The speakers in flat-panel TVs today are far better than they were in years past, but for all that’s been done to improve TV audio systems, they still pale in comparison to even the most basic soundbar you can buy. Soundbars are the sleekest, least-obtrusive way to get sound that’s as impactful as the premium picture on your TV. The best soundbars today offer minimalist style, dynamic power, and audio streaming from your phone with no need to carve out room for a receiver or tower speakers. There are a variety of wireless connection options, especially for Wi-Fi bars, and multiple ways to play all your favorite music, movies, and TV shows. Below are our current favorite soundbars that will ramp up your sound without cramping your style. Looking for a TV to go along with your newfangled soundbar? Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up the best TVs available.
Why you should buy it: You’ll get impressively powerful Dolby Atmos surround sound in a simple package.
Who’s it for: Those who want the thrill of true Dolby Atmos without remodeling the living room.
How much will it cost: $1,200
Why we picked the Samsung HW-K950:
There are many reasons we like the HW-K950 so well. It offers nothing less than heart-pounding, pupil dilating aural thrills. It’s also extremely easy to setup, requiring simple HDMI connection. But the major reason we picked this bar is for how well it handles virtual Dolby Atmos sound. Experiencing the surround sound of the HW-K950 is nothing short of entrancing. While there are some minor misgivings about the mid range sound, the HK-K950 does both subtlety and bombast equally well. Whispers, wind, and softer effects come across clear, while massive, booming bass-driven effects are downright chest-rattling. It also comes with wireless satellite speakers (though they must be plugged into an outlet for power), for true surround sound immersion. If there’s one thing about the HW-K950 that we aren’t keen on (apart from the high price), it’s the lack of DTS:X decoding. DTS:X just so happens to be the default Blu-Ray sound format. What this means is any DTS:X audio must be digitally faked, diminishing the experience. This isn’t surprising considering Samsung has gone with DTS’ competitor, Dolby, but it’s noteworthy. Regardless, Samsung’s HW-K950 sound bar offers a thrilling Atmos experience that really must be heard to appreciate. If you’ve got to have real Atmos surround sound in a small package — and you don’t mind dumping authentic DTS:X — the HW-K950 is a killer choice.
The best soundbar for looks and sound
Bose Soundtouch 300
Why you should buy it: Not only does the Soundtouch 300 sound great, it’s one of the best looking soundbars, too.
Who’s it for: Those who want a high-end soundbar with pleasing aesthetics.
How much will it cost: $700
Why we picked the Bose Soundtouch 300:
The Bose Soundtouch 300 can pump out impressively powerful sound, especially in the low-end range thanks to the included subwoofer, yet keeps dialog clear and intelligible. You’ll also find that the soundstage is wide and immersive, and thanks to Dolby Atmos support, the Soundtouch 300 will get you a state-of-the art surround setup. In the interest of fairness, however, it’s worth pointing out doesn’t perform too well as a purely music listening solution. Luckily, though, there are other recommendations on this list that can easily fill that gap. That said, for cinematic sound, the Soundtouch 300 is a great choice. If that all sounds like the qualities of a large, beefy device, you’ll be surprised to learn that the Soundtouch 300 is surprisingly svelt. While not a mini soundbar by any means, it nonetheless sports an unobtrusive profile, at about 38.5 inches wide, 2.25 inches tall, and 4.25 inches deep. You shouldn’t have trouble fitting this under a TV. Furthermore, while the overall design is tasteful and simple, the build quality is of note. The soundbar features a smooth and perforated metal grille, black glass top face, with minimal branding decals and recognizable yet simple icons with accompanied LEDs as an on-bar interface.
The best virtual surround soundbar
Why you should buy it: The Yamaha YSP-5600 is a big, powerful virtual soundbar that is well-equipped to give your home theater jaw-dropping 3D sound immersion.
Who’s it for: Those who want top notch virtual surround sound for both DTS and Dolby Atmos, and don’t want to clutter the house with a bunch of speakers and wires.
