Monthly Archives: November 2013

5 Ways to Accept Credit Cards in Person

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I know that we primarily work with clients who do business online here as opposed to offline businesses. That’s why I’m not going to discuss merchant accounts with traditional credit card swipe machines. However, there are times when you do happen to need to be able to accept a credit card in person as opposed to merely using PayPal.

Sometimes, a client may come to visit you in person and want to pay via credit card. Other times, you may actually be dealing with a local business and you happened to visit them. Whatever the reason may be, it’s always useful to have an option available for accepting credit cards in person as opposed to just using PayPal or Google Checkout.

Not to mention that there are times when your customers will not want to use those services but will be fine with entering their credit card information into your secure server. My own mother for example doesn’t trust PayPal and refuses to use the service even though I’ve tried dozens of times to explain how to use it.

All this is also to say nothing of the fact that PayPal and to a lesser extent some of the other processing services can easily dump you as a customer or simply freeze your account whenever they want to and leave you in limbo for days, weeks or even months.

Why Not a Merchant Account?

Used to be, if you wanted to accept credit cards, you needed to get a merchant account. These accounts were provided to small and large businesses alike by a number of different companies which provided clearing services for people to use credit cards at their place of business. However, if you ran a mail order business or an online business as little as 5 years ago, it was notoriously difficult to get such an account.

Most of the banks who run such services don’t want to deal with online only businesses, especially small ones because they worry that the risk of fraud is much higher. Plus, in order to use a merchant account, you need to spend several hundred dollars for one of those credit card reader machines and often pay a monthly fee to maintain an account. That’s great if you accept credit cards constantly but if you only need to accept a credit card once every few weeks, you need an alternative.

One catch with all of these options though is that they require a smartphone. In most cases, only iOS or Android are supported. I did however find at least one option for Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablet owners as well as one for Blackberry owners, both of which I’ll discuss shortly.

Square

The granddaddy of the new options is of course Square. It’s named as such because they would provide you with a small, square piece of plastic which would attach to your smartphone’s headphone jack and which would then transmit the credit card number to them. You simply swipe the card through the reader and then it would use your cell phone to transmit the information.

square

The reader turns the information from the swipe into audio which is then picked up your phone’s microphone. Square then transmits the information to their processing center and you get your money the next day, deposited to your bank account.

Square used to offer an unlimited option for small business doing up to $21,000 per month in business but they did away with that and now charge a flat 2.75% of every transaction. Great for those doing very occasional business but a bummer for those who were using it for a larger business. The reader itself is just a small piece of plastic which I’ve heard does tend to feel kind of flimsy though.

If for some reason you need to manually key in the credit information, the price rises to 3.5% plus 15 cents per transaction. The good news is that there are no monthly fees involved and you get the basic reader for free. They also have a kind of platform for iPads which does cost $99 if you want to go that way.

Square only supports Android or iOS devices so those using Blackberry or Windows Phone (or for that matter, Windows 8 on a tablet) are out of luck. Finding out if your Android device is supported by Square is a little confusing. They only list four devices that they know support it but they also say that it’s not limited just to those devices.

That said, they provide some basic guidelines and say that a “normal” or “large” screen size will work as long as you also have a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microphone, Android 2.3 or better (though not Honeycomb or “modified Android devices” whatever that means) location service and access to the Google Play Store.

However, since the device is free, it’s worth ordering one and seeing if it works with your phone. If it doesn’t, it didn’t cost you anything but a few minutes of your time.

PayAnywhere

The PayAnywhere device works in basically the same way as the Square device but with two very important differences. First and foremost, it’s a little more substantial looking meaning that it’s more likely to stand up to repeated use. The Square looks like it could break any second (of course, they designed it to look cool and portable but I prefer something with more heft which I know won’t break when I need it).

The service is also a bit cheaper than Square, taking a flat 2.69% of your transaction but as near as I can tell, there is no option to manually key in information as there is with the Square. However, those with Blackberry devices will definitely want to grab this device since they do happen to support a number of them.

PayAnywhere

The list of supported Android devices was a bit skimpy though. Basically, if your device isn’t made by Google or Samsung, you need to look elsewhere. They do claim they have plans to support additional Android devices in the future though so it’s worth checking back to see if they’ve added your device since this was written.

PayPal

Huh? Didn’t I mention earlier that these things don’t require your customers to use PayPal to send you money? I did indeed. However, PayPal has decided to get into the same business that Square and others are in with their own card reader. The PayPal Here reader offers the option to swipe a card and have the money deposited directly into your PayPal account.

