing a motorcycle site you may want to consider silvers, reds and yellows on darker backgrounds. One thing I also try to do is pull color schemes from products, logos or imagery provided by the client.

Another important thing to consider when choosing an engaging color scheme for your site design is to check out the competition. See what color schemes they are using. Chances are, if the site has been around for a while they’ve done some bounce rate testing themselves and may have figured out some color schemes that work better.

4 – Readable Type

This is a no brainer when designing for lower bounce rates: make sure the user can read all the headlines, paragraphs and links clearly. Choose legible fonts that can be read quickly and easily. Make sure font colors are easy to read — don’t use a pink font color on a red or orange background for instance. Fonts, font colors and font sizes are critical to readability; scripty and handwritten fonts are bad ideas for long paragraphs or smaller sized text. Use appropriate headline and paragraph font color and sizes so that the user feels comfortable and doesn’t have to strain their eyes to read.

Proper letter and line spacing is also important to readability. If characters are squashed together it’s harder for the user’s eyes to distinguish each letter. Generally, you don’t have to worry about letter spacing if you are using standard web fonts. Line spacing, especially in large paragraphs, is very important to readability. Make sure hanging characters don’t hang down and overlap other lines of text or that bold text doesn’t shift the line height up or down creating a weird, eye catching negative space between lines.

5 – Consistent Branding

We already talked about engaging color schemes, but another element that goes hand in hand with this is consistent branding. Colors, logos, types, links, buttons, inputs, selects, backgrounds: all go together to create a consistent branding or theme. Users tend to bounce if things start to get cluttered or disconnected and branding your website is probably the best way to combat this.

Along with making sure logos are present on all pages and that color schemes flow throughout, keeping the same formatting from page to page will also help to enforce your brand. Keep the same content and side bar widths, keep the background colors and textures the same throughout and also keeping headers and footers the same throughout will help lower bounce rates.

Headers and footers are great ways to brand the design and keep users around. Not only do they offer a simple way to keep consistency, they offer a vehicle for consistent colors schemes and logos to be displayed — oh, and they also generally contain most of your sites’ navigational elements too.

6 – Responsive Feedback

The last key element in engaging your users and keeping them hanging around on your site is to make sure you give the user feedback. Not necessarily encouraging words, but direct feedback as they move around the site. Design good hover states for links and buttons to let the user know things can be clicked on. Navigation between pages and links between pages should give clear feedback that they can be clicked and used to go to other pages.

Besides hover states, give users clear instructions on filling out forms or any other process and let them know when they have accomplished a task. Well designed error states are great at reducing bounce rates but simply having an error state may actually increase frustration and irritation. When using error states, try to give the user instant feedback right there in the input field. Avoid the error pop ups after the user clicks the submit button.

Be positive with your feedback. If you are using messages to guide or instruct the user through a task be positive with your messages. Avoid messages that use words like “error”, “wrong” or “must” and try to use a more positive, natural and human response that won’t make the user feel like an idiot. If the user is treated like an idiot they are bound to jet — just like most of us do when a smarmy used car salesman insults our intelligence by trying to sell us an extended warranty.

Conclusion

Bounce rates are important to any website and it’s not just for the SEO or marketing guy to worry about. A major portion of why users bounce is directly related to the design and experience of the site itself. Whatever you do, just try to avoid using anything annoying or distracting and make your designs inviting and comfortable for the user.

7 mistakes developers make

Great websites always seem to combine great design with great code. Since building a website is a pretty simple task you find many people learn HTML and CSS and figure that if they can learn that then they can design any website they want. While technically they can you will often find that there are some key mistakes they make because they don’t wish to take the time to actually learn about design.

Programmers are designers in their own right, but they design code and wonderfully architected systems. To design something visual is completely different and just because you have a good eye for design doesn’t mean you have a good mind to apply it.

Since so many programmers have personal projects that usually means they have to create their own websites. If you are a freelance coder, one of the greatest assets you can have is knowing the full web development process from beginning to end, and this includes design.

Here are eight mistakes that I often see developers make when applying design to a website.

1. I know what good design looks like

It can be difficult to separate an eye for design with the ability to design. It is very similar to the people that can look at fashion and tell you what looks good, but can’t really dress the same way themselves.

Great designers simply know what good design is. They know what will work and what won’t work many times before they even pick up a pencil or open Photoshop. Often this is the case because they have spent years pouring over different designs and trying out designs themselves. Just like no artist can pick up a pencil and draw something great the very first time, no developer should believe they can knock their first design right out of the park.

Similar to the way a programmer might study the code of another person, anyone can study a design and begin to gain an understanding of why it works.

Taking a look at the beautiful Punchfork you can see what makes the design so great.

  • A great use of images. Images are always helpful in spicing up a design, but too many times designers can get carried away with them. The images used on Punchfork are helpful to getting the message across.
  • A solid grid. The great use of a grid layout helps the eye get into a flow.
  • Simple typography. There are fonts that should be used on the web and there are fonts that should be used very, very sparingly on the web (Papyrus, Comic Sans, etc.). There is nothing wrong with sticking with Georgia and Helvetica for a design because they work when done right.

There are many more parts of the design that make it so wonderful. When you come across a design you like take the time to study the individual elements, but also acknowledge how they fit into the whole. One great element of a design doesn’t make the whole design great.

 

2. Color selection

Color selection can be a pain. I hate having to pick colors because there are so many to choose from. For some reason most developers tend to stick to a blue and white palette. Maybe because it is used everywhere or those are the browser defaults, but great design can involve a range of colors. Fortunately for us color-challenged folks there are a ton of tools out there that can help us put together some wonderful color combinations.