How much will it cost: $1,600
Why we picked the Yamaha YSP-5600:
A hulking presence that stands over 8 inches tall, the Yamaha Sound Projector 5600 (YSP-5600) isn’t your average soundbar — and it isn’t supposed to be. Loaded into this behemoth are 44 beam drivers, including a 12-pack of them pointed right at the ceiling to deliver the sense of height required by Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technologies. The system is flush with inputs including four HDMI ins and an ARC-enabled HDMI out, one Coax and two Optical digital inputs, infrared in/out, RCA analog input, and a subwoofer out. Most importantly, though, Yamaha has loaded some truly brilliant sound performance into its magic box. The beam drivers use your walls to bounce sound at the listening position for strikingly realistic surround sound immersion. If you’re looking for a singular home sound solution without the need for all those extra wires, speakers, and mess, the 5600 is an enticing way to go big for your home theater. If you can get it rigged up right, Yamaha’s YSP-5600 is the simplest way to plunge into the ear-opening world of 3D surround sound.
The best minimalist soundbar
Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+
Why you should buy it: The Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+ delivers big sound in a bar-only setup — no sub required.
Who’s it for: those who want the simplest possible setup.
How much will it cost: $430
Why we picked the Samsung HW-MS650 Sound +: While soundbars in general are simpler and smaller than a multi-speaker configuration, they generally involve multiple components. Whether that be a dedicated subwoofer or the rarer extra satellite speakers, soundbar setups are rarely just a soundbar, which can be frustrating for those who want the least intrusive package. Luckily, Samsung’s HW-MS650 Sound+ is exactly that — a sleek soundbar that doesn’t need extra components, but still packs auditory oomph to enhance your home theater. That design simplicity also extends to the minimalist remote, which is simple and intuitive to use, and the Smart Sound EQ system, which is one of the few push-button DSP features we think really does enhance the sound performance across formats and genres. There are tradeoffs for the MS650’s simplicity, such as diminished bass performance when compared to models with dedicated subs, and a lack of ability to fine-tune as much as we’d like due to the remote’s sparse controls. However, the HW-MS650 Sound+ is the perfect bar for those who want great sound from a simple setup, and no futzing about with remotes or peripherals.
The best soundbar for music
Why you should buy it: The Pioneer SP-SB23W is quick to setup, and provides a warm, organic, and detailed sound signature.
Who’s it for: Those looking for gorgeous sound for music and movies, without breaking the bank.
How much will it cost: $400
Why we picked the Pioneer SP-SB23W:
One of the best products of Pioneer’s collaboration with its former Chief Design Engineer Andrew Jones is this potent and musical soundbar. The SP-SB23W is a fantastic sound — err, “speaker”— bar, founded on a six pack of individually amplified drivers and a very capable wireless subwoofer. The stubby, yet high-riding bar rests in a handsome MDF cabinet lined with wood grain ripples, complementing the cubed subwoofer with a smart design. The cabinet helps the system integrate beautifully with a host of content, producing a smooth and natural sound signature built on creamy mids, musical bass, and richly-drawn dialog. The system sets up in minutes, including analog, digital optical, and Bluetooth connection. This baby is getting up there in years, and doesn’t have fancy new features like the latest high-performance Bluetooth codecs, Wi-Fi connection, ARC, or other more modern features we expect from the latest soundbars. If you’re not mounting it, the tall design might get in the way of your TV’s IR sensor, too. So why is the SP-SB23W still occupying an honored slot on our list? The same reason it’s still being stocked on shelves four years after its debut: It really does sound that good.
The best budget soundbar
Why you should buy it: The Vizio SB3621 provides good sound at a crazy-low price.
Who’s it for: The budget home theater buyer looking for solid performance and minimalist design.
How much will it cost: $150-180
Why we picked the Vizio SB3621:
Vizio’s SB3621 soundbar boasts performance and features that rival other models that cost two or three times as much. It can decode basic DTS and Dolby formats, and offers easy connection for your components via Bluetooth, 3.5mm Aux in, USB, coaxial, and optical digital inputs. There is also a wireless subwoofer included — something you often don’t get with a soundbar under the $200 price point. Not everything is gravy here, of course, namely Vizio’s convoluted display on the side, which consists of a row of lights that change to indicate … well, something, but it can be difficult to discern what exactly. At just $150, though, that’s not an issue that should detract from the overall experience. Most importantly, you simply won’t find a better performing soundbar at this price point, period.
The best mini sound bar
Polk Magnifi Mini
Why you should buy it: Small, sleek, and simple, this Mighty Mouse soundbar harbors a powerhouse of great sound within.