Like most other devices reviewed here, PayPal offers only to support iOS or Android devices. PayPal says on their website that you should try to download the PayPal Here app on your Android device to see if it works before you order the reader though. Actually, you can’t do anything but that since they require you to use the app to order a reader.

PayPal Here is also a bit cheaper than Square, offering to accept payments at 2.7% instead of the 2.75% Square charges. However, the thing that I think is really cool is something they mention in passing but which I can find very little information about. PayPal Here can, at least in theory also accept paper checks.

From what I understand from third party sources, check acceptance uses your phone’s built in camera to take a picture of the check and then process it that way. Of course, unlike credit cards, you don’t really get the guarantee of payment since a check can bounce. And for the under 30 crowd wondering what a paper check is, ask your parents to explain it to you. It’s just possible you’ll need to know how to write one someday.

Another feature that PayPal Here offers is the ability to pay with – wait for it – a PayPal account. This actually is a nice extra because if your customer shows up without cash, credit card or checks (okay, then  we’re getting a little suspicious of them but whatever), they can simply pay with their PayPal account right there on your smartphone through the app.

EMS

There are actually probably at least a dozen different places that offer these kinds of services so I don’t want to cover every single possible option here. However, EMS definitely deserves a mention here and should be one of the places you look at first for your in person credit card processing needs. Why? The answer is simple really – pricing!

EMS, like all the rest will ship you out a free card reader which plugs into your cell phone’s head phone jack. Like most of the rest of these services, they’ll let you accept Visa, MC and Amex (though the fees for Amex are higher). However, the nice thing about EMS is that they charge a lot less than everyone else. They take just 2.25% of your transaction for Visa/MC charges.

ems

EMS says that American Express cards cost more to process because the fees are set directly by Amex and the cost ranges from 2.5% to 3.9% depending on the type of American Express card that you are swiping. They also let you choose which color you want your credit card reader to be.

Innerfence

Last on my list is the Innerfence Card Reader. Like all the other options mentioned here, this one plugs into your smartphone’s headphone jack and allows you to use it to swipe credit cards in person and accept payments that way from your customers. Like all the others on this list, they guys will also offer to let you accept all the major credit cards.

However, there are two very important differences which set apart Innerfence and earn them a place on this list. First and foremost is their pricing scheme, which is a little difficult to follow but could be worthwhile for some people.

They charge a $25 monthly service fee (this is the only service is the roundup that does this). However, for that $25 fee, you get a range of pricing for your swipes. The lowest cost swipes will run you just 1.74% while the highest cost will run you 3.79%. How exactly you’d know what kind of price you’ll pay I’m not really clear on.

Innerfence explains that they have three “tiers” for cards, qualified, mid-qualified and non-qualified. They say that American consumer or debit cards “typically” get the qualified rate, which means the majority of your transactions will be priced at the lower fee. However, some other cards, such as corporate cards and international cards will run at the higher fee.

In addition to the swipe fees, they also charge something called an “assessment fee” which ranges from 0.105% to 0.13% based on your monthly receipts.

These prices might make sense for those who need higher volume card processing since it could end up being cheaper than any of the other options, which charge a higher percentage of your sales but no monthly fees or anything of that nature.

However, there is also one group for whom this service is essential. This is the only device I found that supports Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablet devices. Apparently, they even offer some limited support for those using a Mac but it’s not as simple to use as on other devices. Of course, iOS and Android are supported by these guys as well.

Not that as of this writing, it says the device is free but it seems to have put a time limit on this. I have no idea whether or not this means that they’ll start charging later on though.

My Recommendation

If your device is supported by them, I’d go with a combination of the EMS and the PayAnywhere devices. EMS’ fees are the lowest overall (unless you do a lot of volume in which case, you may want to see if the Innerfence reader is a better choice) but since they charge more for Amex purchases, I’d have the PayAnywhere device for those kinds of cards.

It would also be helpful to have the PayPal Here device and software only for the rare occasions when someone wants to pay with a paper check or with PayPal.

Regardless of which kind of device you ultimately go with, be sure to read all the fine print. Each of these services has its ups and downs so it’s worth looking at all of them very carefully.

What Does Google Hummingbird Mean for SEO?

google-hummingbirdGoogle apparently introduced a new algorithm to the world back in August but they waited more than a month to actually tell anyone about it. Then it took another few weeks for all of us in the SEO world to finally start figuring out what this whole thing was about. The new hummingbird algorithm is in many ways, good news for SEO. However, you need to understand why and how it works.

