Author Archives: Dave Roberts

The Golden Ratio–Is It Relevant?

The Golden Ratio

I remember first hearing about the golden ratio in high school geometry class, when I didn’t pay attention.  So I had to learn it again.  It turns out that there are certain proportions that are more attractive to the eye, perhaps because we see them in nature, perhaps because we see them in human creations.  Knowing about these proportions can help us design an attractive Web site.  The golden ratio is perhaps the most important of these rules of thumb.

This figure is used in Wikipedia’s definition of the golden ratio.  In the figure, a and b are related in the golden ratio when the ratio of a to b is the same as the ratio of a + b to a.

This works out to a ratio of 1.618….  It’s an irrational number that has no exact decimal representation.

However, what all this means is that the shorter side is just under 2/3 as long as the longer side.

In Nature

There’s been a lot of research that the golden ratio occurs in many places in nature.  Adolf Zeising found the golden ratio in the arrangement of leaves and branches along the stems of plants.  He went on to discover the golden ratio in other areas such as the geometry of crystals.  He went on to decide that the golden ratio was some sort of universal law that permeates all structures.  We don’t have to accept Zeising’s law, though, to observe the golden ratio in nature.

In Design

The golden ratio is commonly used in the design of our buildings and everyday items.  The shapes of postcards, playing cards, light switch plates and many other common objects have these proportions.  Le Corbusier, the famous Swiss architect, centered his designs on harmony and proportion.  For him, the golden ratio was a guiding principle.  His Modulor system was based on the golden ratio.  We also know that we see the golden ratio applied commonly in architecture that we see every day.

What This Means to Us

What does this mean for a Web site?  It’s clear that rectangles with the short side about 2/3 as long as the long side are at least thought by many to be the most appealing form.  The most evident way to apply this is for graphics on a site.  For either vertical or horizontal layouts, make the shorter side about 2/3 as long as the longer site.  This is a proportion that your readers will find comfortable, and they’ll be more comfortable with your message as a result.

It also applies to text on the Web.  A good maximum vertical height for a paragraph is about 2/3 of the width of a line of text.  If it’s longer than this, it’ll have a less pleasant appearance and it’ll be less likely to be read.  In addition to providing a good appearance, this breaks your text into bite-sized pieces that are easier and more likely to be read.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to the golden ratio for imagery, video display areas and text areas of your site.

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SEO Myths

In 1998 when I started this business, SEO was my goal.  I wanted to learn all about how to make sites rank well in search results, and then focus on that discipline.  As it has turned out, SEO is still the most important thing I do; but the discipline is now much broader, and needs to be dealt with as part of a more general campaign of making a site an effective marketing vehicle.  Which is why the company is now called Web Marketing Advantage!

In general, the evolution of SEO has been from a series of tricks to fool search engines about the content of a site, into working with search engines to provide what search engines want to see, in a form so that they will recognize that what they want is actually on the site.  Myths remain about SEO, that are commonly the residue of the old “tricks” approach.  Today, there aren’t single tricks as much as there are a lot of techniques to help search engines recognize what’s actually on the site.

Today, my form of “evolved SEO” could include advice about site design; I would recommend that you have your site built with WordPress because there are so many good tools to promote a WordPress site; I’ll recommend that you start a blog and help you promote the blog.  So today’s SEO isn’t just tricking the search engines any more.

Like all of my discussions about Web marketing, I talk about Google as though it’s the only one that matters.  In a recent survey, Google had 67 percent of the search market in the US, and above 90 percent in Europe.  For mobile search, Google’s share is even higher, at 83%.  You could work just for share of Google traffic because of its market dominance; but in addition, because of its market dominance, other search engines tend to follow Google’s lead, so they mostly work the way Google does.  For both reasons, then, if you rank well in Google search results you’ll likely rank well in most other search engines’ results as well.

Here are some popular myths:

Content is King

Bill Gates originally said that content is king, back in 1996.  He expected that the rise of the Internet and social networks would provide great opportunities to people and institutions who provided valuable content.  Indeed, we see this happening today, where Web site content is an important business asset.

However, content alone isn’t king.  If your site has a lot of great content, and Google doesn’t find it, then it won’t help your ranking in search results.  The Googlebot that scans your site is just a computer program, and it has a lot of sites to scan, so it can’t do a lot when it’s scanning your site.  It’s going to react to some fairly simple cues to content, and it’s important to provide those cues.  And to avoid warning signals that the Googlebot might use to identify attempts to fool it.

This, of course, is good news for people who do SEO, because it provides a reason for them to be employed.  By understanding how Google (and its ilk) consider your site, they (and I!) can ensure that the valuable content you provide will give you the search engine results you deserve.  And draws customers as it should.

Keyword Optimization is the Focus of SEO

We used to work to find out the most important keyword or two in a business area, and then go all out to rank well for that keyword.  Google understood just individual words, so we had to deal with them that way too.  We’d put an important word in the first paragraph, in a few other paragraphs, and again in the last paragraph.

Today, Google understands more than single words.  Using techniques like latent semantic indexing, it has learned about synonyms that tie together in a concept.  What this lets you do is now is to write for readers and less for search engines, seeking to use common synonyms instead of slavishly repeating one keyword throughout a page that you want to rank well.

Images and Videos Have No Impact on SEO

Of course, you want videos and images on your site because it provides your visitors a better experience, so they’re more likely to do business with you.

However, as you provide that better experience, you reduce the bounce rate (that is, the portion of visitors who see only one page, then leave) and increase the time spent on each page.  Both of these are factors that Google uses in search engine rankings.  This means that you make your site more effective and you improve your search engine results with the same measures.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to put in all the tags that images like to have–it’s a great opportunity to promote your favorite keywords.  Google pays attention to tags on videos and images.

Meta Descriptions are Important for Search Results Position

Google has told us that they don’t use meta descriptions in their ranking search results–so ignore advice to use specific keywords in your meta description tags.  Does this mean that you don’t need to provide a meta description with every page?  No, it doesn’t.

Search engines often (although, maddeningly, not always) use the meta description as the summary of the page that they provide in their search results.  Because you know the search engne won’t use the meta description keyword content in your ranking in results, now you are free to write an interesting description that will prompt a searcher who sees it to click your listing and come to your site.  You don’t have to worry about using any particular words.

Remember that search engines just hate duplicate content.  They want to present their customers, the searchers who use their search engine,  list of sites that have different content.  If you have description meta tags that duplicate each other, this is a cue to search engines that there isn’t much differentiation in the content on each page.  Be sure that each page on your site has a unique meta description tag.

There are other meta tags as well.  If you’re interested in their importance, I’ve written about title tags and other meta tags.

 

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Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers Victimized by Website Providers

Busy Professionals Victimized by Web Charlatans

I’ve worked with doctors, dentists and lawyers who have Web sites and wonder why the  site doesn’t enhance their practices.  They  have a perfectly good-looking site, developed by people who specialize in their very field, and the site just sits there looking good!

The problem is that these busy professionals are being victimized with Web sites that look good but are built so that looking good is all that they’ll do–they won’t help grow the practice.  And the purveyors of the site won’t give you good advice in that area, either–they are more interested in booking quick, high-profit cookie cutter jobs.

If you ask about search engine traffic, you’re likely to get an answer such as “We are not an SEO company, we are a Web site company.”   That’s certainly true; these outfits are not SEO companies.  But I think they should instead say “We will give you a Web site that looks good but will never ever bring you any visitors from search engines.”

In this issue, I’ll tell you some things to look for if you’re a professional looking for the development of a new site.  I’m not an artist so don’t do site designs myself, but I do advise clients who are having a new site developed.  If you’re getting a new site you can engage me to help you through the cycle, reading and evaluating proposals, helping choose a vendor, giving them some guidelines and evaluating and testing the result.  But these guidelines will give you a good start at it.

WordPress

The first question to ask:  are they using WordPress to build the site, and can you host the site that’s built on any hosting service of your choosing?

There are many reasons why a small business site should be built with WordPress.  Most of them stem from its popularity–more of the world’s sites are hosed on WordPress than any other platform.  So you can always get someone to work on it, and if you want to add function to it, someone has probably built a plugin to do just what you want.  And because it’s free, even the best add-ons that you have to pay for are cheap.

If the developer doesn’t propose WordPress right away as their first choice, choose someone else.  You don’t want to force them into using a development platform they don’t like or aren’t  not familiar with.

Hosting Service

Usually these folks will provide hosting service for the site after it’s built.  That’s a good thing, actually, because you need hosting service, and it’ll be convenient for them to make any changes to the site you may decide you want.

However, there are two issues that you should verify about their hosting service:

HTTPS

First, Google gives an edge to sites that use HTTPS, the secure version of the Web protocol HTTP.  If you’re getting a new site, the time is ripe to start with HTTPS.  Leading edge companies are using it now.  The developer may not propose it, but they should not resist at all a request from you to implement it.  Here, too, if they don’t want to do it, don’t waste time with them–move on.

It’s worth using HTTPS just for the Google search position bump you’ll get.  But it’s also timely because it protects site visitors’ communication with the site.  The FCC is now toying with rules that may allow users’ browsing data to be sold.  In that environment. competitive factors dictate that we keep that information to ourselves through use of HTTPS.

Dedicated IP Address

Your IP address is the numeric Internet address of your site.  If your hosting service shares your IP address with other sites, then if one of those sites behaves badly, your shared IP address can end up on one of the lists of banned IP addresses that are shared among Internet service providers.  The more other sites share your IP address, and how they are connected, has a lot to do with how much risk there is.

This subject has some complexity to it.  I’ve written a post about it, that includes an easy way for you to test whether your IP address is shared by any other sites.  You can also use that same method to look at the IP address strategy of major companies.  I suggest looking at the IP address sharing strategy for IBM, GE and GM.

If your developer tells you that there’s no reason to have a dedicated IP address, then they’re not telling you the truth, and you should move on.  You may decide, after reading my post, that you don’t need a dedicated IP address.  Certainly, though, you don’t want your IP address shared by a large number of sites.  If your IP address is shared by, say, six sites, with companies all well known to the site provider, than maybe that’s OK.  But if your IP address is shared by 100 sites, then that’s an issue.

Duplicate Content

If the content of your site duplicates another site’s content, then Google will decide which is the original and not index the other.  That is, you risk getting zero referrals from Google for any of your content that’s duplicated elsewhere on the Web.

Ask your site developer whether they guarantee uniqueness of the content they will supply.  Then, when the site is delivered, check every page for uniqueness.  To make the check, copy a sequence of about 15 words from the middle of a paragraph and paste it into a plagiarism detector such as Copyscape.

If they’ve provided a significant amount of duplicate copy, after promising unique content, don’t ask them to fix it–find someone else, and don’t pay the bill.  You’ve been deceived and cheated.  They’ll cheat you again.

Reviews

Some of these site developers provide a service to help you get reviews.  Typically this is simply a request that you email to a client or patient and ask them to do a review.  However, more than one of these companies doesn’t do the extra work required to make it easy for the person who’s being surveyed to write a review on a recognized review site; instead, they offer a review that’s posted only on your own site, or is posted on a review site that they own.