Who’s it for: Those who need something small and demure, or newcomers to the soundbar market who don’t want to spend a mint.
How much will it cost: $300
Why we picked the Polk Magnifi Mini:
No, really, this little guy is a soundbar. Despite its tiny frame and minimalist design, the Polk Magnifi Mini is a fully capable soundbar that won’t crowd your TV stand or your living room. Due to the size and angle of its six drivers, the Magnifi Mini produces a much bigger soundstage than its appearance would imply. We’re big fans of the included sub on this unit, too. Despite its lightweight design, it handles bass-heavy moments with power and musicality. All this isn’t to say that this bar is a viable alternative to a fully capable 5.1 surround system — in fact, despite Polk claiming the Magnifi can deliver 5.1 surround, the experience is much closer to a 3.1 setup. In addition, the midrange isn’t quite as clear or present as we’d like in quieter moments. However, don’t let these caveats turn you off to the Magnifi Mini — it’s an impressive piece of tiny tech that barely hits your wallet.
The best no-fuss soundbar
Why you should buy it: The Sonos Playbar features and performance grow through firmware updates.
Who’s it for: Users who want simple setup, multiroom functionality, and great sound.
How much will it cost: $700
Why we picked the Sonos Playbar:
The Sonos Playbar might be a few years old, but it’s still one of the most well-rounded soundbars we’ve come across. It has an expansive sound field with big, loud sound output and minimal distortion. The bar also sets up easily, and includes several wireless features, including Wi-Fi setup, wireless music streaming from apps on smart devices, and can be controlled via a smartphone app instead of relying on a dedicated remote. The bar will also auto-update its firmware over Wi-Fi, which will keep it up to date and enable updated features and functionality. There is one major setback to the Playbar’s design, and that’s its inputs — or lack thereof. There is just a single digital input on the Playbar and no analog inputs, which limits its functionality. While this is unfortunate, since the Playbar sounds so good, if you’re comfortable with the single input, you’ll find a lot to love here. Plus, there is the silver lining that a single input reduces the installation time and number of cables needed, thereby streamlining your setup.
The best flexible soundbar
Why you should buy it: The LG SH7B offers flexible control and setup options.
Who’s it for: Users who want finite control over their settings, Wi-Fi connection, and good sound at a nice price.
How much will it cost: $300-$500
Why we picked the LG SH7B:
Most soundbars are great for cinematic sound, but only a select few are great for music, too. The LG SH7B, which was developed by LG in partnership with Samsung, is one of them. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg here. The LG SH7B supports a myriad of connection types including HDMI, digital optical, 3.5mm, and Bluetooth, so you can get great sound from your media off just about any device you may own. The included Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections also enable connection to your home network for music streaming, and for easy linking with other LG wireless speakers to create a multiroom sound setup using LG’s MusicFlow system using the MusicFlow app. Another welcome feature is the ability to manipulate the subwoofer, treble, and bass levels with the included remote for easy EQ fine-tuning.
How we test
After giving a soundbar a thorough break-in period, we put it through a rigorous testing process that includes playing all relevant sources of content, including the latest Blu-rays with the highest resolution codecs from the likes of Dolby and DTS, as well as audio straight from a TV via HDMI and/or Optical Toslink output, including streaming services, broadcast TV, and audio apps. When relevant, we test wireless connections for stability and audio quality. We also place a high degree of importance on the musicality of any speaker, so plenty of music is played to gauge its finer performance aspects. Finally, we compare each soundbar with others at, above, and below its price/features class, and with similarly priced alternative sound solutions.
3 Technologies That Could Win the Battle Against Cybercrime
Considering how fast internet and wireless communication technologies advance, you would think that we’ve beaten cybercrime by now. Instead, the world continues to witness massive breaches after massive breaches that cost businesses and consumers trillions.
According to the Official 2017 Annual Cybercrime Report by the Herjavec Group, the cost of cybercrime is expected to reach $6 trillion annually by 2021 — that’s twice the recorded cost of $3 trillion in 2015. These estimations are based on the most recent year-over-year trends, growth in state-sponsored attacks and other historical cybercrime data.
When it comes to the actual incidences, the many, ugly forms of cybercrime came into full view — from “ransomware” to Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS attacks.