COLOURlovers is a great community where people create their favorite color palettes and share them. You can browse, save and vote for your favorite palettes and colors. On more than one occasion I have turned to COLOURlovers to come through and save the day with color selection.

When picking a color palette be sure to stick with one that fits the mood of your site and its content. Don’t pick a palette simply because you love it. Orange and black might not be the best colors for a site around the concept of love for example.

Rarely will you need to use more than 3-4 different colors and if you decide to you need justify your choice.

 

3. Center it

It can be very tempting to center a headline. It looks great in newspapers, but rarely will it work well on the web unless everything is centered. We know that left-aligned text looks professional and works with the natural flow of the eyes so why go outsides the lines?

Centered text is best used for headlines and short lines of text. Users can read them with ease because the lines are short, scannable, and don’t need repeated eye movements. Centered text can also give your layout an aesthetic look with its symmetrical format. This works for text that goes with centered images. If your images are left- or right-aligned, you should left-align your text to keep it consistent with your layout.

Centered headlines work in newspapers because the text is broken up into columns so the headline flows over the whole story. If you are only dealing with one column of text you should stick to a left-aligned headline.

 

4. Font smorgasbord

When you aren’t immersed in the world of typography then Arial looks like Helvetica and Georgia resembles Times New Roman. You know that there are other fonts out there like Comic Sans, but you don’t see the importance of having to pay for a font when you can very easily use what is available to you.

With resources like Typekit though, font selection has become eerily similar to color selection. It can take days of research to find the right combination when you could’ve easily used a basic font and finished with the rest.

Don’t go overboard with fonts. Like colors a limited selection often works best. When it comes to fonts, one or two different fonts can be plenty to produce a beautiful design. Remember you can do a lot of different things with fonts. You can italicize them, bold them, underline them, uppercase them, or lowercase them.

 

5. Pack in the information

When you are a developer, the more information you can have on a page the better. When I code I like to do so on multiple screens because it allows me to have everything right in front of me. Unfortunately this doesn’t work in design. You shouldn’t cram as much information in a tight space as you see fit because then the design becomes dysfunctional.

The eye can only take in so much information at a time and if the purpose of most designs is to get a task completed, then hiding it inside of a million other pieces of information isn’t going to help.

While busy websites can be effective, more times than not they aren’t. White space should be your best friend. You need empty portions in your design to provide emphasis to the parts of the design that are important.

 

6. No questions asked

We all know that wonderful feeling of creating something and seeing it out in the real world. Because we created it, there tends to be a bias behind it that makes us think that it is better than it really is. You need to get the opinions of others to know if your design is effective and if it isn’t you can find ways to improve it. Instead, developers feel that they don’t need to ask the opinion of others because they know how their design works so it all makes sense to them.

You will also find that when people ask for an opinion about a design they aren’t asking for a critique, but approval. They want justification for the decisions they made and this isn’t the right approach. Asking questions really helps you find usability issues that you might not have been aware of before. Often you get so stuck in your own design that everything makes sense to you, but for a new person your design might be more complicated than a Rubiks Cube.

 

7. Details waste time

With great designs it can be hard to notice the small details that really make it. They might be so subtle that the casual observer looks past them and continues on. For a developer, the small details might be a waste of time because they don’t understand the overall impact a drop shadow can have on an element.

Small details by themselves only impact a specific element of a design, but when they all come together then you have a wonderful design that flows. Sites like Dribbble expose how great the small details can work in a larger design. However, if you aren’t a designer by trade, focusing too much on the details might slow down the process more than you would like. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of how the details can impact a design.

Quick Guide To Choose Right Keywords for your Website

Most of the website owners out there don’t really know what the word “keywords” actually means. They think that keywords are simply the words or phrases that represent the products and services they offer. This thing is obviously not totally right. Well, mostly when we are talking about keywords related to a website we actually mean keywords for SEO purposes. Most of the people don’t do a SEO keyword research before deciding the keywords for their website.

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Search Engine Marketing


Search engine marketing is an online marketing strategy that helps a website gets more traffic by enhancing its visibility on search engines. This is done by search engine optimization (SEO).

Getting traffic through search engines has become really tough. Most small business owners think that by simply launching a website, they’ll automatically start getting traffic through search engines.  Now you have to carefully optimize your website, by researching and picking the right keywords, implementing those keywords, creating incoming links, and monitoring keyword and traffic performance.

If you are in a field that has highly congested keywords, then you should focus on some other online marketing strategy other than search engine marketing. There are many ways to bring traffic to your website, but before you begin with your SEO campaign, it is suggested you do some research, consult an SEO specialist, and ensure it is a good match for your business.


Keyword Research


Choosing the right keywords is not an easy task. You can’t simply pick random keywords related to your services or products, but instead you have to do a thorough research before picking keywords. Otherwise your results will be less than ideal. There are many possible keywords for every search term. When you are researching for keywords, your main goal is to find the keywords that will bring in the most traffic. You should also make sure that the traffic is targeted to your business offerings.

keyword-research-570x406

For instance, you have a small bookstore. You may think that ‘books’ is a good keyword, but that’s wrong! Getting traffic from such a general keyword would cost tens of thousands of dollars in research, content development, and other types of SEO. So here you should find a narrower and more localized search term. You can also try some strategy for increasing traffic to your site and leave search engine marketing altogether.