First There Was Panda and Penguin

We all know that things changed drastically when the Panda and Penguin updates were introduced. These two updates together tanked a whole bunch of low quality sites and also started to look once again at the crappy links that a great many people had created. The Google disavow tool was created in order to allow you to make sure that junk links didn’t count against you.

Of course, the keyword laden junk sites were also largely pushed to the side under these older updates because Google used semantic indexing to figure out which sites were poorly done and which ones were better written. The idea was to create new and better search results which got people to the kind of content they wanted to see rather than the crap that people posted hoping to make money from Adsense.

That last bit is actually very important because it’s what the new Hummingbird update is based on – semantic indexing. Here’s what you need to know:

Long Tail Vs. Short Tail Keywords

Most of us in the world of SEO have heard of the concept of long tail vs. short tail keywords. In essence, this is the difference between targeting something like “car insurance” and targeting something longer such as “cheap car insurance in New York.” Most professional SEO advisers now tell their clients to go for the long tail keywords.

The idea is that targeting short keywords won’t work because the short keywords are so highly competitive with so much of the web built around them that it’s almost impossible to actually get results from them.

Plus, even if you do manage to climb to the top of the rankings for those keywords, there is another problem – you probably wouldn’t get the kind of clients you want. The kind of people you want are buyers, not browsers. The people who are ready to buy are usually the people using the longer keywords.

Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm takes full advantage of the latest technology and optimizes itself specifically to respond to queries as opposed to simply allowing you to focus on short keywords. In essence, it’s an SEO professional’s dream because it means that you can now get to more of the granular kind of traffic that you want to get to. And Google will help you do it.

A Brand New System

To understand just how revolutionary the new Hummingbird system is, you need to first consider that it is a brand new system. This means that it’s not simply an update but an entirely new system built from the ground up which actually takes on a whole new level of sophistication, taking advantage of the latest technology and preparing Google for the challenges of 2014 as opposed to the challenges of 2004.

While I’m no fan at all of the system, I like to compare Hummingbird to Windows 8. Anyone who has ever tried to upgrade (or downgrade for that matter) to Windows 8 knows that it’s a brand new operating system. Microsoft even introduced a brand new file system with Windows 8 which replaces the aging NTFS system in use since Windows XP.

MS also (much to my chagrin and to that of most people who use Windows without a touch screen) insisted on foisting the ridiculous tile system on all computers, regardless of whether they were touch enabled or not. My new laptop insists on using Windows 8 and even worse, I can’t downgrade because there are no drivers for Windows 7 built for this computer.

Hummingbird is reputed to be as much of a change for Google as Windows 8 is for Microsoft.

Hummingbird is reputed to be as much of a change for Google as Windows 8 is for Microsoft.

But I digress – we’re talking about Hummingbird here, not Windows 8. Hummingbird is as much of a change for Google as Windows 8 is a change for Microsoft. Whereas Panda and Penguin might be thought of as being akin to the change from Vista to Windows 7 (i.e. it helped polish the old system), Hummingbird is a brand new system which uses brand new technology.

However, much as Microsoft did with Windows 8, Google didn’t completely toss everything they already had. They grafted on some of the older technology so that on the surface, Google seems to be operating pretty much as it did before. However, underneath, this is a major, major update which in essence replaces the old system and creates a brand new dynamic.

Have a Conversation with the Search Engine

As I said earlier, the new system is designed to allow for longer tail keywords to be optimized and it’s also designed to allow you to take full advantage of the semantic indexing system that Google has been building up for years. The big change, from what I’ve read is that the new system is designed to allow you to actually apply this to the entire web.

I’ve put up examples of Google’s semantic indexing in the past, explaining that the system was designed to allow you to ask a real question (for example, “who is the president of France?”). Apparently, Hummingbird is designed to take this to the next level and allow you to ask all kinds of more detailed questions and get results which are relevant to the question.

The big difference is that Google’s search engine now fully (at least in theory) understands context so that when you do a search for example, “Tell me about the Paris Hilton,” it will understand based on context that you want to know about the hotel and not the socialite.

Does It Really Work?

That’s the million dollar question here. Does it really work? Google claims it does but who knows whether it does or it doesn’t? I did a few sample searches to test the system and see what it came up with. Here are the results I found:

how much does it cost to go up to the empire state building

how much is the current interest on a student loan

Are these results “more accurate” than I would have found before? Since the old system is no longer in place anywhere and Google hasn’t built a time machine yet, I can’t say for sure but if the system works as well as Google claims, SEO should see a rebirth with long tail keywords becoming increasingly important.