Make no mistake, strides are being taken by the government and cyber security firms to combat these threats. As of now, there are many ways for you to avert most forms of cyber attacks. It’s just that some organizations, like the National Health Service in Britain, fail to observe even the most basic of security practices, including keeping their software applications up-to-date.
And that’s exactly where businesses and individual users can make a difference — by being vigilant and proactive in their cyber security.
The internet is basically filled to the brim with resources that can teach you how to protect against cyber attacks. Better yet, innovators in spaces like blockchain and machine learning also present new opportunities that could potentially put a stop on the never-ending war against cybercrime.
1. Preventing zero-day attacks.
The most dangerous form of cyber attack is the one that you don’t see coming.
It’s reasonable to assume that your business network is already protected by your very own security software. This typically includes an antivirus, anti-malware and a web application firewall. However, these layers of defense depend on software updates that contain threat definitions, which will then enable them to detect and eliminate infections.
A “zero-day attack” is an exploit executed by hackers before these patches are rolled out. For example, if a developer releases an app with an unknown security flaw, hackers can take advantage of this vulnerability before it’s even discovered.
Today, cyber security enterprises and organizations are looking at machine learning as the potential, long-term solution to zero-day attacks. One particular example is the system built by a team at Arizona State University that monitors websites on the “deep web” that markets security exploits as a service. Using machine learning, the researchers were able to capture an average of 305 high-priority threat warnings each week.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are also known as the underlying technologies behind the Chronicle — a new cybersecurity company launched by Google X. Touted as a “digital immune system” by Google X chief Astro Teller, the platform presumably runs on a detection-based ecosystem that also utilizes the massive infrastructure of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
Although the nitty-gritty of the Chronicle product is still unclear, the product is positioned as a proactive threat prevention, analysis and intelligence platform. These are the kind of functionalities that wouldn’t be possible without some form of machine learning as the backbone.
2. Self-sovereign identities.
The internet is easily one of the most important inventions in the last generation. It propelled us into the future and now permeates every single facet of modern life, including, but not limited to business, education, entertainment and communications.
But as people grow more connected, bigger pieces of their identity are stored online, thanks to businesses, online services and government entities that collect personal and financial information.
Inadvertently, this created opportunities for hackers to commit “identity theft,” which can incur huge losses to consumers. According to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study, consumers lost to the tune of $16 billion in identity fraud damages.
Some of the ways hackers can steal sensitive information is through phishing, website spoofing and card skimming. The most lucrative method, however, is to breach a central repository with a deep pool of identities. One example is the infamous Equifax data breach where over 145 million Americans had their personal information stolen.
With a self-sovereign identity, identity theft can be averted by granting the full control and possession of identities to their rightful owners. A blockchain system like Decentralized.id or DID, for example, allows users to store their personal information on a decentralized, public record. They can then access and verify their identity to avail services via their personal device.
For example, suppose you signed up for a subscription service. Traditionally, your account details will be stored in the company’s own database, leaving you with only your login credentials for access.
A self-sovereign identity, however, is stored in an immutable blockchain that you can access and verify through your own device. It can be a driver’s license, bank account or online account information. Once stored and encrypted in a blockchain, platforms like DID allow you to manage your IDs and use them for various transactions, like logging on to web services or making purchases.
3. DDoS mitigation.
Finally, DDoS attacks are the most common form of cyber attack, and they still present a big problem to businesses in 2018.
The 2017 Worldwide DDoS Attacks & Cyber Insights Report indicates that businesses lose up to $2.5 million per DDoS attack. Apart from revenue losses, it can create a window for further breaches, such as data leaks and malware infections. And as a result, it may also cause irreversible damage to the company’s reputation.
A DDoS attack works by flooding an online service with traffic using a network of computers infected with Trojans, also known as “botnets.” This would consume most, if not all, of the available bandwidth that the server can support, thus, denying access to real users.
Due to their compounding effects, DDoS-as-a-service providers see up to 95 percent in profits in deep web markets, according to Kaspersky Labs. Fortunately, these attacks can now be easily fended off with DDoS protection services like Cloudflare. There are also web hosting services that feature network-level flood protection, screening and blocking traffic from suspicious sources.
Ultimately, all it takes is a proactive approach towards cyber security. Throughout the war against cybercrime, there never really was a shortage of security tools that can respond and repair the damage done by cyber-attacks. But with the technologies mentioned above, you can assume a proactive stance and take the battle to the hackers.
