Packing Slips and Other New Features Now Available!

February 23rd, 2011 6 comments

We are pleased to announce the launch of Stamps.com Version 8.8 – a free upgrade for Stamps.com customers!  Here are some of the major new features included as part of Stamps.com Version 8.8:

New Feature #1 – Print Packing Slips

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Available on the “Batch” tab, customers who import their ecommerce orders from popular marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and PayPal can now print packing slips alongside their shipping labels.  Packing slips will show Order Date, Billing and Shipping Address Info along with Item ID, Description and Quantity for up to ten products.  Packing slips have been one of our most requested features and we are very excited to add this feature to Version 8.8.

New Feature #2 – Ship Without Delivery Confirmation

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While Delivery Confirmation is free for Priority Mail and tracking is free for Express Mail, the USPS charges $0.19 for Delivery Confirmation for First Class Packages, Parcel Post and Media Mail (if you purchase Delivery Confirmation at the Post Office, the cost is $0.70-$0.80).  Previously, all eligible shipping labels were printed with Delivery Confirmation regardless of whether or not the service was included for free.  Based on customer feedback, we have made the $0.19 Delivery Confirmation for First Class, Parcel Post, and Media Mail an optional service in the Version 8.8.

New Feature #3 – Customize your Shipment Notification Emails

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Stamps.com Version 8.8 has added customization options for your Ship Notification Emails.  You can now control what is listed in the “From” and “Subject” fields as well as customize the text that is included in the body of the email.  Additionally, you have the options to include order details such as Quantity, Item ID and Product Description in the email.   If you are already running version 8.8, click here to make changes to your Ship Notification Email .

Important! You must download Version 8.8 in order to use these great new features.   Download Version 8.8 today at www.stamps.com/download – it’s free for existing customers!

To learn more about the great new features in Version 8.8, join us for a free webinar on March 1 from 9 AM to 10 AM Pacific Time.  Click here to reserve your spot today!

Search Engine Optimization 101 – FAQs from our Webinar

January 27th, 2011 Comments off

Search Engine Optimization 101 – FAQs from our Webinar

Thanks to everyone for joining our webinar on Wednesday, January 26!  We had a great turnout with a lot of good questions; in fact, we had so many questions, we decided to put together a post to address some of them.  In case you missed the webinar, click here for a replay.

Q: What is the link for the Google Keyword Tool that you recommend?
Asked by Robert

A: www.adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal – This free tool from Google is a great way to find and expand targeted keywords that are important for your business.  After inputting a keyword, the tool will produce a list of similar keywords along with last month’s number of searches (both globally and US-based searches in Google) providing you the ability to choose the best keywords for site optimization.

A good way to get started is by putting together a list of keywords that are associated with your site and then use this tool to see what type of opportunities exist for your site.  The opportunities are endless for uncovering relevant keywords for your business!

Q: Do outbound links affect SEO as much as inbound links?
Asked by Reo

A: Generally speaking, outbound links (links from your site to an external site) do not help your site’s SEO rankings.  They are essentially an inbound link from your site to another site.  That other site is getting a vote.

Inbound links (links to your site from external sites) are a huge part of your SEO success and every inbound link should be valued greatly.  Google views inbound links from other sites as a “vote” for the importance of your content.  The better the site, the bigger the vote (i.e. If the New York Times links to you, that’s a big vote).  Inbound link count is only one part of their algorithm, but it’s a very important one.

Q:  What do you mean by “silo structure”?
Asked by Patty

A: Silo structure is a description for how your site should be laid out and how users (and search engines) should be able to navigate your site.  Essentially, it is grouping multiple pages into major categories (or “silos”).  Here is an example using the Stamps.com Supplies Store:

SDC_Store

Looking at the homepage, there are multiple different categories including “Labels,” “Mailers,” “Shipping Supplies,” “Envelopes,” “Custom Products” and “Certified Mail Forms.”  Each of these categories is its own silo and within each silo is more content that is relevant to the overall category.  For example, within the “Envelopes” category, you will find different types of envelopes.  This is intuitive for the site visitor and Google rewards good site architecture.  Google also wants to see that you don’t just have one page on a particular keyword.  If you have one relevant page, that is good; if you have an entire relevant silo, even better.

Q:  Can you please suggest some ways to minimize site load time? Thanks!
Asked by Roger

A: You’ll want to focus on keeping the total file sizes as small as possible and that includes both images as well as the HTML in the page itself.  Often times, people will include tons of javascript or tracking logic in the page HTML and that scripting can increase the page file size and slow down the page load.