In order to find the right keyword, you should do or hire someone to do a keyword research. This procedure includes beginning with some general search terms and utilizing many online SEO tools to expand the list of terms, so you have many choices. Then, the next step is to see how competitive each term is, how much content you would have to add to your website to compete effectively, and to determine which keywords your target customers will most probably use while searching for it on any search engine. For instance, people entering the term “books” in a search engine are not necessarily searching for an independent bookstore and even if they are searching for such a store, they might be in a different country. So here the keyword “bookstore” is a more targeted than “books.”

Below are given some questions that you should keep in mind when doing a keyword research.

  • What are the primary products or services that the site offers?
  • What alternative or synonymous keywords can be used?
  • How much search volume do these keywords generate each month?
  • Which keywords would the potential customers most probably use in searching for these products or services?
  • What does the competition for these keywords look like?

Here you should note that when we talk about keyword competition, it is not necessarily the same businesses with which you are competing. There can be other websites that use the same keywords as you, but their product or services may be different than yours. You’re competing with them to get search engine traffic via keywords rather than competing with them in business.


SEO


Search Engine Marketing

SEO can really boast the traffic of many small businesses. But the decision of pursuing or not pursuing SEO is to be made by individual business, considering how competitive keywords are within your industry, how many resources you can give to optimization, and the results of your keyword research.

A successful SEO campaign usually begins with keyword research. You make sure you choose the right keywords! A little research can prove to be really helpful for you in deciding if search engine marketing and SEO is the right online marketing strategy for your business or not.

How To Build a Customer Base

Every business wants customers that bring a lot of website traffic and profits. A strong customer base is the foundation of a successful business. Whether you’re marketing for a blog or for a huge brand, every business needs to focus on its customers. Rome was not built in a day, and it’s the same with business; building a customer base will take time and effort, but it is necessary. To attract customers, make yourself visible and give them access to you. Your customers will eventually become the champions of your brand.

When doing any work, it is beneficial to maintain a task list and to set goals. This article will discuss how to do certain tasks and reach simple goals in order to help you build a customer base from which you’ll eventually reap benefits.

 

Establishing Brand Recognition and Using Email Marketing

Every business owner should advertise their brand, and they can do it with email marketing. Hither-and-thither emails or advertisements won’t accomplish anything; even emails should have objectives if you expect them to bring traffic to you or serve as something worthy for both your customers and yourself. Know your objectives.

instantShift - Using Email Marketing

The main purpose of almost every business is to make money, and you’ll be more likely to do that the more people recognize your brand. These should be your ultimate objectives. Keep them in mind and stay focused on them. These goals, however broad in scope they sound, will help you make decisions.

Define your other objectives as well. Here are a few objectives associated with email marketing:

Put Good Content in Your Emails

The content of your emails will become familiar to your customers. When they like the content of your email, they’ll forward it to their contacts, which will help your brand spread. When they don’t like the emails, they might ignore or delete them, and they might leave future mails unread. Make sure your emails are worth opening.

Write Catchy Email Subject Lines

The email content is important, but the subject line might be more so. Most email programs display only the subject line and the “from” line in the inbox; use that space well if you expect recipients to read your email.

Send Just the Right Number of Emails

Pick a number, any number—no, not any number. Repetitive or too-frequent emails might bore or irritate recipients, and they could ignore or delete your emails. At worst, they’ll unsubscribe. Yet recipients will forget you if you send too few. Set a number or determine a suitable frequency for sending emails based on your update schedule or other business strategies.

Manage Your Email List Wisely

This is another important step in email marketing. Speak to the appropriate audience; your efforts will be wasted if you don’t. Make different lists to address different groups of people (based on their interests, demographics or psychographics).

Building Traffic and Increasing Sales

Your immediate objective, after making money, is to make a profit, and email marketing is one of the easiest and best ways to increase sales and build traffic. To increase traffic to your website or blog, follow certain techniques in your email messages. A few are discussed below.

instantShift - Building Traffic and Increasing Sales

Add Links to Your Email Content

Include links in your emails if you want customers to go further than their inboxes. You can’t write every useful thing in one email, but you also need to equip your customers with the knowledge they’ll need to go forward. Recipients can click on your links to visit your website or blog, follow your news updates or learn about a new launch. Useful linking teaches your customers to trust you as a source, and their trust becomes your profit.

Write Easy-to-Follow Email Copy

Don’t make anything difficult for your customers. Provide steps to follow that make tasks simple. For example, send special offers or distribute coupons via phone messages so that the coupons are easy to use. Set up online registration, online payment methods or home delivery to make purchasing easy. In one word: simplify.

Offer Options

If possible, offer more than one option for every task you want your customers doing. For example, offer a variety of ways to pay: debit, credit, payment after delivery and so on. Let them place orders by email or over the phone. Options let people feel in control, and customers will return if they feel they’ve gotten their way.

Encourage Repeat Business

Building a customer base will be possible only when your customers become regular. It’s important that your customers like and trust you, especially if you want them to return. Show a customer that they’re important and the relationship is already established. Say someone buys a watch from your website. Don’t forget about them. Send them emails to let them know about other offers, updates or product details. Ask for feedback about the watch; do they like it? These things motivate customers to trust and recommend you to others. To increase your repeat traffic, use the following techniques in your emails:

  • Stay in touch, and never be out of touch for long. Send regular emails and be visible so as not to fade from your customers’ minds. But don’t bore or irritate them; put creative content and updates in your emails.
  • Reward repeat and regular customers with giveaways or other incentives. They’ll feel valued and special, and it will probably remind them to stick with you.
  • Giveaways bring new traffic and repeat traffic. Announce offers with free gifts or gift coupons. This will invite new people to try your products and regular customers to come back for more.
  • Lower your prices. It’s one of the easiest ways to bring traffic.