You want some help in getting genuine, favorable reviews from your real clients and patients–but on a popular review site, not just your own site and not some obscure site owned by your Web site provider. Today, your prospects are searching reviews in Google, Yelp and other important review sites,  If you have 50 to 100 good reviews on these sites, they will bring people to you.  For more detail, see the post that I’ve written on this subject.

If they offer a review service, you want a live feed of reviews on your site, so that recent reviews are shown, and there are links to the reviews on the review site.  This gives the display on your site great credibility with visitors to your site.

Your developer may not offer a review service; that’s fine.  You can use my service–or another service.   But if they service they offer doesn’t meet the requirements outlined here, they’re trying to sell you something that will actually hurt you, by wasting perfectly good reviews that, if located on review sites, would be helping you.

The Bottom Line

Use the criteria I’ve given here to test what’s being offered to you.  Or, if you’d like, get in touch with me and provide me links to a couple of sites that the developer you’re considering has developed.  I’ll be happy to look at them for you and give you my opinion.  I don’t develop sites, so have no stake in which developer you choose.

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Private IP Address? Do I really need one?

Private IP Address:  The Gold Standard in Hosting.  Or Is It?

Recently I was looking for specialized Web hosting services, and when I asked at one company if their price included private IP addresses, the response I got was that “there is no benefit at all from having a private IP address, so why would you want one?”  For a long time, a private IP address has been the standard for high-quality Web hosting, and it’s still promoted as such by many hosting companies.  In this post, I review the reasons in favor of having a private IP address, and give you a concrete best-practice recommendation that can save you money while not subjecting you to SEO or other risk.

What Is a Private IP Address?

An IP address is a 32-bit number that identifies an interface to the Internet.  Every connection to the Internet has a unique IP address; routers on the Internet use these addresses to forward information back and forth between machines on the Internet that communicate.

Your Web site is a collection of files that are delivered in response to requests that arrive over the Internet by a program called a Web server.  That server program runs in a computer that’s attached to the Internet, that has an IP address.  The server can be set up so that a number of Web sites share a single IP address, so that the server distributes information based on the domain name.  It can also be set up so that each site has its own IP address, and the server distributes information from one site or another based on the IP address it is given.

A site hosted at a shared IP address is not necessarily slower to load than a site with a dedicated IP address.  It’s true that the Web server for the shared IP address has one more step to perform when delivering pages, but that step happens so fast that it’s not a significant factor in the load time of your site.  The important determinants of load time for your site are the total capacity of the computer hosting all the sites and the number of sites it hosts (with either shared or dedicated IP addresses), the computing demands placed by the sites, and the limits on computer resources placed by the hosting providers.  Note that the reason $5 a month hosting is available is because that comes with low limits on resources used by the site.

What Are Potential Google Problems?

The Web server works just the same in either case.  The questions about private IP addresses revolve around what actors other than the Web server might do in various circumstances.  For example, suppose one of the sites hosted on an IP address is penalized by Google for something that Google doesn’t like.  Suppose this is something extreme such as buying incoming links.  Will Google penalize all the sites that use the same IP address?

Matt Cutts, who is still in charge of the ranking effort at Google, told us back in 2010 that Google treats sites on shared hosting the same way as sites with a dedicated IP address.  Here’s a video with Matt Cutts explaining the situation.

From what he says, you don’t want to share an IP address with thousands of spammy sites, but under normal conditions, using shared hosting will not get you into trouble with Google.

Google tends to do its ranking based on domain names and not IP addresses, so their first intent will be to not be influenced by other sites at the same IP address, except in extreme situations.  You need to be protected against those situations, but that doesn’t mean that you need a dedicated IP address because of Google.

What Are Other Potential Problems?

While Google doesn’t classify based on IP address, there other services on the Internet that do.  Very much so in all the services associated with email.  Estimates are that as much as 86% of all email is spam, as many as 400 billion spam emails per day.  Because of this volume, email providers are under pressure from their customers to control spam email.  .  There are active exchanges of email addresses and IP addresses that are identified as distributing spam email.  If your IP address ever gets put on one of those lists, even if the spam isn’t from you, you’ll have a significant amount of work to do proving that you’re legitimate, possibly to several different organizations.

During that time, your email or your customers’ email is blocked from delivery!  Imagine the impact on customers if they can’t get or send email because of a spam blocking problem.  This problem can damage the reputation of a company and make customers less interested in doing business with them.

Avoiding Problems

First, check to see whether your site has a dedicated IP address.  You can find out by clicking  here and entering your URL.  While you’re at it, you can see how big companies manage their IP addresses.

It’s interesting to use the tool to get a sense of IP address management of other organizations.  Look up gm.com and you’ll see that this IP address has the home sites for GM’s major brands, a logical approach.  That IP address is shared by XX domains.  If you look up ge.com, you’ll see less discipline–their IP address is shared by more than 1,000 domains, many of which do not appear to be associated with GE.  It appears that GE simply bought inexpensive hosting service, without addressing the IP address question.  Another interesting domain to check is ibm.com–you’ll see that it shares an IP address with amazon.com.

If your firm has multiple Web sites, it’s OK for them to share a common IP address, presuming that your firm has control over what’s done with those domain names and the associated email behavior.

A Caution About Email

My friend Tim Brady makes the interesting observation that a dediated IP address for Web hosting does not guarantee you a dedicated IP address for email!  That is, you could pay extra for a dedicated IP address for your site, thinking that you were protected against the actions of others, only to find that your email is being shepherded through mass servers with many domains sharing an IP address for their email.

If you decide that you want a dedicate IP address, be sure to clarify with your hosting provider vendor that your email will be sent from your dedicated IP address.  Another approach is to have your company’s email processed by Google, whose gmail service is economical and very dependable.

The Bottom Line

Use a dedicated IP address for your company’s sites.  The market value for a dedicated IP address is about $5 a month; you can afford it.  The cost is a lot less than the direct and indirect costs of having your IP address blacklisted.

As an alternative, you can use Dave’s Super Hosting Service, which offers high performance, dedicated IP addresses, frequent backup to the AWS Cloud and special security protections.

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Google Makes Surprise Chapter 11 Filing

Google shocked the tech world today with their filing for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11.  In a statement just released, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, stated that “We had not released this, but our efforts to bring high-speed Internet to everyone have been extremely costly and not profitable.  This put such a drain on the company that it has brought us to bankruptcy.  However, we hope to restructure, shed the money-losing Internet service, and continue in business.”

Other company executives told us privately that Google service was just no match for the high-quality companies operating in the ISP space, such as Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.  These companies are so well regarded by their customers that Google was simply unable to sell enough of their own Internet services to be profitable, and it ultimately dragged down the entire company.

The announcement, coming on a day when financial markets are closed, did not affect share prices.  Suspension of trading in Google stock on Monday is expected, until more details of the bankruptcy are understood.  Needless to say, stockholders can expect to receive a substantial haircut on the value of their holdings.

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New Result–Impact of Reviews on Search Traffic

Reviews and Search Traffic

We’ve all seen the familiar arguments about how on-line reviews affect position in search results–hence, resulting search traffic.  In my opinion, it’s worth seeking on-line reviews just for that purpose.  However, recently I came across some hard data about another way that on-line reviews can affect traffic directed to your site from search engines.  And the impact is significant enough that I’m now recommending an active review campaign for every client.

The Client

The client is a health practice in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., far enough away from the city that no city dwellers are likely to be prospective patients.

I routinely study the Web marketing efforts of my clients’ competitors, both to use as a benchmark of our success and to learn what strategies are working in this particular market.  For my client, I had been carrying out a more or less conventional SEO campaign, working on tags, page titles and the like.  Things were going well, and my client was steadily gaining in search engine positions for the terms that I was working on.

However, there was one competitor’s site that was getting as much traffic as we were, although we were beating them like crazy in position in search results!  Then they had one day when they passed us in traffic.  I’d been watching them for some time–they have a nice site, but they are clearly not doing any SEO work.  And they’re trailing our search results positions for dozens of keywords!  Why are they getting so much traffic?  What is there to learn from what they’re doing?

The Data

A study of their site and positions showed that more than 75% of their search traffic came from the name of their practice, which was different from their URL.  An easy explanation would be that they had great position on the practice name because it’s in the URL, but it isn’t.  However, they did have position #1 for the practice name.

Further study of the traffic data showed that there were 2400 searches per month on the competitor’s practice name, but only 40 per month on my client’s practice name!  My client had a more generic practice name, that I’d expect to be used in search more than the competitor’s.  So what’s happening?  Why are there so many searches on the competitor’s practice name?

Reviews

I ran a summary report of the competitor’s on-line reviews in a sampling of review sites, and a similar report for my client’s reviews.  This report shows reviews on just six important sites, not all the 40+ that are of interest; but for many businesses, these are the most important review sites.  Incidentally, you can run that same report, for any site you want to check out–try it for your own site and a competitor!–by clicking here.

This report showed that the competitor, in just this sample of review sites, had 240 reviews.  The report for my client’s site showed just 24 reviews for this same sample of review sites.

Conclusions

So what’s going on here?  What we’ve heard is true–prospective patients are searching review sites for a local practitioner with good reviews.  Then they do a Google search on the name of the practice that they decide to patronize.  That’s why my competitor’s practice name is being searched for 60 times more than my client’s.

The Bottom Line

An active campaign to obtain and manage reviews is one of the most important Web marketing efforts that you should undertake.

Of course, Dave’s Certified Reviews is a great way to conduct your review campaign, with all the hard work done for you so that you can focus on your business.

 

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Search Keywords in Your Domain Name

A Good Idea or Over-Marketing?

The question comes up time and again–is there any value to including terms where you want to rank well in your domain name?

Will this help you get better position in search results?   What are other aspects of using this approach?  And if it is used, what’s the best approach?

The Benefits

For most any Web site, take a look at the terms in the domain name and do a Google search for those terms.  You’ll see that the site is likely to rank high on those terms.  Of course, often the terms are often the company brand, that’s central to the site and is mentioned over and over in every page.  So the domain name wasn’t Google’s only cue that this site is highly relevant to this term.

I’ve been doing SEO for fifteen years, and one of the only aspects of SEO that’s stayed the same is that Google uses the terms in the domain name as an important indicator of the content of the site.  Again and again, I’ve seen that one of the best ways to get good position in search results is to use keywords in the domain name.  There’s no guarantee, but with some promotion, it’s a good way to help get good positions in search results.

The Issue

There’s one huge issue, though, and it’s the same issue that runs through all SEO.  Do you want to write the content of the site, choose the domain name , all of this, for Google, or for the people you’d like to have as customers?  If you build the site for people and not for Google, then it might be great at attracting customers, but no customers who are searching for you will find the site!  On the other hand, if you write just for search engines, then you’ll be found but your site may not bring you customers.domain-name.  There’s a balance to be struck, and what’s the correct balance depends on your particular situation.

You’d like your domain name to be easy to remember for your customers.  The logical choice for the URL, then, is your brand.  Your customers use your product or service, and if they remember the brand, they can find you on the Internet easily by searching for the brand.  If you’re a professional and do  business in your own name, then you hope they remember your name, and you’d want to use that in your domain name.  You’d rather be “Bill Smith, Attorney at Law” than “Gaithersburg Lawyer”.