3 Biggest Cybersecurity Threats Facing Small Businesses Right Now
Technology has quickly engulfed the world around us. Everything we do, both at a business and personal level, seems to involve technology in one way or another. However, as that happens, small businesses continue to be a top target for hackers, with the number of organizations hit by cybercrime rising each year. According to The Ponemon Institute’s 2017 State of Cybersecurity in Small & Medium-Sized Businesses report, 61 percent of businesses experienced a cyber attack in 2017, signifying a 6 percent increase from the previous year’s 55 percent. Data breaches were up to 54 percent from 50 percent in 2016.
This year promises faster internet, more connectivity, and unfortunately, more cybersecurity threats. Threat Horizon 2018, from the Threat Horizon series by the non-profit association Information Security Forum (ISF), shows that with the growing connectivity, there will be an increase in the information security threat landscape.
1. Internet of Things (IoT) leaks.
As real-time data collection becomes increasingly important, the IoT is growing too. From monitoring traffic and collecting real-time patient information to optimizing the uptime of industrial equipment, organizations are massively acquiring IoT devices. However, these devices aren’t always secure. This creates a potential backdoor into the organization, warns the ISF.
IoT works so great because it’s comprised of dozens of devices that hide in plain sight. Be it alarm systems, GPS, web cameras, HVAC or medical devices, such as pacemakers, it’d be hard to guess which of these devices are even connected to the internet in the first place. But since IoT devices lack built-in security, they are often easy targets by hackers.
Attackers usually use automated programs to locate IoT devices. Once located, attackers attempt to connect to the device using the default admin credentials. And since most users don’t change them, this is usually a success for the attacker. Once in, the hackers can easily install malware, basically taking the system under their control.
Daniel Soderberg, CEO of EyeOnPass, advises changing all passwords immediately when you acquire a new device. “I wouldn’t operate any device with the default password,” he warns. “Default passwords are usually printed and freely available, exposing the user to all manner of cyber dangers.”
2. Opaque algorithms.
The Threat Horizon 2018 report also warns of the increasing using of algorithms. As organizations continue to fully trust algorithms with the operation and decisions concerning critical systems, the report says, they lose the visibility into the functioning and interaction of their systems.
The lack of proper and transparent interactions between algorithms poses a security risk in case unintended interactions between algorithms create incidents — like the U.S. Treasury Bonds “flash crash” of October 2014 that saw bond yields drastically drop briefly before the algorithms corrected themselves.
“We know they’re going to do some quirky stuff from time-to-time,” says Steve Durbin, managing director of the ISF. “You need to understand some of the exposure you have to algorithmic systems. We’re building more and more of our systems on top of algorithms — industrial control, critical infrastructure. There’s an increasing risk in this space we need to be addressing.”
To be able to manage these risks, organizations need to have a human monitoring the execution of operations and decisions often left to algorithms. The report advises organizations to know the risks that come with algorithm-controlled systems and know when to involve a human. Also, they must update their code maintenance policies and identify alternatives to treating algorithm-related incidents, especially when insurance isn’t an option.
3. Security researchers are being silenced.
Security researchers are often the whistleblowers. They impart knowledge about digital vulnerabilities, making sure systems are secure and users’ data remains in the intended hands. When they are silenced, either by the government or private companies, it’s often a loss for all users.
With software replacing hardware in most major sectors, users and businesses depend on researchers to unearth vulnerabilities and make them public as part of ongoing efforts to improve security. However, lately, manufacturers have been responding to such actions by taking legal action instead of working with the research to fix those vulnerabilities. The ISF predicts that this trend will only grow; exposing customers to vulnerabilities that manufacturers have decided to hide rather than fix.
To protect themselves, the ISF advises technology buyers, which include small businesses, to insist on transparency during the procurement process. It advises manufacturers to take it more positively when vulnerabilities are found within their systems by rewarding the researchers rather than attempting to punish them.
Considering that a researcher might find a vulnerability in a tool in 2018 and not report it, it’s imperative for the small business owner to take a step further in protecting themselves, even if it means working with other business in order to come up with an affordable solution.
Transparency is key.
