By Peter Prestipino, Editor-In-Chief
When Website Magazine launched nearly ten years ago the ‘Net was a far different place. Google was threatening the digital dominance that Yahoo! had enjoyed for years, websites loaded in double or triple the time in some instances and pure-play social media networks were but a vision in the minds of technology innovators.
Things have changed dramatically since then, and very much for the better. Website Magazine has been fortunate to be at the intersection (and often at the epicenter) of Web business and digital technology in the past decade, occupying a vantage point that affords us a unique view into the most powerful solutions, practices and processes employed by the millions of readers, and offered by the thousands of companies, we have had the opportunity - and privilege - to see emerge, grow, and sometimes even falter and fail as much and as often as they succeed.
One thing is for certain, the Web is truly an amazing place. As a result, it is useful from time to time to explore (and reward with a virtual high-five) those that are making a positive difference in the lives of each and every Website Magazine reader (as well as the ‘Net community at large) – the millions of digital professionals that over the years have turned to this print and online publication for guidance on accelerating their website success.
As you might imagine, it is no simple task, no easy feat, to develop a guide to something as provocative (and potentially disruptive) as a list of “Digital Power Players,” but that was exactly our aim in this edition of Website Magazine. In this issue, readers will discover the companies that moved the Web forward in exciting, useful and innovative ways in 2014. But we didn’t stop there, you will also find some insights from our community on their favorite solutions and why they believe many of those earned the Digital Power Players designation.
Website Magazine realizes you might disagree with some of those companies we have nominated as Digital Power Players, and to this we say… you might be right. Each and every category included has established vendors and emerging players, but there are many others that were excluded that easily could have garnered a mention. We are confident, however, that, by engaging in your own research, consideration and examination of these solutions, you will be able to see why they were included. You are encouraged to visit Website Magazine and tell the story of the brands, services and solutions you believe are the ‘Net’s most dominant Digital Power Players.
Project Management Software
It might seem odd to start off a list of Digital Power Players with a category on project management software, but anyone that has run a Web-based business will understand. There are so many moving parts to today’s ‘Net enterprises, that only those who are organized and capable of streamlining their task completion will be able to achieve success. Fortunately, many software solutions exist – both commercial and open-source – to help brands keep track of the work they are doing and optimize their processes. Learn more about these project management systems and others at wsm.co/toppm15.
Few verticals in the world of Web business have seen as much disruption in 2014 as that of the domain space. With the introduction of the new generic top-level domains (gTLD’s), the preferred .COM – which, of course, remains the dominant extension – is experiencing slower growth as geographic extensions including .BERLIN and .NYC, and community and industry focused extensions such as .CLUB and .REALTOR capture the attention of Internet professionals. With thousands of the new gTLD’s entering the digital landscape in 2014, domain name registrars have benefitted greatly from the increased attention as you might expect. Those registrars that have managed to garner most of the new gTLD registrations this year top Website Magazine’s list of the Digital Power Players in the category of Domain Names.
Discover several noteworthy developments in the world of domain names at wsm.co/domdevjan15
The Web is moving faster and faster, and Internet professionals that manage to deliver a faster experience to users not only benefit from an increase in engagement and sales, but can even see higher search engine rankings as well. For these reasons, the Web hosting decision made by your enterprise is an important one. With the varying demands of the modern Web business however, it’s nearly impossible to identify which Web hosting providers are worthy of being designated as 2014’s Digital Power Players. There is shared hosting, dedicated hosting, managed hosting, database hosting, not to mention cloud hosting. Vendors in a category like shared hosting don’t belong alongside vendors which cater to larger enterprises focusing on e-commerce or those which run database-driven apps in the cloud. Website Magazine has published a deeper look at the Web hosting market in general to supplement this issue (available at wsm.co/wmhg15), but there are hosting companies that stood out in 2014 and earned Website Magazine’s designation as Digital Power Players, including:
Budget Hosting: HostGator.com
Dedicated Hosting: Softlayer.com
Cloud Hosting: Microsoft Azure
E-Commerce Hosting: Rackspace.com
Application Hosting: Amazon
SEM - Search Advertising & Optimization
Of all the different types of online marketing that today’s digital-minded brands can leverage – including email and social – search remains dominant and, as a result of the value it can potentially provide in terms of raw unique visitor numbers, is perhaps the most attractive option. There has always been confusion about what search engine marketing (SEM) really is, however – is it purely unpaid and natural traffic from the search engines, or does it relate to advertising on the search engines, paying for visitors with a clear, keyword-driven intent? SEM is essentially any marketing on search engines -- be it through advertising or through optimization. The market for solutions on both sides is in great demand and many Digital Power Players have emerged to help ‘Net brands increase exposure in this important channel of Web business today.
