By John K. Higgins
Jul 30, 2020 3:42 PM PT
United States government agencies will remain active in the information technology market, despite the impact of COVID-19 on agency operations. In fact, there is some evidence that the occurrence of the virus has spurred agencies to improve IT resources.
For example, the General Services Administration (GSA) in early July launched a new contracting vehicle offering a potential US$50 billion in federal acquisition of IT products and services. IT providers will have until Aug. 5, 2020 to apply for participation in the program.
In addition, GSA extended an existing IT procurement program and added $7 billion to the program’s potential contract coverage. Both programs are directed to small and disadvantaged IT providers with a Small Business Administration status known as “8-A” companies.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present new challenges and obstacles to many of GSA’s partners in the small business community, we are doing all we can to help keep this important part of the federal IT ecosystem vibrant and successful,” said Laura Stanton, GSA’s acting assistant commissioner of the Office of IT Category, in a recent blog posting.
“As we all navigate new realities and requirements, GSA is working to ensure small businesses have the opportunities to thrive,” she said.
Streamlined Contracting Promised
Both the current and new information technology contracting programs are classified as Government Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) vehicles.
Under the GWAC concept, vendors register as qualified information technology providers for the relevant contract vehicle. To quality, companies must go through a rigorous evaluation process which includes meeting standards for technical competency and demonstrating that a vendor is “responsible and responsive.”
Additionally, the company must be able to show why its pricing should be considered fair and reasonable, according to Larry Allen, managing director of the federal market access practice at BDO-USA, which provides contract advisory services.
The one-time vendor qualification process makes contracting more efficient for both agencies and IT providers. Once qualified, vendors become eligible to compete for separate specific “task order” projects from multiple federal agencies, with awards made on the basis of project requirements.
However, vendors who qualify for a GWAC program are not guaranteed any real business. “What they’ve really won is the right to compete for business that federal agencies wish to place,” Allen told the E-Commerce Times.
Vendors Look to the STARS for Business
The total of $57 billion in potential GWAC contracts will be administered through two procurement vehicles designated as Streamlined Technology Application Resource for Services (STARS) programs. GSA sets funding “ceilings” for each program indicating the total value of eligible contracts. Actual funding for a specific task order is provided by the federal agency using the contract vehicle.
Here is how the additional contract opportunities will work:
GSA STARS II Contract: Since the beginning of this program in 2011, GSA has made $15 billion worth of contracts eligible for participation. More than 50 federal agencies have used the vehicle. In late June the agency once again raised the ceiling for the program by $7 billion worth of eligible contracting while extending the duration of the program.
As a result of the extension, new STARS II task order contracts may be awarded through Aug. 30, 2021. Work may continue through June 30, 2022. The type of IT work generally is limited to custom programming, system design, facilities management, and other computer related services.
GSA noted that 787 “industry partners” (i.e. eligible vendors) will remain on the STARS II contractor roster during the procurement extension period.
GSA STARS III Contract: When this new, $50 billion program opens later this year, it will be operated in similar fashion to STARS II. But in addition to a significant boost in the funding level, the scope of work will be broadened. The program will support “customized IT services-based solutions which can be tailored to meet an agency’s unique mission needs,” GSA said.
Project scope will include “new and emerging technologies which may evolve over the life of the contract,” such as artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and virtual reality.
A significant element is that the program will be open to a wide swath of potential vendors. Current vendors for STARS II will need to re-qualify for STARS III. “STARS III will offer updated technology solutions, like a greater range of cloud-based offerings, cybersecurity solutions, and newer commercial IT products. It may also feature new contractors,” Allen noted.
GSA went through an internal business case process to determine whether the creation of STARS III was justified. The business case was approved, and on July 6, 2020 GSA issued a request for proposals (RFP) for IT vendors to submit their qualifications.
Disappointing Issue Emerges
The good news for vendors related to the STARS programs is somewhat offset by GSA’s recent decision to terminate another GWAC program. After reviewing the “Alliant 2 Small Business” vehicle, which also covered IT procurements, GSA closed the program.
According to industry sources, the administration of the program led to a significant number of challenges, or “protests” of contract awards. GSA’s explanation for the cancellation was that since the program was launched in 2018, “the federal government’s requirements have evolved.”
The Alliant small business program and both STARS programs “address different types of small businesses, and are different programs,” said Allen Hill, GSA’s acting deputy assistant commissioner, in the Office of IT Category at GSA.