For images, while it’s nice to showcase larger crisp pictures, the extra file size can easily slow your page load times by 1 second or more.  A good rule of thumb is to shoot for images to not be larger than 30 kilobytes in file size.   Here are some other advanced techniques to minimize site load times from Google and Yahoo:

http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/docs/rules_intro.html

http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html

Q: Regarding spiders reading text – not images… I heard a while back that it was important to have images and video – is that not true these days?
Asked by Simon

A: Including videos and images are definitely an important part of the design of your site.  If a customer comes to your site and only sees text, they may leave right away since they didn’t find the site design engaging enough to learn more about your product.  And if they leave quickly, it’s impossible to generate any revenue from that customer.

So it’s important to remember that at end of the day, consumers are the ones that generate revenue for your site.   Search engines can only help get those consumers to your site.

Since search spiders cannot read images, you will need to find a balance of how you use video/images vs. including text on the page.   When possible, it’s always better to use text rather than an image….as long as it doesn’t affect the sales process.  Finding that balance is a key step in search engine optimization.

One SEO best practice method that you can implement on images is the “alt text” tag.  This is a small tag included in the HTML code for your image and will only appear to the consumer in the event the image does not appear.  The “alt text” provides the search spider with a description of what content is included inside the image.

Example of Alt Text:
<img src=”http://www.example.com/iphone-product.jpg” width=”100″ height=”70″ alt=”apple iphone 32GB”>

Q: On an e-commerce site … for SEO purposes, is it good idea to have a left-hand menu with all our categories if our top menu has dropdowns in flash?

Asked by Reo

A: From an SEO perspective, Flash has been historically problematic. Back in 2008, Google announced their ability to index Flash sites, but in practice HTML generally performs better and Google’s ability to index HTML text is tried and true. While there may be an SEO benefit to adding a second nav area in HTML for your categories, you could be taking up valuable real estate by having two navs. Also worth considering: having HTML only instead of Flash has many benefits including ease of use for customers, better mobile support, and HTML eliminates the risk of turning away customers who don’t have a flash plug-in.  I would recommend having only one nav area and using HTML.

Q: What are the ideal lengths for meta-tags?
Asked by Anna

A: While character limits will often change for meta-tags since Google’s algorithm is constantly changing, most SEO best practices will suggest the following limits for your meta-tags:

Page Title :  6-12 total words, 70 characters maximum
Meta-Description:  12-24 total words, 200 characters maximum
Meta-Keywords:  48 total words, 1000 characters maximum

Q: Are metatags the same as title tags?  What is the difference between a meta-tag and a meta-description?
Asked by Ray and Van

A: Meta-tags are a general term that refers to the page title, the meta-keywords and the meta-descriptions.  These tags are little bits of HTML code that are located in the head of the HTML on the web page and are not visible to customer viewing the page.   Meta-tags help the search engine spider understand what information is on the page so Google can rank it accordingly in their search rankings.

The title tag is one of the most important parts of the page optimization process and you should try to have a unique, relevant page title for all of your web site pages.

Due to search spammer abuse over the years, Google doesn’t seem to pay as much attention (if any at all) to meta-keywords and meta-description tags these days.  However, with the Google algorithm changing daily, they could become relevant again so we certainly would suggest you include unique, relevant meta-description and meta-keyword for each page as well as the title tag.

Q: If you open my source code, you will find keywords buried in small font with the same color as my background that can only be seen in the source code. Will this help or hurt me?
Asked by Tim

A: Hiding keywords on your page in the background is considered a “Black Hat SEO” technique and will get your site barred from Google search rankings.  Most all Black Hat SEO techniques are known to Google and do not help your site in the rankings.

We would suggest you remove these keywords immediately and focus on developing good content that your customers would like to read.   Usually, if your customers like the content, there is a strong change that Google will like the content as well and rank you high in the search rankings.

Q: What happens if a competitor keeps clicking on your pay-per-click ads?
Asked by Peter

A: All paid search engines have click-fraud protection programs that will protect advertisers from non-valid clicks.  When a person clicks on a paid search ad, many different data points are recorded such as IP address, time of the click, duplicate clicks and historical click patterns on your text ad along with many other data points.   The search engines will analyze this data to determine if click-fraud has occurred and will credit your paid search account each month for fraudulent activity.