“I have found SEMrush to be one of my go to tools. I use it for the obvious reasons like competitive analysis but I have also found it to be a great prospecting tool for new clients as well. If you do not have this in your toolbox, get it!”
~ Travis Bliffen, Owner of Stellar SEO
Of the numerous topics covered in Website Magazine (online, in our weekly email newsletter, as well as in print), e-commerce consistently elicits a great deal of attention from our community of digital professionals. Total annual e-commerce sales increase each year, due in great part to today’s software solutions which provide Internet retailers with opportunities to do ever more amazing things with their digital presence. E-Commerce is always one of the first to benefit from innovation and the Digital Power Players in this category are perfect examples. Stay up to date on key e-commerce developments at wsm.co/EcommerceExpress.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (sorry Google+) have become an integral part of maintaining a digital presence on the ‘Net. While the value these ‘Net destinations provide to enterprises is up for debate, marketers continue to take advantage of these platforms in the hopes of raising awareness for their brands, deepening engagement with their fans and followers, (and with any luck, increasing conversion) thanks to Social Media’s Digital Power Players, including:
“Buzzsumo is the best online marketing tool to come out this year. It makes finding tastemakers and thought leaders to interact with via social media a snap, and you can sort by their follower count, Klout, likelihood to respond to your tweets, etc. Buzzsumo also tells you which pieces of content on any given subject are most shared, and it uses that data to dig deeper and provide you with info about which types of blog posts are likely to resonate well with your target audience (including suggested word count and title type).”
~Kari DePhillips, Owner of The Content Factory
Live Chat Software
Once an absolute necessity in the arsenal of digital tools for top Web brands, live chat software remains a popular option for those that want to help guide their users to a more personal experience and a more profitable one for their brand. Discover the features that brands should demand from their live chat software solutions at wsm.co/lcfeat.
“At T-Mobile, our primary goal with our chat teams is to improve the quality of our agents’ performance and to deliver a high quality customer experience, while servicing more customers as cost-effectively as we can. TouchCommerce helps us achieve these objectives. For example, TouchCommerce provides us readouts of the most common topics and questions we get from customers through chat transcript analysis. For topics that exceeded a specific threshold, we dig in to see how we could better prepare our reps. The goal is to educate our reps to be able to anticipate what customers need, so they can not only answer the questions of that chat interaction, but the next ones as well.”
~ Derek Johnson, Content Strategist at T-Mobile
Love it or loathe it, email is a fundamental element of the Web today. Every digital brand from information publishers to service providers (e-commerce merchants too) use email to communicate with customers and their audience, and ultimately drive conversions. Those platforms that make the process simpler, empower marketers with the tools they need to automate the required processes (see Website Magazine’s recent December ’14 issue) and integrate with existing systems are those that worthy of being called 2014’s Digital Power Players in the category of email, and those which will likely continue to do so in 2015 and beyond.
Sales & Marketing Automation
If 2014 will be remembered for anything (at least from the perspective of Website Magazine editors), it will be the dramatic increase in usage of sales and marketing automation solutions. These systems are now considered vital for efficient and effective operations on the ‘Net today, combining many of the core solutions and activities of digital brands – from CRM, email, content management, search engine optimization, lead scoring, advertising and analytics. There is often great disparity in the scope of services the leading vendors provide, and it can be a challenging task to find a solution that meets the needs and demands of a specific enterprise. Fortunately, Website Magazine’s Top 50 this month profiles many of the most popular sales and marketing automation solutions. Readers can find that list in this issue on page 14, and on the Web at wsm.co/top50ms.