On the other hand, if you’re an attorney just starting out, with no name recognition and no traffic to your site, using gaithersburglawyer.com as a domain name will help you get position in search results for people looking from a Gaithersburg lawyer.  Particularly if you have a new Web site, you’ll have no position in search results, and it’ll take you time to get that position, so this legitimate short-cut to position in search results could be a good idea for you.

The Answer

What to do?  It’s a matter of balance.  For many small businesses, you may not have a lot of brand recognition, so you can use a domain name with keywords.  Find something your customers can remember easily, and go with it.  If you’re a professional, the same idea can work for you.  You’ll promote your own name again and again on the site, so you’ll show up high in searches on your name.  You can safely use a domain name based on keywords.

If you’re just getting established, then the keyword approach can be particularly useful for you.

What About Hyphens?

There’s an active dialogue about whether hyphens hurt search results position.  But Google themselves ends this disagreement.  Their Webmaster Guidelines say

“The URL http://www.example.com/green-dress.html is much more useful to us than http://www.example.com/greendress.html. We recommend that you use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in your URLs.”

So Google actually recommends the use of hyphens.  That’s good news, because hyphens also make domain names more readable.  A hyphenated domain name also avoids misinterpretations that could occur with domain names such as these, that are all real domain names:

Should You Change Your domain name ?

If you’ve decided that you’d like to change your domain name , you can do it without losing all of the search results positions that you’ve achieved over the years.  Just get your Webmaster to establish 301 redirect commands for all the pages of your site, so that anyone who references an old URL will be taken to the new one.  Google recognizes a 301 redirect as a notice that the content of a page has been moved to a new address; you won’t lose your position in search results.

The Bottom Line

Choose your domain name as part of your overall marketing strategy.  Are you trying to establish your business or is your site taking advantage of an established brand?  And should you decide to change your domain name , you can do it without giving up your positions in search results.

 

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On-Line Reviews: Now Protected by Law. Are You Stuck?

Reviews Matter

On-Line Reviews have become more and more important.  Today, surfing review sites for good reviews, and then going directly to the Web site for a product or service that has good reviews, is growing in popularity.

Google now displays some reviews in the basic information it provides with search results about a company.  For example, here’s the result of a Google search on Comsource Management, a local (Maryland) condominium management company.  Just below the photos is a report that the company has 35 Google reviews, with an average of 1.1 out of five stars!  Then a little lower are actual reviews from several review sites.  This can be the first introduction that a potential customer has to a company.

comsource-google-search

It’s understood that angry customers, who have a grievance, are more likely to make an unfavorable review than happy customers, who simply got what they expected.  So what can a business do about it?

Businesses Respond–with Non-Disclosure Agreements

Some businesses have responded by including non-disclosure agreements in the terms of service on their Web sites or in their purchase contracts.  Then they’ve forced customers who write critical reviews to remove them, or have even sued for damages:

  • A pet sitter in Texas sued a customer for up to $1 million in damages over an unfavorable Yelp review.  The short version of the story is that the pet sitter sued the customer for violating the terms of a non-disparagement clause in their contract.  A judge dismissed the suit because it was intended to silence the defendant, and violated the Texas Citizens Participation Act.  The pet sitter wound up potentially liable for attorneys’ fees and, of course, subject to negative publicity.
  • The Windermere Cay apartments near Orlando, Florida included a “Social Media Addendum” in its lease.  This document prohibits negative reviews on social media, and if it is breached, provides for a $10,000 fine!  Following some publicity, the apartment’s Yelp listing overflowed with reviews, many of them negative reviews from people who didn’t live there, so weren’t covered by the policy.
  • Tesla includes a nondisclosure agreement in its purchase contract.  Recently the company ran afoul of he National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over concerns that the agreement might prevent owners from reporting safety problems.  NHTSA is now seeking information from owners about possible suspension problems, and Tesla has modified the terms of its agreement.  The problem started when an owner reported suspension problems and the company agreed to cover some repair costs if the owner signed an agreement to not discuss the issue publicly.

These methods never worked well, but today they don’t work at all because a new law prevents businesses from preventing customers from writing unfavorable reviews.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016

In December the President this into law.  The law makes a provision of a contract void if it prohibits a party to a contract in engaging in written, oral or pictorial reviews or other performance assessments a goods and services provided by another party to the contract.  The law prohibits the offering of a contract with such a restrictive provision.

If the review is not accurate, the laws of libel still apply; but with this law, if a reviewer is telling the truth, there’s now little that a business can do to force the removal of a negative review or to collect damages.

What Can You Do?

First, pay attention to your reviews.  It’s a good idea to reply to all of them that appear to be at all reasonable–the reply shows to everyone who reads the review that you care what your customers think of you.  Visit the popular review sites often and read your reviews.

Don’t panic if you get one or two unfavorable reviews in the midst of a lot of good reviews.  People who read reviews know that you can’t please everybody, and there will always be someone who’s not satisfied.  If you have an overall score of 4.5 out of five stars, a few negative reviews will just make the whole collection more credible.

Be careful about asking for reviews–the review sites don’t like this because they think it skews the results in a favorable direction.  Yelp in particular can put a very ugly warning to readers about what you’re doing if they decide that you are asking for reviews.

If you’d like to manage your reviews without having to search review sites again and again, you can use a review management service to let you be comfortable that your reviews are helping your business, without spending a lot of time doing it.  I recommend Dave’s Certified Reviews for just that purpose, since it’s my service.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to your reviews by replying to each one and fixing the problems with unfavorable reviews.  If you want to take care of your reviews with almost none of your time, then look into Dave’s Certified Reviews.

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Online Reviews of Your Business Influence Your Search Results Position

Why Care About Customer Reviews?

We all know that online reviews are growing in importance.  In fact, a growing number of prospective customers now go to review sites to find businesses to deal with instead of using search engines!  These people find companies with lots of favorable reviews, then go directly to those companies’ sites, not even using a search search engine!  So that work you’ve put into SEO doesn’t help with these customers.

But now there’s more.  It’s become apparent that your online reviews affect your position in Google search results!  Moz reported this in their recent survey, showing that “review signals” have significant influence on position in search results.  Their survey speaks of “Review Signals”, which are:

  1. Review quantity:  having lots of reviews helps, the more the merrier.   Brightloccal’s survey tells us that you need 7 to 10 reviews for prospects to begin to trust you.  And, since a given prospect may be surfing just one review sites, you want to get 7 to 10 reviews on each important review site.
  2. Review Velocity: How often are you being reviewed?  Once every six months isn’t enough, but too often is bad also; it’s a sign that you are encouraging reviews.
  3. Review diversity:  How many different review sites have reviews for your business?
  4. Quantity of third-party reviews:  How many reviews do you have on sites not owned by Google?
  5. Authority of Third-Party Sites Where Reviews are Present:  Some review sites have more authority with Google than others.  Look at the sites, and you’ll come to similar conclusions.
  6. Product or Service Keywords in Reviews: It’s a good idea to have the key terms about your business in the reviews as long as it’s not overdone.
  7. Authority of Reviewers:  Some review sites give more authority to some reviewers.

The Bottom Line

If you weren’t doing anything about your customer reviews, now you have one more important reason to do so.  You can do it manually, by investing a lot of time, or you can use your time to advance your business and hire a service such as Dave’s Certified Reviews.

 

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How to Deal with Bad Reviews

Why Care About Reviews?

Review sites have been called the village of the twenty-first century.  Today this is where people come together to share views about what’s good and what’s not good, which businesses treat you well and which don’t.

A new kind of Web shopping is taking place–in many cases, shoppers go to Web sites to find the companies who are candidates to deal with, then the go directly to those companies’ sites.  They may go entirely through a buying cycle and never use a search engine!  Yes, search engine position still matters for those who do search, but also it’s important to pay attention to your reviews.

Dave’s Certified Reviews

I write this, and will write more, about reviews because I’ve started Dave’s Certified Reviews, which I’ll call DCR here, a comprehensive review management service.  It helps you acquire genuine, favorable reviews, it allows you to see and reply to your reviews, and it lets you put a live feed of current, favorable reviews on your own site.

In the two years I’ve spent getting DCR ready to launch I’ve been very involved with reviews, so have some advice to share on the subject.

Ten Commandments for Bad Reviews

Moses put his operating principles for life into ten commandments, so here’s a set of operating principles for bad reviews that has just ten rules.

First, don’t panic!  As long as you have a great majority of favorable reviews, an unfavorable review won’t hurt you.  In fact, if you don’t have some unfavorable reviews, you’ll lose credibility.  Sophisticated readers of reviews know that every company messes up now and then, so if they don’t see any unfavorable reviews they will discount all the reviews they see.  So it’s not the end of the world.  But it is important that you handle it right.

1. Monitor Your Reviews

If you’re going to respond to a negative review, you have to know that it’s appeared somewhere!  At least once a month, and better, once a week, look at the most important review sites:  Google, Yahoo and Yelp.  Depending on your industry, there might be other review sites that are important to you, such as Healthgrades for practitioners in the healing industry.

You can do this monitoring yourself by just looking at the sites, or use a service to tell you when there’s a new review.  DCR sends you an email when you get a review, so that you can act on it promptly.

2. Reply

Many businesses don’t reply to reviews.  Perhaps the view is that a bad review will just go away if we pretend it’s not there–but it won’t.  In fact, if you don’t reply to it, you’re letting the criticism stand unanswered.  A reader may think that you don’t care about the criticism, or that you’re implicitly acknowledging that it’s correct.

Replying to any review, favorable or not, shows that you care what your customers think.  A good opening is to thank the reviewer for taking the time to comment, and to state how important customer opinions are, and how you value the feedback you get from reviews.

Remember that your reply is for other readers of the review as much as it is for the reviewer.  The reviewer may have simply wanted to vent, and won’t care about your followup; but hundreds of people may read your reply and used that to form opinions about your business.

3. Restate the Concern

This is your opportunity to let the reviewer know that you understand the concern.  You want to make it clear that you do understand. “It sounds as though the salesman didn’t do enough to explain what foods to serve with this wine.”

This is a good technique to use when responding to positive reviews as well.

4. Explain How You Will Fix Things

Be specific.  “We are putting recommended foods on small posters on the wall near each group of similar wines, to help you with wine-food pairing, and we are encouraging our salesman to learn about pairing wine with food.”

If it’s a problem you can’t fix, say so.  “I’m sorry that the traffic noise disturbs your meal.  A good time to come is before 5 pm or after 7 pm, when the traffic is not as heavy.”

5. Complete the Story

The reviewer may not have told the whole story.  “I brought back a carton of milk that I diddnt want and the clerk would not accept my return.” You can add that you can’t accept the return of perishable goods unless they are defective, because of the danger that they may not have been stored properly since they left the store.

6. Don’t Use a Generic Response

If you don’t have time to actually compose a response for each situation, better to not reply.  A form response, that’s repeated for a bad reviews, is a loud message that you really don’t care.

If you look at a lot of reviews (as you would if you were putting together a review management service) you’d get to experience that bad impression that’s given by companies that have standard–or slightly tailored–responses that they give to reviews, particularly unfavorable reviews.

7. Don’t Respond Defensively

Being defensive tends to reinforce the criticism.  No reply is better than a defensive reply.  Don’t say something like “You can’t be correct in this.  Everyone else likes it.”