“Each GWAC is a separate entity and program. While the Alliant-2 GWAC had a $15 billion ceiling, no funds were obligated on the program. GSA is working on a new approach for small business GWACs to strengthen, innovate, and better respond to changing technology needs and security threats,” Hill told the E-Commerce Times.
“I think GSA did make the right decision. While there are few public details around the protests, they dragged on for considerably more time than most. The costs and time invested were considerable. This had the net effect of making the pricing and solutions offered under the original RFP stale and obsolete. GSA would have had to scrap everything and start over anyway,” said BDO’s Allen.
More Is Needed
The recent changes GSA has made are part of a major effort to revise and upgrade the agency’s information technology contract process for small and disadvantaged providers.
“GSA is committed to finding ways for our GWACs to reflect the current IT marketplace so that we can maximize the opportunities,” for such companies, said GSA’s Stanton. One goal is to create opportunities in such areas as cybersecurity, emerging technology, and IT supply chain risk management.
As salutary as these proposed changes might be, GSA still has more work to do according to Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. GSA needs to be more specific on why it cancelled Alliant-2 for small business contract, and to “publicly and proactively” engage with the small business community on the content and timing of the agency’s future plans, he said.
The current uncertainty about GSA’s contract portfolio is “already roiling the market,” Waldron said in a recent blog posting. The Coalition offered to work with the agency to address continuing contracting issues.
13 Robust Newsletter Plugins for WordPress
WordPress is a highly customizable content management system. With the right plugins, it can be a robust email marketing platform to create a newsletter and build a list of subscribers.
Here is a list of newsletter plugins for WordPress. There are plugins to design and publish newsletters, manage subscribers, track campaigns, and build subscriber lists using opt-in and lead generation tools.
Newsletter Plugins for WordPress
The Newsletter Plugin is a newsletter and email marketing system for a WordPress site. It features a responsive email drag-and-drop composer, unlimited subscribers with statistics, unlimited emails with tracking, advanced targeting, and more. Add features through premium extensions, such as automated newsletters from blog posts, autoresponders, sophisticated collection and targeting statistics, and advanced integrations. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $65 for all extensions and one year of updates.
SendPress lets you easily build email newsletters in WordPress. Import post content from your site and schedule newsletter deployments. Create custom templates. Track opens, clicks, and more. SendPress features customizable templates, unlimited subscribers, and single and double opt-in, among other benefits. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $39 per year.
Sumo provides tools to capture email addresses to grow subscribers. Use List Builder to create pop-ups that appear on clicks, timers, articles, and before people leave. Create call-to-action landing pages, customizable scroll boxes, and smart bars to capture subscribers without disrupting their experience. Integrates with major email services and, also, with WooCommerce to create unique offers and discounts along with forms to increase average order value and reduce cart abandonment. Price: Basic is free for up to 10,000 email subscribers per month. Premium plans start at $39 per month.
MailPoet lets you build, schedule, and send newsletters without leaving your WordPress admin. Manage subscribers and subscriber lists. Create automatic emails to send new post notifications. MailPoet includes audience engagement stats and WooCommerce email customizer. Premium version includes tracking, white-labeling, and same-day support. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $13 per month. Premium version is free for fewer than 1,000 subscribers.
Mailchimp for WordPress helps you grow your Mailchimp lists and create better newsletters. Create attractive opt-in forms or integrate with existing forms on your site, such as comment, contact, or checkout forms. Premium add-on includes advanced integration with WooCommerce, email notifications, and detailed reports and statistics. Price: Free. Premium plans start at $59 per year.
Email Subscribers by Icegram lets you collect leads, send automated notification emails, create and send newsletters, and manage it all in one single place. Add images, infographics, links, and content to a newsletter. Insert a subscription box anywhere on your website. Send the newsletters manually or automatically. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $9 per month.
Newsletters by Tribulant Software is a full-featured newsletter plugin for WordPress to manage email subscribers and publish newsletters. It features templates, queue and scheduling, bounced-email management, opt-in embedding, offsite subscription forms, email tracking, autoresponders, and more. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $65 for one website and one year of updates.
Bloom is an email opt-in and lead generation plugin for WordPress. Pick from six display types, including pop-ups, fly-ins, and required opt-ins to unlock content. Target or exclude specific posts and pages and display unique forms with unique offers based on visitor location and interaction. Integrates with 19 email-marketing platforms. Price: $89 per year.