Q:  How do we get an xml version of the site map?  And how do you submit a XML site map to the search engine.
Asked by Beth, Laura, Doug, Cami, Ray and Joel

A: XML Sitemaps are a way to tell Google about pages on your site that their search spider might not otherwise discover. In its simplest terms, a XML Sitemap is a list of the pages on your website. Creating and submitting a Sitemap helps make sure that Google knows about all the pages on your site, including URLs that may not be discoverable by Google’s normal crawling process.

Creating an XML Sitemap for Your Web Site
To create a XML sitemap, you can either create the XML by hand-coding the page or you can use a third party service that will ping your web site and uncover all the pages that are live.   While creating a XML sitemap by hand is not hard, you would need to know some basic HTML/XML coding to make sure it is done correctly.

Using a third party service is fairly easy as you normally only need to input your web site URL (most sites require you to register).  If you choose to use a third party service, Google has a great page that offers many third party services at:   http://code.google.com/p/sitemap-generators/wiki/SitemapGenerators This page provides numerous methods to create a XML sitemap using a server-side programs, downloadable tools or via an online service.   Once completed, the third party service will spit out a text XML file that will be your XML sitemap.

Once you have created your XML sitemap, you’ll need to have the file uploaded to your server (basically creating a webpage of the XML sitemap).   That will provide a method for all search spiders to find the XML sitemap.  An example of a XML file uploaded to your server would be www.example.com/sitemap.xml

Submitting a XML Site map using Google Webmaster tools.
After you have created your XML Sitemap, you’ll need to alert Google that the page is now live on your server and Google should check it often for new pages.    To do this, you’ll need a Google Webmaster Tools account.   Google Webmaster Tools is a great free service from Google that offers a ton of different resources for site owners.  Inside the Google Webmaster Tools interface, you should see a category called “Sitemaps” in the main dashboard.   Below that “Sitemaps” category, you’ll see “Submit a Sitemap.”  Click on that link and follow the instructions.   A window should pop up to input the URL from your server where your XML site map is hosted.

After submitting the URL in that field, Google’s server will start visiting your XML site map on a regular basis and any new pages you have will get indexed quicker.

Question from Reo: On an e-commerce site … for SEO purposes, is it good idea to have a left-hand menu with all our categories if our top menu has dropdowns in flash?

Answer: From an SEO perspective, Flash has been historically problematic. Back in 2008, Google announced their ability to index Flash sites, but in practice HTML generally performs better and Google’s ability to index HTML text is tried and true. While there may be an SEO benefit to adding a second nav area in HTML for your categories, you could be taking up valuable real estate by having two navs. Also worth considering: having HTML only instead of Flash has many benefits including ease of use for customers, better mobile support, and HTML eliminates the risk of turning away customers who don’t have a flash plug-in.

Categories: Small Business Marketing, Webinars Tags:

New USPS Prices Coming This April for First Class Mail

January 13th, 2011 6 comments

USPS to Introduce Commercial Base Rates for First Class Parcels

blog_pact-act_usps-logoThe USPS has proposed a rate increase for a number of mail classes including First Class Mail (domestic and international), Media Mail, and Parcel Post.  While these rates still need to be approved by the Postal Regulatory Committee, they are likely to be approved as they are within the allowable annual increase of 1.7%.  If approved, the new rates will go into effect April 17, 2011.  Here are some of the major proposed changes for domestic mail:

  • Average increase across all mail classes is 1.741 percent
  • Priority and Express rates will not be changed (these rates were changed in the January, 2011 shipping rate change)
  • One-ounce First Class Letters will remain at $0.44 and one-ounce First Class Flats will remain at $0.88; each additional ounce (or half ounce for 3.5 ounce letters) will cost an extra $0.20 (currently additional ounces cost $0.17)
  • Retail rates for First Class Packages will start at $1.71 (currently $1.22)
  • The USPS will introduce Single-Piece Commercial Base and Commercial Plus Prices for First Class Packages
  • Commercial Base Prices, which are available for online postage, will save shippers $0.15 per mail piece
  • Parcel Post rates will start at $5.10 (currently at $4.90)
  • Media Mail rates will start at $2.41 (currently at $2.38)

In addition to the changes for domestic mail, the USPS has also proposed changes for First Class International mail services.  Here are a some of the important changes regarding First Class Mail International:

  • Letter prices will change for group one and group two by an average of $0.06
  • Flat prices will change for all country groups by an average of $0.53
  • Package prices will change for all country groups by an average of $0.78

Click here for more information on the proposed USPS rate change.