8. Don’t Dis The Critic

The reviewer has taken the time to give you feedback, for which you should be grateful.  Being ungracious to the critical reviewer is a way to show that you can’t handle criticism, that you really don’t care what your customers think.

9. Not All Reviews Are Created Equal

Some reviews have so little content that they don’t deserve a reply.  In that case, just let it stand by itself.  Other readers will have the same view and understand why you didn’t reply.

10. Forget about Lawsuits

Don’t even think about suing a reviewer.  If a review is horrible, then take steps (like those provided by Dave’s Certified Reviews) to get more favorable reviews.  As long as you have far more favorable than unfavorable reviews, you’ll be all right.  Of course, if you’re getting mostly unfavorable reviews, then you need to take action that goes beyond review management.  You need to see why your business isn’t satisfying your customers and fix the problems.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to your reviews, and reply constructively and substantively to those that are unfavorable and the more substantive favorable reviews as well.

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How Can I Get More Reviews?

Reviews Matter.  A Lot.

Today, many shoppers on the Web start, not with a Google search of the Web, but searching a review site such as Yelp or Angie’s List.  They’ll use reviews to decide which businesses to consider, then go directly from the review site to the businesses’ sites.  That’s right, you’ve done all this work to get a high position in search engine results, and now they’re not even using the search engine and won’t see your wonderful, effective Web site unless you have good reviews.

In addition to providing a path to your site for prospects who don’t use search engines to find businesses, reviews also help your position in search engine results.  Review sites are typically sites of a lot of authority, so a link from a review site to your site will increase the authority of your site, and improve its position in search engine results.

I’ll Write Them Myself

Don’t even think about faking your reviews.  First, the people who read reviews are becoming more sophisticated about reading them, and are getting better and better at sniffing out fakes.  Even worse, the review sites depend for their success on genuine reviews, so they are investing big time at detecting fake reviews.  These are well-financed companies with lots of smart people and lots of resources (think Google, for example), working on issues that are central to the success of their companies.  Do you want to bet that you can outsmart them?  And, having outsmarted them once, do you want to bet that you’ll continue to outsmart them?

How to Get Reviews

ReviewInc has done some interesting research on when customers are likely to be willing to give feedback to a business.  And the most likely time is…when they are asked!  43% of surveyed customers said they are most likely to give feedback when asked.  That request can come through email or a text message, or directly from a person. Here are the details:

when do people write reviews

to Of course, we all want to get positive reviews, so the answer to that question expands a bit.  The best way to get good reviews is to ask someone who is happy with your business to give you a review.

The chart mentions incentives.  Don’t offer incentives for reviews–most of the review sites consider that incentives for reviews mean that they are not fully voluntary reviews, and can penalize you if they discover that you’re offering an incentive.

The Bottom Line

You need reviews.  Actually, you need good reviews.  So ask happy customers to give you reviews.  Don’t fake them and don’t reward them.

But Wait There’s More

Coming soon is Dave’s Certified Reviews, a new service that will allow you to obtain lots of genuine, good reviews, monitor your reviews and respond to them.  It’s been in work for a long, long time, but finally, it’s almost complete.

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Your Site Needs an FAQ. Here’s Why

Why Your Site Needs an FAQ

When we visit a Web site, often we see a page called FAQ.  That stands for “Frequently Asked Questions.”  You might ask whether your site needs an FAQ page–what good are they, anyway?  It turns out that there are important good things that an FAQ can do for your site.

Emphasize Your Strengths

The FAQ page is a good place to give some emphasis to what you think are the  particular strengths for your product or service.  One way to do this is to simply pose a question such as “what are the greatest strengths of your product?” Another approach is to ask a question about the feature that you want to emphasize, by asking a question such as “why is it important for accounting software to produce year-end summaries?”

Answer the Skeptic

The FAQ page is a chance to pose questions that a skeptical visitor might pose, and answer them. For example, for a Hong Kong custom tailor I once put “a question on the FAQ page “what if my clothes don’t come?”  The answer to this question was intended to deal with a visitors worry that perhaps delivery might never take place. It’s hard to deal with a issue like that on another part of the site.

Better Search Engine Results

Search engines love FAQ pages.  Search engines love content that has a lot of keywords. Your FAQ page can easily be written so that it is keyword–dense.  Search engines also like links within the site. In your FAQ, you can pose questions that cover topics that are in many different parts of the site, and include links to those parts of the site in your answers to the questions that you pose.

Savings on customer support

Your FAQ page can save you money on customer support. Ask your customer support people to write down simple questions that they are asked frequently, and then put those questions and the answers on your FAQ page. Future customers will be able to answer some of their simpler questions right on the FAQ page. At the same time, you’ll have added more keyword – rich content to your site.

Don’t stop with just one or two questions. Keep collecting frequently asked simple questions from your support people, and add one or two a week. Search engines love fresh content, and this is a way to keep continuously adding new content that’s relevant.

Start a dialogue

Put a form on your FAQ page so that a visitor who doesn’t find an answer to their own question can use the form to submit it to you. This will allow you to learn about questions that visitors have, while also making contact with potential customers.

The Bottom Line

If you don’t have an FAQ page, now’s the time to start one. If you do have one already, good for you! Perhaps one or more of these ideas will help you make it even more profitable for you.

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Why You Should Use AdWords

You Should Use AdWords. Here’s Why.

Yes, you’d like to rank high in organic search and get lots of traffic for free.  That’s a great objective, and achievable, too.  Over time.  But there are still some important reasons why you should use the leading pay-per-click service, Google AdWords.  Here are some of them.

It Reaches Prospects When They Want to Buy

Someone who is doing a Google search for your product or service is very likely doing so because they are interested in buying.  If you can put your name in front of them at the very time they are making that decision of what to buy, and bring them to your site, that’s just perfect timing.  Can you get that timing what any other advertising?

That’s why the Yellow Pages used to be so effective.  If you bought an ad in the Yellow Pages, prospects saw it when they were looking for a specific product or service because they wanted to buy.  Of course, that’s no longer the case–today, your prospects search the Web.

Small Spenders Are Welcome

Happily, there’s no minimum ad spend for AdWords.  You don’t have to commit thousands of dollars to your first trial.  In fact, you should start small and try a number of different search terms, to find out which ones bring you results, then expand your spend on the search terms that bring you business.  Don’t make the mistake of starting with a big spend before know which search terms bring you business.

Built-In Tracking

AdWords provides a variety of tracking tools.  You can track which terms bring you traffic, how long that traffic stays on your site, and continue on up through webform submissions and phone calls, if you wish.  You’ll know whether your AdWords spend is bringing you results.

A Foundation for Your Organic SEO

The tracking that you do for your AdWords campaign will also help you identify the search terms you want to seek organic search positions for.  Use your SEO dollars wisely, to go after position in search results for terms that you know bring you business.  A small experimental AdWords spend will help you sort out those search terms.

Website Improvement

Once you’re paying for people to come to the site, you’ll take a critical look at the site, considering what they see when they arrive.  It’s easy to not consider what happens to free traffic–it’s free, after all–but when you’re paying for every click, you want those bought visitors to have a great experience on your site.  Of course, you really want it for all your visitors, even the free ones, but the incentive is stronger once you’re paying for each visitor.  Site improvement is more likely to break through the clutter of things to do that all of us have when it involves making good use of money that we’re spending.

The Bottom Line

You should be using AdWords!  There’s a corollary to this, though–don’t try this at home.  AdWords looks deceptively simple but managing an effective campaign is complex and requires regular attention.  You’re better off to spend your time running your business, and leaving this complex task to someone else.  Such as me!

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Aristotle on Web Marketing

Aristotle, a long time ago, laid down the principles for a convincing argument.  Even today, as we formulate our marketing approach, we can follow his approach.  His classical appeals are to Ethos, Pathos and Logos.

Ethos

Ethos is the Greek word for character; the word ethics is derived from ethos.

An appeal to Ethos involves establishing your credibility.  The Sanford Web Credibility Project established ten guidelines for Web credibility, that I summarized in an earlier post.

On the Internet, your prospects can research your claims, and it turns out that more than half of them do so.  So it’s necessary to be honest just because there’s so much checking going on.  But beyond that, building trust is one of the major challenges we face when marketing over the Internet.  Remember, we’re offering something at a distance, to people who have never met us, never seen our offices, never talked to our support people, who have no knowledge of our character.  We want them to give us their money and trust that we’ll deliver what we promise, or, if worse comes to worse, we’ll live up to the terms of our guarantees.  That takes trust!

Be careful of self-evaluation in what you write.  Don’t praise your own products or services, don’t say “this is really excellent”.  Describe what it does and how fast or whatever, and let the prospect make their own judgment about whether that’s really good or not.  It’s OK to describe something in detail, but bad to make your own judgments about it.

You can use the judgments of others, but here, too, be careful.  Testimonials and customer reviews are powerful persuaders, but Internet shoppers today are good at detecting fakes, so stick to real testimonials and genuine third-party reviews.

Pathos

Pathos, emotional appeal, and it’s also a part of persuasion.  It’s the Greek word for both suffering and experience. 

Emotional appeal can be overdone, but we’re all persuaded b emotional appeals.  In fact, branding itself is simply an emotional appeal, the feeling that a brand evokes.  So emotions lie at the heart of marketing.  We’re told that fifty percent of every buying decision is made by emotion.

A favorite Best Friendscharity of mine, that successfully  works my emotions with every newsletter they send, is Best Friends Animal Society, a wonderful animal shelter.  They use great photos of pets, and the hard-hitting news about how many are killed in shelters every day, to soften the hardest heart.  Here’s an example from the home page of their Web site.

Go ahead, click on a link and look at their site.  And if you want to make a donation, your money will join years of my own donations there to help the animals.  And you can get their great newsletter, that any animal lover will treasure.

These people understand emotion and how to use it in their marketing communications!

One route to emotional appeal is to cite the problems we all have in dealing with support organizations.  If you’re offering support that’s really better, than doesn’t run me around for a half hour chasing phone menus and then transfers me to two different people to solve a simple problem, I can relate to that emotionally.  In fact, that’s the story of my call yesterday to Verizon just to find out what was my userid so that I could log on to their Web site.  But before you represent your company as better than Verizon (as low as that bar may be), be aware that your prospects are doing their research!

Logos

The Greek word logos refers to a universal divine reason that transcends all imperfections in the cosmos and humanity.  It’s an eternal, unchanging truth present from the time of creation, and available to every person who seeks it.

In rhetoric, Logos is an appeal to reason.  Logical appeals often involve syllogisms, which are composed of two permises and a conclusion.

An example of a syllogism would be “All dogs are furry creatures with four legs.  Jada (my dog) is a dog.  Therefore, Jada is a furry creature with four legs.”  Premise one plus premise two leads to a logical conclusion.  Another syllogism is “Engaging Dave to advise me in Web marketing can increase my sales and profits.  I would like to increase my sales and profits.  Therefore I will engage Dave.”

In order to build your logos-based argument, you’ll need to provide reasons for your audience to believe each of your two premises, before they will accept your jump to the conclusion.  You can cite outside studies, testimonials and other evidence to buttress your arguments.