Advertising & Performance Marketing
For those brands that need to raise awareness and garner mindshare in their respective markets, digital advertising and performance marketing are increasingly necessary. However, the industry has seen and experienced a variety of discouraging setbacks in 2014, from Google’s recent acknowledgement that just over half of its display ads are visible, to the ongoing tracking challenges for affiliate networks. Even with these rather significant issues, digital advertising and performance marketing are healthy industries and remain effective options for those looking to improve their bottom line.
Help Desk Solutions
There’s a growing trend among today’s ‘Net enterprises – improving the efficiency of customer service. Where companies once had to staff call centers with knowledgeable teams of sales and support personnel, today they are turning to help desk solutions so customers can, effectively, serve themselves. Fortunately, some powerful technology platforms have emerged that are making a positive difference in the world of Web business.
Experience Optimization Software
If there is one single word that defined 2014, it’s that of “experience.” The data is clear, enterprises that deliver personal experiences, those which speak directly to the needs and wants of users, are the ones that are accelerating their success and reaching profitability far faster than their competition.
“As a data-driven e-commerce agency, we rely on tools to help us gather data. Optimizely, an A/B testing platform, allows us to easily run multiple tests on a website and the results are clearly presented. For our clients, the data translates to websites optimized for the best possible user experience.”
~ Kevin Eichelberger, Founder and CEO of Blue Acorn
Gamification & Loyalty
Today’s ‘Net users expect a different, a better, experience from the brands they patronize. They do not just want great products and service, they want to be rewarded for giving their time and attention. That demand has been met with some rather innovative solutions which enable brands to employ gamification principles to deepen engagement and increase the number and quality of interactions.
One of the most exciting trends in 2014 was the uptick in subscription management usage by ‘Net enterprises. No longer content with traditional payment models, technology vendors emerged forcefully to enable brands to offer subscription-based billing and recurring billing in a way that was both affordable and incredibly effective.
Smartphones were supposed to change everything – and they did. Upwards of 30 percent of all Website traffic these days comes from mobile devices, and the savviest brands are doing everything they can to get in on the action – from rolling out responsive or adaptive designs, to personalizing and prioritizing content for users when they are away from the desktop. Solutions catering to this increasing demand fared quite well in 2014 and mobile analytics, mobile site builders and app platforms captured the attention of digital professionals.
To 2015 and Beyond
The Digital Power Players identified in this issue of Website Magazine are capable of helping your digital brand accelerate its ‘Net success. If you are ready for big things in 2015, let this serve as your initial inspiration to try something new and refocus your energy on what really matters.
Website Magazine Readers Speak
Below are three solutions that WM readers said make a positive difference in their pursuit of Web success. Find more online at wsm.co/wmfavs14
“As useful as AnswerDash is to assist our customer it is also very useful to assist them before they know assistance is needed. The analytics tools show us what the customer is clicking on the most within the Q&A tab. This has helped us ensure those pages are populated with [the most sought-after] Q&As. This has also helped slow down the amount of new questions asked on the tab. Now, none of us feel like we are drowning in support.”
~ Maya Starbuck, Manager of Customer Care at PetHub
“PicMonkey is a free online image editing tool that helps anyone with a little online savvy produce beautiful images. We use PicMonkey to do basic tasks like resizing and cropping blog images and more advanced tasks like adding text and titles to stock photos. Our editors use PicMonkey every day to add engaging images to our written content. We couldn’t live without it.”
~ Lee Price, Senior Director, Marketing Strategy at Reputation Capital Media Services
“The tool that’s nurtured my growth the most in 2014 is CONTACTUALLY. In essence, it’s a CRM Platform, but what sets it apart is its focus on building and nurturing relationships. Through its effortless Bucket System and Innovative Reminders, I’ve taken relationships to exciting levels, and grown because of this.”written content. We couldn’t live without it.”
~ Matthew Turner, Author at TURNDOG