 

5 Ways to Increase the Perceived Value of Your Product

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One of the problems that every Internet marketer faces is finding a way to get people to pay for whatever it is that you sell. What I mean by that is that your customers may have need for your product or service but they wonder why they should spend so much money for whatever it is that you have for sale. After all, isn’t someone else offering a cheaper, similar service?

Of course, we all know that you don’t want to actually sell products based on price alone. Any time you compete exclusively on price, you end up in a race to the bottom until you are giving away your product and hoping that this will somehow work out in the end when you crush the competition.

Just look at newspapers across the country, which are hemorrhaging because people have begun to think that news should be offered for free, never mind that reporters need to be paid and you can see that competing on price doesn’t work. The more prestigious newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times realized this and started charging for subscriptions, which are sold based on the cache their names hold.

The problem of course is that no everyone runs a New York Times or a Wall Street Journal. Most of us have small businesses that need to be able to sell products without having already built up a massive name for ourselves. So how exactly do you increase the perceived value of the product that you have for sale with your potential customers if you don’t have a name? Here are five great ways to do just that:

Make a Comparison

I know I just got through telling you that competing on price alone is a terrible idea and it is indeed a terrible idea. You don’t want to end up in the proverbial race to the bottom. At the same time, you do want to increase the perceived value of your product by giving it a feeling of being a really good deal as compared to other options.

One way to do this is to offer several different products side by side which are similar but one of which has a super high, premium price. This makes your mainstream product, the one you really want to sell, seem like a pretty good deal by comparison. You see it all the time when you log onto almost any membership site.

Look for sites where they have tiered levels of products and you can easily see that they’ve positioned the mainstream product, the one that is “most popular” somewhere in the middle of the product line. By making such a comparison between the products, you can easily make the mainstream one seem affordable and a good value. Consider the following:

panasonic tvs

This is a screen grab from PriceGrabber. All three TV sets are 50”. Two of them are 1080P TVs and one is a 720P TV (the one for under $500). Now let’s assume for a moment that the people at Panasonic had crafted this and that all three TVs (all of them are in fact from Panasonic) were being sold on their store’s website. Which one is likely to sell the most? If you guessed the one for $617 you’d be correct.

It offers customers a significant amount of perceived value. They are getting a good quality TV set and paying a lot less than the high price of the $1,000 offering while also not feeling like they’re skimping on quality by taking the lesser 720P television set. This is what I mean by creating a comparison. By positioning the three products together, you create perceived value that the one you likely want to sell more of is the one that’s the best deal.

Now you could of course do this by comparing yourself to the competition instead of comparing different versions of your product to each other. The problem is that this opens you up to that race to the bottom. Your competitors may see this and may decide to lower their prices to make their product competitive with yours. By comparing your product to your product, you get the same effect without as much likelihood of losing customers to the competition.

 Compare Expensive Products to Everyday Items

This is another technique that has been used to great success by a large number of different companies throughout the business world. The idea is to take a very expensive item and then break it down so it seems like it’s something that pretty much anyone ought to be able to afford. It makes it sound almost like a no brainer to be doing it.

The classic example of this is below. “For about the price of a cup of coffee per day you get peace of mind” or some variation on that. Cisco is selling a networking product by reminding people that the cost works out to just £2.50 per day (about $4). In other words, “about the price of a cup of coffee.” This makes their product, which in reality costs over $3,000 seem eminently affordable.

cisco phone system about the price of a cup of coffee

Never mind of course that people rarely buy a $4 latte at Starbucks 365 days a year and never mind that one of the things that pretty much every expert on personal finance reminds people of is that they can drop the morning latte and save a bundle. This is simple psychology. It works because it makes people look at a product in completely different terms than they otherwise would have looked at it in.

Another popular way to make this comparison is to refer to “just pennies a day.” This is actually commonly used by a popular charity known as Feed the Children (and yes, they are  a very worthy cause and it is worth contributing to them if you have the money to do it). However, the same technique can just as easily be adapted to pretty much any product that you want to sell.

Make it seem cheap by comparing it to the cost of things that people don’t think twice about and it makes a psychological impact allowing you to sell the product even if it happens to cost a significant amount of money.