When it comes to security, transparency has a great role to play. But this part has long been left for the security professionals. If all users reflected some degree of transparency, security in the cyberspace would be easier to achieve. If the non-technical managers and leaders understood the impact of good and poor protection, they would use the cyber assets they have more responsibly. Employees would be more careful about the devices they introduce to the network.
As the business owner, it’s your job to carefully manage the inventory of the connected IoT devices. “Some things have internet capabilities that you didn’t ask for and will never use,” says Leon Adato of SolarWinds adding that any devices that don’t need to be connected to the internet should be disconnected.
The Big 3 Tech Categories That Will Contribute the Most to Your Startup's Success in 2018
Few startups these days can exist — let alone succeed — without technology. In fact, Forrester’s mid-year tech outlook, published in September, predicted that tech spending would increase across multiple sectors in 2018. Theoutlook forecast that 4 percent more would be spent across the board for global purchases of software, hardware and technology services by corporations and government agencies alike.
That’s the kind of growth that will push the tech industry past the $3 trillion mark for the first time in history.
But as each new day seems to herald a new technology that promises to make marketing, communication and creativity ever more dynamic, entrepreneurs may be left wondering which technologies they should invest in — or whether they should invest. Here’s how they should form those decisions:
Embrace the future of technology — it’s already here.
Effectively utilizing a technology is about having a great idea that genuinely deploys that tech platform in an effective way and bolsters a startup’s productivity and execution.
Trying to shoehorn Blockchain or voice recognition into an app that has no use for either technology in the first place is a worthless endeavor. On the other hand, when it comes to Blockchain, you should think about the coded smart contracts it facilitates and how those contracts can execute themselves when the agreed-upon conditions are met.
Blockchain, then, is a useful tool for entrepreneurs working with vendors, because the blockchain network can store these contracts securely and allow both parties to obtain proof of the agreement any time they want.
AI developments are useful tools as well: They’ve streamlined many fundamental office tasks by making devices self-manageable. Examples include printers that can reorder their own paper and ink, and computers that can debug their own software.
As with any product, of course, entrepreneurs must first understand the problem they need to solve by surveying the landscape of technologies out there to understand each one’s benefits, implementation requirements and drawbacks. Next, entrepreneurs must select the tool or tools best suited for their intended application, then consider the existing scenarios in their businesses that each new technology might supplement or improve upon.
Think about these big three technologies shaping startup success in 2018.
In the end, onboarding new technologies is about problem-solving. While the problems you face may feel entirely idiosyncratic, the following three primary technologies that I deem most helpful to startups in the coming year are pretty universal.
1. Communication platforms. Communication is a key for any startup, especially as employees increasingly work remotely, as the New York Times has pointed out. Communication technologies, in fact, offer a host of benefits, from increased productivity to tighter teams and the ability to foster better company cultures. These technologies, further, can help entrepreneurs keep budgets intact, a good enough reason alone why communications platforms can be fruitful.
Messaging services like Slack or HipChat are great for fostering real-time communications when your teams work outside the office. And tools such as Basecamp and other project management solutions streamline operations regardless of your staffers’ location, while LinkedIn and Ripple enhance connect individuals on a more personal level.
2. Artificial intelligence. For computing power that boosts the abilities of your at-home workforce, look no further than AI. AI-driven technology is a must on any tech list for the coming year because the category is expanding so rapidly. As data becomes increasingly unwieldy, deep-learning techniques are evolving to process that data into insights that even remote employees can use.
To this end, Google Home and Amazon Alexa created the virtual assistant. While the ability to interact with devices through the internet has long existed, users needed a shared vernacular (“Hey, Google!”) to make it part of their daily habits. That’s what Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa have provided.
In the same context, research from McKinsey has suggested that 45 percent of work activities can be automated using existing technologies coupled with AI. For example, the same voice-recognition software utilized by smart devices will likely increase productivity and efficiency once users no longer have to learn keyboard controls and command-line prompts, or conduct manual inputs.
3. Blockchain. The latest cryptocurrency crash may have entrepreneurs wondering whether Bitcoin will even make it through the year, but Blockchain itself — which can do much more than financial transactions — isn’t going anywhere. This technology has been around for a while, but it’s having a heyday now. Market Reports Hub forecasts that the market will exceed $2 billion by 2021.