Here’s an appeal to Logos that I believe fails.  It’s for hyaluronic acid, whatever that is.  These are the claims made for it, backed by no citations of outside evidence at all:

Huraluric Acid

Familiar symbols have been used to give credibility.  First, the bottle does look like a typical pill bottle, gaining some credibility.  Then there’s a seal that quality is assured–by whom?–GMP.  GMP ensures that you are getting real hyaluronic acid.  Then we see that it has–good grief!–3 likes on Facebook!  Then there’s a statement of the role of hyaluronic acid in the body, with a little asterisk at the end.  The astute reader who looks at the bottom of the listing sees what the asterisk is for:

FDAAre you ready to rush out and order your supply of hyaluronic acid tablets?   Neither am I.  This is not a successful appeal to Logos.

The Bottom Line

Employ Ethos, Pathos and Logos to persuade your prospects.

 

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Should you choose WordPress?

WordPress is very popular, now hosting some 20% of all sites world-wide.  And it’s free.  But those aren’t strong enough reasons to choose WordPress for your site.  In this issue of the Newsletter, I review several key considerations that should be important in your choice of a hosting vehicle for your site.

In fact, there are six important reasons for you to consider WordPress:

  1. It’s open source
  2. There’s a large, valuable community of support
  3. End users can edit their own content
  4. It’s secure if managed properly
  5. It’s scalable up to quite large
  6. It’s future-proof

Open Source

I deeloped a number of sites with a great tool.  It provided a lot of features, was easy to use, and was one of the most bug-free software products I’ve used.  However, about a year ago, the company went away.  When I moved to a new computer, my installation won’t work any more–I need a new install key.  The company is gone, so there’s no way to get the key.  I’m out of luck with all those sites, have to redevelop them.

Because the code is open source, even if the company that leads the writing of WordPress goes away, there are lots of developers to help keep it going.  And since it’s open source, you have none of the licensing issues that we all face and despise.

If you need a customization of WordPress, there’s likely already a plugin to meet your needs.  And if not, it’s not hard to write a new one, and not expensive to hire someone to write one.

Another advantage of open source is that there’s a huge community of developers who are contributing free and inexpensive software to extend WordPress.  Just think of what you want to do and search for a plugin–you’re likely to face a rich array of choices at little to no cost.

Professional Ecosystem

In addition to developers, there is a much larger community of people who use WordPress to build sites, and provide other services around WordPress.

If you want a site developed, there are many professionals who can help you with WordPress.  And if you need to change providers, there are always lots more to choose from.  If all you need is advice, you can find a consultant who will advise you and let you do much of the work yourself.

Easy Editing

You don’t want to hire a Webmaster every time you want to add content to a site.  You’d rather have your employees who write the content simply edit it on the Web site itself.  WordPress provides a simple-to-use WYSIWYG editor that editors can use to write their content right on the site, and insert images and videos as well.

Security

Unfortunately, the Internet is a rough place these days!  We all have security concerns, all the time, with our Web sites.  The WordPress core code has been remarkably secure since WordPress’s inception.

However, there have been and continue to be security weaknesses in plugins.  It’s important to keep plugins updated to the current version, since fixes are often intended to close security holes.  In addition, use strong passwords.  It’s sound as well to use two-factor authentication for users.

The best security enhancement for WordPress that I’ve found is the WordFence plugin, that lets you track and thwart attacks to your own site.  In fact, I install the premium version of WordFence as part of Dave’s Super Hosting Service.

Scalability

The New York Times, Microsoft and Facebook all run sites based on WordPress.  If your site has hosting with appropriate capacity and scalability to large loads, and you’re careful to test your plugins and themes for performance, there’s no reason that the biggest companies can’t use WordPress.

Future-Proof

WordPress has a commitment to backwards compatibility, so that they won’t break your site with a new release.

When Google announced that it was suddenly important for our sites to be mobile-friendly, WordPress was there–the standard WordPress themes are already mobile-friendly.

The large group of active developers as well as the backward compatibility commitment protect your investment in your site.

The Bottom Line

Use WordPress to build your site.  Or when you rebuild your site.  It’s the right choice for essentially everyone.

 

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Changes to Google’s algorithm! Should you care?

Search Engine Results Position (SERP) Matters

If your Web site brings an important amount of business to you, or if you want it to, then you’re concerned about where you rank in search engine results.  You know that many searchers don’t go beyond page one, and if you’re not even on page two, you’re out of it.  What should you do to your site to get and keep high rankings in search engine results?

Changes in Google’s Algorithm!

You’ve probably seen warnings sent out by newsletters and other services warning that Google has changed their ranking algorithm, and your site may drop in ranking because of it.  Often these warnings are presented in dire terms–act now or else!  What should you do about these warnings?  And what should you do to your site to keep your search engine ranking?

You’ve probably also seen ads and received emails from companies who claim that they can get your site onto page one, guaranteed.  Or who offer some product that will put your site onto page one.  Just send the money, and you’ll be there.

Google is a Business

Why does Google keep changing how they rank sites in their results?  What are their goals in making all these changes?  Do they simply want to inflict pain on small businesses who are trying to promote their offerings?

To understand what Google is doing, consider Google as a business.  They want to provide effective search service, so that the service will be widely used by people who will see the ads that Google gets paid to display.  So Google has a strong interest in providing search results that are relevant to queries that are entered, that take the visitor to a quality site that offers authoritative information on the topics the searcher is looking for.

When I started in Web marketing in 1998, SEO was about how to trick search engines.  Measures that were popular then would get you thrown out of the indexes in a minute today.  As search engines have become more sophisticated, they are better able to determine what a page is about, and to make more measures of quality.  Today, trying to fool search engines is a bad strategy–even if you succeed in fooling them for now, as they get more and more sophisticated, when your deception is discovered your SERPs will suffer.

A Strategy for Search Engine Results

The strategy of fooling search engines treats the search engines as opponents to be manipulated and deceived.  That strategy pits you against these organizations, requiring constant vigilance toward the next step taken in the battle by your opponent.  You have to watch carefully for every change in search engine algorithms!

What are your odds in this competition?  Suppose you’re a small business, working hard to succeed while providing your product or service, with the limited resources that you have.  You’re focused on your customers and their needs, and your own product or service.  You have limited attention to give to search engines.  And limited funds to hire experts.  On the other side of the competition is huge organizations like Google, who hire the brightest Stanford graduates to put all of their considerable talent and lots of other Google resources into the job that’s critical for their company–providing truly relevant search results.  The odds are not in your favor!

On the other hand, instead of trying to compete with an organization that has practically unlimited resources of talent and money, why not make Google your business partner instead?  Instead of trying to fight this behemoth, put them on your side and leverage all that they offer.  Do this by providing high quality content on your site and providing the best possible visitor experience.  Then, as search engines get better and better at measuring the real visitor experience, your SERPs will just improve.  And you won’t worry about every little change in Google algorithms.

Do I Need an SEO Specialist?

If you decide to put Google on your side, do you still need an expert in search engines to help you?  Putting this another way, having given you this advice, should I just close up shop?

Happily for me, there is still room for experts, although their proper role has changed.  The experts should advise you on how to provide a high-quality visitor experience so that it’s recognized by the search engines and given the credit that it deserves.  The search engines aren’t people who give opinions–they’re using software to estimate the quality of visitor experience. Because of the number of pages they have to scan, that software has to be fairly simple.  So there’s still a role for the person who understands how search engines do this, who knows what they value most, who can direct your efforts into the most productive areas.

In addition, there are a variety of technical cues that search engines use to estimate the quality of visitor experience, and your expert consultant can make sure that you’ve provided all these cues, so that you won’t provide a great visitor experience but have the search engines not recognize–and reward you–for what you’ve done.

The Bottom Line

Put Google on your side by putting your visitors first–provide a high quality visitor experience.

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Important Newsletter Don’ts

Your Newsletter–What Not to Do

Newsletters are easy–just write a note and send it out!  But, like everything else, if you want your newsletter to be effective, there’s more to it than that.  Here is a quick summary of what to do with the newsletter, followed by what not to do.

What We’re Trying To Do

The newsletter is intended to nurture prospects into being customers.  When someone just encounters your business or your site, and learns about you, they may not yet be ready to do business.  But by reading your newsletter, they learn more about you and your business, and get comfortable with the idea of doing business.  There’s an old marketing rule that we need seven credible exposures of our brand before a prospect will seriously consider doing business.  So get that first exposure with the site, and the next six with the newsletter.  So we’re trying to build credibility and comfort through this communication.

Change the Outline Each Time

You’re trying to make prospects comfortable with you, so keep the same general outline for each newsletter.  If you provide a recipe as the second item in one newsletter, then provide a recipe as the second item in every edition.  Your readers will get to know the organization of your newsletter and they’ll be able to go right to what they like.  And if they like one, then they’ll like the next one, because it’ll have similar organization.

Constantly Offer Discounts

The newsletter is not a place to offer discounts!  Why not?  Because it goes to all (or nearly all) of your prospects and customers, and discounts in the newsletter tell them that you’re willing to sell for less than asking price.  It undermines their confidence in your pricing, encouraging them to believe that they can get what they want from you for less than you usually charge.  So stay away from discounts as a major feature of your newsletter.

You can occasionally offer a price deal in the newsletter, but specialize it to some particular circumstance and then be ready to do it again if that circumstance arises again!  For example, if you offer a discount on the third anniversary of being in business, then plan to do it every year.  And also avoid the temptation to find lots and lots of similar excuses!

Poor Quality Content

Your prospects judge your newsletter by the usefulness of the content.  So be sure that you provide information that’s useful to them in some way.  If you’re an attorney, how to handle some situation that could have legal consequences.  If you’re a physician, health advice is an obvious choice.  If you’re a Web marketer, a newsletter on how to write newsletters.

Sell Too Much

A rule I’ve seen for newsletters is 75% non-selling content and 25% selling content is a rule that’s often given.  I’d modify that by advising no more than 25% selling.  If the purpose of your newsletter is to attract long-term clients, not just, say, selling merchandise, then you might even have almost no selling content, and simply seek to convince your readers that you’re an authority in your discipline so that when they need help they’ll come to you.

Not Often Enough

In the days when newsletters went out in the mail, they were expensive to print and even more expensive to mail.  But those days are gone.  Today, our prospects subscribe to and pay for email service that delivers our newsletters to them.  If they want to print them, they pay for the printing!  And it’s easier to open and look at a newsletter–or not to look at it.

Take advantage of the ease and convenience of automation, and realize that your readers are accustomed to getting most newsletters on a weekly or even daily basis.  If you send weekly instead of monthly, your readers will be reminded of you more often, and they’ll be more likely to do business with you or recommend you to someone who needs your product or service.

Forgetting about Headings

Many readers will scan the headings in a newsletter before they decide to actually read it.  So provide those headings!  In addition, busy readers may read some sections and not others–make it easy for these readers to make this choice, or else they’ll not read your newsletter at all.

Forgetting about Branding

Be sure that your newsletter looks like your Web site and carries your logo.  If prospects see inconsistent graphics from you, they’ll not remember you as well, and your communications wit them will seem disjointed.  One way to achieve consistency between your site and newsletters is to send blog posts from your site as your newsletters–as I do.