Maintaining Your Customer Relationships

A customer base—perhaps this is obvious—is a list of customers, which means a list of people who have already bought your product. It’s not a list of leads.

In marketing, you’ll be explaining the same two things over and over again in different ways: how buying your product will help people, and why they should choose you and not others. Explain these things in a straightforward and informative manner.

instantShift - Maintaining Customer Relationships

While making yourself accessible, stay on top of your contact list. Provide reminders and options for updating personal information for your website customers (let them change their email addresses or phone numbers if need be, or you could end up sending emails to unused or deleted accounts). In the process of building a customer base, you cannot afford to lose any customer.

Write Interactive Emails

Establish interactive relationships. When you send emails to your customers, include a typing field in which they can give you feedback or ask questions. Participate in discussions with them, and avoid automated or repetitious emails. Automated emails can upset the balance of a personal relationship. Here are few ways to make your emails interactive.

  • Ask for reviews and feedback about products, content, user experience or anything;
  • Ask questions or offer fodder for debate on contentious issues to get readers thinking through their own opinions and responding to yours;
  • Ask for confirmation emails with purchases, and follow up with thank-you emails;
  • Answer common questions from customers in newsletters or emails;
  • Provide a link from your email to your help center or support system.

Maintain Your Online Presence

Maximize the activity of your blog, if you have one. Your content is no good if it’s too old. Update often. Share useful information, launch new products, make announcements and so on to keep your website fresh. It will help you stay ahead of your competition.

Give your audience a voice on your blog or website. Have one-on-one sessions with your customers if possible, and you’ll gain their trust and repeat visits. Always respond to comments on your blog and queries on your website.

Summary: The Steps

The importance of setting goals has been discussed in the earlier section of the article. To summarize:

    1. Determine your ultimate goals. State and support them with reason and strategic thinking.
    2. List your customers. Organize the information you have, and keep track of your target audience. Address different audiences according to their various needs.
    3. Draw up a schedule, and decide what steps you’ll take at which junctures.

Now, how to build a customer base:

  1. Spread the word about your business. Send emails, advertise and ask for referrals from your existing customers. Offer referral incentives or gifts to build goodwill.
  2. Ask for the contact details of your customers and keep them updated. For example, when a customer buys a cell phone from you, collect their number. You can do so through a feedback form as well. If you manage a website, you can ask for contact details through registration or a log-in form. This will enable you to send emails to your customers.
  3. When your customers share their contact details, they expect something valuable in return, so provide useful information in your emails.
  4. Offering coupons is a great way to build traffic. Offer coupons for anything that might benefit your customers, and put limitations on such coupons to make your customers take an immediate action.
  5. Offer free gifts or incentives to existing customers. Announce such offers on your website or in emails so that new customers know the benefits of becoming a registered or regular customer.
  6. Create a new website or a sister website to support your established website or business. This will help you to build more links and contacts.
  7. Advertise your business through online or offline advertisements. Make yourself visible.
  8. Create a logo or slogan for your business. They’re memorable and they communicate your message quickly and succinctly.
  9. Send festive emails or offers on special occasions such as Christmas and New Year.
  10. Gather testimonials; ask others to speak well of you and use it to your advantage.

Resolution Independence With SVG

In this article, we’ll look at Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), one of the most underused technologies in website development today.

Before diving into an example, let’s consider the state of the Web at present and where it is going. Website design has found new vigor in recent years, with the evolving technique of responsive design. And for good reason: essentially, responsive website design moves us away from the fixed-width pages we’ve grown accustomed to, replacing them with shape-shifting layouts and intelligent reflowing of content. Add to that a thoughtful content strategy and mobile-first approach, and we’re starting to offer an experience that adapts across devices and browsers to suit the user’s context.

When we look at the breadth of Web-enabled devices, responsive design is sure to provide a better user experience. Scrolling horizontally, panning and zooming the viewport have their place in user interface design, but forcing the user to do these things just to navigate a website quickly becomes tedious. Fitting the website to the viewport is about more than just layout: it’s also about resolution. In this article, I’ll demonstrate why SVG is a perfect addition to future-friendly Web development.

Introducing SVG

SVG offers a truly resolution-independent technique for presenting graphics on the Web. SVG is a vector graphics format that uses XML to define basic properties such as paths, shapes, fonts and colors, and more advanced features such as gradients, filters, scripting and animation. Create the file once and use it anywhere, at any scale and resolution.

Consider the use cases: UI and navigation icons, vector-style illustrations, patterns and repeating backgrounds. For all of these, a scalable graphic is the perfect solution from a visual standpoint, and yet fixed-resolution images are still the norm. In the example below, we’ll show you how to expand on a common development technique to take advantage of SVG.

Resolution independence with SVG

A Case Study: CSS Sprites

Vector icons play a big role in user interface design. Pictures express concepts with vivid clarity, whereas their textual counterparts might carry ambiguity. In UI design, where space is scarce, a simple illustrated icon could be greatly welcome.