What will happen in 2018 most likely is an explosion of companies trying to roll Blockchain into their products, or have it be their product. By the end of the year, we’ll also likely witness a major fallout because only a few of those companies will survive, as is the case with anything that’s investment-friendly.
Still, where Blockchain really shines is its ability to foster trust between organizations. The secure nature of the Blockchain ledger means that transactions that formerly required intermediaries no longer do. Instead, “ownership” can now be tokenized, and its digital life cycle instantly tracked. And that opens up big security opportunities for intrepreneurial individuals and businesses. The result: Blockchain portends far-reaching implications extending well beyond the monetary transactions so talked about in the news cycle.
Overall, all this forward-looking technology may seem like a daunting undertaking for startups and entrepreneurs already trying to navigate marketing, sales, communication, finances and creativity. But whatever your own industry and its journey, understanding the tech landscape and capitalizing on these three most important technologies during 2018 will help you make this the year of new and refined success.
Why Just Having a Website Isn’t Enough Anymore
As a small business owner, you’re probably aware by this point that you need a website to succeed and build your business. Sure, there are a few businesses out there who can get by without them, like successful independent restaurants that thrive on word-of-mouth, but these tend to be the exceptions, rather than the rule.
In 2017, 71% of small businesses have a website, and 92% of those without a website say they will have one before 2019. With numbers like those, small businesses can’t expect that just having a website will give them a competitive edge. Now, small business websites need to accomplish more than just being a placeholder—they need to provide value to customers. If you’re looking to up your website game, here’s what successful small business websites are doing to rise above the competition.
Focus on design and speed
A beautiful website that loads quickly will make a good first impression on visitors and will put you ahead of the business owners who last had their websites designed in the 90s. It’s not difficult to create a modern, beautiful website thanks to pre-designed themes on sites like Squarespace and WordPress, and you can always hire someone to help you if you’re not confident in your own skills.
Ensuring every page of your website loads quickly may seem insignificant, but people have very short attention spans, and a few seconds of wait time can turn visitors away. 40% of people will click away from a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load—and 47% expect it to load in 2 seconds or less. Load times matter!
Speak to a specific audience
Knowing who your ideal customers are is key to creating an effective website. Your messaging can’t possibly speak to everyone at once, so you need to know who makes up your target audience before you create (or redesign) your site. Major League Baseball, for example, noticed that they weren’t attracting many young fans, so they began to focus on their website, making it more attractive to younger generations.
They started to offer streaming, making it easier for fans to watch and engage, and ultimately making mlb.com the second-most viewed sports site in 2015. Knowing and catering to their target audience made the difference for the organization. They may not be a small business, but these principles apply to organizations big and small.
Just as many small businesses are getting used to the idea of having an online presence, many users are shifting from desktops and laptops to mobile devices much of the time. Basekit reports that 91% of small business websites are not optimized for mobile devices, which indicates a huge gap between what users want and what businesses are offering. Small businesses can get a competitive edge by ensuring that they have a responsive design that works just as well on mobile as on a desktop.
Offering new options
Small businesses can give customers even more convenient options by thinking about the future. Offering mobile wallet options for payment in-store is a great way to make payment convenient, but there are even more purchasing options that customers are interested in.
For example, have you ever considered selling used online? If you’re older, that may not sound interesting yet the younger generations have formed what is now called the sharing economy, with 50% purchasing used or second-hand goods online. If you’re looking to get a competitive advantage, you should consider embracing such emerging trends early.
Integrated with marketing efforts
Sure, the sandwich board is an effective marketing tool for bringing in customers walking by your store. But what about customers who might only find you online? They’re not likely to find your site if you don’t do any digital marketing or local SEO (search engine optimization). If no one can find your site, they’re not going to buy from you—and the only way to lead them to your site is by using marketing techniques like social media, email and content marketing. Most people now use the Internet like a giant phone book, so your visibility online is very important.
An ever-changing landscape
If you’ve only just gotten your first website, it may seem frustrating that it won’t be enough on its own to bring in significant new business. The world of digital marketing is an ever-changing landscape that rewards innovation and early adoption. The good news is that there is a lot of information out there, and if you put in a little effort, you can easily rise above the competition and create a successful digital presence for your business.
Learn the latest trends, insights and best practices from the brightest minds in media and technology. Sign up for SMW Insider to watch full-length sessions from official Social Media Week conferences live and on-demand.
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