Don’t Send a Welcome Newsletter

In any social interaction, saying hello is important.  Similarly, a new subscriber deserves to get a special welcome edition of your newsletter.  Most newsletter software can send this for you; all you have to do is write it and give instructions to the software one time.  The open rate of the intro newsletter is much higher than the open rates of subsequent newsletters–this is a great opportunity to communicate.  It’s also a good time to offer a discount–make it a new subscriber discount, and the subscriber will know not to expect it again.  Offer a discount on the next meal, an ebook on how to deal with a personal injury situation, an ebook on the insurance coverage a small business should have, for example.

The Bottom Line

Keep in mind that the purpose of your newsletter is to nurture prospects, not sell them.  Take the long term approach, and you’ll see the results.

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Create Evergreen Content for Your Site

Evergeen Content

Content that’s “evergreen” has continued value over time.  For example, it’s not an announcement that an important deadline is looming and you better take action; rather, it’s general advice on how to do something.  Evergreen content can deliver visitors over a long period, and it helps in search engine rankings because visitors who click on it will tend to stay on the page for a while, and over a long period of time.  It’s just the sort of content that you’d want to put on page one of search results if you were Google!

As a practical matter, evergreen content doesn’t have to be replaced as quickly on your site, so it also reduces the workload for busy people who work in small businesses.  But that’s not an excuse to put content on your site, decide that it’s evergreen, and then leave the site alone–Google, not to mention your visitors, want fresh content.  Supply your site with a continuing flow of new content.

The Ingredients

For evergreen content to have impact on your search position, and be most effective, here’s what it needs to have:

  1. Continued value–As in the example above, write copy that will have value over time, that isn’t tied to some specific event.  Luck plays a role here.  It’s possible to recommend some specific SEO technique that ceases to be useful the next week.  However, if you try to provide good advice to your readers, that’s not tied to specific events, in general that will have some staying power.
  2. Hold the user–provide enough information so that the reader spends some time on the page.  Google measures how long until the reader goes on to the next page, and long times help your search results position.
  3. Write for SEO–Use important keywords early in the text, in the middle of the text, and at the end of the text.  Also put important terms in the heading and in internal links to the page.
  4. Sell the content in the heading–Have a descriptive heading that draws the reader in
  5. address a need–Address a real need that your audience has, so that they’ll be interested in the content.

The Bottom Line

Write durable, quality content for your site.  And keep adding to it on a regular basis.  Over time, you can develop an authoritative site that will rank well in search results.

 

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Structuring a Multi-Language Web Site

Multi-Language Sites

Suppose you’re a physician in practice in a major city.  You want to serve both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking patients.  So, naturally, you have two Web sites built, one for English and one for Spanish.  Or do you?  What’s the right way to structure your Web presence if you want to present a multi-lingual face to the people you serve?

Note that here we’re talking only about the problem of multiple languages in a single location.  If you’re a multinational organization, and want to serve people in different countries who speak different languages, then you will most likely want to have distinct Web sites, each tailored to its own country, not just by language but by content and by incoming and outgoing links.

The Alternatives

There are three alternatives to consider:

  1. Two distinct sites, one for each language, with the same or very similar structure, each with its own domain name.  So your URLs will look like example-en.com and example-es.com.
  2. A single domain name, with different subdomain names.  You’ll have two sites, but the same domain name will work for both.  Your URLs will have the form en.example.com and es.example.com.
  3. A single domain name and a single site, with separate subfolders for each language.  Your URLs will have the form example.com/en/  and example.com/es/

Two Sites, Two Domain Names

For search engine position, this is the poorest approach.  First, Google awards more authority to sites with more content–and this divides your content between two sites.  In addition, your incoming links will be split between the two sites.  Finally, from a visitor experience perspective, could this give a visitor the impression that you are less than completely open about how you serve people who use different languages, since the same business is using two different domain names?  For all these reasons, this is not an attractive alternative.

One Domain Name, Two Subdomains

When you have two subdomains you have two different sites.  Each subdomain will be indexed separately by Google, so you still have the SEO disadvantages of the first approach.  You will have two separate sites to maintain and promote, so there’s extra work compared with a single site.

One Domain Name, Separate Subfolders

This is the most attractive approach from an SEO perspective, because all of the credit for incoming links in any language will all accrue to the single site, as will all authority for the content you put on the site.  And all the of the new content in any language will benefit the overall site for all languages.  You can provide flags on each page that link to the content in that language–in this case, for example, a U.S. flag and a Spanish flag.  A visitor can easily toggle back and forth between the two languages, so that an English speaker can find content for a Spanish speaker and then just click to show the Spanish-language version to the Spanish speaker.  With this approach, the bilingual nature of the site is featured rather than hidden.

The Bottom Line

For a site that serves multiple languages but for a business that operates in a single location, use a single domain with subfolders for each language.

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When Should You Update Your Site? Why It Matters

Many small businesses have what could be called a “build it and forget it” approach to the Web.  They work hard when the site is built, then let it sit undisturbed, hoping that it will draw traffic.  This is not a sound approach!  To discover why, read on.

Google and Currency

Google dominates search, so our first attention goes to what Google does about this issue.  Google’s goal is to deliver search results that are relevant to a user’s query.  They’ve decided that one important aspect of relevance is currency.  Their users don’t just want just information, they want current information.   First-time visitors to your site want information that’s current, and repeat visitors want to find something new.

Google’s response to this assessment of their customers’ desires is to include currency as an important ranking factor.  When you create a new site, currency will be in your favor, but over time this will degrade as you don’t add new content.  You can no longer just set up a site and have the traffic roll in; you need to keep supplying it with current content.

This is not unreasonable on Google’s part.  When you get the newspaper on Monday morning, do you want to see last week’s news?  Sure, you might see some stories that go back in time, but what grabs your interest is the latest news.  Similarly, Google is particularly interested in giving its searchers the latest information.  How does Google do this?  By moving sites with more current information–that have received new content recently–higher in search ratings.

I Don’t Have Time to Write for The Site

In a small business, everyone is doing lots of things.  You’re busy.  You can’t take time to write articles for the site!  But do you take several people to go to a trade show?  And spend all the money to get a booth in a trade show?  What if, for much lower cost, you could get more leads from your Web site, just from an hour of writing once a week?

Making effective use of your Web site is the best marketing expenditure that you can make, because it’s working to connect with people who have expressed an interest in what you offer by searching for it!  These are all prospects, you’re not just printing paper and spreading it around, hoping that someone who is interested will see it.

You need to take the time to write for the site.  If it means doing less of something else, that’s fine.  Find some marketing activity whose productivity is doubtful, and write for the site instead.

What To Write

A good starting point if you aren’t writing much for your site is a blog.  Find short articles that you can write that provide useful advice to your target customers.  In these short articles, indirectly convey your selling message, whether it’s product quality, customer support, great service, or whatever your key selling message is.

A blog is a good place for these articles.  They can also be used as newsletter fodder as well.  This is an example of just such a blog/newsletter article.  It’ll go on the site in Web Marketing 101, which is my blog, and it’ll also be sent out as a newsletter.

The Bottom Line

Get writing!

 

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Common Small Business Web Mistakes

Today, small businesses understand that they need a Web site.  However, often their goals extend only to “having” a Web site, so they don’t ever realize the considerable revenue benefits that a Web site can bring.  Using a Web site as the hub of your marketing strategy is the best advertising investment that you can make.  Here’s why.

Interruption Advertising

Traditional advertising can be called “interruption advertising.”  For example someone is reading a newspaper, and you pay to put an ad near an article that’s being read, in hopes of attracting the reader’s attention, interrupting what she actually wants to do.  On radio and television, it’s the same thing–but there, you actually interrupt the program in hopes that the viewer or listener will pay attention to your interruption.

If you purchase a mailer such as a postcard or an add in a mailer for several companies, you’re paying to buy a lot of paper–thousands of pieces of paper–and lots of ink, to print your ad on the paper.  And lots to distribute this printed material, again in hopes that someone who happens to be interested happens to see your ad at the right moment.

All of this is expensive per person who is reached, which you well know if you’ve priced even a small ad in a newspaper.  You’re buying a lot of paper and a lot of ink and a lot of delivery in hopes of reaching someone who’s interested.

Inbound Advertising

Promotion on the Web, particularly through search engines, is fundamentally different from interruption advertising.   Someone who is looking for your product or service does a Web search as part of their seeking someone to meet their needs.  What we seek to do with search marketing is to make that connection between the person who wants what you offer and your offering on your Web site.

For example, if you’re using pay-per-click advertising, your ads will appear on the right side of a Google search result.  The people who see those ads will be searchers who’ve entered a term that you’ve (carefully!) chosen, that indicates an interest in what you provide.  If they click on your ad, then they’ve shown their interest twice–once in the search, and then again, after reading your ad, and clicking.  You pay only when they click on your ad and reach your site.  So your payment is to present your site to someone who is actively looking for what you’re offering.

The work you do to rank well in search engines is also “inbound advertising”–you’re trying to appear on page one or page two of Google search results for the products or services that you offer.  This, too, is worth time and effort, and investment, because you’re seeking to present your case to people who are actively looking for what you offer.

Often small businesses don’t want to write a regular newsletter.  It’s work!…and everyone is busy.  But a newsletter signup on your site is a way for someone to say “Please remind me that you’re around.”  They’ve been to your site and for some reason this isn’t the time to buy.  But they’d like to be reminded!  So don’t throw away that visit–that you’ve worked and paid to get.  Instead, use it to start building a relationship through your newsletter.

The Bottom Line

Don’t just “have” your Web site.  Make it work for you; it’s the most effective, least costly form of promotion available to you.

 

 

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Welcome New Newsletter Subscribers

Importance of the Welcome Email

It’s easy to overlook that welcome email that you send to new subscribers to your newsletter, but that’s a big mistake.  Why?  Because, as an Experian white paper shows, welcome emails have an open rate that’s much higher than typical newsletter open rates.

Welcome Email OpensThis chart, from the Experian white paper, shows an open rate for welcomes at nearly 58%, compared with about 15% for typical newsletters.

Note also that the click rate is also much higher, nearly seven times as high.

So the welcome email is a great time to reach prospects and customers with your message.

When Should You Send It

Immediate vs Batch WelcomeYour newsletter software may offer you a choice between sending the welcome right away or in a batch at some later time.

The right time is right away!  The same Experian white paper shows the open and click rates for immediate welcomes is much higher than for later, batch welcomes–as you’d expect–when someone has just subscribed, you’re on their mind.

If your newsletter software won’t send a message to new subscribers, this advantage is important enough that you should replace it.  An excellent and very popular WordPress newsletter plugin–the one I use–is MailPoet.  The free version lets you send an immediate welcome.

The First Message

Start by thanking the new subscriber for joining the list.  Then deliver your first message–your vision and mission, told in your own voice.  What are you up to?  What do you deliver, and to which people?

This is your opportunity to tell this customer or prospect that you stand for and deliver things that are important and worthwhile, to reinforce the message that was already delivered about you, that drew this subscriber to you in the first place.

Remember the old saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression!  This is your opportunity to deliver the basic message about your whole business and what you stand for.

Now Offer a Surprise

All of us love to be surprised!  This is your chance to delight your new subscriber with a surprise.  What sorts of things can you use to do this?  The advantage of the welcome newsletter is that you’re not setting a pattern here–this is the first one, so you can offer a welcome gesture that you may not repeat.