Categories: Postage Rate Increase, USPS News Tags:

Survey: How the 2011 Shipping Rate Increase Affects Ecommerce

January 7th, 2011 5 comments

This week, the U. S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx all raised their shipping rates.  While the USPS raised retail rates by an average of 3.9 percent (3.2 percent for Stamps.com customers), UPS Ground and FedEx Ground both raised their rates by an average of 4.9 percent.  In our latest, survey, we asked customers to tell us how these rate increases would affect their ecommerce program.

Most interesting is the rate at which merchants will be changing carriers due to the rate change; in particular the rate at which merchants claim they will be moving volume to the USPS (likely based on the USPS have the lowest rate increase).  Be sure to check out the rest of the survey questions to find out more about how shipping affects ecommerce merchants.

 

Will Merchants Change Carriers Based on Changing Rates?
Almost half (46 percent) of survey respondents stated these rate increases will influence which mail carrier they will use in 2011.

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Two-thirds of respondents reported that they currently use more than one carrier.

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Of the respondents that use more than one carrier, 50 percent have no intentions to change carriers based on the rate change.  For those that plan to change, the USPS is the carrier merchants are most likely to switch to.

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Switching Costs

While more than half (52 percent) of respondents reported that there is little or no back-end work required to accomodate the rate change, 26 percent of merchants will need to perform at least one day of work due to the rate change.

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In addition to rate change questions, we also asked a number of other questions for ecommerce merchants.  Here are some of the more interesting results:

How Do Ecommerce Merchants Determine Shipping Rates?

When asked how ecommerce merchants price their shipping charges, 44 percent of the respondents stated they utilize destination and/or weight based pricing.  40 percent stated they use flat rate pricing to determine their shipping charges.

While the zone/weight based pricing is generally a more accurate method, it is also much more complicated as it generally requires merchants to populate rate information for hundreds of zone/weight combinations and typically necessitates a system that allows for dynamic rate checks based on what customers have in their cart and what they have entered as a delivery address; to say nothing of the added complexity that more than one distribution center can add.

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Customers Prefer Home Delivery

74 percent of respondents ship at least half of their packages to a home address.

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Although FedEx ($2.50) and UPS ($2.45)  charge residential surcharges, only 12 percent of merchants have different rates for home/business shipments (USPS has no residential surcharges).

How Heavy Are Typical Packages?

83 percent of respondents reported that the majority of their packages weigh three pounds or less.  Only 4 percent typically ship packages over ten pounds.

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This survey was sent to current Stamps.com customers that operate an ecommerce store.  The survey was conducted from December 16-21, 2010.

Click here for more information on the 2011 USPS Rate Change.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey!

New USPS Postage Rates this Sunday, January 2, 2011

December 29th, 2010 28 comments

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EDIT: The USPS proposed a rate change for additional mail classes, including First Class Mail®, Media Mail, and Parcel Post® scheduled to go into effect this April.  Learn more about the April 2011 USPS rate change proposal.

Don’t forget – the US Post Office will be raising rates for the following mail classes effective January 2, 2011:

  • Express Mail®
  • Priority Mail®
  • Parcel Select®
  • Express Mail International®
  • Priority Mail International
  • Global Express Guaranteed®

On average, rates will increase by 3.9% for retail prices (3.2% for Stamps.com/Commercial Base customers).  Rates for First Class Mail, Media Mail, and Parcel Post will not be changed.

As a reminder, FedEx and UPS will be increasing prices for their ground services on January 3, 2011 by an average of 4.9%.

Small business owners should note the following USPS price changes starting Sunday, January 2, 2011:

Express Mail – 2011 Shipping Rates

Domestic Flat Rate Products

Retail

Commercial Base

Commercial Plus

Regular or Legal Flat Rate Envelope

$18.30

$17.40

$12.72

Priority Mail – 2011 Shipping Rates

Domestic Flat Rate Products

Retail

Commercial Base

Commercial Plus

Regular, Legal, or Padded Flat Rate Envelope

$4.95

$4.75

$4.70

Small Flat Rate Box

$5.20

$5.00

$4.95

Medium Flat Rate Box

$10.95

$10.50

$9.97

Large Flat Rate Box

$14.95

$14.20

$13.67

Large Flat Rate Box (APO/FPO)

$12.95

$12.20

$11.67

If you are a Stamps.com customer, your shipping rates will will automatically be updated by Stamps.com.  This includes shipping labels printed with Stamps.com prior to Januay 2nd but marked with a ship date of January 2nd or later.  All Stamps.com customers have access to Commercial Base Pricing (or Commercial Plus Pricing depending on volume).

Click here for more information on the 2011 USPS rate change.

Categories: Ecommerce Shipping, Shipping, USPS News Tags:

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