OptinMonster is a pop-up builder and marketing plugin to increase your newsletter subscribers. Create custom pop-ups, newsletter opt-in forms, slide-ins pop-ups, announcement bars, and other high converting lead generation forms within minutes. Display personalized messages to new or returning visitors to unlock the highest conversion potential from every website visit. Use A/B split testing and pop-up analytics to make data-driven decisions on what works best. Price: Plans start at $14 per month.
Mailster lets you easily create, manage, and send newsletter campaigns. Track and analyze your campaigns and subscribers. Mailster stores all your subscribers within your WordPress installation. Features autoresponder, real-time analytics, unlimited subscribers and forms, custom segmentation, more than 80 templates, and integrations with dozens of plugins and services. Price: $59 for six months of support.
Jackmail allows you to create newsletters without leaving your WordPress dashboard and send them with a built-in SMTP server. Create segments in your lists and send personalized campaigns. Jackmail features a drag-and-drop editor, contact manager, detailed statistics, WooCommerce integration, opt-in forms, widgets, 48 templates, and more. Price: Free up to 500 emails. Premium plans start at $69 per month.
Popup Builder is a flexible tool to create and customize a subscription pop-up for your newsletter. Create and manage as many pop-ups as you want. Choose between several themes. Set location, animation effect, and trigger. Send newsletter campaigns right from Popup Builder. Pro version features WooCommerce integration, autoresponders, age restriction pop-up, countdown pop-up, MailChimp pop-up, and advanced targeting. Price: Basic is free. Pro is $31.95 for two websites.
MailOptin is a plugin to build forms, collect leads, register users, and create and send email newsletters. Send event-triggered newsletters, such as new post notifications. Display signup forms, targeted messages, and calls-to-action with pop-ups, forms, a notification bar, and slide-in and sidebar widgets. Use the premium plan to build segmented lists and increase automation with lead-tagging and integrations. Integrates with popular email marketing software providers and customer management platforms. Price: Plans start at $79 per year.
SEO How-to, Part 11: Mitigating Risk
The risk to organic search performance from altering a website usually comes from changes to content, linking structures, or underlying technology. With careful planning and execution, however, you can mitigate the risk from those changes and increase the likelihood of better rankings.
This is the 11th installment in my “SEO How-to” series. Previous installments are:
In “Part 6,” I explained how keyword research could identify potential ranking improvements. But changing content — title tags, body copy, descriptions — based on that research carries a risk. As such, it’s essential to mitigate the risk and improve the chances of a performance increase.
First, identify all the pages that rank for the words and phrases that you’re planning to change. Then create a keyword map by assigning variations on the new keyword theme for each page based on the research.
Avoid radical keyword changes to pages that are already ranking well.
Every page should have a reason for existing — something that no other page says. If it duplicates a keyword theme, perhaps the page isn’t necessary. Consider merging with its equivalent via a 301 redirect.
The level of risk you’re assuming is equal to a page’s traffic from organic search. It’s possible to attempt to optimize a page and lose all the traffic. The reward you’re hoping for is represented by the number of searches per month for the new keywords.
Identifying risk from removing pages is easier. Organic search traffic to those pages will stop. To mitigate, 301 redirect the removed URLs to relevant remaining pages. That will preserve the authority of the deleted pages while strengthening the remaining ones.
Changing Linking Structures
The primary navigation structures across your site — such as in the header and footer — are critical for passing link authority, which helps your pages rank organically. Thus removing links from those navigation structures requires caution bordering on obsession.
It’s difficult to predict how removing a link will affect a page’s performance. It’s best to prepare for the worst case. Identify the traffic and revenue of the destination page. The higher the amounts, the more cautious you must be.
Mitigating that risk can be difficult. It often requires discussing with the staff that seeks the removal — typically user experience, creative, or management teams. Determine why the link needs to change or be removed: Is there a strong business reason? If not, don’t be shy about showing your performance data and keyword research to insist that the link remains.
If the removal is required — after all, sometimes other priorities outweigh organic search — consider ways to overcome.
For example, if user experience data suggests that simpler header navigation could drive a 10-percent increase in sales, perhaps the critical links could be included in a new drop-down menu, thereby simplifying the navigation while preserving the links. Another option is to move the links to the footer.
However, if they must be entirely removed from the header and footer, can the links be inserted in other places, such as related content? You probably wouldn’t save 100 percent of your organic performance, but it should help.
It could also be an excellent time to boost your content marketing efforts to encourage new external links to the pages.