I’ve mocked up the following example:

An icon based UI menu

I’ll be first to admit that this row of icons won’t win any design awards, but it will suffice for the sake of this article! Let’s look at the HTML:

<div>
   <a href="#">Share</a>
   <a href="#">Print</a>
   <a href="#">Tag</a>
   <a href="#">Delete</a>
</div>

I’ve kept the HTML to a minimum for clarity, but in practice you’d probably want to mark it up with an unordered list. And you’ll almost certainly want to replace those hashes with real URLs (even if JavaScript provides the functionality, having a fallback is nice). Let’s look at the CSS:

.actions {
   display: block;
   overflow: auto;
}

.actions a {
   background-image: url('sprite.png');
   background-repeat: no-repeat;
   background-color: #ccc;
   border-radius: 5px;
   display: block;
   float: left;
   color: #444;
   font-size: 16px;
   font-weight: bold;
   line-height: 20px;
   text-decoration: none;
   text-shadow: 0 -1px 2px #fff;
   padding: 10px 20px 10px 40px;
   margin-right: 5px;
}

.a-share  { background-position: 10px 0; }
.a-print  { background-position: 10px -40px; }
.a-tag    { background-position: 10px -80px; }
.a-delete { background-position: 10px -120px; }

Note the fixed-pixel sizing and the PNG background, which we can see below framed in full Photoshop production glory:

A PNG sprite in Photoshop

This implementation of a CSS sprite is basic, and at today’s standard, it’s not good enough! How can we enhance this? First, let’s consider the following issues:

  1. We’ve rasterized the image at a very early stage. Even at full size, icons in which points sit between pixels, such as the one for “Print,” have blurred.
  2. If we zoom in, the image will blur or pixellate even more; there is no additional data to re-render the image at larger sizes.
  3. Everything has a fixed size, which is neither good for responsive design nor good for accessibility, because the browser’s default font size is ignored.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, we’ll show you how SVG solves these problems. But first, let’s reiterate each point thoroughly to understand the issues at large.

1. Rasterization

Devices such as modern smartphones have a very high pixel density; some already surpass the 300 pixels-per-inch (PPI) mark that is assumed to be the limit of the human eye’s ability to distinguish fine details. A pixel has no real-world equivalent in size until it sits on a screen of fixed dimension (say, 3.5 inches diagonally) and fixed resolution (say, 640 × 960 pixels). At this scale, text with a font size of 16 pixels would be incredibly small to the eye. For this reason, devices simply cannot translate 1 CSS pixel unit to 1 device pixel; instead, they double up. Thus, a 16-pixel font size actually takes over 32 pixels when rendered.

The same applies to images; but they are already rasterized, so doubling up the pixels has no benefit. In our example, each icon has been rasterized at around 25 × 25 pixels (the whole sprite being 30 × 160), so they cannot take advantage of the double pixel ratio. One solution is to use CSS media queries to detect the pixel ratio. This is already implemented in Webkit- and Gecko-based browsers.

To improve our example, we can add the following CSS declaration:

@media only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2)  {
   .actions a {
      background-image: url('sprite@2x.png');
      background-size: 30px 160px;
   }
}

The alternate background image supplied in the code above has been saved at 60 × 320 pixels (i.e. double the original dimensions). The background-size property tells CSS to treat it smaller. Significantly, now the device has the additional data to render a better image (if capable).

This solution isn’t bad, but it doesn’t solve the problems we’ll run into in points 2 and 3 below. It also requires that we maintain multiple files of increasing size: a potential burden on bandwidth and a real hassle. For non-vector images, such as photography in JPG format, we can’t do much more than that.

2. Zooming

At their default size, our rasterized icons look acceptable, at least on low-pixel-density screens. However, should the user zoom in on the Web page, these little UI delights will degrade very quickly.

A PNG sprite zoomed in and blurred.

Zooming is a common action when users find a website too small for comfortable viewing. Or, to put it another way, websites that are designed too small are very common. There is really no “perfect” size, because almost everyone has at least some level of visual impairment, since our eyes inevitably deteriorate with age. Secondly, with the rapid increase in touchscreen devices, pinch-to-zoom has become the standard way to enlarge fixed-sized content designed for larger screens (i.e. much of the Web today).

We should develop websites in a way that minimizes the need for user input — that’s where responsive design comes in (see point 3 below) — but zooming is here to stay. There’s simply no way to provide pre-rasterized images for every level of zoom (in theory, an infinite scale). Scalable graphics are the solution, and we’ll show you how to enhance our example. But first, a related word on fixed sizing.

3. Fixed Sizes

Presenting page elements at fixed sizes forces many users to zoom, but it also disables a very useful browser feature. Users can set their preferred font size (the default in browsers is 16 pixels). By sizing everything in pixels, we override this preference. Sizing elements based on this default is much better, so that, if the text is bigger, everything adjusts to match. This essentially mimics the zooming effect but happens without the user having to manually do it on every visit.

Let’s re-implement our sprite example with a solution to these three issues.

A Scalable Implementation

Here is the HTML again. We don’t need to change anything here.

<div>
   <a href="#">Share</a>
   <a href="#">Print</a>
   <a href="#">Tag</a>
   <a href="#">Delete</a>
</div>

The updated CSS is where the magic happens:

body { font-size: 100%; }

.actions {
   display: block;
   overflow: auto;
}

.actions a {
   font-size: 1em;
   line-height: 1.25em;
   padding: 0.625em 1.25em 0.625em 2.5em;
   margin-right: 0.3125em;
   border-radius: 0.3125em;
   background-image: url('sprite.svg');
   -webkit-background-size: 1.875em 10em;
   -o-background-size: 1.875em 10em;
   -moz-background-size: 1.875em 10em;
   background-size: 1.875em 10em;
   /* styles carried over from the original implementation */
   background-repeat: no-repeat;
   background-color: #ccc;
   color: #444;
   display: block;
   float: left;
   text-decoration: none;
   text-shadow: 0 -1px 2px #fff;
}