Because this is a special occasion, the usual caution about offering discounts in the newsletter–that they can undermine your price structure and create you a body of customers who won’t buy at regular price–doesn’t apply.  You can offer a discount coupon.  You can even offer a more dramatic special–if you’re a restaurant, offer a “bring a friend” coupon with two meals for the price of one!  Be careful to call it a one-time welcome offer so that it’s clear this will not be a regular event.

You can also offer other surprises, such as free shipping, all sorts of goodies as premiums, or even an ebook.  Whatever suits your particular business.

The Standard Outline

If you’re a regular reader of these notes, you’re aware that I recommend that you establish a standard outline for your newsletters, and follow it with each one.  This allows the subscriber to know what to expect–there will be a recipe, perhaps, perhaps an interesting client story, perhaps a description of a new product feature.  This way, if your subscriber likes one newsletter, she knows that subsequent newsletters will be of interest too.

For the welcome newsletter, forget the standard outline!  This newsletter has a very special job to do that’s different from other newsletters, so you don’t need to follow your regular pattern.

The Bottom Line

Establish a special welcome to new subscribers of your newsletter.  And in this welcome, offer them something really special.

Of course you have a newsletter!  If not, go directly to jail and do not pass Go.  Instead, read other articles here about your newsletter and get started.  It’s the best way to build your business on the Web.

 

 

 

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Bargain Web Hosting: Really a Bargain?

Bargain Web Hosting:  Really a Bargain?

We’ve all seen ads for inexpensive Web hosting.  It’s even advertised during the Super Bowl!  You can get your site hosted for $1 a month.  Or even 99 cents a month!  What can be easier?  Should you use these cheap services?  This issue digs into the issues of cheap hosting providers, based on actual experience.

We see cheap hosting services advertised on the Super Bowl.  This tells us that lots of people are buying them, and also that they must be quite profitable for the vendors, since they can afford the huge cost of Super Bowl commercials.

We’re talking here about the difference between hosting that might cost, say $6 a month, compared to first-class hosting that you can get for about $20 a month.  So the cost difference isn’t great.  Does it matter?  Is it OK to go cheap on this?

Why So Cheap?

Why is it that companies can charge so little for Web hosting?  It’s easy to pay $30 a month for hosting service.  How then can some companies sell it for $1?  Or $3?  Or $6?  The answer, as usual, is that the service isn’t the same as the $30 product.  I’ve seen three primary areas where the vendors cut costs:

• resource limitations are placed on these sites, particularly cpu time they can use and RAM that they can use to service requests;

• multiple sites may share an IP address; and

• customer support may be limited.

Resource Limitations

On one occasion I moved a site from a moderately-priced hosting service at a big company to my own hosting service, that’s more expensive but doesn’t put stringent limits on CPU and RAM resources, and the same site, with no changes, loaded twice as fast on a better hosting service.

We all know that speed to load is a factor that Google considers in assigning page rank in search results.  Why?  Because they’d like to point their customers–searchers–to pages that provide good experience by loading fast.  So although loading speed is influenced by many factors, particularly site design,

If your site is hosted on a quality service, not only Google but your visitors will have a better experience when they visit your site.

In a more recent experience, a client was paying $16 a month for hosting service from one of the big companies.  When I ran a WordFence security scan of his site to find malicious software, the memory limitations imposed by the hosting service kept the scan from completing.  As it turns out, there was malware that was not being detected by the prematurely terminated scans; when the site was moved to a quality hosting service, the malware scan ran to completion, detecting and correcting the problems that went unfixed previously.

Shared IP Address

The very cheapest hosting services will have your site sharing an IP address with another site.  Google tells us that a shared IP address will not, by itself, hurt your position in their search results.  However, if your site shares an IP address with another site that gets infected with malware, then that IP address may be classified as one containing malware and suffer in search engine rankings.  Similarly, if the other site sharing your IP address either deliberately or through malware sends out spam, your IP address may be identified as a source of spam, so that your emails aren’t accepted by many  email servers.

A shared IP address saves money, but it’s a bad idea.

Limited Service

The big companies have various ways to limit service.  One of them doesn’t provide telephone service at all–you send them an email.  If they’re really interested they’ll call you back.  Later.  But at the moment you’re panicked or having problems–and you site is not delivering your message properly–you may not be able to get help.

You also may find that there is telephone support, but you have to wait a looooong time to reach them!  How much is your time worth while you’re on hold?  The most annoying part of this is that you’re likely to hear that “Your call is very important to us…”  while you know that it’s not so important that they bothered to hire enough people to keep up with the call volume.

Perhaps the most annoying way to chisel on support is to have multi-tier support.  You explain the problem first to someone who has limited knowledge, runs you through a script of actions for you to take, to screen out a couple of simple problems.  Then you are transferred to someone else who perhaps can actually help you.  Here, too, you’re paying for the cheap hosting service by wasting your own time.

The service that you want is a real person who can solve problems for you, available 24 hours a day.

The Bottom Line

Expect to spend $20 a month for site hosting.  Use pingdom.com to measure your site’s home page load time.  Run WordFence’s security scan on your site, and if it doesn’t complete, upgrade your hosting service or move to another service.

One way to get great hosting service is to use Dave’s Super Hosting Service; there are also other competent hosting providers.

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Google’s New Requirement–You MUST Be “Mobile-Friendly”

Google and Mobile-Friendly

Google has announced that, starting April 17, they will include whether a site is “mobile-friendly” as a criteria for position in search results.  This means that starting on that date, if they don’t think your site is mobile-friendly, expect your position in search rankings to change.  Significantly.

Why are they doing this?  To meet the demands of their own customers, searchers.  An increasing number of searches are performed from cellphones, and Google wants to deliver search results that these customers can use easily.  In that sense, this change is in your interest as well–your customers, increasingly, use cellphones to search, so you need to have a site that’s easy for them to use from a cellphone.

What is Mobile-Friendly?

Happily, Google doesn’t leave any doubt what they mean by mobile-friendly.  They’ve provided us a test tool that we can use, for free, to see whether a site is mobile-friendly.   Just give the link a click, insert your URL, and Google will tell you–yes or no–and even show you a picture of what your site looks like on a cell phone.

Here’s a sample of the sort of result you can expect, for a test of this site:

Heading cell

How Can I Make My Site Mobile-Friendly?

You don’t want to be out in the cold on April 17, although you can expect Google to phase in the penalty over time–which is to say, if you can’t make it by the 17th, you can avoid the worst of the damage by acting as quickly as you can.

If you’ve used WordPress for your site, you’re in better shape.  If you site uses one of the popular themes, most of them are already mobile-friendly, so when you used the Google’s mobile-friendly tool you received the happy news that your site is already mobile-friendly.  If you have a WordPress site that doesn’t use a mobile-friendly theme, you could add mobile-friendly code to your theme, potentially at some cost and taking some time, or you could have your site changed to use a mobile-friendly theme.  The latter approach is likely to be the best approach for most small businesses.

If you’re using one of the older site generators such as Joomla, you’re not out of luck.  Check with the developers of your tools.  Joomla, in particular, has some plugins that can help you achieve responsive design with a Joomla site.  There’s a free ebook about getting a Joomla site to be responsive.

If you have a static HTML site, or an  HTML site with a lot of code, you’ll need to add code to the site to sense the type of device that’s being used to view it, and adapt the display to the size of the device.  That’s a significant amount of work, and of course you’ll need to be ready to change that code as the devices used evolve over time.  But if you have your own Web programming staff, this may be a practical approach for you.  You might also decide that perhaps it’s time to get away from the HTML approach and join the WordPress bandwagon.  I took that step a while ago with my own site, so I’ll be relaxed on April 17.

The Bottom Line

Become mobile-friendly.  Now.  Or lose much of your Google search traffic.

 

 

 

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Walmart Buys Google

Walmart Is Buying Google

In a press release today, Walmart announced that they are acquiring the assets of Google.  The announcement says “We are purchasing Google in order to protect the reputation of Walmart.  Google operations will remain as they are, with the exception of a few small changes.”

Minor Changes in Search

What are those changes?  The announcement continues “We have been concerned for some time about the negative publicity about Walmart’s wages and working conditions, and how this negative information is spread through the Internet, particularly by Google searches.  Our Board decided that decisive action is needed to defend our reputation.  As soon as the acquisition closes, negative information about Walmart will no longer appear in Google search results.  Our Board decided that this approach to dealing with the reputation issue was more economical than giving a raise and providing health insurance and reasonable working conditions to our 2.2 million employees.”

Food Service in Google Offices

The announcement stated that free meals in Google cafeterias will continue as a fringe benefit for full-time Google employees; part-time employees will need to pay for meals.  Because of corporate commitments, catering for all food in Google operations will be provided by McDonalds, starting immediately after the acquisition.  The significant savings that will result from this change are expected to improve Google’s bottom line.

Full and Part Time

Walmart has traditionally relied on part-time workers to provide up to 40% of its labor in stores.  Because part-timers do not get benefits, this reduces labor costs.  Post-acquisition, Google will be given a mandatory goal to have 40% part-time employees within six months.  This will be achieved either by converting present full-time employees, or by replacing present full-time employees with part-time new hires.  The elimination of all benefits for 40% of Google’s payroll will also produce significant enhancement of Google profitability.

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Yelp Update Reading Time 3 min. 45 sec.

Does Yelp Manipulate Reviews for Advertisers?

The newsletter on Yelp produced feedback that Yelp is not popular with site owners, particularly those who have experienced high-pressure sales tactics or have seen perfectly good reviews from customers they recognize categorized as not recommended.  This is indeed a story “ripped from the headlines,” as they say on TV.  Here are some recent developments.

A producer has shot much of a coming documentary about Yelp, called Billion Dollar Bully.  It’s being produced in San Francisco, right in Yelp’s back yard.  A number of Yelp customers have agreed to tell their tales of woe in the movie.  There is presently a Kickstarter effort underway to fund the completion of the film.

It would not surprise anyone if some Yelp salesman, in order to make quota, told a business owner that he could influence ratings even if he couldn’t.  Since there are thousands of Yelp salesmen, this could happen many, many times throughout the organization.  It also would not be a surprise if a business owner saw such a threat, and then saw a negative review the next day.  That could be just a coincidence, but of course you’d never convince the business owner of that.  Or the unethical salesman could have written a bad review!

So how does one decide whether Yelp is what they say they are, or what their critics say they are?

The Courts

One good mechanism for deciding is the courts.  Yelp attorneys on one side, building their best case, and a plaintiff’s attorney on the other side, doing his best to build the case against Yelp.  The last such case was at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in their ruling in Levitt v. Yelp, affirmed the dismissal of a number of extortion suits that had been brought.  Yelp cites this decision as evidence that it did not threaten to manipulate customers’ ratings if they didn’t buy advertising.

However, a reading of the court’s decision shows that it’s not completely clear-cut in Yelp’s favor.  The court found that the plaintiffs had speculated that Yelp had written bad reviews on their businesses but never provided evidence to support the speculation, and that the businesses didn’t make a claim for specific damages so they couldn’t be awarded any damages.  The decision really doesn’t clear Yelp of manipulating ratings–it just says the plaintiffs didn’t prove them.