Technical changes can likewise introduce risk to organic search performance. These include everything from switching ecommerce platforms to the everyday decisions of your developers, such as code upgrades. Even design choices such as where to place text and how to manage it can impact organic search performance.
As with content and linking changes, it’s important to understand what the technical change will affect.
Some technology impacts the ability of search bots to find, crawl, and index your content. Platforms and code, as examples, can lock bots out of a site — and thus lock the site out of search results.
Examples of these gating technologies include:
- Links coded without anchor tags, href attributes, and URLs.
- Links that result in error codes such as a 404 file not found and 500 internal server error.
- Accidental disallow commands in the robots.txt file.
After they crawl your site, search engine bots need to index the pages. All of the text must reside in HTML, not as images, audio, or videos.
Describe your images in alt attributes. Offer transcripts of audios and videos. And above all, don’t embed text in images without repeating it in HTML or CSS.
Consider an Audit
ZEEL Named One of the Fastest Growing Companies in the Americas in the…
“We are truly honored to be recognized by such a venerated news institution as the Financial Times, said Samer Hamadeh, Founder and CEO of Zeel. “The FT not only has a deep understanding of what it takes to build a great business, but also how to meet and overcome the unprecedented challenges posed
NEW YORK (PRWEB) August 10, 2020
Zeel has been recognized as one of the “Fastest Growing Companies” by the Financial Times in its inaugural FT Americas “Fastest Growing Companies” list. The ranking lists the top 500 companies in the Americas that have achieved the highest growth in revenues between 2015 and 2018, with Zeel ranking #173 on the list.
The FT Americas list notably comes at a challenging and uncertain time for the global economy. “We are truly honored to be recognized by such a venerated news institution as the Financial Times, said Samer Hamadeh, Founder and CEO of Zeel. “The FT not only has a deep understanding of what it takes to build a great business, but also how to meet and overcome the unprecedented challenges posed by this pandemic. We have always worked to balance industry-leading technology with the best possible customer experience. This unusual time has given our team the opportunity to truly innovate. The entrepreneurial spirit is never more evident than during times of crisis, so particularly now, we are proud of this recognition from such a prestigious organization.”
The FT list was compiled with Statista, a research company, and ranks entrants from across the Americas by compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in revenue between 2015 and 2018. Additional criteria includes independent companies headquartered in one of 20 American countries with revenue of at least $100,000 generated in 2015, at least $1.5m generated in 2018, revenue growth between 2015 and 2018 that was primarily organic (i.e. “internally” stimulated). The technology sector – which includes Zeel –is led in large partby the US and accounts for a quarter of the overall list.
A high-growth Inc. 500 global wellness brand, Zeel created Massage On Demand® in 2012 and was the first company to launch same-day, in-home massage through their award-winning app for iOS and Android. Today, Zeel offers best-in-class wellness services to companies, spas, hotels, and individual customers. Recently surpassing more than 1.5M appointments, Zeel has been named one of the “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America” by Entrepreneur and one of the fastest-growing companies in the country by Inc. Magazine. The Zeel platform is accessed by more than 11,000 licensed massage therapists, assisted stretch professionals, yoga instructors, and mindfulness experts, delivering wellness services to homes and corporate headquarters around the country. Zeel has received special industry recognition for Zeel Hospitality, a software-based staffing solution for hundreds of hotels and spas nationwide. In March 2020, the company launched Zeel Virtual Wellness, offering corporate partners guided stretch, yoga, ergonomics coaching and mindfulness, accessed remotely and led by experienced wellness professionals.
About the Financial Times & Fastest Growing Companies List
The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading news organizations, recognized internationally for its authority, integrity and accuracy. It is part of Nikkei, Inc., which provides a broad range of information, news and services for the global community. The FT Americas’ Fastest Growing Companies 2020 is a list of the top 500 companies in the Americas that have achieved the highest growth in revenues between 2015 and 2018. The ranking was created through a complex procedure. Although the search was very extensive, the ranking does not claim to be complete, as some companies did not want to make their figures public or did not participate for other reasons. The project was advertised online and in print, allowing all eligible companies to register via the websites created by Statista and the Financial Times, and additionally promoted through the South American edition of El País. Through research in company databases and other public sources, Statista has identified tens of thousands of companies in the Americas as potential candidates for the FT ranking. These companies were invited to participate in the competition by post, email and telephone. The application phase ran from October 1 2019 to January 31 2020. The submitted revenue figures had to be certified by the CFO, CEO or a member of the executive committee of the company.
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