.actions-em .a-share { background-position: 0.625em 0; }
.actions-em .a-print { background-position: 0.625em -2.5em;  }
.actions-em .a-tag { background-position: 0.625em -5.0em;  }
.actions-em .a-delete { background-position: 0.625em -7.5em;  }

In this version, we’ve made the following changes:

  • The background-image is now an SVG file.
  • All sizes are based on the default of 16 pixels, or 1 em. If the user’s default is larger or smaller, then everything will scale relatively. (If you multiple each em size by 16, you’ll get the number of pixels used in our initial fixed-size example.)
  • The background-size is very important. By setting this in em units, we’re telling the browser to scale the sprite relative to everything else. You’ll notice that 1.875 × 10 em multiplied by 16 becomes 30 × 160 — the base size at which we produced the sprite in pixels.
  • The background-position of each sprited icon is also based on relative units.

Now that we’re using SVG and relative sizes, we have solved the three big issues highlighted above. A scalable graphic can be rasterized on demand to perfectly suit any device resolution and any zoom level. By using relative sizes, we can continue implementing a responsive design, minimizing as much as possible the need for the user to zoom. We’re also respecting the browser’s default font size, and enabling our design to adapt accordingly.

I actually produced the SVG sprite first and the PNG version from that. (I imported the SVG in Photoshop before exporting it as a PNG — Illustrator’s PNG export had very poor rasterization.) Below is the header in my SVG file. Notice the same 30 × 160 initial size.

<svg version="1.1" id="Layer_1" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" x="0px" y="0px"
   width="30px" height="160px" viewBox="0 0 30 160" enable-background="new 0 0 30 160" xml:space="preserve">

You can see that the attributes for width and height are set in pixels (width="30px" height="160px") in the opening svg tag (as generated by Adobe Illustrator). This actually causes it to render early in Firefox, before the graphic has scaled to match the em sizes in background-size. Webkit-based browsers seem to scale the SVG perfectly, regardless. I’ve found that editing the SVG file to use em units in these two attributes fixes any rendering issues in Firefox.

<svg version="1.1" id="Layer_1" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" x="0px" y="0px"
   width="30em" height="160em" viewBox="0 0 30 160" enable-background="new 0 0 30 160" xml:space="preserve">

I don’t know which browser actually implements this scaling correctly, but let it be noted that extra care is needed to ensure cross-browser perfection. Mozilla MDN has an excellent in-depth article, “Scaling of SVG Backgrounds,” which explores more practical examples. For more ideas, see Alex Walker’s article “A Farewell to CSS3 Gradients.”

Here’s a super-close screenshot showing the SVG sprite:

A close-up of a SVG sprite.

The sprite scales beautifully. (Sadly, the same can’t be said for my tacky text-shadow effect.)

It’s best to experience the joys of scalable graphics and relative sizing firsthand. I’ve uploaded a side-by-side live demo demonstrating a combination of all the techniques mentioned above.

Browser Support

At the start of this article, I said that SVG was underused. I believe that has generally been the case due to poor browser support. But things are different now! Browser support for SVG has blossomed over the last year to the point where implementing it is a viable use of development time.

According to the website When Can I Use?, support for SVG across multiple implementations is as follows (I’ve combined support for both CSS’ background-image and HTML’s img source — the most useful attributes):

  • Internet Explorer 9+
  • Firefox 4+
  • Chrome 4+
  • Safari 4+
  • Opera 9.5+

Mobile browser support is also pretty much across the board. If a workable fallback exists for older browsers, then SVG is a very viable solution.

For some of the new additions to Web standards, we can implement them safe in the knowledge that old browsers will simply ignore them and that they aren’t even required. We call this “progressive enhancement”: better browsers get a progressively better experience. SVG is slightly different, because for most practical purposes, it simply replaces other images in CSS backgrounds and HTML elements. The image format — be it SVG, PNG, JPG or GIF — is either supported or it isn’t. We can’t simply follow the practice of progressive enhancement here, because an image failing to render is not an acceptable experience.

Browser Sniffing or Feature Detection?

We could make an educated guess and say that we need to worry only about users of Internet Explorer 6 to 8. In this case, the conditional comments technique for IE-only styles enable us to re-apply a second CSS background-image of a supported format such as PNG, instead of the default SVG background.

Browsing sniffing is always a dangerous game. While Internet Explorer tends to be the main offender, we can never assume it is the only one.

The safer and highly recommended option is to detect SVG support and use it only if it’s found. I suggest using Modernizr if you need to detect multiple features. Modernizr applies a class of svg to your root html element if detected (to which you can apply SVG as a background-image). If you’re using SVG as the source of an image element in HTML, then implementation is a little harder. You’ll have to write more JavaScript to find and replace all sources once support has been established.

The problem with these methods is that the browser will download the fallback image before SVG is detected — the only exception being the conditional comments technique for IE. Users will also likely see a flash of re-styled content when the source image changes. This shouldn’t be the case for long; but at least for now, these problems may be enough to hold you off on SVG usage.

File Size

In our sprite example, the raw SVG file was 2445 bytes. The PNG version was only 1064 bytes, and the double-sized PNG for double-pixel ratio devices was 1932 bytes. On first appearance, the vector file loses on all accounts, but for larger images, the raster version more quickly escalates in size.

SVG files are also human-readable due to being in XML format. They generally comprise a very limited range of characters, which means they can be heavily Gzip-compressed when sent over HTTP. This means that the actual download size is many times smaller than the raw file — easily beyond 30%, probably a lot more. Raster image formats such as PNG and JPG are already compressed to their fullest extent.