Break it Down Into Small Chunks

I wrote about this in a previous blog post but it’s worth mentioning again here because this really does increase the perceived value without actually costing you anything to make it happen. Amazon has an awful lot of magazines available on their website which they sell for $1 per month or thereabouts. Now for pretty much anyone in the Western World, a dollar a month is nothing. It’s a throwaway thing that you don’t think about.

This is exactly what Amazon wants to make you believe. It’s a dollar or two a month. What’s the big deal? I had mentioned how I had signed up for close to a dozen different magazines with them because they all seemed so cheap and how I ultimately realized that I was spending a couple of hundred dollars a year when I was done. I’m down to just three magazines now both because I realized it was expensive and because I just don’t have that many free hours in a day to read so many magazines.

However, this does bring up an important way to improve the perceived value of your product. By making it seem as if it’s something that’s so cheap it’s a throwaway item, you don’t really think about it and you end up subscribing a lot more easily. Compare this with a subscription card for a typical magazine:New York Magazine

It’s $40 for a year of New York Magazine. Mind you, New York is a fine magazine and I have nothing against it. However, $40 does make you think twice before you decide that you should pay for a subscription. But if it’s just $3.35 you probably wouldn’t think twice about subscribing. That’s how Amazon prices most of their magazines and it keeps people buying them longer.

You can do the same thing by simply selling your customers a subscription to your product on a month to month basis as opposed to selling them an annual or one time item.

By the way, speaking of that, Microsoft and Adobe have both recently introduced subscriptions to their flagship products. You can now buy a subscription to MS Office for $60 per year or to Adobe Creative Suite for $50 per month. Office of course used to cost around $500 and Creative Suite cost over $3,000. Why the new pricing? Simple – both companies realized that by selling a subscription, they’re likely to make more money in the long run than they were when they sold standalone products.

You know, an evangelist for Microsoft (yes, there really are such people – they’re paid to sing the praises of MS products to business types) once told me that Microsoft Office’s biggest competitor is Microsoft Office. He said many people didn’t see the need to shell out another $500 per use to upgrade when the old version was perfectly useable. The subscription model means that they’ll keep shelling out for as long as they’re using a Microsoft product.

Try the Dyson Approach

The odds are good that you’ve seen a Dyson commercial on TV at some point in your life. These commercials talk about the science behind a Dyson vacuum cleaner. They show you how the science creates a kind of a whirlpool which sucks up dirt a whole lot better than pretty much any other vacuum cleaner on the planet.

Frankly, I’ve got no idea whatsoever whether Dyson’s claims are true. I’ve never owned a Dyson vacuum cleaner so I can’t reasonably state whether or not their vacuum cleaners really do suck up dirt at a much higher rate than others. I’ll assume for the sake of this article however that what they say is true.

Ever wondered why they go to the trouble to demonstrate the science behind their vacuum cleaners in pretty much every commercial that they produce? Why not simply show side by side comparisons of two different pieces of carpeting, one from a competitor’s vacuum and one from their own? The answer is simple: They’re trying to increase perceived value.

Again, Dyson vacuum cleaners may well be worth the price and I have no comment one way or the other on them. However, by showing you all the science and engineering that goes into building a Dyson vacuum cleaner, the company is trying to dazzle you by allowing you to see that the product really has a lot standing behind it. The people who crafted it for you really have thought about the best way to pick up dirt.

Dyson vacuum cleaner

You can do the same thing with almost any product that you have for sale, even something as simple as a cigarette. Remember the very first episode of Mad Men and the proposal for selling Lucky Strike cigarettes by saying “It’s toasted?” So what that it’s toasted? So are all the other cigarettes. However, by giving that piece of information out in an ad, they took the focus off the price and put the focus on something that gives the product a bit of mystique.

Show How Much They’ll Save

Finally, another approach to creating value is to show calculations to your customers with large numbers. While the FCC has largely put the kibosh on such ads, a great many Internet marketing products used to be sold with ads offering specific dollar amounts that the creator of the product had supposedly made and then in tiny letters at the bottom, a disclaimer that individual results may vary.

You can do the same in reverse by showing people how much time, money or both they’ll save by using your product. For example, if you were running a service offering online backup of vital documents, you might ring up the cost of an external hard drive, the hours spent restoring, the need to deal with an offsite copy of the thing etc.

This in essence would allow your customers to perceive value by seeing that they would be so much better off by simply using your simple and inexpensive online storage option. The idea being that they could save a great deal of time any money over the course of a year or two if they use your product.

 

by EricHammer, on       Comments are off for this post