Of course, if you have resourceful lawyers, if a company with thousands of employees is manipulating reviews to sell advertising, the smart lawyers are likely to find an unhappy ex-employee to testify about what’s happening at the company.  The several suits that were brought appear to have used co-occurrence of purchasing or not purchasing advertising and changes in how reviews appeared on the site as their evidence of manipulation.

The FTC

Yelp claims that the FTC investigated their operations, including how their software treats ratings for advertisers and non-advertisers, and informed Yelp that they did not intend to take any action.  However, no official documentation is cited.

Harvard Business School

Finally, a Harvard Business School study of Yelp was conducted.   They found that restaurants are more likely to write fake favorable reviews on themselves when they lacked a solid reputation of their own, as when they were starting, and they tended to write unfavorable reviews on their neighbors when the neighbors served similar cuisine.  More of interest to us, though, they found that “neither 1- or 5-star reviews were more or less likely to be filtered for businesses that we advertising on Yelp…”

This was an impressive study that used a very large amount of data from Yelp’s site, along with information about which companies were advertisers, from the site, and historical information about advertisers from Yelp.

The Bottom Line

Yelp advertising can be helpful–they’ll show your company name along with your competitors’ listings.  But what should you do if your Yelp salesman threatens you?  Be polite and make the business decision that you’d make without the threats.  Yes, he can personally write a fake negative review, but that one will be swamped by the positive reviews you normally get, and he will move on to his next prospect.

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Yelp, Extortion, Lawsuits and Negative Reviews–Reading time 5 minutes

Yelp is Frustrating

Yelp, the well-known review site, is the subject of complaints from all sides.

Web visitors wonder whether the reviews are genuine–have positive reviews been written or influenced by the business?  Or have negative reviews been placed there by the competition?  Can the reviews be trusted?

Similarly, businesses can be frustrated by critical reviews on Yelp.  Are they genuine, or are they from competitors or just mischief-makers?  And when Yelp chooses not to “recommend” positive reviews of a business, it can be very frustrating.  The reviews sit below the “recommended” reviews, requiring an extra click to see, with the number of stars grayed out.

Then we hear stories of Yelp advertising salespeople who offer to “fix” negative reviews if the business will buy advertising…or to accentuate negative reviews if they don’t.

This is an issue that I’ve followed closely, and here I’ll give you my considered view of Yelp and this whole issue.

Extortion

Yelp has been accused of extortion several times.  Many Yelp customers have reported that a salesman offered to help remove negative reviews if they purchased advertising, or offered to make negative reviews go away.  These reports are so numerous and so dispersed geographically that this does appear to be happening.

There have been several lawsuits over this issue, and last November a Federal Court of Appeals ruled that plaintiffs had not shown evidence that Yelp had changed ratings because of advertising payments.  This follows a pattern, where Yelp so far was won every such suit that has been filed.

It would not be sensible for Yelp to extort advertising customers.  Yelp’s product is reviews–they have nothing else to sell.  So if their reviews are dependable and of high quality, Yelp can succeed.  However, if their reviews are being manipulated and Web users learn of it, usage of Yelp won’t grow nearly as fast as it would with dependable reviews.  Because Yelp is a large organization, changing reviews for advertisers can’t stay secret very long.  We could expect to see a disgruntled employee on television, telling all about this practice, thereby becoming part of many lawsuits brought by customers.

Which is not to say that Yelp salespeople don’t offer to manipulate reviews in order to sell advertising.  It’s easy to see how a salesperson could see this method as the path to a quick sale.  And well it might be!  But an unethical salesperson–even man of them–don’t mean that the company is systematically doing what he is offering.

Given that lawsuits have never shown the company to be manipulating reviews, and given that it would be a startlingly unwise business practice, I doubt that the company manipulates results in response to advertising revenues.

“Not Recommended” Reviews

Some reviews are shown as “not recommended”, which means that an extra click is needed to see them, that their star ratings are grayed out, and their scores and not used in computing the business’s overall rating.

It’s very frustrating to a business owner who sees reviews from customers he might recognize that are classified as “not recommended”.  He’d like to respond in some way to convince Yelp to display these recommendations.

Yelp’s side of the story is that they use software that runs automatically to classify reviews, and the decision of the software is final.  They don’t provide a way for a business owner to reach out to someone who has written a review that has received the dreaded “not recommended” tag, or a way to reach out to them.

Yelp provides a general description of how they reach a decision to not recommend a review.  Mentioned several times in this material is that the confidence that Yelp places in the individual making the review is a major factor.  That is, does the person have a wide on-line presence otherwise, which tends to validate that they are a really person.  And has the person written additional reviews on Yelp that have received endorsements from readers, again providing confidence that this is a real person who writes dependable reviews.

The number of friends that a review has on Yelp is one factor that’s included in he algorithm.  So if the business owner recognizes a customer who has written a review, the business owner could search for that person in Yelp and invite that person to become a Yelp friend.  That will increase the number of Yelp friends the person has, and the chance of the review being recommended, especially if the business owner has a lot of Yelp friends.

But in the longer run the best remedy for “not recommended” reviews is to have lots of good reviews, so that a few that are not recommended will not become an issue.

Negative Reviews

We all know that the Internet is full of trolls who love to be critical, sometimes destructively so.   What should be done about a negative review that the business owner thinks is unfairly critical?

First, there’s a little gray flag below each review that lets the business owner (or anyone else) report it to Yelp as being unfair, and a menu of reasons why it’s unfair.  Will this help?  Who knows?  But the ten seconds that it takes to click the link and confirm the choice is a reasonable investment.

Second, for a recommended review, Yelp provides a way to get in touch with the reviewer.  Each negative review is an opportunity for the business to reach out to that disaffected person–who, no doubt, is telling friends the same story–and turn that person into an advocate.  A message to the disaffected customer that the company is concerned about the review and would like to set things straight, and then following up on the opportunity to take action, can both eliminate some who is hurting the business and create a new advocate who recommends the business.

The Bottom Line

1.  In order to survive and prosper in the connected age, delight your customers so that they eagerly recommend you to their friends and colleagues and on Yelp and other social networks.

2.  Respond with compassion and generosity to negative reviews, converting  detractors into advocates.

 

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Announcing!! Dave’s Review Service

A New, Important Service

I’m happy to make an announcement that’s been in the works for some time:  Dave’s Review Service.  The service will obtain for you a significant number of genuine, positive reviews from your real customers, as well as quality feedback about how your customers perceive your business.  As you know, reviews are important because review sites have become an important part of the buying process.  Today,  customers will find you on review sites before they come t your site; and if they don’t find you on the review sites they may never come to your site.

Why Do I Need This?

Yes, it’s true–prospects for what you offer may never get to your site, because first they’ll read review sites to narrow down to just a few candidates, and then they’ll visit the Web sites for only those candidates.  No matter where you appear in search results, you may be ignored if you don’t have plenty of good reviews.

As you’ve read in this newsletter and elsewhere, it’s important that review sites receive  only genuine reviews from actual your customers, and you must not incentivize your customers to write reviews.  Review sites are working hard to detect fakery, and they penalize miscreants severely when they find it.  Unfortunately, the filters they use to catch cheaters can also catch authentic reviews.

What is Provided?

The service provides you three crucial results:

  1. Genuine, positive reviews from your actual customers, on a variety of review sites that are relevant to your business
  2. Correct listings on relevant directories of local businesses
  3. Insightful feedback from your customers on their views of your business, in addition to what’s provided in the reviews

Dave’s Review Service provides you with genuine, positive reviews, on many review sites that are relevant for your business, from your real customers, using a proprietary method for obtaining those reviews.  These are real reviews from real customers, and they are all positive.  They will appear on many different review sites.  The strategy for obtaining the reviews and placing them on review sites is designed to minimize the chance that these genuine reviews will be erroneously identified as questionable by the automated filters used by review sites.

In addition, Dave’s Review Service works with over 150 sites that are directories of local services, and will work to get your site listed correctly on them.  You can expect to gain about ten of these listings per month, until you have a suitable number of listings (typically about fifty).

Whatever else you do–or don’t do–with Web marketing, Dave’s Review Service can bring you business now.

Does It Work?

The method used has been demonstrated to work with real businesses and real customers.  A psychologist’s overall rating on a healthcare site changed from a C before using the service to an A.  An apartment rental service greatly increased their tenancy rate after using the service.  This method works.

Review sites typically have a curation process that they use for reviews, so the reviews don’t appear on the review sites right away.  You won’t see the first reviews for a month or so after joining Dave’s Review Service.

Now you can use this method to expand your own business.  Starting today.

How Does It Work?

The method that’s used is a new invention, and it’s a trade secret.  It has been tested in use with real sites, and it has delivered results.  After you execute a non-disclosure agreement and become a client for this service, I can explain to you how it works.  Once you understand it, you’ll see that it’s evident that it will work.  It’s like a magic trick–the secret is simple.

There are several pieces of technology that are needed to carry out the method, and obtaining them would cost you more than the monthly price of the service.  In addition, you’d have the burden of operating it all.  I’ve made a significant investment in the service, and continue to build and refine.  So using the service saves you money and time, and delivers great results to your business.

Crazy Low Introductory Price

You can start reaping the benefits today.  There’s an introductory price of $200 per month.  You can’t do it for this price.

The Bottom Line

There’s little reason to not do this!  Get in touch for more information by clicking here.

Special Offer!

An extra special price is being offered through Yelp.  Take a look!

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Enhance Google Rankings with Google+

Google+ Matters!

You may not think Google+ is important–but it’s the third largest social platform and has more than 500 million monthly users.  And, of course, its parent is Google, about which we care a lot.

Even though Google+ doesn’t have the sheer population of Facebook, a survey reported in Forbes showed that Google+ users are more engaged, so a post on Google+ generates almost as much activity as a post on Facebook.

Start Posting

The most important step is to start posting on Google+.  If you’re not posting on this platform, you’re missing the opportunity.

About Your Posts

The usual rules about social media posting apply.  These three are crucial:

  1. Use headings to point readers to important sections of content.  If a reader doesn’t want to read the whole thing, a heading may get part of your post read
  2. Break up long blocks of text into paragraphs that appear to be digestible.  No one wants to wade into a huge block of text
  3. Use images, videos and graphics to illustrate your post and make it more interesting
  4. Include clear calls to action so that the reader is inspired to interact, to take action on the spot.  Google helps you do this by providing call to action labels.

Uniqueness

It’s OK to go ahead and post content on Google+ that you are also posting on other social networks.  This will get broader exposure for your message.

The Bottom Line

Use Google+ to help your search results.

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As we enjoy our Thanksgiving repast, it’s interesting to see what recipes interest our countrymen.  The New York Times asked Google to identify unusual recipes that are searched for around Thanksgiving by region.  Here’s a map of the result.  Note that they asked for unusual recipes; of course, turkey is probably the most frequently search for recipe everywhere.  But that wouldn’t show all the wonderful regional variation of our nation.  Here’s the map.  I’m eager to know what Mirliton Casserole is!  Not to mention frog eye salad.

Regonal Thanksgiving Recipes

Regional Thanksgiving Recipes

The Bottom Line

Happy Thanksgiving!

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