Performance

Rendering performance is a concern with SVG, especially on mobile devices, whose hardware is limited. Raster images can be rendered pixel for pixel after decompression and de-encoding. Vector graphics need to be rasterized at a specific resolution every time they’re viewed.

SVG has consistently proved slower than Canvas as a platform for animating vector graphics; but our concern here is basic rendering, not manipulation a thousand times per second, and if that is possible, then simple rendering shouldn’t be a concern. The more intensive SVG features are things like clipping masks and filter effects. These are unnecessary for many practical purposes (like our sprite example), but, if required, the best way to check performance is by testing. A lot of Web development is supported in theory, but in practice results are far from perfect.

Alternative Methods

Hopefully you agree that SVG is extremely useful but not always the ideal solution to resolution independence. Ultimately, the trick is to avoid raster images while maintaining the scalability of visual styles. Below are a few more ideas to think about.

CSS3

You’ve probably already started combining CSS3 properties such as linear-gradient, text-shadow and box-shadow to create more complex styles. Web developer Lea Verou curates a CSS3 pattern gallery that shows off the impressive potential of gradients alone.

CSS3 gradient patterns

Looking Forward

As you can see, SVG usage is very much a possibility, and browser support and performance will only improve in future. What’s important to note from this article is that we really should be building websites that are as resolution-independent as possible.

Consider the “one Web” philosophy and the vast range of devices we use to access it — there is no single user experience. The more we can do to stay device-agnostic, the better. Responsive website design addresses many of these needs and certainly provides many benefits. Using vector graphics may not be as apparent, but its little improvements really do make a difference.

With today’s level of support, many users can experience the beauty of crisp scalable graphics… or perhaps that’s the wrong way to think about it. Most users won’t say “Wow! Kudos on the vectors.” To our dismay, they probably wouldn’t even consider them (and certainly wouldn’t recognize the effort required to craft them). And that’s a good thing; each time we improve the user’s experience, we don’t necessarily need to make a song and dance about it. Letting things continue to grind away under-appreciated is OK. It’s the lack of such things that gets recognized and sniffed at. Raise the user’s expectations in visual aesthetics, and they’ll start to notice the websites that do look shoddy. If you don’t do it, others will.

Using PayPal for Your Online Business – Advantages and Disadvantages

A merger between X.Com and Confinity in March 2000 gave birth to PayPal as we know it today. Based in the United States of America, it is a global e-commerce business which allows for money transfers and payments to be made through the internet. Basically, it serves as an acquirer (an institution to process debit and credit card payments for services and products) and processes payments for online vendors, auction sites and for many other commercial users for a small usage fee.

The fee it charges usually depends on the payment options that are utilized, the currencies in question, the amount of money in the transaction and the country involved. In Oct 2002, PayPal, which had focused on expanding its services among eBay users, was acquired by eBay for just under $1.5 billion.

 

Is it an Online Bank?

Though it seems to offer all the services of a bank, PayPal is not a bank. Though the company is subject to many of the rules and regulations which govern financial institutions in USA, it has not been classified as a bank. Every bank engages in what is called as fractional-reserve banking wherein they maintain only a fraction of the deposits made by customers. The rest is lent out. PayPal, on the other hand, has all its deposits in commercial interest-bearing checking accounts and does not disburse any of it. However, PayPal in Europe, has been regulated just like a bank by the CSSF (Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier) and it offers service through the European Union.

Features:

A working knowledge of the features and services provided by PayPal is a must to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of this system of financial transactions.

  1. With more than 232 million accounts registered, PayPal permits the customers to send, hold and receive funds in 24 currencies worldwide in 190 markets.
  2. In 2009, PayPal launched a Students’ Account for teens stating its aim to provide tools to teens for educating them on spending money wisely. Parents can set up this account and transfer money into it, giving their teens a debit card.
  3. PayPal makes it possible even for individuals to begin commerce and businesses with worldwide reach, playing as a third party for secure and easy transactions.
  4. It provides all its merchants with the flaws in their webstores so that they are better protected against malicious shoppers who attempt to shop for free from their stores.

The Advantages

The popularity of PayPal has largely been due to the ease and security that it provides. It has grown into a company with excess of $2.2 billion in annual sales revenues. There are many advantages of using PayPal for both, the seller and the customer. They are listed below.

instantShift - Advantages of using PayPal

1. Ease of set up:

The easy set-up and customization options that PayPal provides are really elegant. The price options for the vendors are fully customizable, the ‘add cart’ and ‘view cart’ options and buttons are available and they can also be made by the user. These customization options require nothing more than a simple copy and paste of existing codes. Within minutes, one could be up and selling online, worldwide!

2. Brand name and recognition:

Customers are still hesitant when it comes to payment over the internet because they are not able to ‘see’ their cash moving and being accepted. The brand name that PayPal has boosts customer confidence. Also, PayPal ensures that the webstore and vendor never get the credit card and bank account details of the customer. This adds to the trust.

3. Pricing policy

Most of the internet payment services sustain themselves through monthly or regular payments by the customers. In PayPal, you pay only when you sell. In this way, you are protected against the risk of having to pay service fees though you are not having sales. It is almost as if PayPal is you pal in good times and not-so-good times!

4. Huge potential customer base:

To state it in simple terms, when you make use of PayPal, every user on the internet becomes a potential customer. Every buyer is being targeted irrespective of whether he/she wants to use PayPal or the credit card. The provision of an alternate method of payment makes it flexible and attractive for the buyers.

5. Ease of execution:

For small time vendors and businesses, PayPal is a real godsend. Integrating a payment gateway to be able to conduct business online is an expensive proposal and does not make financial sense to small businesses. What is the use of going online to earn more money if the payment gateway itself becomes such a costly affair? PayPal does not need much investment in terms of time, energy and money and it can facilitate easy financial transactions. There are no setup fees or monthly fees too.

6. Multiple account options:

Depending on what you would like to use an account for, you can choose between a personal account, a student account or a business account. A single person can also own multiple accounts in multiple categories. Each of these accounts carry different privileges and have different rules. A personal account for instance has no transaction fees when it comes to transferring money between PayPal users.

7. Ability to accept international payments and cards:

As stated earlier, PayPal gives you the option of paying and accepting payment in 23 currency types. International payments often incur the currency conversion charges. For amounts up to $100,000, PayPal charges only a nominal 3.9 percent along with a small fee which varies according to the country. The ability to accept and pay through credit cards and debit cards is also a great feature. Payments from one business account or premier account to another is completely free. The fee for transacting through credit and debit cards is also a nominal 3.9 percent.

8. Keeping track of transactions:

PayPal will also double up as your sincere and honest accountant. You can access every inbound and outbound transaction with the click of a mouse. The account has been neatly organized into payments received, payments made, history and recent activity tabs which are very useful. You could select time periods of interest and download complete spreadsheet files which give you details of all transactions. If you want, you can even download more than a year’s worth of data and information.

9. Integrating payments with eBay:

This is a natural advantage that could be expected since PayPal has been acquired by eBay. Business and Premier accounts offer many tools for better integration with eBay. Thus, buying and selling on this giant site becomes much easier. There is also news that eBay will transact only through PayPal. In such a situation, PayPal becomes the only way to pay. PayPal also provides for better merchant services too.

Disadvantages:

Like every coin having two sides, PayPal has its own set of disadvantages. These demerits do merit attention as some of them are real serious problems for some kinds of businesses. The demerits of PayPal are listed below.

instantShift - Disadvantages of using PayPal

1. The hidden fees:

PayPal offers many services for free and others for nominal fees. The fees charged on non-PayPal payments could turn out to be very expensive. Personal account holders have no transaction fees while making or receiving payments from other accounts but they have limits and restrictions on the amount of money being moved. While this restriction does not exist for business and premier accounts, they are charged transaction fees (about 1.9-2.9 percent plus $0.30 per transaction). This becomes a big burden for small sellers on eBay and the likes. A huge percentage of the transaction is taken by PayPal. This is really difficult to understand when PayPal claims to help the small sellers.

2. Strict rules and locked accounts:

Due to security threat and issues of terrorist attacks, the US government has strict rules that restrict the number of transactions through PayPal. Thus, even the slightest suspicion leads to the locking of the account. It takes quite a long time for PayPal to do its investigation and give a clean chit to the account. Money could thus get locked in or held up for long periods.

3. Bad customer service:

Adding to the pain of a locked account and extra strict policy is the problem with a very difficult service. There are no numbers easily available on the website and even when you find the numbers, there seems to be nobody at the other end of the line. There have been complaints of emails receiving only automated responses. Even when one manages to get representatives on the line, they are not of much help as they state that the problems are totally out of their control. There are also reports of bank accounts being automatically debited without the knowledge of the account holder and there is no way to rectify the same.

4. Lack of third party arbitration:

You get stuck with strict rules and frustrated with the customer service. When you decide on an arbitration, you are again in for greater frustration. The account gets frozen and PayPal policies give it complete control over your funds for as long as the arbitration goes on. And there is no scope for outside arbitration. So, all that a troubled customer can do is to wait and wait. The ‘investigation’ goes on and there is no documentation that is provided to the user.

5. Painful verification process:

While the setup is easy, getting the account functional can be a hassle. You have to provide your account number and routing number. PayPal then makes token deposits which you have to wait for 5 days to arrive in your account. This has to be filled into your PayPal account to activate it. If you do not have the facility for internet banking then the problem only gets compounded. You may have to wait weeks to get your statement in the mail.

6. Movement into third party website:

Though it is partly offset by brand name and image, the fact of moving out of the main website to complete the financial transaction may not be good for well established websites. Even though some amount of styling and customization is available, the payment gateway will never resemble the original site. This will be a problem for brand conscious sellers.

7. Bad seller protection:

PayPal is highly vulnerable to fraud and if you happen to be an unfortunate victim, you really are in for bad news. As mentioned earlier, the slightest hint of suspicion locks away any PayPal user. Due to this, many times the funds are refunded to the customer even after the items have been shipped! This could prove disastrous for the seller. The complaint system is also bad which does not seem to redress any issues.

8. Scripts:

Downloading e-books and other digital products require the usage of a script. Setting up and using these scripts, even if it is only copy and paste, is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. It could get confusing and messy.

9. Currency basket not comprehensive enough:

Though PayPal provides 23 currency types for payment, it excludes some important currencies. The Indian Rupee is an example. India is a growing economy and a fertile market. But customers there find it difficult to pay.

Conclusion:

It is obvious that PayPal is not the solution for all buyers and sellers. It could be a good option for any buyer but a seller ought to be sure of the requirements and needs. Using it for very small businesses could end up in making them pay much more than reap benefits. At the same time, large businesses that build and sell brands would not prefer PayPal due to lack of complete customization and absence of brand-building features. PayPal is best suited for medium sized businesses. As for the buyers, this is a good option to complete online shopping and auctions.